Take a look at Facebook or LinkedIn and you will find a plethora of groups which have almost no activity. They are set up enthusiastically, they generate a few initial postings and then nothing. The vast majority of online forums are the same too. People add them to their websites full of anticipation for being able to chat directly to customers or potential clients. Yet, those forums soon become dusty old parts of a website, never given any attention.
There is plenty of advice online suggesting that “all” you need to do to engage with your customers is set up a forum on your website, or add a group to LinkedIn or Facebook and you are off heading straight down the route to successful business relationships. But the vast wasteland of untouched forums and social media groups is testament to the fact that such advice is nonsense.
People only take part in social groups if they are truly motivated to do so. Simply having a forum or a group does not mean that people will take part. Indeed, even in the massive social world that is Facebook, most of the 1 billion users do NOT take an active part. In just the same way as in almost every other social group both online and offline, the vast majority of people are “lurkers” – individuals who lurk around the periphery, noticing what is going on, but doing nothing about it nor taking an active part themselves.
So, if you set up a LinkedIn group for your business there is every chance that most people will not take part. And if you only have a few people in the group you can bet your last penny that you will be making most of the contributions…! Strange as it may seem with the vast amount of social networking going on online, most people are happy just to watch and read rather than take an active part.
This is highlighted in recent research in Sweden which looked at the activity of politically interested people on Facebook. It found that those who were already members of political groups in the real world were happy to take an active part in similar online groups. However, the people who were not active politically but who were interested in politics simply “lurked” in relevant Facebook groups. In other words, what this research shows is that if people are active participants then they do so anyway, regardless of the medium. Providing them with a social networking group does not change them from lurkers to participants.
Many business owners seem to think that all they need is a Facebook group or a similar one on LinkedIn. But what this new research highlights is that you cannot change your customers; if they are not active participants in networks in the real world, they will not suddenly become active simply because you set up a forum.