As any community manager knows, there are lots of different types of people that participate in communities. It would be impossible to classify every single type of community participant. But in my experience, I’ve come to group people into one of five categories.
This one is easy to define and not terribly insightful on my part. Lurkers are those that read what others have to say, but don’t contribute to the conversation. I know some of my colleagues in the online community business feel it’s important to get lurkers to participate. I agree — but only to a point. If a lurker is there only to gather information and doesn’t feel inclined to add anything, that’s just fine with me. That person is getting value from the conversation, even if he or she doesn’t add to it. However, if somebody is a lurker because they don’t feel comfortable participating, it’s the community manager’s job to step in and make that person feel welcome.
Learners are those who come to a community seeking specific knowledge. These people are there to ask questions and get answers. Sometimes they come by to get one answer and never return. In other cases, they’ll be regulars that are always keen to pick up new information. Occasionally, they’ll share any expertise they may have.
Gabbers are people who participate a lot, but say little. They’re the ones that are always “off topic.” Gabbers can be good or bad, depending on the community. In communities where people are only there to exchange information about a specific topic and have no interest in other types of interactions, gabbers can be seen as a nuisance. But in less formal groups, gabbers can help build a spirit of friendship that can lead to a more connected community.
Experts are those who are eager to share what they know with others. There are many types of experts. There are the earnest members who actually know what they are talking about and are generous with their knowledge. There are know-it-alls who are also generous with their knowledge, but want to make sure everyone knows how smart they are. There are know-it-alls who think they know more than they do. And sadly, there are experts who make those with less knowledge feel inadequate and uncomfortable participating in the conversation.
This type of community participant may be unique to places where communities are created by end-users as they are on Delphi Forums and Talk City, the community networks that I manage. Organizers are just that: those that make the plans and get people together. They create communities, bring in new members, organize chats, recruit assistant moderators, and do all the things that make places like Delphi Forums and Talk City work.
In fact, without organizers, I’d probably be out of a job!
I’d love to hear from other online community professionals. Has this been your experience, too? Please add your comments.
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