A study by Communispace (which, as an online community developer has a horse in the race) says that while big communities necessarily have lots of “eyeballs,”
Results indicate that 86% of the people who log on to private, facilitated communities with 300 to 500 members made contributions: they posted comments, initiated dialogues, participated in chats, brainstormed ideas, shared photos, and more. Only 14% merely logged in to observe, or “lurk.”
By contrast, on public social networking Web sites, blogs, and message boards, this ratio is typically reversed, as the vast majority of site visitors do not contribute. In a typical online forum, for example, just 1% of site visitors contribute, and the other 99% lurk.
This supports what we’re finding with Front Porch Forum. Seven months into our homegrown effort, we’ve seen more than 4,000 local households subscribe to our free neighborhood forums (that’s nearly 20% of Burlington, VT).
Each neighborhood forum covers an area of a few hundred households. Of the 130 neighborhood forums that we’re hosting across the metro region, several dozen are really hopping. Because of the limited and small scale of these forum, among other design details, we see more than half of the members posting messages to their nearby neighbors. Compared to the wide open WWW (wild west web) people feel safe and engaged enough to comment… few lurkers. See past postings about scale.
More about the study from Online Media Daily:
The study, which analyzed participation behavior among 26,539 members of 66 private online communities, also found that consumers prefer fully transparent and branded communities to non-specific, non-branded ones.
“Everybody is talking about communities now, and so the question is no longer ‘should we have one?’, but more ‘what kind should it be?’ and ‘how can we design it to truly engage people and fulfill our objectives?'” said Communispace President and CEO Diane Hessan.
When potential members were considering whether to participate in a community, they were 30% more likely to log on when the welcome notice disclosed the company sponsoring the community. Branded sites had an initial log in rate of 71%, compared with 55% for unbranded sites.
In addition, of the 66 communities analyzed, parent communities, as a group, had the highest levels of participation. In general, the research found that the stronger the “social glue”–or common interests and passions among members–the greater the participation.
The research found that although members of women’s communities participated more frequently than men, men seemed to have more to say when they did participate: 4.8 weekly contributions for men compared to 4.1 for the women.
Notably, educational background and household income were not related to community member participation, as the passion around a community’s purpose appeared to be the main influence on participation.