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Growing Forum Member Participation

Thoughts about Answers versus Discussion

10:25 pm on Jun 13, 2006 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Administrator martinibuster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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Once you've drawn someone out of lurk mode, you're probably half-way there to cultivating an active community member. Lurkers seem like an untapped asset that is easily forgotten or underutilized.

An interesting phenomenom
My top forum member accepted a new job that limited his ability to post on my forum. Our top forum member, who expertly answered so many questions was now gone, which was a huge loss for the community, as so many members looked up to him because of his deep knowledge.

Now here's the funny part: The average count of daily posts began to rise shortly after he left. So what happened? Other very competent members stepped out of the shadows to fill the space formerly occupied by my star member.

Too many askers
Although the forum was growing month over month, many of the members were coming to ask questions and lurking thereafter. So while my unique visitor metrics were growing, the number of enthusiastic active members was not. Too many askers.

Should a Forum Avoid Giving Out Answers?
Apparently, his style of posting comprehensive answers had been inhibiting others from posting their own answers. Is there something wrong with answers? I think so.

Some members had expressed timidity about posting answers, so my way of circumventing this timidity was to instruct my moderators to stop answering questions, and begin engaging in dialogue.

Encouraging Lurkers to Post
My instructions to the moderators was to draw the lurkers out of lurk-mode by consciously making posts that encouraged members to offer opinions and answers. No more answers. Only discussions.

This community is overwhelmingly made up of lurkers. This is common to many forums, but I think there is an opportunity to cultivate more active members by taking a look at posting styles and de-emphasizing answers, and emphasizing discussion.

About lurkers and drawing lurkers into the open
So why do people lurk? Fear of being ridiculed is probably one of the major reasons. The other may be a lack of confidence in their knowledge, and perhaps the most important, nobody's ever engaged them for their opinion.

Making eye contact online
On that last point, some of my favorite personalities both on and off the boards share a quality that when they speak, they seem to embrace the whole room with eye contact, a nod, a little encouragement for your feedback. I think it is precisely this quality that is missing from many board discussions, the encouragement for feedback. A simple question such as, "What do you think?" Or, "I think that's right, but I'm sure others have good opinions of other ways of doing it. I'm interested in hearing yours."

Drag those lurkers out into a discussion... :)

The rest of it consists of creating an atmosphere where shy or unconfident people will feel comfortable. This is where your mods come in:

1: Make it clear that opinions are not only welcomed, but encouraged.
2: Ensure that any member who expresses a wrong opinion is treated gently. No ridiculing. No flaming.

What led me down this road to engaging more members was the loss of my most active community member, which in itself caused a growth in member participation.

So what do you think?

  • Should forums be wary of providing too many answers?

  • Do authoritative members inhibit member participation?

  • What steps are you taking to encourage more member participation?

These are just my observations from where I sit. Things may be different from your vantage point, and I'd like to hear about it.

I am keen to learn about your observations on member participation and any steps you've taken to encourage it.

1:42 am on June 14, 2006 (gmt 0)


WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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These are really good points, MB. I think an authoritative poster can inhibit conversation if he jumps in right away and makes a lengthy, definitive post. At that point, other members may feel like they have nothing of value to add.

One of the common mistakes of new forum moderators is to jump on every new post and try to answer it. A well known forum owner/admin once advised, "Give new posts a chance to develop replies from other members. If nobody replies, you can and should jump in. But, if you try to answer every question, nobody else will contribute." Good advice.

On the other hand, it's great to have some members who really know their stuff and can answer the tough questions. They really add to the quality of the forum, and help create useful long-term content.

So, like many things in life, it's a balancing act... You want enough expert input to keep the quality high and avoid unanswered questions, but not so much that less talented members are afraid to post.

2:00 am on June 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member ken_b is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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I don't run, manage, or mod a forum, but I'll throw in a couple thoughts anyhow.

Should forums be wary of providing too many answers?

Not if it's a Q/A type forum. Effective management of where/who the answers come from might be helpful.

Do authoritative members inhibit member participation?

No, but members who like to "show off" their "authoritative" status might.

5:00 pm on June 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

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Lurkers aren't necessarily a bad problem. If someone posts a question and it gets answered quickly, then there's no need for additional posts to answer the question again.

I much prefer reading a board where people know when to lurk rather than post similar/rephrased answers.

While there is definitely a need for posts about opinions and discussions on a topic, it's not needed in every thread, sometimes a concise, well put-together answer can be of far more useful for readers than pages and pages of drivel and "me too" posts.

5:06 pm on June 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

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Nice post MB.

Just to chime in on this:

< What steps are you taking to encourage more member participation?

The single biggest reason that new posters "stick" on my community is because their early posts were acknowledged, or in Roger's terms "they got eye contact."

We've tried to foster that type of environment by adding tools to enable acknowledgement. We've offered "helpful" vote buttons for a long time, that have become the de facto currency of the site.

We also offer a "rate the reviewers" section which is extremely popular.

I also encourage my mods to shoot a friendly welcoming email to promising new posters.

More recently, we've added a testimonial feature that allows any registered reviewer to give a shout out on the profile page of any other reviewer - a la MySpace. This feature is already very popular, as a means of saying "nice post" or as a way for friends to stroke each other's egos.

I also like this tool because it triggers an email to the recipient of the testimonial saying "Congrats! You just received a testimonial." I'm seeing a number of previously dormant members of our community getting pulled back in.

What other tools do you all use to enable this sort of acknowledgement / feedback / eye contact?

10:19 pm on June 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

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That's a nice post MB, especially the points about eye contact - great analogy!

Re: questions vs answers, it's def a balancing act.

11:17 pm on June 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

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yes good article

I think the main thing with forums is making people feel they have a right to their comments or analogies and are respected and welcomed into the conversation.

Do authoritative members inhibit member participation?

I personally do not partake in this forum because I have seen how others are arrogantly treated, most posters are welcoming and do have respect for others, but there are those who lack social skills because they consider themselves as the authority poster.

This happened only yesterday I saw the way somebody was dictating the feel of the whole conversation on this forum and actually cleverly insulting people. I'm sure the moderators do their best as it is a very hard job, because there is a very thin line when language is used cleverly? ( nastily )

Not letting those with the biggest post count dominate others and frankly be rude, this is the reason I don't post here, luckily yesterday somebody put the poster straight and said maybe be he should be somewhere else, in other words this may not be the place for you. He was actually doing it to somebody else, as I have seen before with this poster.

Generally most on the WebmasterWorld forums are curtious but there are the few, this makes my blood boil and really puts me off contributing.

3:14 am on June 15, 2006 (gmt 0)

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there are ways to contribute, by silent 10 second lurk, or perhaps reading an entire thread of none stop blah and mixed razor sharp points of someone simply confirming what you were looking for in your own data bank of sure that must be me... the territory we draw around the issue once we have decided to lurk for information at specific address in memory(whether I am under your curse now, and can't get that kind of love from you as well as I cant explain the pain you are going thru)

you see you also have to take into consideration that some of us are simply part timers and really lucky or good at it by nature. In the case of part timers or simply self confident people(the worst kind for forum) information generated by, whether its relevant or not to the particular thread, usually 'ntaked mostly skipped for later critic, where later is remembered is almost never happens. This creates the effect on admin as him is lurking for what now?


I read, if it starts to sound good I continue, if I confuse my self with a sentence read, I skip to the next poster, but sometimes that wears off quickly.

Posters, LIKE me want to know. What we don't know. It°¶s almost like in the song by Morcheeba, ONCE THE LABEL IS ON something it become an IT. Concentration. And ready to go factors. Evaluation inside of if what you want to hear, or see or read plays a very big part in what ya looking for and found now here, or is it?

Scattered thought, hope it helps

4:49 am on June 15, 2006 (gmt 0)

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If you've given your opinion or even answered a question you can leave it open for more discussion with something like 'That's my way of doing X but I'd like to hear from other people how they do X differently'.

Periodically throw out some goofy related social topics for which there are no real 'answers'. If you run an auto repair forum ask who's going to see the new pixar movie 'cars' and if they did what did they think of it, or 'what was the first tool you bought with your own money', or 'what was the most expensive tool you ever lent out but never got back'. Keep poking eventually you'll find a spot that gets a reaction.

11:13 am on June 15, 2006 (gmt 0)

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I've been lurking in this forum for a few weeks now, and since I've stepped out of the shadows I think the original poster achieved his goal!

However, the main reason people like me lurk isn't lack of confidence, or necessarily fear of ridicule, but lack of subject knowledge. I can't really post on subjects I know very little about. In time that may change and there will be a natural conversion of lurkers into contributory posters. Others just lurk and always will.

My opinions on forums answering too many questions and the overbearing quality of authoritative posters/experts. Some threads are questions, and others are opinion based discussions. As has already been mentioned, a question that is answered authoritatively very often doesnít need further posts, this can be a good thing as the forum is noted for itís subject authority, and valuable information isnít buried in or diluted by Ďme tooí posts. Opinion based discussions by definition donít have one answer and therefore anyone can contribute and enhance the thread, forums need a mixture of both.

2:02 pm on June 15, 2006 (gmt 0)


WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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Welcome out of lurkerdom, fatrabbit!

You are right in suggesting that a forum that is all Q&A won't develop huge participation - a balance of discussion topics and Q&A items is probably the optimum. (Sometimes, of course, a simple question will spark an extended discussion if not everyone agrees on the answer.)

2:49 pm on June 15, 2006 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member ken_b is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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It seems to me that the idea that authoritative answers eliminate the need for further answers is probably true less often than not.

Depending on the question, I wonder if an authoritative answer doesn't beg for a "me too" answer or two at least.

The reason is the confirmation of authority for the questioner. A long time forum member might know from experience that poster x is an authority on the subject at hand. But a new user most likely won't know that.

Since some posters can state the wrong answer with a clearly athoritative tone, the need for other members to isn't hard to imagine.

While "me too" authority confirming type posts may be somewhat annoying for long time forum members, they might play a critical role in establishing a trust level for newer members that could be essential to drawing them into a more regular participation.

I dunno, maybe it's it's about finding a balance.

4:01 pm on June 15, 2006 (gmt 0)

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Problem with some ďlurkingĒ people (like me) is that usually we lurk and donít post because the people posting seam to know more then us. So rather then posting something wrong or vague, we let someone that could really know their stuff answer.

Some people here put out some good information, so by getting all newcomers post pretty much random stuff (like they do on some forums) then the overall value of this place would go down. (Read 50 posts to get to the one good one).


1:32 pm on June 16, 2006 (gmt 0)

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Answers to most of the original questions depend on answering a single question:

Do you prefer quality or quantity?

(In an ideal world, you could have both. But I'm afraid this world isn't perfect.)

7:12 am on June 17, 2006 (gmt 0)

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Thanks Roger,

This is a good conversation. I have been lurking daily on several SEO forums and dozens of blogs since 2000, but I almost never post. Iíve spend about 4 hours a day or more just lurking for years and years. Why?

Although I type very slowly, I also tend to give long winded thoughts on a topic. I have a hard time just spitting it out. Iíll spend two hours or more trying to craft the perfectly written post or response. I know I donít have time for that sort of thing so I donít allow myself to be drawn in to the conversation.

If I were to start posting, my 4 hours of lurking on SEO forums and blogs could easily turn into a full time job.

I donít multi task very well but I feel the need to reply quickly. This can create a disruption at work because Iím easily distracted by SEO conversations. The rare times when I do post, I usually get nothing else done. This is because I tend to get obsessive about the topic and thread. Iíll read the entire thread several times just to make sure I didnít miss a detail or key thought. Then Iíll read and reread every post I write several times before I post it because Iím self conscious about grammar and spelling errors. Iíll research the topic extensively between posts so I donít sound like an idiot, etcÖ

A few times I have crafted a well thought out and detailed post on a difficult topic just to receive short, vague replies from people who donít understand the question at all, miss the point entirely or get hung up on a minor detail that isnít relevant. I have almost never gotten a good answer. I usually just get stupid questions about my original question but no help.

Most replies to questions are non answers and are along the line ofÖ
ďI guess it all depends on what your definition of ďisĒ Ė isĒ
(Thanks, that response was Soooo helpful)
Sometimes I think people just slap up a thoughtless post so they can see their member statistics go up by one more post.

Iíve also posted an idea just to get a conversation started a few times but again, I have always been disappointed with the quality of responses.

Itís taken me over an hour to get this far with my thought because Iíve rewritten and edited it several times. Itís a good thing itís Friday or I wouldnít get any work done tomorrow.

BTW Ė Nothing personal but, I donít particularly like this forum. Thatís probably the main reason I donít participate over here. I donít see any value in paid membership so I usually avoid this place. I followed a link that Barry posted on the SE Roundtable but I usually donít spend much time here.

Many of the most knowledgeable WebmasterWorld members like you & Graywolf who posted in this thread earlier, have blogs anyway so thatís what I usually read instead.


3:49 pm on June 17, 2006 (gmt 0)


WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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Welcome to WebmasterWorld, or at least out of lurkerdom, DZ. I agree that if your posting experience is that when you ask a question you get little useful help, then you won't be motivated to keep posting. That's the hallmark of a good forum, I think - a mix of members that include at least some who are helpful and know their stuff... and are willing to share that knowledge.

A common path for posters is to begin by asking questions... eventually add comments or opinions in discussions... and finally start answering questions when they are able to. Not everyone follows that arc, of course.

12:28 am on June 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

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Despite over 10 years of doing SEO and site design I lurk here and do not post as the forum rules do not encourage a signature file.


2:36 am on June 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

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I have no problem with lurkers i.e. guests, as long as they are capable of clicking on ads, they are welcome to either post or not post. Forum activity in itself is nothing; what matters is what your goals are.

If you are after revenue, then quality content in the form of accurate and complete answers to questions will draw links and a large number of eyeballs. The goal is to ge the right people - those who have answers - to be among the active population.

This way your work as a moderator is also minimized.


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