Lurkers, experts and the types of research community participants

In his latest blog, Anthony Shephard-Williams (director) explores the different types of online community research participants he has encountered.

Over the last decade Mustard has conducted hundreds of online research community projects, giving us access to (and a better understanding of) the lives of many thousands of research participants.

The longer a community runs for, the closer we get to our research participants and the more rapport we can build with them. And the more we get to understand them for who they are (people!) and the psychology behind them.

The breadth of community projects we have delivered recently got me thinking about the different types of people that take part in online communities (a light touch segmentation if you like). Each participant is unique and has their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. If we consider the psychology of the research participant, they can be influenced by a range of factors, including their personality traits, life experiences, cultural background, and cognitive processes. These factors can impact the participant’s behaviour and responses during the community, and may also affect their perceptions of the study and their motivation to participate.

I’ve encountered many different traits and personalities over the years, all extremely valuable in their own way. Having a mix of these traits and personalities definitely helps contribute towards the creation of a successful community. There are at least 6 distinct personas that I have encountered thus far:

6 different types of community participants:

  1. Community champions: These are the most engaged members of an online community and are usually the first to respond when new questions or surveys go live, they are always keen to share their opinions and experiences. They are typically vocal and knowledgeable and will go the extra mile if needed. You can always rely on them!
  2. The quiet ones: Unlike community champions, the quiet ones are less engaged and are more likely to pick and choose the activities they get involved in. If something sparks their interest though, you’ll definitely hear from them.
  3. The lurkers: Not the nicest of descriptors perhaps but it’s very fitting. These types of participants rarely engage in discussions or research activities. They are more likely to take a back seat and observe. They might contribute every now and again or be encouraged to take part in more specific activities that interest them.
  4. The newbie: Newbies are new members of the online community who are dipping their toes in the water. They’re just getting to grips with how the community works and thinking about the community dynamics. They could initially be slow to get going so may need more encouragement from moderators. Opening up conversation and building a relationship early on is key, or there is the risk that they lose interest quickly.
  5. The influential insider: Just like influencers in the context of social media, community influencers could have a large following within the community. If you’re having a group discussion or debate then they could help shape opinions and drive conversations. If we’re worried about them having too much influence though, then there are tools within our platform to ensure that others get to have their say first, before seeing other comments.
  6. The wisdom warrior: These are essentially (self-proclaimed) experts who are knowledgeable about the topics covered. They are usually very active on the community and others may look up to them as a source of inspiration or reassurance.

Of course, as with everyday life, not everyone neatly fits into a “box” all of the time and these community behaviours that we observe are driven by a broad range of factors and influences (the subject, the discussion tasks, the community duration, etc.). That said, we’ve definitely encountered plenty of champions, quiet ones, lurkers, newbies, influential insiders and wisdom warriors over the years!

If you have any questions about online communities, or have encountered any other personas of participants, we’d love to hear from you, feel free to get in touch –

Written by Anthony Shepard-Williams
Posted on 3rd Aug, 2023