(Originally posted in Social Media Today)

Social Media Lurker

With its recent interface upgrade, Twitter is making a strong play to encourage its social “lurkers” to get involved — that is, the 40 percent of users who have active accounts but fail to tweet.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. While lurkers are a powerful source of untapped potential for brands (and Twitter), engaging them takes hard work and time, and it’s only specific content marketing tactics that will help you do it.

But it’s worth it. If just half of Twitter’s 40 percent became active, that would result in over 100 million newly active users looking for brands to engage with. That’s a lot of potential.

The Different Types of Users Lurking in the Dark

Social media is such a part of people’s daily lives that you can’t help but try it out. With this optimistic hypothesis in mind, we see simple divisions within all brands’ audiences:

  • Brand Fans: Those unwavering advocates who engage the most and are the most easily pleased (think Apple brand fans).
  • Under-Engagers: Also known as former lurkers, under-engagers do interact with your brand — just not as much as they could.
  • Fake Accounts: Those followers that celebrities and public figures have purchased to falsely inflate their number of followers.

Brand fans will share no matter what you do, and fake accounts won’t share no matter what you do. There are no real lurkers anymore! As social is woven into our daily lives more and more, we’re simply seeing different levels of under-engagers. The real challenge presented here is to get those under-engagers — those potential converts to your brand — to share your content with their social networks.

Take, for example, my 80-year-old father. He’s on Facebook, for crying out loud! But he doesn’t post or comment much. It takes a truly extraordinary story for him to take the time to share or retweet it. He’s in some brands’ sweet spot right now, but they just don’t know it.

The challenge becomes identifying your secondary target market, finding out where they spend their time, and focusing your content efforts on that spot. It’s every marketer’s job to feed people like my father extraordinary stories that he’ll want to share.

Turn the Tide in Your Favor by Engaging Your Brand Lurkers

Like everything worth doing, the more time and resources you put into it, the better your yield of new brand fans will be. Here are three steps marketers can take to engage lurkers and turn an in-the-dark observer into a staunch supporter.

1. Find the right segment sample with your brand’s engagement history.

Segmenting your fans is an absolutely critical step that’s rarely performed. Simple analytics like Facebook Insights tell you what you already know, like gender, age, and regional demographics. What you’re looking for, however, are the under-engagers: the second most-engaged segment of the sample of fans.

Think like JetBlue, a company that knew breaking into top-tier markets would be pricey and more competitive. Instead of setting up for a long fight, it went after the underserved, second-tier markets and found a whole new audience for its service. You can be JetBlue-smart, too, by championing the lurker market within your industry.

We’ve found the perfect number for big businesses to go after: a sample size of 500 users who have engaged with your brand. Look at the interaction with your brand’s evergreen and campaign hashtags — in particular, people who engage with these campaigns but don’t necessarily follow your account. This is your primary fan sample to research.

2. Identify the unique influencers and media outlets.

When it comes to identifying the right thought leaders for your marketing efforts, you’re looking for the top celebrities and publishers that your under-engagers like and interact with — even those who are different from your brand fans’ favorites.

Picture it: If your under-engagers love Eminem while your brand fans love Adele, you’re not going to upset your brand fans if Eminem shares a product launch post of yours. If the brand fans happen to see it, they’ll just think you’re wasting your money. But the under-engagers? You’ve just converted a huge chunk of them that your client didn’t know existed!

3. Develop and distribute content specifically for the under-engagers.

Partnering with large, obvious brands can often be an excuse for not taking risks in your marketing campaigns, leaving you with the same ho-hum PR chatter.

Instead, look to alternative (but still significant) content outlets that aren’t quite as safe, such as popular blogs with the traffic and community to bring real results — and that are sure to hit the sweet spot for your segmented market.

Where Did Twitter Go Wrong?

While Twitter’s newest renovation isn’t a deal breaker for most users, it could have been a lot more effective in encouraging under-engagers to get involved with just a few simple tweaks.

Instead of promoting random tweets or public figures, Twitter could have captured under-engagers and brand fans alike by featuring the account’s top three tweets. Whether promoting a celebrity or a trending topic, real content from like-minded users would entice lurkers to interact by retweeting or favoriting, provoking engagement from the under-engaged.

As brands become more sophisticated in the age of digital marketing, the bar is being raised for agencies to show them something new and fruitful. Here’s your chance! Engage these lurkers, and unlock a prospective market that will bring your business to the next level.