My colleague, Rachel Spasser, recently mentioned in her 2014 predictions for Business Networks that this will be the year when lurkers come out of the shadows. I think that is a good prediction, so I thought I’d look at lurking, why we do it, and when we know it is the time to step out into the light.

In general it is good practice for newbies in social media is to lurk first: this is certainly recommended

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for Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook and Wikipedia. I also heard from programmers that attempting to make an improvement to Open Source software also requires an apprentice of lurking: and those programmers can be pretty brutal on “newbs”.

I myself lurked on Twitter for several weeks, doing lots of following, but no tweeting. I saw how it worked, got familiar with the technology and, most importantly, observed the protocols and styles of successful networkers. I now encourage other newbies to “lurk before you tweet”.

So if you are a newbie, why should you spend a period as a lurker? There are several reasons for this:

  • it allows you to see who else is in the community
  • you can get one-on-one help before going public
  • you can find people to review your profile or check your first blog posting
  • you can avoid making cultural faux pas such as duplication or plagiarism
  • there are FAQs, forums and other aids to help you get started

In business networks, a period of lurking is also common. We often see suppliers who have a profile, but no trading relationships. Some of them will be checking out other participants (who is on this thing?), scanning lists of opportunities, working on their supplier profile or reading forums.

Just as most of us were invited to Linkedin by one colleague, most participants are invited to a network by one trading partner: usually a customer.Many of us started of on eBay as buyers, but as we understood how the marketplace worked, we experimented with selling as well. Our time as an observer let us build up knowledge about how people search for goods, how they respond to feedback and how the payment systems work.We see the same thing in play for business networks, in four ways:

  • buyers who initially had a limited implementation in one business unit or country are now joining the Thousand Supplier Club
  • sellers who were invited by one customer are now using the marketplace to find new customers
  • buyers are promoting the use of the network to their suppliers, encouraging them to join and handholding their first interactions
  • partners with value-added services are joining up and experimenting with business models

So, as Rachel said, 2014 is the year that lurkers step out of the shadows.

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