A common challenge among social media marketers is the 90-9-1 rule. 90% of your followers are lurkers with only 9% engaging and the 1% actively creating content of their own.

B2B responses to this challenge are many, including better targeting, more engagement, as well as the occasional direct telemarketing campaign. What good are lurkers when you can’t get them out of their hiding place right?

The truth though is not all of them are content to leave their spot in the audience. What you think are shy little lurkers could very well turn out like ones the Starcraft games. Just because you mean no harm and only like to talk doesn’t mean the feeling is mutual.

It’s one of the problems that internet analyst Chris Abraham recently explores in his blog. And while he tackles the finer points of considering the larger audience versus an engaged few, he presents a few simple reasons for why attempts to engage a larger share could backfire:

  • They’re still alienated – More active engagement doesn’t necessarily put down the barrier between, say, a passive subscriber/reader to your blog and your business. Ask yourself, what else do you know about this prospect other than the fact that he/she reads your material? It doesn’t say they agree with you, use you as different sort of reference, or even know what you’re blogging about.
  • Creating barriers within in your audience – On the subject of targeting, that still carries the risk of putting off the rest of your audience. It’s like when a magician asks for a volunteer and everyone’s raising their hands. Once you make your pick though, there’s disappointment with at least a few. Maybe they do want to engage but the idea was just at the back of their minds until you started selecting.
  • Giving them incentive could be just more of the same – What drew them to your blog in the first place? Could it be used to draw inbound calls as well? Sure it’d be harder to place a call just to nab freebie won’t that just give lurkers more cause to hesitate? Again, maybe they just like sitting in the audience (for reasons known only to themselves).

Perhaps instead of expanding the 9% and 1% of your audience, you would do better to try and get them to reach to the rest of the 90%. But remember, giving them incentive and targeting them still carries the risk of alienating the rest of the audience and creating barriers.