Masquerade mask with feathers

I’ve been thinking recently about ‘lurking’ – is it a good thing for us to have lurkers on the Online Community? 

If you’ve never heard of the term lurker, you might be forgiven for thinking that it refers to something pretty sinister – and it’s true that many people think it’s a negative behaviour. Lurkers are people who spend time on internet forums or chatrooms, reading what others write, but not actually posting anything themselves. 

Why are people suspicious of lurkers?

This might sound harmless enough, but the word ‘lurker’ itself is a clue to the fact that not everyone thinks so. It conjures up images of a threatening presence hiding in the shadows and watching what other people say. 

On the one hand, this is understandable. Online Communities like ours rely on people opening up and sharing their stories. Being honest about feelings and experiences that you might not even be able to discuss with your closest friends can leave you feeling very vulnerable. And if you become aware of someone on the site reading those stories and not sharing anything in return, it’s natural that you might feel a little uncomfortable. 

Why might people lurk on the Macmillan Online Community?

However, here at the Macmillan Online Community, we aim to support everyone affected by cancer. So it’s really important for us to remember that those people who aren’t posting are still likely to have a cancer experience – and that we should also consider their needs. 

If someone isn’t posting on the site, does that mean that they aren’t getting anything out of it? I don’t think it necessarily does. Quite often, I see that members create an account some weeks or months before they first post. Sometimes they say that it has taken them a long time to get up the courage to write something. Other times they mention how much it has helped them just to read about other people’s experiences. 

Even if there are some members who never decide to post, if this site is helping them feel less alone, it’s still doing its job. 

Let's make everyone feel welcome

So, the next time you notice an account with no posts – or see someone silently present in the chatroom – please remember to make them feel welcome, but don’t push them to join in. They’ll probably do so when they’re ready. 

Or, if you’re one of those people who reads this site, but hasn’t yet posted anything – don’t worry, you’re very welcome here. 

Now, if only we could think of a more positive word than ‘lurker’…

What do you think? How do you feel when you see behaviour like this on the site? Did you read posts for a long time before contributing yourself?