Editor’s note: Anthony Shephard-Williams is a director of Mustard Research. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared under the title “From lurkers to experts – the different types of online community participants.”

Over the last decade we’ve gained access to (and a better understanding of) the lives of many research participants. The longer a community runs for, the closer we get to our research participants, 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 behaviors. 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 behavior and responses 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 helps contribute towards the creation of a successful online community. There are at least six distinct personas that I have encountered thus far.

Of course, as with everyday life, not everyone neatly fits into a “box” all the time and these community behaviors that we observe are driven by a broad range of factors and influences (the subject, the discussion tasks, the community duration, etc.).