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Need To Belong vs. Need to Be Different

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

Once you look beyond support-based communities (communities which people visit for need rather than desire) you find members follow a fairly similar assimilation process into the group.

First, your members will try to understand the group norms.

They will look for clues about the language to use, the topics members discuss, what the group’s likes and dislikes, the agreed common-knowledge of the group, and, in the analogue world, how the group dresses and behaves with one another.

Aside, this is why you often see newcomers who have read 50+ posts while contributing few of their own. They’re trying to figure out the group norms. Sure, some jump right into the fray (or are dragged immediately into it), but most people tentatively try to understand the group first.

These newcomers will then increasingly adopt the group norms until they feel they’re seen by others ‘as one of the group’. This might be as simple as making a few close friends within the broader group.

However, members also want to be seen as unique within the group. Or achieve what psychologists call ‘optimal distinctiveness’. This often leads people to start blogs, podcasts, customise their equipment, get tattoos, etc…The challenge is balancing the need to be unique against the desire to still be accepted within the group.

i.e. you want to be as unique as possible while still being seen as a member of the community.

If you’re managing a community, you can help members at every stage of the process. You can highlight group norms and ‘what you should know about this community’ material early on. You can use labels and references in content to help people be seen as part of the group. And you can find unique roles for members and promote their unique efforts to the broader community.

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