Building Online Community Engagement Systems Rooted In Psychology

To understand sustained participation in a community, you have to understand CAR.

This stands for Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness.

It’s self-determination theory which has a lot of supporting studies (unlike Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which has none).

Peak motivation is reached when we satisfy three needs.

  1. The need for competence
  2. The need for autonomy
  3. The need for relatedness

You can see a community-adapted model here:

Being Honest With Yourself, Why Do You Participate?

If you’re truly honest with yourself, you will probably admit you participate in a community because you like to feel smart and appreciated.

You like to feel you belong as part of a group of peers. You like that sense of recognition when you provide good solutions to challenging problems.

We’ve tried and tested multiple theories and ideas to sustain participation from community members.

Nothing has proven anywhere near as successful as systematically and incrementally helping members feel smarter, have more autonomy, and form more genuine relationships with members.

Every program you initiate in your community should be focused on helping members feel higher levels of competence, autonomy, and relatedness.

No other rewards you can offer members will come close to matching these.

But, You Need Systems (not one-off tactics).

However, for this to work, you need sustainable systems; not one-off tactics.

You need systems that will take a newcomer and gradually make them smarter, give them more responsibility within the community, and connect them with people like them.

This talk, for example, is almost entirely about systems to achieve this.

If you can’t see the video below, click here.

During Psychology of Communities, we’re going to spend time teaching you to design these engagement systems supported by psychology.

There is an incredible opportunity to work to increase the level of activity in your community by designing great systems.

Once you design your system, you know what behaviors and can align your daily actions to match.

p.s. The price will rise tonight, please sign up before then.

p.p.s. Remember you can also sign up for both our Strategic Community Management program and Psychology of Community for $1,100 USD before tomorrow.


  1. Kathleen Ulrich says:

    Thank you so much for sharing the recording and the graphic as well as your thoughts on understanding CAR.
    Both are very useful to me right now!!

  2. Brooke Harper says:

    These are really useful insights and that video (though it’s quite long) explained how effective is it to have a system to follow when building an online community engagement. It’s always best to engage with customers who are genuinely interested because then, you don’t need to try so had to market your product or you have an assurance that you’re engaging with a community who would most likely be your potential customer. Engaging with the right community is one of the best ways to master customer success.

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