We’re innately wired to find groups. Groups mean safety. In the animal kingdom this is physical safety. Lions pick off the isolated prey first. If you ever walk with lions (and you should try it) you’re sternly warned to stay in a group. It’s good advice.
In the human world groups are more about emotional safety. It’s the emotions of the isolated that get attacked. Even without a clear predator, we fear for our isolated emotional selves.
Animals find safety in their herds. These are the animals most similar to each other. Sometimes this is family, sometimes this is more geographical. It’s what common features connect the herd.
Humans are the same. Before the hormone explosion, boys stick with boys, girls stick with girls in the playground. As we grow older and leave our families we find our emotional safety through people we perceive to be like us. People that have been through the same things as us, people with the same interests are us. People that even look like us.
This is where online communities enter the fray. Ukulele enthusiasts used to be lonely. No high-school kid admits to being a Ukulele player. At least Star Trek had their place, but there isn’t even a Ukulele table to mock in the canteen. If you used to play the Ukulele, you would have kept it to yourself. You have no emotional safety in your life.
That is until you begin watching YouTube videos. It’s until you begin e-mailing the authors, networking with the singers and being introduced to other people like you. Before long, phew, you’re emotionally safe. You’ve found and helped develop an online community of Ukulele players.
I fear for businesses that don’t understand this. When KMart launches a community, it’s difficult to see what emotional safety any member will find there. Where’s the flag? Where’s the big neon sign promoting the emotional safety they offer? Have they even considered emotional safety?
Goths put up a fantastic flag. It bewilders outsiders but offers the select few a place to belong. It offers them safety. It’s a place where their fragile emotional selves can’t be attached. They’re part of a herd.
Some communities are doomed when they launch. If someone can’t be emotional invested in your product/service, it’s difficult to see how they can find any emotional safety. It’s not impossible. Many Moms buy the same brand of milk, and many dads drink from a same type of mug. They can get to know and find emotional safety in each other.
But if milk and mugs are your products, the community can’t be about you. You can’t offer emotional safety to your customers. You can’t offer Trekkers a place to gather nor a Ukulele players a website to sing. So a community for dull, emotionless products is possible, but it’s far more work for far less reward.
The biggest worry here is emotional safety isn’t considered in most community thinking. That’s madness. It’s a primal instinct. Put the Twitter integration plan aside. Focus on the primal stuff first.