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Understanding Motivation In Online Communities

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

A few organizations are heading in the wrong direction. 

They believe game mechanics will encourage contributions within a community.

They use a free incentive to get people to join.

They have short-term competitions/challenges in which members can win a prize to stimulate activity.

These might achieve a short blip of success, but they hurt the community over the long term. All three are sure-fire ways to attract a lot of lurkers (information-seekers). 

I’ve been in meetings with clients absolutely bewildered that anyone would participate in a community if they didn’t receive a tangible reward.

If you’re used to managing employees, it makes sense. But it’s rather sad. It’s also disproven by every successful community not offering tangible rewards for participation. 

Forget Maslow, there are three key motivations at work here. 

1) Power and influence (self-efficacy). We want to feel like we’ve made an impact in the world around us. This is the strongest motivator. We participate in a community because we feel we matter in that community. We feel we make a difference. 

2) Fame and status seeking (appreciation). We participate to increase our status within the community. We share our best advice, try to make friends, participating in discussions all to increase our own status (and possibly boost our own self-concept). This drives many contributions in knowledge-sharing communities.

3) Affiliation (belonging).We want to make friends. This is a weaker motivation than most the others. We want to connect with people and learn more about them. We want to conform and ‘fit in’ to a group of likeminded people. We participate to increase that feeling of belonging. 

These motivations haven’t changed for participating in social groups for years. 

If you want to stimulate activity over the long term in a community, you have to use these motivators – not tangible rewards. 

Tangible rewards place members within the reward mindset. They link their behaviour to the anticipation of the reward. It doesn’t scale and rapidly reduces activity. 

If you want to stimulate activity, then create the environment which appeals to these motivations. Click here for some simple tactics

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