Community Strategy Insights

The latest insights on community strategy, technology, and value by FeverBee’s founder, Richard Millington

Tiers Of Motivation For Participating in Online Communities

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

Let’s begin with the first, the unique benefit.

You join a community because you want access to a unique benefit.

The unique benefit is typically one of:

Unique benefit

  • Pleasure. You join the community to get immediate gratification from a specific activity.
  • Reduce pain. You join the community to reduce a pain you are affected by. Customer service communities thrive here.
  • Hope. You join the community to change something in the world (or about yourself). This is activist.
  • Reduce fear. You join a community to reduce the fear of something bad happening.
  • Social accepted. You join a community to gain social acceptance from those whose opinions you care about.
  • Avoid social rejection. You join the community to avoid a sense of rejection from those that have already joined. Exclusivity works well on this principle.

If you’re trying to persuade people to join a community, link your appeals to one of the above.

Good questions to ask the target members include:

  • What is your biggest fear?
  • What do you hope will change in the future?
  • Who do you consider your peers? And where do your peers gather?
  • What is your biggest {topic} challenge?
  • What do you like about your {topic}?

You can then use these exact answers in your outreach message to prospective members.

Immediate Ego Gratification

However the reason why people join a community and the reason why people participate are very different. They participate to further satisfy their social needs. Initially, these are their ego needs.

Immediately upon joining the community, you want an ego boost. You want a quick win that will keep you hooked in the community. Gambling machines tend to use this trick. They provide quick wins to keep you hooked for the long-term.

The goal at this stage is to immediately engage someone in an activity and then provide positive feedback on that activity. This usually means we want:

  • Validation. You want to hear something positive about yourself. You want to hear the views you have of yourself repeated by others.
  • To be uniqueness. You want to feel you have something unique you can contribute to the community.

This means the very first contribution a member makes to a community should be something they can be praised for. This is why we like members to talk about what they’re working on, their biggest achievements, their biggest failure, what they hope to achieve in the future.

This lets other members respond to them, validate them as people, and help them feel unique within that community. The more someone feels they have unique skills they can contribute to the community, the more likely they are to participate in the future.

Positive Distinctiveness

Once we get to know the other people in the group and care about their opinions, we want them to hold positive opinions of ourselves.

This has two parts. First, we need to know and recognise the names of community members. We need to udnerstand te social order and be familiar with the top people within the community. Second, we need to understand the history of the community. We want to know our role within the community.

Therefore, we need to read lots of content and posts about members within that community.

Social identity theory predicts that, depending upon the permeability of group boundaries (how easy it is to be accepted by the core groups), we would take an individual mobility, social creativity, or social competition strategy.

We see an equivalent of this within communities. Members tend to identify the approaches existing members have taken to achieve respect or popularity within the community and then adapt those approaches to acheive popularity for themselves.

What we do see are participation strategies.

  • Participate the most. This is most common. You try to over-post their way to positive distinctiveness. This becomes annoying relatively quickly.
  • Be the expert in the community. This is most useful. You try to share the best expertise within that community and be seen as the expert.
  • Be likable. This is the second most common, you try to be positive, happy, caring members of the community. You build friendships with the top members and ease your way into the group.
  • Other forms of uniqueness. There are no shortage of ways to be unique. Members can engage in many of these to find a path that allows them to build their standing within the community.


It’s only after you’ve established yourself as a genuine, core, member of the community do you begin to seek out real friends among that group.

  • Meet and connect with people in real time. Note here we didn’t say in person, but live real-time discussions on via channels other than the community.
  • Build a core group of people you most identify with. Build your own peer group within the broader peer group. People who you feel most similar to.
  • Have shared experience/symbols. Have a shared history/experiences/symbols that you can relate to. You engage in separate activities jsut with a smaller group of members.

Habit Theory

Over time, visiting the community becomes a habit. It becomes one of the seven websites we visit every day to see what’s new. It’s up their with BBC News, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, FeverBee, and GMail.

We do it because it’s programmed into our routines. By engaging in visitation activities frequently enough over a sustained period of time (between 3 weeks to 3 months, depending upon research), we visitation becomes habitualized. We just need to continue visiting during this time.

Fear of Missing Out

Finally, you participate because you don’t want to miss out.

Missing out would mean increased social angst due to the idea that other people are gaining knowledge, pleasure, or other benefits from community participation that you’re not.

You don’t want to fall behind on information being shared, see other people make up ground on your own reputation, or watch your own reputation diminish as a result of not participating.

The key element here is to be very clever about which stage of community participation your members are in and adapt your own efforts accordingly.

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