What Do Members Want?

Some 20 years ago, I used to play an online video game called Red Alert 2.

I once racked up 45 straight wins and my username was listed among the top 10 players in the world with a unique ‘unstoppable’ badge.

I don’t think I ever played another game using that account. The fear of losing my top 10 status and breaking my streak was too high.

Instead, I created another account and began playing for fun again.

To a game designer, it probably made a lot of sense to list and celebrate the top players – especially those with great streaks like mine. But they didn’t truly emphasize with how it made top players feel.

We make these mistakes all the time in our communities too and it’s what our psychology of community course is really about.

It’s about being able to very clearly see and understand what members want.

There aren’t any Jedi mind tricks here, just a practical understanding of how to identify what different segments want (you can’t just ask them) and deliver on those wants.

This depth of understanding should inform everything you do, from developing the community platform to welcoming newcomers, rewarding members to punishing members etc…

The more you understand how members actually think, the easier it becomes to deliver on their wants and avoid common mistakes. Some examples:

  • Members care far less about any reward than what the reward represents. How many people received it? How publicly was it given? How does it relate to other rewards?
  • Once you begin calling members experts or giving them badges, they feel pressured to always have the right answer and maintain their reputation (see above). This is as likely to reduce their level of motivation than increase it.
  • Members care far less about 1 million people liking their post than 10 close peers loving their post. If the top 10 people in a field love their article, they’re thrilled.
  • Letting members submit ideas without being able to see the impact of those ideas (even if they’re rejected) harms their motivation and attitudes towards the company.
  • Members want consistent moderation processes, yet they want to feel special and unique when you engage with them.
  • It’s far more motivating for members to participate in a small, exclusive community than it is for a big, mass community. Mental associations with a community are critical in determining when and how people participate.
  • Asking someone to help out in a small way is likely to drive people away, creating a big opportunity only a tiny number of people can apply for attracts people.

Psychologists have long dropped the notion that people are rational actors who make decisions based upon which option offers them the biggest tangible reward.

It’s time we did too.

Instead, your members (and you) are far more likely to take action based on how you conceive your own identity in relation to the group you feel you/want to belong to.

If you want to get better at understanding what your members truly want, I recommend signing up for our Psychology of Community course.

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