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Why People Don’t Join A Community

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

Cliffe Lampe and co recently published a
fascinating study
. One of the understated results is this; some audiences
are unlikely to ever join a community.

These are typically older audiences with high self-esteem,
limited time, a close group of existing friends, and rarely use the internet
outside of work. When the clock strikes 5, they’re done with using the computer.

It’s impossible to get some audiences participating in
communities. You need to test that your target audience might join the
community before you invest heavily in the community.

Identify the problem;
awareness, value, or costs

The rest aren’t joining your community because:

a) they don’t know you exist

b) they don’t see the value or
benefits of joining the community

c) they see the benefits but this
is outweighed by the perceived       costs.

Each of these can be tackled. If you have an awareness
problem (as most communities do), you tackle this through more promotional
activities. For example, publishing community-created eBooks, hosting events
with guest speakers, pitching stories to relevant trade media, organizing
awards, launching a campaign etc…

It’s likely target members will hear about the community
many times before they join. Don’t worry about optimizing every awareness push,
focus on the number of awareness efforts you undertake.


If the community is known but members don’t join (do a
survey of a random sample of target members), you face a value/benefits
problem. This is two-fold. First, don’t highlight freeloading activities.

Highlight the success stories of the community. Highlight on
access to the best people in their sector. Highlight the opportunity to build
their reputations. These provoke activate participation and have influence over
their sector. Promote your powerful membership list.

Most importantly, push through existing social networks. The
more friends someone has in a community, the more likely they are to join.
Target specific niches and push through those niches.


Yet, this fails if the perceived costs are too high. The
perceived costs and actual costs are too different things. You need to tackle

The perceived costs include time, energy, and personal

If members the value will take a long time to attain,
they’re less likely to join. If they feel the community is a close-knit club,
they’re unlikely to participate for long. You need to tackle the permeability
and instant gratification issues. You have to imply that members can quickly get the value the community

If members feel the community technology takes time to learn
or is going to be an emotionally draining experience, they’re unlikely to join.

Finally, many members won’t participate because of a
specific, personal, concern. For example, they have concerns over privacy or
looking bad to others. Many people don’t join communities of practice because
they’re worried of saying something dumb/bad in front of colleagues.

Ensure you’re targeting an audience that might join a
community. Then focus on awareness. Finally focus on increasing the value or
reducing the costs. Sometimes a change in one resolves the other.


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