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How To Use Motivational Characteristics to Build Community

by Lauren Hart Piper , Vice President, Product Management and Marketing

One of the most common struggles community managers face is how to attract and engage members. Once you understand the member’s motivation for joining and remaining a part of a community you have a much better chance of connecting with them on an authentic basis. On a Roundtable Call members of TheCR Network met with Chris Bailey, a cultural anthropologist focused on researching community building.

Through his research in offline community building he discovered several principles that can seamlessly be applied to the world of online community building. Chris explored four main motivational characteristics for community participation: altruism, enjoyment, status seeking and reputation seeking. Today we dive into each of these characteristics and provide best practices that community managers can use to connect with their members and increase participation and engagement.


The Four Motivational Characteristics in Communities


Altruism is the easiest motivator to recognize. The theory behind altruistic community participation is that a member feels a sense of reciprocity and good karma by giving and sharing within the community. If we get something interesting, we want to be able to give back.


This is the feeling of reward and the experience of belonging. A great example of this is in open source communities, where members derive a deep sense of satisfaction by belonging to the community.

Status Seeking

Status seeking is a more formal process than purely altruistic motivations. It consists of those elements that improve an individual’s standing within the group, which could include internal recognition, rewards, leadership positions or increased and highly visible responsibilities.

Reputation Seeking

This is a process that is based on interpretation and the attributions of other individuals. So, if you think about it from a status seeking perspective, that’s an internal process (the individual is giving/sharing as a way to seek status). With the process of reputation seeking, the individual is taking an action for which that reputation is then bestowed upon him/her from outside. This might involve contributing to show expertise or special knowledge that the average member might not have.

Of course, there is always a mix of motivating factors when it comes to each individual member. It’s even likely that all four of these characteristics coexist in some ratio and can fluctuate depending on time and circumstance. Perhaps a member is primarily motivated by altruism one day, but the next day the individual realizes they need to elevate their status as a professional and take steps accordingly. It’s important to remember that these motivators are a moving target – plan accordingly.

Now that we’ve identified the four main drivers for member participation, let’s look at community engagement best practices. How can we encourage contributions that are mutually beneficial for the community’s health and individual member motivations and goals?

Three Best Practices for Community Engagement

1. Understand lurkers by understanding why members choose to belong to the community.

Chris explained that the danger of a supply and demand imbalance within the community always exists as it relates to content (more people demanding content than supplying content). If the community gets to that stage, it is an issue of over-consumption. In this case, it is necessary to turn lurkers into contributors. The State of Community Management 2014 (ADD YOUR SOCM LINK HERE) provided interesting data points on lurkers within communities. Chris builds on those stats with actionable advice – ask members, either overtly or covertly, why they choose to belong to the community. Is it to increase status? Is it to build their reputation? Are they there because they believe in the community and simply want it to succeed? The answers to these questions will help you as a community manager understand why a lurker is there. Motivate them to participate. (For additional tips on motivating lurkers download the SOCM 2014(ADD YOUR SOCM LINK HERE) for free and start reading on page 17.)

2. Be aware of the social norms within your community to ensure that you are not inadvertently fostering disengagement.

Here, Chris shares a real-life example of an early community of individuals that were so tightly knit that they became “cliquish.” For the members that joined later, it was a very intimidating experience as the rules and the norms of etiquette appeared very rigid to the new members and the existing members didn’t encourage participation from newbies. Their status seeking reputation was having a negative impact. It’s always a good idea to understand how your members are using their status and reputation and make sure they are contributing in a positive, affirming way.

3. Create a program for increasing status and reputation.

When it comes to attracting new members, Chris recommends demonstrating how the community can elevate status and reputation. Gamification and badging offer an interesting way to provide tangible status symbols in a community. As members participate and collect these markers, it becomes easy to identify the stronger users in a community. This is a dynamic way to build community participation and identify lurkers.

How do you use your member’s motivations to impact community participation and engagement? Have you encountered other main types of member motivators? We’d love to hear how you tackle engagement challenges in your community – please share!


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