Why People Contribute in Private Online Communities
Understanding why your members and customers engage online will show you how to get them more involved.
By Joshua Paul
People have lots of outlets and opportunities to "talk”
online. There’s no shortage of large social networks out there to soak up their
attention. Often, they simply need a secure space to discuss topics that might
be of a more personal or professional nature than their public Facebook page
Still, many organizations are challenged with getting their
customers or members to begin contributing in their private online communities.
Understanding why people contribute in your private online customer and member
communities allows you to shape your community around their expectations and
preferred engagement opportunities, which can lead to higher participation in
the long run.
Here are four
reasons why people make contributions in private online communities and how
your association can capitalize on them. Again, though your members and the
value they get from your social platform are unique to your specific community,
these four reasons are general community-independent themes that can give you
some actionable insight without the need for extensive member-specific
Reason #1: To Help Others. Let’s
begin with this warm and fuzzy statistic: a study
from The Society of New Communications Research called "The Social Mind” found
that 80 percent of people participate in online communities to help others. Since this research
suggests the primary reason your customer base or members are contributing is
to assist others with their problems, your community has the potential to
provide tremendous value to your target audience.
are many strategies you can use to help your customers or members achieve the
goal of helping others through their online community participation. For
instance, consider using your online community platform's built-in email
software to highlight questions that members ask in the online
discussion forums. Or, have your community managers connect people with
questions to the people who have answers and are interested in helping out.
Reason #2: To Build Their Personal
Brand. Now, reason #1 is not to say that your customers and members
aren’t still interested in receiving some personal gain from their
participation. The second most popular reason for participating in a private
online community is a desire to build
personal brand. People like to showcase their expertise and position
themselves (and their companies) as an authority, particularly when it allows
them to have their name involved in hot topics or discussions.
encourage your members to utilize your private online community as a means for
developing their personal brand, emphasize the importance of maintaining
a detailed member profile and provide tips for doing it. By
displaying as much information as possible and connecting their other social
media accounts to link content, like blogs, videos, and presentations, members
are given creative license to help themselves stand out.
Reason #3: To Support a Cause or
Organization They Believe In. Your more socially savvy members
understand that a private online community is only successful if it has
participants, and because they support
and believe in your organization or cause, they’re motivated to keep
that community active.
They see the information your
organization or community members put out in the online community and they
respond out of a desire to see the community succeed. People want the
organizations they believe in to thrive, so they’re more willing to step up and
best way you can thank your customers or members for this support is to make
participating in your private online community as easy and accessible as
possible. Do you have an online discussion forum with an email based
listserv? What about a mobile app?
By providing your busy customers or
members with methods of participation they are most comfortable with, they’re
will be less resistance to engage. Keep in mind that — regardless of how much
they support your organization — if you make participating a challenge, people
will be much less likely to put forth the effort.
Reason #4: To Set the Record
Straight. Since, people like to be the authority on topics in their
respective areas of interest, they also don’t like to see inaccurate
information misrepresenting their field. The desire to set the record straight is a big motivator for online community
contributors, particularly those who feel their expertise can be of use to
other members. When they see information that is touted with authority, but is
ultimately incorrect or up for debate, they want to speak up.
help your customers and members feel comfortable making suggestions or
correcting inaccuracies, post information with built-in calls-to-action that illicit
feedback. Don’t be afraid to be overt in your call for response. Specifying the
nature of the feedback you’re looking for will help your community members feel
more confident to share their knowledge.
Having a strong understanding of why your customers or
members participate in your online communities can help you create a
collaborative space that is optimized for their interests and engagement.
Help your customers or members help others, provide a
platform to build their personal brand, and make participating as easy as
possible to capitalize on their need for support and networking. The more
insight you have into their motivations, the easier it will be to structure
your community for maximized participation.
Paul is senior director of marketing and strategy