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Why People Contribute in Private Online Communities - 2/17/2015 -

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 can handle.

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 research.


·         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.


TIP: There 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.


TIP: To 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 participate.


TIP: The 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.


TIP: To 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.


Private Online Community Takeaway

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.


Joshua Paul is senior director of marketing and strategy at Socious.



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