Why People Participate in Online Communities

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by: Matt Rhodes

A great post last week from the NEXT web on why people participate in online communities (see post here). It’s an interesting read, bringing together various bits of thinking in this space.

What I like most is that the discussion makes us start before why users participate to just understanding their users. This is a process that some often overlook and to their peril.

Most important in this understanding of users is to acknowledge and accept that not everybody who uses your community will actively contribute. In a large public community we find that the 90:9:1 rule is quite a fair description of activity – for every 100 people on the community, 90 will just read, 9 will reply to other people’s posts and 1 will start a conversation. Of course the 90 people are critical for the others to take part and so must be there, but good community management can help to shift these balances and in private communities we see very different participation rates. That’s why we hate the word ‘lurker’ that some people often use to describe people like this; they’re participants in the community too, just less overt ones.

In this environment, understanding why those who will overtly contribute do so is critical. Great content and an empathetic community manager are critical, but the real reasons people particpate include:

  1. The expectation that they will get something back that will be useful to them
  2. The desire for increased personal recognition in a peer group
  3. A sense of community and the willingness to solve something together
  4. Building connections and networking
  5. The sense of belonging to a group of peers
  6. The desire to help others

This list is not necessarily complete but includes the main reasons that people will participate. When setting up a community it’s critical to evaluate how important these are and then to design your approach in a way that capitalises upon these desires.

Even with the best community manager and most impressive and interesting content, it is getting these member dynamics right that will really ensure success.

Original Post: blog.freshnetworks.com/index.php/2008/05/29/why-people-participate-in-online-communities/