The Psychology Behind Online Community Building


I’m a self-professed psychology geek. It’s one of the reasons that I got into community management almost five years ago. The ability to see and understand what drives people to join and become active in an online community fuels my fire.

One of the biggest things that has fascinated me recently is gamification in online communities. Admittedly, I’ve seen, participated and studied more than my fair share of lame, cheesy, half-assed attempts to gamify a community and/or product to be more than a little skeptical.

It takes a lot more than a shiny badge, a new title and flashy new swag to motivate someone to become more active in an online community. Or, at it’s absolute the worst, the ridiculously expensive and elaborate sweepstake contests that many large brands have grown fond of on Facebook in recent years to increase “community engagement” on their Facebook pages. That’s not gamification. It’s simply bribery.

While you may see brief spikes in activity as people are drawn to the shiny and new, that excitement around the new swag goes away as quickly as it started. That leaves you with always having to find bigger, shiner and better swag to give out, until at some point when even that isn’t enough. You find that your community has just “disappeared” for the next best thing.

That’s where gamification can go so wrong. It focuses too much on the shiny and superficial things and not enough on fostering the relationships that will make your community thrive in the long term. It’s the relationships between community members and in many the cases the community and the brand that will make a community scale exponentially higher.

What do you think drives people to participate in an online community? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts in the comments section. 

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Jessica Malnik

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