What Motivates Participants to Engage in Online Communities

Many of my past posts have talked about the benefits of having a community for a company or organization. However, I have not spent enough time talking about the benefit to the participants in the community. It has to go both ways. A community will only be successful if the participants and the sponsoring organization both find value in participating regularly in the community.

A couple of recent interactions with people prompted me to write this post.

Last week, a reader of my blog, who works with a community in the travel industry asked me this question:

What’s your idea about the other side of the coin? Why should customers participate in online communities created by companies? What benefits do they get?

I also had a conversation on Monday with someone in the health care space who was struggling with whether or not to build an online community for their new site when other, similar communities already exist. Part of our discussion centered around why people would participate in their community and what value would the members receive that they were not already getting from other communities in their industry.

There are no easy answers to this question, and like many questions about community management, the answer depends on the situation; however, it boils down to a question of motivation. What motivates people to participate in your community?

Online Community Motivation
What motivates people to participate in your community?

The tricky part is that people are motivated in many different ways with complex interactions between motivations. For example, I might participate in a social media community as part of my work as a consultant because I think it will have long-term financial gain for me; however, I might be friends with many of the other participants and also participate for social reasons and because I have fun doing it while also feeling like I’m learning something.

Usually one of these motivations is the primary reason that a person comes into a community as a first time user. As a community manager or the organization sponsoring the community, you should focus on a couple of reasons that people might be motivated to participate and make them clear when you promote the community. Getting people motivated to visit the community for the first time is half of the battle.

It is also important to look at why people participate in your community and see how you can help get people more motivated to continue participating in the community over a significant period of time.

  • Can you make it more fun? more social?
  • What can you do to help people develop their skills and learn something new?
  • How can you recognize the status of top contributors?
  • Can you tap into their passion for a topic?

What motivates people to participate in your community? What do you do to help make sure that people stay motivated to participate?

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9 thoughts on “What Motivates Participants to Engage in Online Communities”

  1. An online community should bring people with similar interests or objectives together. People that love a product or what a product is used for will want to join an online community to share their thoughts and obtain positive reassurance that their opinion of the product is the right one to have.

    There may well be existing communities out there that are similar to the one(s) you want to develop. However, all online communities should offer something new – whether that be on a basic level (eg features and design) or a more advanced level, such as the personality of the community and the level of involvement by those in positions of authority.

    Online communities need to be fun, friendly and engaging. They take a lot of hard work, but the rewards are worth it.

    – Martin

  2. I have recently started a community for young entrepreneurs. The big picture is to increase the interest in entrepreneurship and help young entrepreneurs achieve their goals. However to do this we focus on developing entrepreneurship clubs at specific colleges. This is what keeps people involved in the community they want to help grow their school specific club so it stands out as the best.

    So we still get our entrepreneurship info across but people are really focused on helping their school club. I think having this personal connection with their school really helps facilitate their activity on the network.

  3. Great article!
    Alot of companies are trying to determine how to create and sustain online communities. The best online communities have many active participants that are engaged in the subject and offer useful insight.


  4. Hi Folks- just found this site. I’m a Biomedical Informaticist and have been looking at healthcare support groups, especially within virtual worlds.

    If one looks at healthcare writ large, including people who I would classify as mental health issues, but are non-clinical/non-severe, the predominate motivation I think is companionship. I recently took a look at the virtual world IMVU and found a large number of groups centered around just wanting to talk about general problems. I think these groups are more about simple sharing and chatting, than specific information.

    That said, when I looked at Second Life, the groups tended to have a much more, say clinical, focus. Here, I think that the motivation is to give and get assistance. Groups are centered around particular issues, such as Autism, or Multiple Sclerosis. There is probably still and underlying need for companionship.

    To generalize, if a group offers companionship and the ability of its members to give and get assistance for even a broad field of interest, they would serve the motivation of their members.


  5. We can learn a lot about our customers likes and dislikes and what motivates them when we set up a social online communities. I truly believe the online community has great power so companies need to make good use of these wonderful new customer feedback systems.

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