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Posted by Nigel Fenwick on March 12, 2010
Ever since I first started working with online social communities I've been thinking about just what it is that makes some communities successful while others fizzle and die. In particular I'm curious why collaboration communities seem to be so hard to make work.
Of course we have plenty of research into the strategies and tactics involved in setting up and running a successful social community, and we continue to publish new research and insights each month. But what do we know about the real reasons why individuals take the time to participate in these communities? What motivates them? And if we can understand what motivates them, is there a connection to figuring out why some communities are more successful than others?
Maslow suggested all people are motivated by a desire to fulfill basic human needs in an ascending hierarchy. He also suggested that unless the lower-order needs are fulfilled, the higher-order needs are not motivators of behavior.
The primary needs Maslow identified fall into five groups:
What's interesting is that many social community activities fit nicely into Maslow's hierarchy, suggesting a basis of motivation that drives participation.
Using Maslow’s hierarchy as a foundation, it’s possible to identify four needs that online social communities satisfy:
Social communities of various types offer the opportunity for its members to fulfill some or all of these needs. However, if lower level needs are unmet, people may lack the motivation to participate in the community.
For example, applying Maslow’s hierarchy helps to explain why so many people feel the urge to use Twitter and YouTube in times of crisis when they feel their own security is threatened. These social communities provide a pathway for potentially satisfying the need to be safe. It also explains why broader social media communities are most popular in societies where the lower-level needs are already satisfied in a large portion of the population.
Every social community it seems must satisfy at least one of four Social Needs:
Not all communities need to be designed to satisfy all Social Needs but in general, the more needs that are supported; the more people are likely to find the community appealing. For example, YouTube provides an excellent platform for creating but lacks support for sharing and connecting in the way that FaceBook provides to its members; LinkedIn started out as a platform to connect people and recently has expanded services to community members that appeal to a broader set of Social Needs.
When thinking about what it takes to create a successful collaboration community, it's important to recognize that this is dependent upon satisfying higher order needs. A collaboration community is likely to be most successful if it taps into member's motivation to participate by supporting all four social needs. It can do this by:
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