Imagine if Bart Simpson was your community member! Ahem, maybe not with this expression. But, surely you would love to have many such members for a thriving community?
So how do you achieve it?
You help your members form a habit of checking your community. Habit is what takes a person beyond motivation. Using Maslow’s Motivation Theory can help you pique interest but habits get results.
Consider your inboxes. You open them every day out of habit, even though around 40% of the emails that you get are junk and consume your time. You check it, religiously.
Whenever you are stuck on an issue you have certain goto experts. Traditionally, you emailed the expert, he replied on his own time because there was nothing that the expert was immediately gaining by answering your question. And, also his peers did not know that he was approached as an expert for that topic and he could answer that question. So, the transparency that social world provided was missing in the early days. Social media and online communities have changed all this.
With communities, people have a reason to respond. When they participate they gain reputation, unlock higher levels, better features, access better content and so on. Their visibility sees a boost and over time the person is established as an expert in the community.
So far so good.
But, to seek those answers, how do you get your audience onto the community?
Your community needs to offer something of extremely high value that helps them polish their craft and makes them look good. They will be motivated to come back and overtime this becomes a habit.
Leverage every visit to strengthen your relationships with the members. Get your visitors hooked. Help them, goad them and guide them to choose to come to your website.
You visit social media sites and your email daily because of two reasons:
- You know you will gain value from this visit
- It is a habit
In the first phase, the visits are sporadic. But, in the second scenario visits happen regularly. Jeremy Dean, psychologist and author of PsyBlog, believes we spend 30% of our lives on habitual autopilot.
For forming a habit an average human takes 18 to 254 days. The average is around 66 days. For a timeline for your community, you should target this time frame.
Once your members have been active for two months, you are more likely to see long time engagement.
Typically, the habit formation follows this iteration:
Trigger > action > reward > investment > > > trigger > action > reward > investment…
Triggers can be external or internal. Enticing your visitors to your community starts with external triggers. Your prospects hear about your community on social media, discuss with friends, get direct invitations by e-mail, act on CTAs and more. All of these act as triggers to get your prospects to participate and become long term members.
Overtime these triggers are internalized. Your members will by default check their accounts and regularly access the community. Each trigger needs to be direct, to-the-point and send the communication out consistently. Align your messages to appeal to the prospects’ “what’s in it for me urge”.
Think back to your Facebook notifications and Twitter updates. You check periodically to keep yourself in the loop. The mechanism and psychology are the same.
Attract Your Users and Simplify What You Want Them to Do
If habits are difficult to form and follow, you are less likely to go through with it. You will get addicted to chocolate faster than you get addicted to broccoli. Similarly, if your prospects find the thought of coming to your community unappetizing, they will not come. And, for eating delectable chocolate you just need to peel the wrapper and even after cooking broccoli, it will not be same.
Reduce physical and mental effort your prospect needs to make to access and participate in your community. Once you have created the triggers, don’t make your prospects think too hard to take the action. Don’t overwhelm them with information. Take it up gradually and give them examples of high ranking members to show them how to perform in the community.
The amount of effort involved to do something is inversely proportional to the likelihood of that event.
The best illustration for this would be slot machines. They reward, but mostly you lose. But, you still keep going back to the machines, in hope of something that you might just win. And, when you do win, the feeling is incomparable. Taking a cue from them, randomly highlight members after their first few contributions. Pepper the system with just enough victories to keep your visitors hooked.
Design reward system in a way that combines variable and invariable elements. Invariable elements give your members a place to aim for and invariable keeps the members addicted.
The more we participate, the more we invest in the activity. We don’t want to feel we have invested all the effort for nothing. Hence, the more people participate in your community, the more likely they are to continue participating in your community. The more friends we have, the bigger reputation we have, the more power we have. These are all powerful motivators to visit and participate in the community again.
Investments are done for returns; make your community the highest performing asset when your members are searching for answers.
Action Points for a Thriving Community
- Give reasons to come back
- Make your community a resource that solves problems every time your users throw something at it
- Penalize and heavily control negative behaviors
- Constantly reinforce positive behaviors
- Show commitment from your end
- Be empathetic to what your user wants
- Reward people and make their contributions visible
- Ingrain in members that the only way to win is by doing things as a team