Online communities and other forms of social media can be great resources, a way to promote your organization and products, provide resources, but also a great way to interact with customers, and other members of the industry.
So we spend all this time designing brilliant sites, with enticing content in hopes to get the community engaged, but what really drives them to participate and contribute to the community.
Freedom – while you may feel like you, the owner, of the community should have control and be able to dictate the tempo, the most successful communities are the ones where people feel free and the community members are the ones determining the rules of the game. This, of course, does not apply to harassment, bullying, or otherwise extreme examples of poor behaviour in the community.
Sharing – Many people have a lot that they want to share. They often work independently and depend on the community to exchange ideas, provide answers, and often be the audience to listen to their great discoveries.
Gratitude – Spending a lot of time reviewing a question and answer community, I notice that many of those providing answers really and truly cared that they helped out the person who posed the question, and would come back to see if they were able to help. If the person who posted the question never responded, it probably left the contributors feeling like they were putting in all this effort for nothing. But this is where the design of the community and the help of community monitor can help. If the profiles of your highest contributors keep track of the numbers of times they have assisted someone, the number of times they have contributed to the community, etc., then you can continue to motivate your best contributors as well as give the new members something to work towards. I have also found that simply responding to some of those contributors with a genuine note of appreciation, it definitely helped to build a relationship with the contributors and to provide them with a reason to keep doing what they are doing
Special programs for top contributors – Usually the community contributors participate for free, but sometimes when they become the super contributors it is a good idea to create special programs to reward those members. The ability to get into an elite program can often be a great motivator.
Reliable and consistent user experience – I have covered a lot of the details around the human factor of motivation in communities, but the technology has to work too. The online communities have to be safe for the user, but excessive login protocol could discourage them from returning frequently. If the site is unreliable, slow and the overall user experience is not great the users will abandon it.
There are many more factors that could impact the motivation of the community members and probably varies slightly depending on the type of community. What makes you keep coming back to your favourite community?