Why do people join communities, and what makes them stay?

We want to create vibrant and safe community spaces. Spaces where people are heard, understood, and feel supported.

We also want our communities to succeed. Whether that’s working together to solve shared problems, improve student outcome, or challenge out-of-date thinking. By creating resources and sharing good practice together for everyone’s benefit.

How do we meet community aims? We first need to understand what motivates people to join and participate in the community. As a kick-off to our community managers training we invited David O. White to host a workshop about his visitors and residents typology for online engagement.

Understanding community member motivation

In groups, we explored key characteristics of different types of community. Regardless of the community theme (sports, activism, political, faith, charity etc.) there are universal characteristics that gel groups together.

Community involvement needs to be meaningful to motivate members. With a common cause or challenge and shared values. It also needs the leadership and governance to provide a safe-space for two-way support.

As community facilitators we should ask: What does meaningful look like for my community participants? We should clearly articulate a meaningful community purpose and refer back to it regularly.

Shaping the ‘listener’ experience

Most of our community audience will be ‘listeners’. (Those who are happy to listen rather than actively participate, sometimes referred to as ‘lurkers’ but I like listeners much better.)

As community facilitators we often focus on engagement metrics and celebrate the most active participants. But, if we overlook the listener experience, we overlook the majority of our audience.

It’s a rare person who will go into a community space and immediately start a conversation. Reflecting on my own Visitors and Residents map I realised that in the space where I am most active (as a community member rather than facilitator), I started as a listener. My confidence grew and I was nurtured to become one of those who now posts and interacts. I got a lot of value as a listener and was recommending the community to my network before I became active.

Consider the value listeners can gain from each community activity. How can our actions help listeners to build confidence? How can we help them to become more active in the spaces we facilitate?

The role of the community facilitator

As community facilitators, we can provide our communities with a safe space for questions and conversations and model positive behaviours.

Working together with the community in a visible way will help us to articulate and demonstrate shared values and meaning. For example, bring together a community leadership team to determine the community purpose, objectives and values. Then share these widely via community channels, with opportunity for comment.

When creating a safe and non-judgemental space, we remember that the community is watching the experiences of others. So when someone posts for the first time, thank them and try to help them gain engagement on their post. Ask a follow-up question or tag people who might be able to help.

Don’t try to answer all community questions yourself. Be open about where you do not have knowledge. Encourage the community to support one another. As a community manager you are in a position to invite people to share, but you need to do that quite specifically rather than expecting it to happen organically (especially at the start).

Finally, you are well placed to give people structure and opportunity to ‘work’ together. Working together towards constructive outputs and outcomes brings meaning. Successful communities harness people’s passion, showing that we are stronger together.

While you’re here… We have just opened nominations for the Community Champions 2024.

Take a moment to celebrate those who facilitate communities in the education and research sector. Nominations close 17 Dec ’23.

Nominate your community champion 













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