I’ve been thinking recently about why I (and others) seek to join a community initially, and why we have different levels of involvement in those communities.
Personally, some communities I’m in, I’m very engaged. Others, I just read and pay attention (commonly called ‘lurking’) but rarely engage.
Clearly, I joined all of those communities at some point for a reason, and understanding the reason might lead me to understand better how to build new communities.
My initial assumption is that there is one key element in why people join a community, both online and offline: a shared interest.
This shared interest could be a hobby, knowledge, a political belief, a love of a particular region, survival or fandom. Sure, this seems somewhat obvious, but it occurs to me that the shared interest doesn’t fall into the same category every time. A person who wants to learn more about fly fishing is seeking advice, where a person who is a fan of BTS just wants to talk about how awesome they think the band is. Persons in both groups had a shared interest, but are seeking different rewards in joining their groups.
It seems to me that people join communities to either:
- converse with others who have the same interest
- learn more from others who have the same interest
- feel a part of a ‘tribe’ - which can take on different meanings dependent on the shared interest.
I am curious about this because when seeking a community, we have to either find one that already exists or build it ourselves. I’m also not sure if people join communities to advise or teach others; this may be a blind spot for me personally.
In order to build a community, we have to understand why people would join a community - at least it seems to me that would be critical, because understanding why people would join a specific community will help a community builder work to ensure that the community was actually providing what the ‘joiners’ are seeking.
To put it another way: If I was interested in learning more about woodworking, and I joined a woodworking forum, I wouldn’t find much value if all the posts/conversations in that forum were about poker or bitcoin.
I’m also curious if there are other reasons besides ‘a shared interest’ that is common across communities. Not everyone wants to engage in conversations in a community, which is why some people join subreddits and forums but never comment. But they still join because there are interested in what others are saying about something they are interested in.