What follows is a list of social motivators, action items and design alternatives related to building member commitment in online communities, based on social sciences research. The claims are organized by type of design alternative that might activate each commitment builder. This information is drawn from Bob Kraut and Paul Resnick's book:
Ren, Y, Kraut, R. E. & Kiesler, S. Encouraging commitment in online communities. In Kraut, R. E. & Resnick, P. (eds.) Building successful online communities: Evidence-based social design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (In press). [PDF]
Benefits of fostering committed members
Commitment is a building block for healthy online communities. Committed members work harder, say more, do more, and stick with a community after it becomes established. They care enough to help with community activities and to sustain the group through problems. Committed members are those most likely to provide the content that others value, such as answers to people’s questions. They are more likely to exercise voice, demanding change and improvement when dissatisfied, than to exit. Commitment to the community makes people care enough to respond to and to enforce norms of appropriate behavior.
Commitment is hard to achieve. An important aspect of maximizing commitment—especially need-based and affective commitment—is understanding what members need and want from the community. Community designers can draw from theories of commitment to make design decisions that influence whether and how people will become committed to a community. These are outlined below.
Types of commitment
1. Affective commitment
: Wanting to continue as a member of the group.
- Identity-based: Feeling s/he is part of the community as a whole and wants to help fulfill its mission. Instilling identity-based attachment leads people to continue their participation in the group in the face of membership turnover. Also, identity-based commitment makes people more compliant with community norms than does bond-based commitment.
- Bond-based: Feeling s/he is close to individual members of the group.
2. Normative commitment
: Feeling s/he ought to continue as a member.
3. Need-based commitment
: Feel s/he must continue or is better of in the group than out of it.
1. Recruiting or clustering those who are similar to each other into homogeneous groups will foster identity-based commitment to a community.
2. Creating named groups within a larger online community will increase members’ commitment to the subgroups.
3. Creating named groups within a larger online community will increase members’ commitment to the community as a whole, as long as the subgroup identity is not in conflict with the larger community identity.
4. Making group members anonymous will foster identity-based commitment.
5. Recruiting participants who have existing social ties to be members of the community will increase their bonds-based commitment to the community.
6. Allowing participation under a pseudonym will increase self-disclosure, interpersonal liking and thus bond-based commitment, in communities where sensitive information is shared.
7. Large communities with a large volume of communication reduce bonds-based commitment, unless some means of clustering communications is used.
8. Diversity of members’ interest in an online community can drive away members, especially those with identity-based commitment.
Content, tasks, and activities
1. Providing community members interdependent tasks will increase their identity-based commitment to the community and reduce conflict among subgroups.
2. Facilitating interaction with “friends of friends” can enhance bonds-based commitment.
3. Displaying photos and information about individual members and their recent activities will promote bond-based commitment.
4. Providing opportunities for members to engage in personal conversation will increase bond-based commitment in online communities.
5. Providing user profile pages and flexibility in personalizing them will increase self-disclosure, interpersonal liking and thus bond-based commitment.
6. Active self-disclosure with visible response will lead to more bonds-based commitment than will passive disclosure.
7. Off-topic communication will reduce identity-based commitment, but increase bonds-based commitment to an online community.
8. “Going off-topic together” can increase both bonds-based commitment and identity-based commitment. “Going off-topic together” describes situations where something that would normally be considered off-topic (such as fundraising or politics) becomes on-topic, at least temporarily.
9. Providing participants with experiences that meet their motivations for participating in the community will increase their needs-based commitment to the community.
10. Making it difficult for members to export assets or transfer them to other members increases needs-based commitment.
11. Entry barriers and other opportunities for members to make community- specific investments, even if they are merely sunk costs that do not create valuable assets, will increase need-based commitment.
Selection, sorting, and filtering
1. Places, spaces, groups, friend feeds, and other mechanisms that increase the likelihood that people will encounter the same people they have previously encountered will increase bonds-based commitment.
2. Personalized filters, which differentially expose members to communications that match their personal interests, will reduce the negative effects that off-topic communication has on identity-based commitment.
3. Highlighting opportunities to return favors to specific others will increase normative commitment to the community.
Presentation and framing
1. Providing a collection of individuals with a name or other indicator that they are members of a common group will increase their identity-based commitment to the community.
2. A name and tagline that articulate the shared interests of a community’s members will increase the members’ identity-based commitment to the community.
3. Making community fate, goals, or purpose explicit will increase members’ identity-based commitment to the community.
4. Highlighting an out-group (and competing with it) will increase members’ identity-based commitment.
5. Emphasizing a threat to the group, especially from an external source, will increase the identity-based commitment among core members, but may undermine the commitment of more peripheral members.
6. Highlighting interpersonal similarity will foster closeness among individual members and bond-based commitment.
7. Highlighting a community’s purpose and successes at achieving that purpose can translate members’ commitment to the purpose into normative commitment to the community.
8. Testimonials about people’s normative commitment to the community will increase others’ normative commitment.
9. Priming norms of reciprocity by highlighting concepts that get people to think of their normative obligations should increase normative commitment to an online community. Reciprocity is one of the strongest and most university of human norms: people think that those who have given should get something back and those who have received should give something back. Designers can prime reciprocity norms, making it more salient, by using language such as “reciprocity”, “obligation”, “giving back”, “paying it forward” or terms that otherwise active altruistic motivations.
10. Showing people what they have received from the community will increase their normative commitment to it.
11. Showing information about other communities in the same ecological niche reduces needs-based commitment.