Have you ever wondered why people are motivated to join an online community — I mean, what really motivates people to join? What's appealing about being part of an online community as opposed to an offline community? Different people will have different reasons for joining; everyone's got a story. But ultimately, I've found that there are 3 underlying human reasons why online communities are appealing to so many people. I feel pretty privileged. Not only do I have the in-depth, behind-the-scenes knowledge of online communities as the content writer at Vanilla, but I've also got the front-end knowledge by being a member of various communities myself. I've seen the impacts that being part of an online community can have on people, and they are overwhelmingly positive. I want to share these reasons with you today through the lense of my unique and combined perspective.
Note that the title of this post is "human reasons" why people join online communities; I'm not talking about one-timers who sign up to get self-service, crowd-based support. Of course, this is certainly a huge reason why people join online communities — support-based communities are very popular due to the shift towards the desire for customer self-service support. But the immediate demand for a product or service solution doesn't create long-term, thriving communities. People do. Humans do.
What creates long-term, thriving ommunities are people who continue to come back and engage because it fulfills a human desire. This is true for both online and offline communities. That being said, however, online communities provide a number of different appealing reasons to join, compared to offline communities.
Here are 3 human reasons behind why people choose to join a online community.
1. To Be Themselves
Some people join online communities because it's a safe space. They are hidden behind the walls of the internet and have the freedom to be who they are without judgement. When people join communities that they are truly interested in, they can connect with like minded individuals and express their opinions in a space where they feel like they belong.
For example, let's first look at a gaming community. People who join a specific gaming community feel like they're among friends. Everyone in the community has joined because they like the game to some extent, and it's a space where they can nerd out and talk about new strategies and game theories. I myself have experienced this first hand — it's a different experience being surrounded by people who understand what you're talking about and actually care to listen.
Another example is say, a support community for those living with cancer. This is another place where people can be themselves and express their worries and concerns that they may not have the courage to talk about offline. This may be because they don't want to worry those around them, or because they feel that those around them won't understand what they're going through; either way, the community is a safe space for them to lay it all out while still having enough anonymity to feel secure. It's a place where they don't have to hide their worries, fears and thoughts.
2. To Be Someone Else
On the flip side, there are those who join online communities because it gives them the freedom to be someone they can't be when they're offline. In a way, this can be incredibly empowering; I like to think of it as how it must feel to move to a new town and start anew. Nobody knows who you are and you can have a fresh start to be anyone that you want to be.
For some, an online community can provide a brief escape from real life to an online world where you can create a new persona and connections with others. For example, maybe someone is incredibly shy in real life and lives with a social anxiety that makes it tough to meet new friends and connect with others. Being part of an online community can provide comfort to these people and help break down the social barriers that they may have in real life by being able to interact with others in an alternative way; a way where they don't have to show their face, share their name or anything else that they don't want to.
For some, it's a place of safety, where they can interact without worrying about being judged for anything other than the words they type.
3. To Feel Connected At All Times
Nobody wants to feel alone — it's simply not in our nature. Being part of an online community of people who you've built connections with is a valuable remedy to loneliness. Moreover, these connections are available wherever and whenever, at the click of a button. It can be comforting knowing that your online community isn't going anywhere and that the connections you made online are always there for you, whenever you need them.
For example, if you're part of an offline support group, you may only meet once a week. When you're part of an online support community, you could be on 24/7 if you needed to be. Online communities offer members with the appeal of accessibility and reliability.
Ultimately, in my experience, these three reasons outline the main human factors that encourage people to join online communities. The anonymity of online communities combined with their 24/7 accessibility makes it quite appealing to a lot of people.
From there, people go on to join communities that grab their attention, allow them to make connections with like minded individuals, or make them feel part of something bigger. Ultimately, the value that community provides can't be understated, and the appeal of having these communities online makes it even better.