Cultivating a strong Sense of Community is a clear goal for community builders. Develop a strong sense of community, and you’ve built a community experience that sparks a more meaningful and connected community that your members will love.
A strong sense of community means:
- An integrated community where members feel personally related
- An impactful community where a member can influence and be influenced by the group.
- A fulfilling community where members meet the needs of others and can feel rewarded.
- A shared community, where users undergo common history, time together, and social experiences.
Do you believe you’ve developed a strong sense of community? Follow long as we critically examine the first element in the Sense of Community: Membership.
Boundaries of communities have always existed, whether it be neighborhoods, social groups, or online communities. By definition, there are people who belong and people who do not. It’s okay to decline membership to users, thereby providing a more comfortable space for members who are accepted.
Here are some time-tested tips from my years of community management that touch upon various attributes of membership:
Don’t try to be everything to everyone. It’s far better to be an exclusive community to a smaller, impassioned group of users than to dilute your community for a wide audience. Not everybody deserves to belong, and by intentionally removing irrelevant members, it makes it a more purposeful community for those who can join. Define who should belong, and outline the requirements on your Registration screen and Guest Sign-up widget.
Boundaries are walls, but safe walls. Although there’s the pain of rejection and isolation of private communities, it’s offset with the positive benefits of joining. It creates a space where members can feel safe to open up, to feel related to one another, and to feel protected. Reinforce the benefits of joining the community to new members in a welcome message.
A new sense of identification. Not only do members join the group, they should develop an extended sense of belonging and identity with the group. The more strongly you can define the sense of belongingness, the more deeply the member will feel connected. There should be a feeling of acceptance, an expectation that one fits in, and a willingness to sacrifice for the group. Create a welcome team that immediately reaches out both publicly and privately, ask how the new member can contribute, and constantly highlight how the community has gone above-and-beyond in members helping members.
The higher the boundary, the greater the reward. Personal investment is an important contributor to a member’s feeling of group membership. By working for a membership, a member will feel like he’s earned a place – and that the membership will be more meaningful and valuable. You can ask guests for their accreditations, background, or how they can contribute to the community.
The power of symbols. Social groups throughout history have long used symbols, icons, ceremonies, and group language to cultivate a unique sense of identity. These conventions are powerful representations of a group. You can cultivate and write a common language in your Invision Community in large ways and small by uploading unique reactions, changing the language string, and celebrating community-specific holidays and events.
As you re-evaluate your community framework with me, take the time to outline what it means to be a member of your community. Defining your membership goes hand-in-hand with defining your purpose. It should touch upon these five attributes of membership: boundaries, emotional safety, sense of belonging, personal investment, and common symbolism. Establish clear distinctions for your community’s membership qualifications, and you’ll be able to develop a deep Sense of Community from the very start of a member’s registration.
Share with me and others how you've defined your community's membership in the comments below. I love to hear about other Invision Communities.
Invision Community Advocate and Certified Community Manager