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Joel R

Honor and Humiliation: Building Emotional Connection for Community

This is the August edition of my 2019 Year of Community series to help Invision Communities of all sizes build successful communities.  Today’s article is the last of our Sense of Community series that focuses on the four elements of good community building: Membership, Influence, Reward, and Connection.  Read other community management articles and company updates in the Invision Community Blog, a free service to help Invision Community clients manage successful communities.  

Emotion is energy in motion.

Today’s article is the last element in our Sense of Community series, and it’s also the most powerful.  It allows new communities to win over legacy ones; niche communities to triumph over generic platforms; and impassioned communities to outlast everyone.  It’s also the hardest element to cultivate. 

What is it? 

According to a survey by psychologist Dr. Jenny Fremlin, shared emotional connection accounts for the single largest factor of community-building.  In fact, almost half of all respondents in her research identified shared emotional connection as the factor most important to their community. 

How do you cultivate the principle of shared emotional connection?  

New Members

For new members, your goal is to initiate them in your community’s rituals and connect them with other outstanding members who will help reinforce your community’s spirit.   

Induction – Joining your community should be the beginning of a member’s community story, which means leaving a part of himself behind and fostering a new selfhood for your community.  Make induction an important part of onboarding a new member.  Honor his new membership with community gifts.  Require him to fulfill rituals that are unique to your community.  Demand that he open himself to the community, the challenges he faces, and what he hopes to receive.  By doing so, you are asking the new member to invest a part of their emotional selves in the community from the very beginning. 

Greater Contact – The more that people interact, the more likely they are to bond.  Just like in the real world when a new visitor walks into a room and no one talks to him, he’s likely to leave.  But if you can introduce him to other members, invite him to a table with other new members who also recently joined, or connect him with a mentor, then he’s more likely to stay.  You can accomplish the same in your community.  Connect members as much as possible, which spark new friendships. 

Existing Members

For existing members, deepen their sense of shared emotional connection with these strategies.

Community Story – Develop a story for your community, a narrative that is being written by and for members.  It brings all members together in a common sense of history, and even though not all members may have participated the entire time, they identify with the story.  Why was your community founded? Are you tackling a challenge in the world?  Did you undergo a major obstacle? Are you aspiring to improve the world? Where are you going? Write down your past, present, and future and invite members into the living story of your community. 

Community Projects – All too often, community admins launch projects on their own or with an inner circle of staff.  Launch a project that’s open to everyone, where all members can participate, give feedback, and contribute.  Define a beginning and end to the project, which helps members with closure and remembrance (“Did you remember the time when we helped on XYZ project?”) .

Industry Changes – What are disruptions that are happening in your field or industry? Is it affecting anyone you know? How do you feel about it?  Is it positive or negative?  How significant is the change? Use these shared events to get people disclosing their emotions about these disruptions, which helps form an emotional connection with others who are experiencing the same.  The strongest bonds are among people who undergo a crisis together.    

Honor & Humiliation – Finally, the personal growth of members is punctuated by the highs and lows of their membership from rewards that highlight special achievement to penalties that discipline bad behavior.  These moments of recognition and humiliation unlock joy and pain, which emotionally bond the member to your community.  The strongest emotional bonds are experienced by those who traverse the greatest emotional journey – they come to your community as immature or inexperienced, and through rewards and moderation, grow to become a better person through your community. 


Members visit your community for all sorts of reasons.  But out of all reasons, one stands above all others: shared emotional connection

There’s no one way to cultivating a shared emotional connection.  Every community will be unique. You and your Invision Community must write your own individual story, cultivate your own special volkgeist, and honor and humiliate members in your own extraordinary way. The energy and emotion of your community will be uniquely yours.  

In the end, you want to foster your own “community of spirit” among members, an exceptional sense of purpose and friendship wrapped in shared emotion that no other community can match.

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