Inbound.org, a community I was part of both personally and professionally, recently announced its end, after a lengthy decline.
There are plenty of people who saw this coming, but are still saddened to see a vital part of the content marketing world go away. I never felt anything negative about Inbound.org. I have the utmost respect for the founders and moderators — they’re awesome people. But Inbound.org didn’t resonate with me emotionally.
There are many post-mortems being written about what people think went wrong with Inbound.org. In Dharmesh Shah’s Farewell to inbound.org post, he attributed its decline to their foundational purpose becoming obsolete.
“We felt there was a need for a ‘Hacker News for Marketers’. . . though the concept of a community is compelling — the core use case of user-curated marketing content is not. My suspicion is that it’s because the way people find and share content has changed a great deal since inbound.org’s inception.”
Ed Fry, former Inbound.org General Manager, cited the “evaporating cooling effect” as a culprit:
“A social phenomenon where the people who stand to offer the most benefit the least (and vice versa), so they leave unless there’s an incentive to stay. So the only true participants are those with another agenda (self-promo etc.) or nothing breakthrough to contribute.”
In fact, Ed Fry says he saw the writing on the wall when founding members stopped being “weekly active users.”
This, incidentally, is something all of us community builders — who are busily recruiting thought leaders — have to consider. What are those thought leaders getting out of the community?
The Network Effect Breakdown
The “network effect” happens when more people join a community and increase the value everyone gets from the community. More people = more value. But that stops working when everyone in the community is there just to post self-promoting links — which is what ended up happening.
I don’t believe self-promotion is a bad thing. Quite the opposite. But…
Inbound.org worked kind of like a marketplace where everyone was promoting their products — to each other. Imagine if everyone on eBay was a seller. It wouldn’t work. Communities that bring in both sellers and buyers work; they work especially well when they give the sellers and buyers a platform to communicate with each other openly and form relationships. But that wasn’t quite happening here. At least, it didn’t feel that way.
For me, this is about emotion
I’ve been thinking about how to use emotion to drive communities, and that’s what — for me — was missing as an inbound.org member and contributor.
Emotions drive behavior.
We feel something, we do something. It’s human nature. If we get an emotional reward from participating in a discussion, we’ll want to participate and start more discussions. If we’re concerned about the future of the planet, we are motivated to recycle.
What emotions motivate your members?
It’s a question well-worth asking.
I’ve been working with sort of an emotional cause-and-effect framework for community building recently that I’ll summarize here:
- When building a community, start with a purpose — what you want to achieve with the community.
- Decide which behaviors you need members to perform to meet those goals.
- Then — this is the part I’m fascinated with — find out which emotions will drive those behaviors, and then…
- Figure out how to set the stage to generate and amplify those emotions.
- Plan who does what and how
- Improve — ie. measure what happened, analyze it, and iterate accordingly
Some communities make us feel good — they’re loaded with emotional payoffs. When I contribute to some online communities, I feel appreciated and valued. That motivates me to contribute more. When I participate in other communities, it’s about feeling the camaraderie of like minds, or sharing inspiration.
Other communities make us feel a little anxious — and that serves a purpose too. If we don’t take action and contribute to solving X problem, the world/humanity will be worse off for it. That negative, fear-based emotion also generates action and a reason to come back again and again.
And then there’s the sense of pride, and doing the right thing, that comes with purpose-based communities where you’re banding together to create positive change. That’s a good, motivating feeling too.
Emotions =/ Justifications
You have to interview / have conversations with your most active members to find out what emotions motivate them — and then strategize ways to amplify those emotions to strengthen your community.
“Be careful not to confuse a justification with an emotion. During an interview, a member might say they share advice because they want to be seen and recognized by others. They might say they want to see how other people react to their posts, or they might say they want to appear as an expert. This is useful information, but it’s a justification for what they do; it’s not the emotion that drives the behavior. You need to push beyond these answers to uncover how they feel when they perform these actions.” Refer to the emotions wheel above.” — Identifying possible community strategies.
Emotions drive everything — they always have.
Successful communities (and marketing strategies) aren’t built out of Spock-like logic. They evolve and grow out of human needs to be accepted, appreciated, and feel part of something larger than ourselves.
For me, that’s what inbound.org was missing from a membership perspective.
My question for you: What emotional payoffs do your community members get?