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Know Thy Audience

Written by Caitlin Struhs | on February 4, 2015 at 5:24 PM

Our guest blogger Martha Jack is founder and director of eConverse Social Media, serving member-based organizations to make their online communities the best they can be. eConverse specializes in strategy, design, launch and management of internal communities to help increase retention, provide new benefits and develop non-dues revenue for organizations. Martha and the eConverse team have worked with Higher Logic clients for five years.

I firmly believe that it's absolutely crucial to know your community's audience. Having a good grasp on who is using your community is the first step, but the second (I would argue more important step) is knowing why they're using your community.

Back in the late 00's when I was writing my Master's thesis, social media was a mere child and very little academic study had been done into why people get involved as participants. I stumbled across an audience effects model in a dusty textbook called "Uses and Gratifications Theory," which was established in 1974, but was becoming more popular within the field of media studies. Previous models had presented the audience as a single group of people who were used by the media, as opposed to individuals who all had their own perspectives, experience, attitudes and personalities that would affect how and why they interacted with any media content.

In the original Uses and Gratifications model, the reasons an audience interacts with a specific piece of media were identified as:

  • To be entertained
  • To initiate social interaction
  • To assist in the formation of identity
  • To become educated and informed
  • As a mental escape

These can change over time or with each media interaction and can be a combination of reasons based on something as simple as how your day is going or who you happen to be watching television with.

In my research, I applied this theory to what was then a fairly new concept - citizen journalism. This medium had the added dimension of audience members being able to produce their own content, so I wanted to see how this would affect the original theory. The results of the research were that the motivations to participate changed when the audience could create their own content to include:

  • Personal gain
  • Individual growth
  • Societal interaction
  • Information dispersal
  • Collective change

More recent research (2013) into the motivations for participating in social media include (and not surprisingly, are also significantly affected by a user's level of narcissism...but that's a story for another day):

  • Social and affection
  • Need to vent negative feelings
  • Recognition
  • Entertainment
  • Cognitive needs

If we combine all of these potential reasons that your members might participate from a audience, content production or social perspective, we can make decisions and leverage them to increase engagement.

In a community management setting, this presents each member as an individual that is involved for their own reasons and has their own motivations for participation and interaction. By keeping all of the basic motivations in mind, it gives community managers an opportunity to make each member of the community feel that their needs are being met, increasing the success of the community.

Make sure you consider not only your own motivations, but also the ones that don't describe why you would participate. You may not be motivated by a need for recognition, but some of your members might. This is a great reason to use the Most Active Members content item, give digital ribbons and recognize super users at events and in publications.

By considering each of these motivations for participating, and considering them when thinking about your strategy, your processes, your design (basically every part of your community and everything it touches), you can ensure that all of your members receive the gratification they are looking for and become true champions of your community.

Topics: Communications

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