Building Your Communities, Online and Living

What Makes Us Love Our Communities

A very interesting study was just released by Gallup and the Knight Foundation asking what attaches people to their communities. Now these communities are places to live but there still seems to be relevant data for those of us who seek to develop our online communities.

Gallup interviewed 43,000 people in 26 communities over three years and found three primary qualities that attach people to place: social offerings, such as entertainment venues and places to meet, openness (how welcoming a place is) and the area’s aesthetics (its physical beauty and green spaces).

“This study is important because its findings about emotional attachment to place point to a new perspective that we encourage leaders to consider; it is especially valuable as we aim to strengthen our communities during this tough economic time,” said Paula Ellis, Knight Foundation’s vice president for strategic initiatives.

Online communities also thrive on attachment. Of course, there needs to be a common denominator that brings people together, but then the decision if they stay and participate will often be an emotional one. Is this community addressing my concerns? Are there enough ways to interact? Are the people welcoming and do they share? And as for “aesthetics,” the look of your online community or website also plays a role. Is it easy to navigate? Do I like logging on? Does it encourage me to look around?

In fact, the press release talks about how the study relates to small companies. “Within a smaller environment, such as a company, Gallup has been able to show that increasing employees’ emotional connection to their company leads to improved financial performance of the organization.”

Another interesting finding of the study is that communities with more attachment by its residents have shown stronger economic growth, even in these tough times. And also that “perception of the local economy is not a leading reason residents create an emotional bond to a place.” (my emphasis)

“Our theory is that when a community’s residents are highly attached, they will spend more time there, spend more money, they’re more productive and tend to be more entrepreneurial,” said Jon Clifton, deputy director of the Gallup World Poll. “The study bears out that theory and now provides all community leaders the knowledge they need to make a sustainable impact on their community.”

Six Ideas for Building Online Communities
Find an underserved group, or a lonely and under-appreciated group within the organization. If there is a highly regulated area—such as financial, health care or transportation—there is potential for a big audience. (There are new regulations to learn.)
Make sure it is an industry where your subscriber base wants to—or legally can—talk to each other. (Not every group is as sharing as SIPA’s members are.)
Use fresh content or information to bring people in; it’s about an exchange of information. This content can be video, live events (a book giveaway, an author talk, a film sponsorhsip), listserves—any focus on topical information.
Leverage your relationships. Get your information on other people’s sites. I recently spoke with a social group entrepreneur who said that putting his service on discount places like Goldstar and Groupon pays off in the new people he attracts into his community. “I have 200,000 names [from over 12 years of business],” he said. “But it’s the new people who bring a lot of the business in now.”
It’s always tempting to diversify into other topic areas, but focusing on your core market yields the best returns. You may even want to look at your subject and slice it thinner. You might lose some people but you’re getting a bigger market share.
Write to engage rather than inform. Maybe you need a new “headset.”

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