Creating a sense of ownership in your online community

Members need to trust that their community is a safe space to participate—whether they’re providing positive or negative feedback to their peers. Never allow members to attack someone for sharing their thoughts, and take time to consider whether or not to allow anonymity in posting or reporting content on your community.

Ownership is a concept that is sometimes anathema to a Millennial like me. But in the case of online communities, it’s important to understand how a sense of ownership affects member perception and participation in your online community. Just like in the workplace—where there has been lots of talk about employee performance and a sense of ownership over their work—online communities rely heavily on intrinsic rewards and input to promote growth and activity. Promoting intrinsic rewards and active participation in your community’s governance is key to creating a sense of ownership among your members.

So where are some of the intrinsic rewards in your community? First and foremost is likely thought leadership. Online communities are a great place for your members to share their knowledge and raise their profile within their industry or social group. When you find a member with special skills or a knowledge about a subject, take note. When you reach out to them to answer an unanswered post on your community, you’re implicitly acknowledging their expertise and rewarding them for it. That reward will hopefully then be magnified by the community when they thank the expert for their answer to a difficult question.

Another opportunity for instilling ownership is to give your community editorial license. Allow them to up- or down-vote content in the community as a way of providing feedback that is (sometimes) anonymous and doesn’t require typing a reply. Also give them a way to report content that might violate the community’s rules. While it may seem counterproductive to let members complain in your community, these tools act as a release valve when members are frustrated with other members, and they keep your community from imploding into Trumpian spats and name calling. Of course, they also help members feel like their voices are heard, important in making someone feel like an owner.

Finally, trust is an important aspect of ownership. Members need to trust that their community is a safe space to participate—whether they’re providing positive or negative feedback to their peers. Never allow members to attack someone for sharing their thoughts, and take time to consider whether or not to allow anonymity in posting or reporting content on your community. Your members may request the ability to post anonymously, but make sure you understand the implications of allowing the community to share their thoughts without accountability. Conversely, while some members may ask that your community’s moderation functions be totally transparent–so that members know who flags content–consider that others may prefer anonymous reporting, which can reduce the risk of reprisal from those who were reported.

There are countless ways to promote a sense of ownership in your community. No matter what you choose, though, be sure to take the time to think strategically about how these tools and features will affect your members. While creating a sense of ownership may be positive overall, there could be negative effects from giving your members more license within the community. So, while you reap the rewards of higher engagement, be prepared to handle the occasional flare-ups that accompany a free exchange of ideas.

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