Community Value: Perceived Value

Why does someone decide to join a community?

I tackled this question in part via my previous post about the threshold of participation. Recall my statement that a community’s perceived value to an individual must be greater than the obstacles that deter that person from joining:

Perceived Value > Threshold of Participation

What is perceived value? It is the projected personal benefit that would be realized by joining and engaging in the community. Sounds rather selfish, doesn’t it? Some readers might respond, “Surely not everyone joins communities because of what’s in it for them.” Sure they do.


It is easy for any of us to state publicly that our participation in any community to which we belong is a selfless effort to achieve a vision or to generally promote the betterment of mankind (especially, but not exclusively for caused-based organizations). However, privately, in the corner of our conscious mind where decisions are weighed and made, each person eventually justifies involvement based on how it will positively affect him or her. Examples of such personal benefits are:

  • Intrinsic: Direct or indirect impact to the person’s own life for the better.
  • Association: The feeling of belonging to and participating in an entity bigger than oneself.
  • Satisfaction: Feeling a sense of self-worth and accomplishment by seeing a problem solved and a vision achieved.

If the individual can envision enough of these benefits…enough perceived value to outweigh the threshold to participation, then he/she joins the community.

It’s all about perception

Notice that I was careful to say, “perceived value”, which is a forecast of future value. After all, how can a prospective member realize any value without first engaging in the community?

Perception of any future value can be communicated from various sources. Some sources are direct, such as observing the community interactions and benefits first hand. For communities that operate publicly so outsiders can at least view some activity within, or offer a trial period, this observation is possible. Alternately, examples of indirect sources of perceived value are personal referrals/word-of-mouth or the media (blogs, TV, radio, etc.)

The key point question is: Does your community provide enough sources to perceive value, enough to incentivize the right prospective members to overcome the threshold to join? For example, in my online community, I display a special front page for non-members that says:

  • Who we are and what we do (Benefits: association, intrinsic),
  • Links to testimonials and media coverage (indirect sources),

…and of course, a link to register. This communicates and validates assumptions of perceived value. I want to make it as easy as possible for people to realize and justify the value, make the decision to join right there.

That’s growth.

Community Value: The Threshold of Participation

Why does someone decide to join a community?

This is the underlying question that has to be answered by anyone responsible for community growth. Now from this point forward, when I say growth, I mean increasing the community membership with the right people who should be there…versus mindlessly inflating membership by qualifying anyone with a pulse.

Here’s my simple inequality that communicates what is required for one person to join a given community:

Perceived Value > Threshold of Participation

Threshold of participation

The threshold of participation is the effort required by a person to join and engage in a community. Imagine the threshold as a series of obstacles blocking the entrance to the community. Some obstacles are beneficial. For example, the obstacle of indifference is perception that the community is not aligned with his/her primary interests. This obstacle is actually helpful because the goal is to filter out those who have no interest in the cause. Other obstacles to be considered by the community leadership are:

  • Ambiguity: Cannot determine what the community is about, or if I am the right fit.
  • Irrelevance: The community is not addressing the problem effectively.
  • Duplication: Similar communities exist of which I am already a member. “Yet another …”
  • Inactivity: The community looks dead (or appreciable activity cannot be observed).
  • Cost: Membership requires an investment (monetary, time, or otherwise) that is too high.

Obstacles, whether perceived or real, weigh in each prospective-member’s mind, and can easily dissuade him/her from joining and engaging in the community. Why have you decided not to join and participate in some communities?

In the next blog post I will discuss the first part of the inequality – perceived value – and how it influences community growth by overcoming the threshold of participation.

Trading Cards

A while ago I attended a networking event, and I was struck when the attendees I met asked for my business card. I was not concerned that they asked for it, but rather when they asked. My card was often requested as we were initially shaking hands, and another time I was even interrupted while attempting to introduce myself!

This may sound like a trivial gripe from an anal-retentive guy, but it left a non-trivial impression. I had the feeling that these people were card collecting, and not necessarily interested in learning anything about me. My impression was reinforced after I obliged with my card: the person’s eyes wandered about, looking for his/her next networking victim. Clearly it was a numbers game for some of these attendees.

My advice is always to get to know the person first, and ask for a business card when the conversation winds down…if it makes sense to do so. Networking is about building relationships, not about collecting contacts. Make the right first impression by first impressing them with your genuine interest in him/her as a person.