The Community Dictionary | Final Episode – Motivation

The community dictionary episode 8 - Motivation

The Community Dictionary | Final Episode – Motivation

Welcome to the eight and last episode of the Community Dictionary. This series of articles will feature the English version of the Italian spoken podcast hosted by Marta Mainieri, and produced by Produzioni Dal Basso.



When Alessandro Cadoni, the former founder of Friendz, told me about his community, I was completely amazed. It was one of the first interviews I conducted for my book, after which I would get used to hearing stories about communities and people who were active in them. However, that interview stuck with me. Alessandro was talking about people who almost compulsively posted photos on the app, supported those who couldn’t post, and spent time approving other people’s photos for a decidedly inconsequential monetary reward. “Why are they doing this?” I asked him at one point. “I don’t know; I always ask myself that too,” he replied.

The question is an important one. Understanding what drives members to activate within a community is, in fact, understanding what drives active involvement and, thus, the success of a community. Knowing the motivations that drive people to participate makes it possible to leverage communication sensibly but, more importantly, to design tools and rewards that allow participation to be rewarded and to grow. So let’s try to go deeper.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivations

The literature recognizes two different types of motivations that drive members to participate in a community: extrinsic and intrinsic. The former are more opportunistic motivations aimed at gaining economic benefit or purpose, linked to a monetary reward or a tangible benefit, such as finding information or joining a service. Intrinsic motivations, on the other hand, relate to our most intimate and lesser-known aspects of ourselves.

Stimulating extrinsic motivations rarely works on members of a community; in fact, it risks being harmful in the long run. This is a mistake often made by brands that open a community and reward participation through gift certificates, points, or discounts. These can be attractive rewards to bring people closer to communities and get them to take their first steps, but if you really want to engage them, extrinsic motivation is not only not enough, but it also risks breaking the covenant of voluntariness that underlies each member’s participation.

Communities, as we have said many times, come together around a value proposition and not out of opportunism. What drives people to participate must be a sincere interest in the shared purpose and not economic benefit. The latter, in the long run, introduces forms of opportunism that do not nurture the sense of belonging and responsibility needed to grow a community.

Therefore, extrinsic motivation can be stimulated, but only if at the same time the growth of the more intimate and intrinsic motivations is encouraged, which are the ones that really move disinterested and sincere participation.

What drives intrinsic motivations?

Precisely because it concerns a more inner dimension, stimulating intrinsic motivations is certainly a more complicated task. Steven Reiss identifies sixteen desires that encourage intrinsic motivation, but only a few of these may act on community members. One of these, for example, is the desire to make an impact in society. A community’s value proposition is, by definition, a promise of change. Even as small as it may be to clean up the streets of a neighborhood, establish a new food dish, or promote a new way of traveling, people participate in a community because they want to change something they care about. The desire for change serves as a stimulus and drives aggregation because people put together can succeed where individuals cannot.

Another typical motivation for participating in a community is the desire for sociability and, more specifically, to find people with whom to share one’s interests or condition. People join, often, to compare oneself, to receive comfort, but also to grow their knowledge. In fact, the desire to learn is another typical motivation for people to join a community. This explains the success of so many online forums, events that nurture the sharing of experiences, and the many training initiatives that communities often offer.

Super users: a different kind of motivation

If the stimulus explained so far motivates members to participate, the desire for approval and social attention, on the other hand, stimulates super users – those who are willing to take on responsibilities within the community. In fact, all those who engage in a community do so because they believe in the value of the community and because it gratifies them. Some studies, in fact, relate the tasks people perform to their mood, showing that, for most individuals, being involved is associated with positive moods. However, the propensity for engagement and doing the right thing does not exclude the desire to be recognized for what each member does within the community. Indeed, the more this engagement is recognized not only by other members but also by those who manage the community, the more it will generally continue to grow.

Of course, as always, understanding the motivations alone is not enough to stimulate participation; it is just one piece of a design that, we now know, must be broader: if you want to activate a community, it is good to build a system of identity, engagement (events, activities, channels, content), and governance (defining internal and external roles and rewards).


With this episode, the Community Dictionary series comes to an end. Understanding each word will help you gain awareness of how to design and manage a community. However, to activate it and make it grow, all these terms must not only be thoroughly understood but also put to work together consistently with one another.

Of course, these eight terms that we have covered in this podcast series are not enough to build a community. Many more words can be delved into. However, we believe that these already constitute a good initial core on which all those who want to launch and build a community can place their attention.

Good work and good luck.

Marta Mainieri


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