How Online Communities work: Why do people join Online Communities? – Part 2 (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model)

large__3171420017In part one of this post I introduced you to the basic needs that people fulfil by participating in an online community, using a visual model. I think it is also important to understand which needs are in general more important than others. Can we apply Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ to online communities? Yes we can, using another visual model!

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology, introduced by humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow. He believed that people are motivated by the urge to satisfy needs ranging from very basic to more advanced needs. His theory suggests that people do not fulfil the higher-level needs until the lower-level needs are met. The hierarchy of needs is often illustrated in the shape of a pyramid, with the most fundamental needs at the bottom and the high-level needs at the top. Amy Jo Kim, writer of the book ‘Community Building on the Web’, used Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to create a better understanding of the needs that community members fulfil via an online community. She linked Maslow’s theory to the needs that can be fulfilled through virtual communities.

Inspired by the theory of Amy Jo Kim, I designed a model (see figure below) in which it can clearly be seen how Maslow’s needs correspond with online communities. I added some elements to her theory.  Just as the hierarchy of needs, an online community must first satisfy the member’s lower-level needs before fulfilling higher-level ones. By looking at the model in figure 3 we can see that community members are motivated to participate in order to achieve a sense of belonging to a group, to build self-esteem and garner recognition by contributing to the community. “New skills can be developed that can boost members’ ego and lead to self-actualization” (We Media). In an article in Cap & Design it is stated that: “today’s online communities can satisfy the three top levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; self-actualization, esteem and love/belonging”. This is because: “you can easily meet people from all around the world, people with the same interests and you can interact with them. You can be an expert on your special topic in the community and maybe become famous in your community” (2). If you make your community “members responsible for the content of an online community, the three top levels in the hierarchy can be fulfilled to an even higher degree” (We Media). According to Amy Jo Kim, those who “participate online usually create content to inform and entertain others. But creating also builds self-esteem and, in Maslow’s view, it’s an act of self-actualization. We derive fulfilment from the act of creation” (22). I will elaborate more on the importance of encouraging content creation among community members in a later post.


Model: Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ applied on online communities


(Unfortunately I wasn’t able to insert a larger version of this model into this post. If you click on the model, a somewhat larger version will appear)

Are you curious to know how online communities evolve? Read my next post:)

Until next time,

Anne-Sophie Gaspersz

Photo credit: via photopin cc


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