In my previous post I introduced Seth Godin’s idea of tribes. Seth believes that social communities have evolved into tribes that form their own set of cultural norms and behaviors. While I believe whole-heartedly in this concept, thinking of them in this way still leaves you with very little in understanding how to communicate effectively to social communities.

Ever since entering this career field, I have been trying to understand the basic needs of building social communities that are dedicated to brands or organizations. While theories like Godin’s definitely help, they have never quite covered it for me. That’s when I turned to Psychology. Recently, I took an Industrial Psychology class as part of my own personal development. Industrial Psychology (or Organizational Psychology) applies psychology to organizations and workplaces. An Industrial psychologist researches and identifies how behaviors and attitudes can be improved through hiring practices, training programs, and feedback systems. While covering worker motivation, I had that proverbial moment where the wheels started turning in my head and something just clicked.

Social communities, or the communities you build to support your brand or organization are in themselves like a team or group that you “hire” to help make you successful. These communities, whether they are blogging about you or just simply referring your service to a friend over lunch, are essentially working day-in and day-out for you. It’s their commitment and dedication that support you. Each time you ask them to comment on, or even take a test-trial of your product, you are giving them the ability to have an effect on your sales. And now, thanks to the internet and mobile technology their efforts are in real-time. It makes sense that you need to help foster an environment and provide these communities with enough resources, just like you would with any other employee.

But how do we make sure these communities are willing to do some work for us and continue communicating and interacting with our brand? It’s as simple as looking at how you foster motivation and work output from your employees. In Industrial Psychology, there are many theories that look at worker motivation. One of these theories is called the Expectancy theory. The Expectancy Theory proposes that a person will decide to behave or act in a certain way because they are motivated to select a specific behavior based on what they expect the result of that selected behavior will be. In essence, a worker is motivated to work harder and achieve more if they believe they will get something out of it. There are three parts to the Expectancy Theory; Expectancy, Instrumentality, and Valence. Expectancy is an individual’s perception that their effort will result in meeting a performance goal. Instrumentality is an individual’s perception that their performance will lead to a desired outcome. And Valence is the importance that the individual puts on the outcome. So basically, an employee will work to produce results if they believe they can meet the desired goal, are rewarded for doing so, and believe that reward is worthwhile to them. If this is met then the worker will be more motivated to perform their jobs successfully. Some companies use this theory everyday. It can be as simple as a company defining its goals to employees in achievable steps, and then telling their employees that if they follow these steps they will be rewarded with not only praise, but the opportunity to have a raise or promotion because the company values hard-workers. By doing this, employees will believe that their efforts are 1)easily achievable, 2)valued and noticed by the company, and 3)will benefit the company and themselves.

If we look at social communities as organizations or teams that benefit the larger business structure, then we can easily apply the Expectancy Theory to achieve greater success. Some ways we can fulfill Expectancy Theory are:

1) Let customers/communities know that their concerns, comments, and efforts to promote your company are valued. This means acknowledging new individuals to your community, responding to their inquiries and addressing comments, and then encouraging them to interact with your community more.
2) Give individuals achievable steps that they can meet to become valuable players in your community. This can be as simple as giving them badges on FourSquare, or making them subject matter experts you can call on. Ensure that becoming a valuable player means that they will participate not only in your online communities, but in the real world as well. This means they have to keep recommending your product to people, participate in contests, go to your events, and buy your product.
3) Let individuals know that their interaction and sales are important. Make them believe that it will not only benefit your company, but themselves as well. Easiest example of this? Clothing stores that offer online coupons for liking their Facebook page.
4) Don’t ever take your users for granted. Keep applying steps 1 through 3 and individuals in your community will believe that the outcome of interacting with or buying of your service will benefit them.

You motivate your employees because your success depends on their everyday ability to perform their job. Why not motivate your social communities so the power of viral connectivity will work for you instead of remaining underutilized? Applying a little bit of psychology can equate to a more engaged fanbase and extra profit.