How Potential New Members Approach an Online Community
Online communities, socio-technical systems where people interact with others, depend on new members coming to the community. While the majority of research in online communities relation to the recruitment of new members has focused on new members’ socialization and retention, little work has focused on how potential new members who are not yet a member of the community make the decision on whether they are willing to join in the online community. To understand this initial decision process, we investigated how potential new members build mental models of the online community from their first experience within the community, and how this process impacts the decision to continue participating in the community. We interviewed 31 potential new members of the online communities, Quora and Reddit, to better understand how they evaluate a new community. We found that the process of understanding a community involves orienting toward multiple different aspects of the community, including the content available on the community, the people who are already part of the community, and the technology interface and mechanisms that control the community. Participants who focused on consuming and enjoying content were much more likely to express an interest in future participation in these communities than participants who just evaluated the community, looking at the people in the community or the technology of the community. This extends previous considerations for recruiting new members in online communities. We conclude by discussing how our findings can have broad implications in developing successful online communities and suggesting future research efforts that could help understand potential new members.