Social identity theory should be something all community managers are familiar with, for it provides the psyschological basis upon which all of their work will be based. The US presidential elections provide a perfect example of social identity in action. It sees millions of people across America, and indeed across the world, self identifying themselves as either Democrats or Republicans.
What happens next is fascinating, especially for a nation forged by such individualistic mantras as America. For you see when we align ourselves with a social group, we undertake a form of self-stereotyping. Whereas most stereotyping has negative connotations however, in social identity we use positive self-stereotyping, typically using measures we find valuable to our sense of self. For instance Democrats might stereotype themselves as caring for the needy, whilst Republicans might stereotype themselves as being staunch defenders of the nation. When people fall into a group they lose a sense of individualism and instead take on these shared characteristics.
So why does this matter to you and your community?
Well actually it matters to leadership as a whole, but as this is a blog primarily about communities I’ll stick to that context. As a community manager you try and lead your community of people towards an outcome that benefits both you as a business and your community members. In order to act as a leader, you need followers that buy-in to what you’re proposing, as John Adair deftly put it in Haiku form:
The understanding and
Sharing of a common purpose
Without that there can be
No effective leadership
So in other words, there needs to be something that ties your community together, something that binds you and they in a shared sense of us.
If you don’t have that, you may have many things, but a community is not one of them.