Attraction Theory and the Online Community

In social psychology, the theory of attraction describes why we feel attracted to certain people and how we choose friends. It can help us understand how people connect with others in online communities. It can also provide some insights into the traits of effective community managers.

People tend to assign an “attraction rating” to other people they meet, but also to themselves. This rating is then used as a compass when choosing friends and partners. However, we don’t automatically choose the individuals with highest rating as our friends (most of us don’t connect on Facebook with Scarlett Johannson or George Clooney). Instead, we compare our rating with those of other people, and tend to become friends with people who get similar attraction scores to our own.

How do we measure the “attraction rating”? In the physical world, we give points for physical attractiveness, wealth, intelligence, sense of humor etc. In the online world, we would increase the attraction score for popularity (how many RSS readers do you have?), design, contribution to the community etc.

One easy conclusion from this theory is that the more attractive you become in the online world, the more likely is the chance that you will draw other attractive members to join your community.

There are of course other factors that explain how people choose friends, and all of them can be used to increase our chances of creating a vibrant community:

  • Proximity. Being close to someone makes it easier to become friends with them. Become closer to your prospective community members, join the social networks they participate in, comment on their blogs.
  • Association. People associate their feelings towards others with their current state. If they are in good mood when they get to know you, it increases the chances they will want to become friends with you.
  • Similarity. We like people that agree with us (similarity of opinions) and that look or behave like us (similarity of behavior).
  • Reciprocal Liking. If you like me, there’s a bigger chance I would like you back. This becomes apparent for example on Twitter: if you follow someone, there’s a better chance she will follow you.

Who do you find attractive in the online community? Are there any other reasons than the ones described above?


11 Responses to “Attraction Theory and the Online Community”

  1. 1 Lilly Evans August 20, 2008 at 12:01 am

    I count INTERESTING IDEAS higher than Association. In addition, Similarity is for me a double edged sword. I am keen to learn from those who hold different views as long as they are reasoned well.

    In the virtual world, one can safely associate with very different people – witness the large followings people gather on Twitter from a very diverse group of individuals who mostly have little obvious characteristics in common.

  2. 2 Darek August 20, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    Lilly, thanks for your comment! Indeed, in the virtual world it’s most often the content that matters. And it’s great when people search for content that is different from their normal way of thinking, as it boosts creativity.

    Regarding Twitter, I think all of the people who use it regularly have one common characteristic, which is the ability and attention skills to follow fragmented conversations. So some similarity is there 🙂

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