Dear Online Community Manager,
Want to get your audience to participate? Reward them. There’s more than one way to do it. According to Jakob Nielsen, the usability guru:
Reward — but don’t over-reward — participants. Rewarding people for contributing will help motivate users who have lives outside the Internet, and thus will broaden your participant base. Although money is always good, you can also give contributors preferential treatment (such as discounts or advance notice of new stuff), or even just put gold stars on their profiles. But don’t give too much to the most active participants, or you’ll simply encourage them to dominate the system even more.
Reputation management is also a great example of community rewards. Sites like eBay and Slashdot illustrate how it works. On eBay, a seller’s reputation allows a buyer to decide whether or not to trust them to conduct business fairly. On Slashdot, a discussion board, users assign a rating to comments based on their usefulness, and regular users are also rewarded with “karma” points.
On Wikipedia, the reward system is less obvious, but there nonetheless. The most active editors are granted “administrator” status, which gives them many more editing powers than the regular “editors”.
For a stellar example of community rewards, check out Virgin Radio’s VIP Awards. Virgin’s registered members are called VIP’s (already a nice psychological reward), but the more they participate and contribute, the more rewards they are likely to get. Virgin uses “Kudos” to reward its users with a number of different badges including “VIP of the Day”, “Number 1 VIP”, “Outstanding Contributor” and inclusion in the “Top 400 VIP’s” list, among others.
For an example of how to use monetary rewards, check out EksoMusic.com. Users earn EksoBucks for every contribution that they make to the site that they can redeem for concert tickets, CD’s DVD’s, music downloads and other prizes.
A reward system is also used on Fool.com, a site that advises people on stocks, investing and personal finance. The most frequent contributors to the site’s discussion boards are awarded free subscriptions to the newsletters of their choice and can eventually even be given a small stipend and the responsibility to monitor and patrol the boards or be recruited as a Motley Fool staffer.
And finally, Duke’s Chowder House also makes great use of incentives by offering 2 free dinners to anyone that signs up for their email list and a free cup of chowder for every friend they refer to the list!
Reward your users for their participation. They will be encouraged to contribute more often and with better content. Rewards will also motivate less active users to participate more.
Want to learn more?
Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute – Jakob Nielsen