Members of your online community are doing you a great service when they contribute and get involved. They are the ones adding value to your community. You can encourage them and ensure they feel comfortable contributing, but ultimately your members will determine whether your community is a success or a failure.
As Richard Millington points out:
People usually do things for one of 4 reasons. They want fame/recognition, power/influence, money or affiliation/sex. Plan your community’s structures and benefits with these in mind.
In essence, members want something back. They want to be rewarded for contributing.
The feel good factor
Your community is in a good place when members are thinking about contributing when they aren’t even online – when something happens in their daily life and they think, ‘I really need to share this with the community’.
Perhaps they just love contributing without any thought of what they may get back – possible, but more than likely they enjoy the recognition that comes with their contribution; the posts that thank the member for sharing, the kudos (and possibly the awe) that comes after they click the ‘Submit’ button.
The more a member feels valued in your online community, the more they will contribute. This can be a self-perpetuating cycle though, resulting in the same, small number of members creating the majority of your content – so you need to be careful.
The members that create the most content may feel as though they are the most valuable to the community – after all, they have put in the most work (in their minds). They may feel that as a result, they have a special status within the community. They probably do – with other members. However you shouldn’t be blinded by post count. You want to encourage more of your members to contribute – not just the ones that are already highly active.
Make sure you aren’t always rewarding the same members. You don’t want quieter members to feel intimidated or overwhelmed.
Don’t mention the same names all of the time. Bring new members into your conversation but don’t be too liberal. If you thank every single member for every single contribution, it’ll be a farce.
10 free ways to rewards members of your online community
1. Thank them for their contribution (preferably in public).
2. Draw attention to their contribution – highlight it as a featured contribution (if it’s good enough).
3. Designate certain members as ‘experts’ in their field.
4. Allow some members to form their own groups based on their interests or field of expertise.
5. Give certain members additional community responsibilities.
6. Ask members for their opinions (encourage interaction by being proactive)
7. Give some members ‘special access’ – perhaps your IM address or telephone number.
8. Name drop. When talking to your community, mention specific members by name. When implementing features suggested by members, credit them for the idea.
9. Pay attention. Never ignore your members. Always answer their questions and engage with them.
10. Interview members of your community – especially the quieter ones. Bring them into the spotlight. I know Angela Connor does this – with great success.
As your community grows, most of these rewards should be coming from other members. They should be the ones thanking other members for contributing. They should be the ones mentioning specific names when talking with the community.
Again though, without adequate community management you could end up with a community of power members and silent members. You still need to get involved and ensure the spotlight turns on quieter members from time to time. After all, you’ve already won over your most active members. Now you need to do the same with those that are sitting in the shadows.
Community building requires effort and hard work. Never stop stroking egos, and never stop rewarding members of your online community. Just make sure you aren’t tempted to get out your cheque book. Remember – money doesn’t buy you community or relationships. Just (very) temporary loyalty.