How are you rewarding members of your online community?

by Martin Reed on 24 March 2009 in Articles

rewarding community members

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.

Be careful

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.

Don’t rest

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.

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Malber March 24, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Thanks for the post martin. This might be my new favorite blog – as your posts provide me with great guidance for my community building efforts.

Case In Point – I am about to launch a “10 questions with…” series with our community members, and my natural inclination was to approach the power users (because I have an existing relationship with them and i KNOW they will engage).

I now see that I would be missing a great opportunity to reward our quieter members, share the spotlight and prevent Power User cannibalization.


Albert Ng March 24, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Hey, you say here that we should refer to the members directly by their name. I read another post about how not to alienate guests so as much as I have tried, I have barely ever used anybody’s name directly and just post, leaving them to decide whether I am talking to them or not. I have auto subscribe to a thread so they know when I post and often times they reply appropriately.

How should I balance this tip and the tip you wrote before?

Angela Connor March 24, 2009 at 9:31 pm

This is a great post, Martin. And thanks for the mention. Yes…focusing on power users is a slippery slope. I recommend alternating. And you can even ask members who they’d like to see interviewed and work off of that list, identifying first–the lesser known folks. I have started a new strategy and it is posted on my monitor in my office. It reads simply: Treat GOLO like it’s brand new.”
Every time I see that, it prompts me to greet new members and act as though I am starting over. This is as much for me as it is the community. We have to make our communities a destination for newbies while keeping those power contributors content, but not the focus of our energy.

Nicole Price March 25, 2009 at 8:53 am

Ask any community member and they would agree one hundred percent with your observations. As a community member, all of us require some recognition just as we do in offline community activities. In fact it is more important in online communities as, quite a few of us come there because we do not have much of offline community activities.

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 25, 2009 at 9:08 am

Mike – How about you start the interview rounds with a power member, then move onto the quieter members? They’ll be impressed and flattered that you consider them as valuable as the power member you previously interviewed.

Albert – You won’t alienate guests just by referring to other members by name. You just need to ensure you aren’t always mentioning the same names. Share the love!

Don’t sit in no man’s land and not mention any names at all – it’s not a conversation if nobody knows who you are talking to!

Angela – I love the idea of treating the community as though it’s new. It’s definitely all too easy to get a little lax when a community takes off. We have to remember that it’s still our job to ensure new members feel wanted and welcome regardless of the community’s size.

Edward March 25, 2009 at 10:41 am

To build on what Mike said, I think there’s a lot more to be learned from the quieter members anyway. I’m sure power members could tell you all the things they LOVE about your site, but less-active members will have more constructive criticism, which is better in the long run as you can improve the experience.

Not that we don’t all love glowing praise. :)

GregR March 25, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Good ideas thanks. Forums are a neglected part of community building but like comments they need care and feeding too.

Alison March 25, 2009 at 7:33 pm

As always a very comprehensive and useful post Martin. It’s hard to add much of value! I will say with some communities reward & recognition can come across as ‘head-patting’ from the powers that be which members may not like. After all it is ‘their’ community.

In these instances we try to get the community to nominate and recognise the help of others by putting a call out eg. for member of week. In this way your 10 Ideas can be applied, but it will be the members drawing attention, naming dropping and publicly thanking others etc rather than the community manager or moderators.

I’ve always liked idea of badges/trophies on profiles etc too as a reward.

Mr Woc March 26, 2009 at 10:45 am

Hi there

Some good suggestions, I quite like the idea mentioned above doing some kind of interview with members !


Jeremy L March 31, 2009 at 7:52 pm

Great article Martin! I’ve been making an effort to be better at many of these things lately, and it’s paid off in major ways in my community. My big 3 lately have been “guest articles” on my blog, a new Introductions Area for members to introduce themselves and talk about their off-topic interests, and rewarding members with prizes via online contests and promotions. The contests are my favorite. It’s a blast to be able to give prizes to members, and reward them for their support!

Martin Reed - Blog Author April 2, 2009 at 8:08 am

Jeremy – I’m glad you are seeing success. Just be careful about giving away prizes – you don’t want to attract mercenaries who have no interest in your community.

Trevor May 6, 2009 at 9:32 pm

How does all this change if you “community” is a paid membership club?

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