Another day, another forum competition. It seems that almost every online community I visit (particularly the newer ones) are running a competition. Almost all of these competitions are held with the apparent aim of increasing either member count or post count and almost all of them are inherently flawed. I am not a strong advocate of forum competitions, although I feel they can be successful if done right.
Why most forum competitions fail
As I just touched upon, the majority of competitions held in online communities offer rewards in return for the number of posts made by a member, the number of referrals made by an existing member, or a reward just for being a member. What is more, most of these ‘rewards’ are either cash or big ticket items.
Let’s say you are walking down the street in town. The manager of one of the local bars invites you in – you aren’t really interested; the bar isn’t the type you normally frequent and it looks a little quiet inside. Normally you would just move along, but then the bar manager tells you that if you come in, he’ll give you a free round and an iPod. You accept. You go in, have your free drink, take your iPod and then leave.
You might go back; if the manager gives you more free drinks and another desirable electrical item. You might even tell your friends to get themselves over there whilst the going is good. As soon as the manager stops giving away free drinks and prizes though, neither you nor your friends will return. The same is true of most online community competitions.
Incentivising participation in online communities
As soon as you offer incentives in your online community, you need to consider whether your ‘promotion’ will help you to achieve your goals. Are members that join solely to win a prize the type of members you want? Successful online communities are made up of passionate members – are mercenaries as passionate as freedom fighters? No.
The worst prizes you can offer are valuable ones. Oh, and NEVER, EVER offer cash. As soon as you do, you are effectively paying someone to be a member of your community. Smells a bit like corruption when you put it that way, doesn’t it? That’s because it is corruption and that is why most online communities that run competitions should face corruption charges!
As Richard Millington rightly says, ‘Money makes communities implode‘. Gifts are more effective when they are unexpected. Furthermore, Matt Rhodes wrote a great article on incentivising participation in online communities. Here is an excerpt:
When we are building and managing online communities we want people to take part in the social context. The communities are not market-based transactions, but social environments. Monetary incentives (or equivalents) will only go to create an environment at odds with this.
The right way to do online community competitions
I run forum competitions at Female Forum. Does this make me a hypocrite? No, and I’ll tell you why. First, I determined the precise aim of the competitions. In this case they were to increase the number of new, thought-provoking threads. Therefore, the prizes would be given away to the member who wrote the highest number of threads I select as ‘Featured Discussions’.
Of course, I then had to figure out how to avoid attracting mercenaries. I wanted to generate interest and a little buzz, but avoid attracting members only in it for the big prize. So I give away items that are junk.
October’s prize was a tea making penguin. November’s prize will be a sushi watch. These prizes are so ridiculous, most people only in it for the prize won’t bother to get involved. These competitions have worked however, to create buzz within the community and have picked up a few links from other sites due to their originality. The offer of a tea making penguin saw an increase in the number of new threads, which in turn generated more interaction within the community as members posted in response and sparked up conversations and debates.
Any new members that joined solely for the prize (weirdos!) were soon responding to these posts and getting involved in the community. They were soon hooked.
People that post for cash or highly desirable items only want the cash or the prize. They probably don’t even read the posts made on your community. In my competition, even if the member really does only want the prize, they have still created high quality content – something that has added value to the community and has encouraged interaction.
Dos and Don’ts for online community competitons
- Decide on your objectives before launching any competition
- Determine how you will avoid attracting mercenaries
- Consider surprise prizes – how about not even announcing your competition?
- Be original
- Offer cash
- Offer high value prizes
- Reward members based on post count
- Reward members based on referrals
- Reward a visitor just for becoming a ‘member’
Remember: Your aim should always be quality over quantity. What is quality in the context of an online community? Well, that’s a whole new article!
Have you ever run a competition in your online community? Was it successful? What made it successful? Did new members stick around once the prize was awarded? Perhaps you completely disagree with me: tell me why. Share your thoughts, experiences and opinions by leaving a comment below.