Community reputation points are pointless if the community does not buy into their value. As a community manager, it is your job to discover the values that create that buy-in.
I’ve written at length now about how online reputation and rewards work to motivate contributions from your community. But before you rush to create a sophisticated system with bells, whistles, points, and badges, you need to make sure that they will be in tune with the values of your community. Why is that? Because if they aren’t, people won’t care about them, or worse, will take it as a sign that you are out of touch (which frankly, you would be).
A good online reputation and reward management system would reflect what matters to your community members, and merely* capture and quantify that value in the form of online reputation.
Let me give you an example scenario to illustrate the point.
Points are awarded every time a community member shares a forum post via social media. When rolled out to the community platform, Community 1 sees a spike in sharing activity and rise in SEO relevance. Community 2 does not see a measurable traffic increase, and the function is barely used; in addition an angry thread is started by a super-user about how instead of rolling out useless junk Company 2 should better fix existing bugs in the system.
So what went wrong with Community 2 and why was there such a backlash? We know that this can work, and we have seen examples of that in action. Then why is the manager of Community 2 being flamed for doing what is considered to be an industry best practice?
The (sometimes infuriating) answer to this question is that nothing is inherently wrong with this logic, until you put it in the context of your community. So let’s examine our two communities a little closer.
Community 1 is maintained by a software company which offers mobile productivity apps for smartphones. Their community forum is open for anyone to read, and only registered users can contribute. Discussions revolve around integrating the user’s existing services (such as calendars, email, exchange directory, etc.) with the apps as well as troubleshooting. By encouraging sharing of helpful Q&A threads, the community now is more visible on social media, reaching more users, as well as attracting new customers. This extra cross-linking also helps the community’s pages to be displayed higher on the search results page, allowing users with problems to find a solution sooner.
Community 2 is run by a home security company, which offers both software and hardware solutions. The forum is only accessible to verified customers, and closely moderated. Product support is strictly confidential, and forum discussions focus on best practices and special cases. Social sharing may lead to broken links and login prompts in the best case, and to confidentiality breach (if someone decided to quote part of the shared content) in the worst. Encouraging social sharing by points rewards will predictably not go over well, since this is not an activity that serves the values of the given community.
So in short: think before you reward. If you are unclear on what your community values, figure that out first. You are the one being paid the proverbial big bucks to help the community thrive, so do your homework, lest you look silly later on.
* “Merely” in this context doesn’t imply that it’s going to be simple or easy. It implies however that the points system is an add-on to the value system inherent in your community, and cannot function without it.