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Building a Compelling Reward Structure for Your Community: Part 1

Part 1: Should you use a point system to reward your community?

A common thread I’ve been pulling on in the communities I’m a part of is this: what type of rewards are most motivating?

We know we need some type of reward. We know, because of basic habit formation, to list each action we want to see happen and match that action to a prompt and a reward.

One easy way to do this is to use points (token, pennies, coins, community-bucks, whatever you want to call them) as a way for the actions to be quantified, accumulate over time, and ultimately turned into rewards. This gives you the flexibility to break the actions down to be really small, which is a really good feature of habit formation. Tokens or points may then be transferred into rewards.

I guess you could say I created my first points-based incentive framework when I was about twelve or so. I asked my mom if I created a summer point system for me and my siblings, if she would enforce it. She said I could draft something up and she would review. (Are you getting some insight here into my personality?) Every single day I woke up with a singular ambition - earn as many points as possible. At the end of the summer, we turned our points into an item of "equivalent value" and I got a SUPER COOL CUSTOM canopy to go over my bed to affirm my rightful status as a princess.

More recently, I crafted an extensive point system for Sseko to determine which members of the community would earn a trip of a lifetime to Uganda. Hundreds of people sold A LOT of product, dramatically shifted their behavior, and took the actions they needed to get enough points for the trip.

Why did the summer point system and Uganda trip points work?

Because participants wanted to win. They were motivated by personal accumulation.

The problem is, for the vast majority of communities out there, your customer is not joining your community to win.

They might like winning. They might identify themselves as a winner. But that doesn’t mean they want to play a game in your community. Or that they will be enticed accidentally to win in your space.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t integrate game mechanics into your community design. But it DOES mean there are other methods of rewarding your community that will be more motivating.

So why ARE people joining your community?

Well, ask them. And listen to what they are saying. Listen to what they are not saying.

When we listened to the Piktochart community, what we found was the thoughtful and intricate point system we planned was going to back fire. Here’s why.

Members told us they wanted to join the community in order to get tips, tricks, tutorials, and inspiration from experts and other members. (Literally everyone said this, it was undeniable.)

When I brought up points, they told me a point structure made them more inherently skeptical of the content shared in the community. The points created dissonance. Someone might post a tutorial just so they can earn points towards a reward, not because they have good content to share. This sowed the seeds of distrust for them. This was HUGE red flag for me because everything we do is centered on trust.

It made me take a serious pause on our plans and we had to revisit the drawing board for another option design that would motivate members to share in the community.

When I went back to the drawing board I revisited my tried and true core community motivation - recognition.

To be continued

Picture credit: Siora Photography


About the Author

Bri Leever is Chief Community Architect at Ember, a splasher of water, and lover of books doing life in an ever-changing migration pattern ✈️


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