I spend quite a bit of time talking with clients about incentives and rewards for participation in their community, especially when they are launching new communities. I offer quite a few cautions against offering monetary incentives, because in my past experience, they tend not to be effective. This is especially true for communities where the members are technologists, since people working in the technology industry are already well compensated in most cases.
However, I hadn’t really spent much time thinking about the psychology behind it until I read a particularly interesting short post by Richard Millington. He suggests sending them a fruit basket:
Imagine I sent you a fruit basket for writing a brilliant comment.
How would you react? Happy?
You might mention it to others. You would write more brilliant comments. You would feel appreciated, it’s a great feeling.
What if I paid $20 into your PayPal account?
It’s just become work.
How much will you charge next time? Will you work less if you don’t get paid? Will others now want to be paid?
Money makes communities implode. So send flowers, fruit baskets, chocolates and invitations to special events. Surprise gifts bring out the best in people, money brings out the worst.
(Quoted from FeverBee)
The point here isn’t that a fruit basket is the right reward for excellent community participation, but a little bit of creativity goes a long way toward finding interesting ways to reward participants while staying away from monetary rewards. What kind of small gifts can you send people just to say thank you for doing something nice in the community? What is something exclusive that you can offer someone as a reward that they can’t get elsewhere? I know one person who often wears a t-shirt that is only given to people with commit status for this particular open source project. He’s proud of having special status within the community. You should think of ways that you can reward people with special status in your community that will make them proud of having achieved it. A special t-shirt or other ways for them to display this special status can help reinforce this reward.
It is worth spending some time thinking about creative rewards for community members. What rewards have you had the best luck with in the past? Have you ever had a company reward you in an interesting way for your participation?
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