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It’s funny that most of us, when we’re building an online community, don’t focus on this aspect of appreciating the people who participate in it – the commenters on our blog or our website members. Now I don’t mean the occasional thank you, but you knew that, didn’t you?

I believe the power of enthusing your community rests in your ability to help your members shine and in appreciating what they do to make your community a community.

Below I’ve shared my discoveries on how the most awesome community leaders appreciate and make their online communities grow by using reward and recognition to motivate their members.

So here goes – 10 different ways to use reward and recognition with your brand advocates, the people who make your community.

RECOGNITION: Five Ideas to Recognize Your Brand Advocates

1. Promote them – Offline is sometimes the best way to recognize your advocates. If you’re a big firm with a PR/corporate communication division, get them to do interviews with your key advocates, which can be featured both online and offline. Your advocates will love the attention. If you’re just a lone blogger, or have a forum/community site, then do an interview with the contributors and feature them in one of your articles, get their picture in there.

2. Give them something to display – If you don’t already provide them with a plaque/certificate or similar item, make sure you give something to them. Simple things like online verification badges, work wonders.

3. Preferred treatment – Shower them with love e.g. at your conferences/events, make sure you provide them discounted offerings, separate seating for them right up front, maybe a separate dedicated Wi-Fi connection or a special lounge. If you’re a one man team, host special online events exclusively for your brand advocates.

4. Enable engagement for them – On your website and your social networks: Introduce a brand advocate of the month, feature a key advocate, let them take the lead for a day whether it’s via their blog post or virtual presentation by them or via a tweet chat or online Skype calls between community members and them. Help them make new connections, they’ll remember and appreciate it for a long time. This might seem similar to the first suggestion, however, here instead of just shining the light on them provide them a direct way to engage with others.

5. Speaker/Contributor Bureau – Setup a registry/list of your top contributors/advocates and showcase them on your site. You could begin with just a simple list of people within your community and why you think they are cool. This is a longer term activity, different from the one time featuring of a person. This builds a deeper relationship and provides them long term visibility and recognition. If you’re a big company, create a visible list of speakers and provide facilities for your communities and user group leaders to request speakers. If budgets allow for it, give the speaker a travel allowance for community events.

Do This: Pick one, just one, idea from the above, which you think you can apply to your business. You can also do something else along the same lines. 


REWARDS: Five Ideas to Reward Your Brand Advocates

When giving a reward follow these three principles as far as possible: Make it Personal, Shareable and Unique. Below are ideas to get you thinking:

1. Publications and books – It’s very easy to team up with publishers/authors who can provide discounted offerings or free books for your advocates to review. E.g. in the technology space check out publishers like O’Reilly, Pearson who’re extremely pro-advocates and communities. Almost every industry has their share of publications who want more publicity. Additionally, encourage your advocates to submit their reviews of books on your community/blog sites, benefiting everyone.

2. Shareable giveaways – Letting your advocates give away your next eBook or whitepaper to others in their communities or via their blogs etc? Other giveaways could be complimentary coupons for training by partners, free consultations or review services. The possibilities are limited only by your budget and your imagination.

3. Custom T-shirts/Letterheads/Envelopes – T-shirts/Jackets – Which prominently state the advocate’s expertise or contributions. These need to be cool, mind. Just slapping your logo on to a t-shirt is useless. How about something as simple as providing printed envelopes or business cards with their name. This is uber cool if executed well.

4. Invite them to share, contribute or co-author content with you – Feature their articles on your blog/community sites, try and get content syndicated even in regular print channels if possible. Include links to their samples, and presentations within your articles, documentation and product literature.

5. Invite them to the inner circle – The group of people within your community who advise you on how to better serve the community, like what to cover in your next blog post. Companies can provide key advocates access to their top execs/teams/special events or include them in your product planning process, or you can share your next eBook or collection of tips with them first. It’s an advanced idea which would require you to plan well in advance as you need to ensure that what you’re sharing is special and provides great value.

What You Should NOT Do:

1. Cash rewards – Direct to the advocate is something to avoid. It’s unsustainable in the long term, and is not the most effective motivator. As an alternative, you could create a system whereby you reward them by giving X dollars to their favorite charity. Whenever possible, however, provide “in-kind” rewards. 

2. Hide the rules of engagement – Make whatever technique or program you use super transparent. Create a prominently visible criteria and benefits document, ensure it’s easy to understand and encourages participation. Try to avoid similar mistake online community owners make as much as you can.

Before We Go – One Last Idea:

Segmentation/Levels – The idea here is to encourage and recognize different skills, expertise and contributions. For individual blogs and communities, this could be in terms of recognizing different kinds of people – some contribute articles, some provide their time – guiding and supporting others, some are great at reviewing content etc.

For a company, segmentation of advocates can be based on the products they specialize in, on the kind of activities people do. E.g. people who blog, podcast, webcast, speak at events, contribute on forums, or their presence in traditional media. You might begin with a general overall reward and recognition program. However, you will probably need to segment as the number of your advocates and contributors increases.

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