I recently gave an Ignite style presentation at this year’s Digital Marketing Conference in Portland, OR. What a rush of nerves and excitement! It was an honor to talk shop about my burning ideas on online community engagement. I only wish it could have been longer. If you’re not familiar with Ignite, it’s a presentation format where the presenter has exactly 5 minutes to talk their talk. They have 20 slides, rotating every 15 seconds. You have no control over those slides. They go with or without you.

While it was exhilirating to experience this as a presenter, I’m sure there were a few blank stares on some of my slides. It’s sort of hard to whittle down the concept of intrinsic values and extrinsic rewards in the context of online community management in a mere 15 seconds. So I wanted to give you the slides, one by one, along with the script I wrote for each. Without the timer running, hopefully it’ll give more food for thought.

The Cupcake Conundrum: Turning Lurkers Into Contributors

“I’m Ben Fowler and today I’m going to be talking about cupcakes…and other carrots. More specifically, how we can use rewards to motivate a online community to contribute content . I’ll dig into some community management theory, and then touch on my own experiences with cupcakes.”

“I think what this really boils down to is engagement. You have to have engaged community members if they’re going to contribute anything. But what’s the point of having engaged users? The key is making sure your online engagement goals are tied to your real world business goals.” Reference and more information can be found here.

“Speaking of engagement goals, a lot of you have probably seen this 1% rule. If your just starting out an online community, set the bar pretty low because people tend towards lurking as opposed to contributing.” Reference and more information can be found here.

“This is akin to the 80/20 rule, which when applied to content creation would be that 80% of your content comes from 20% of your members. But I always think, are there ways to fiddle with this rule? Can using rewards perhaps tease out a few more contributions from your community?” Reference material on the 80/20, aka The Pareto Principle can be found here.

“There will always be lurkers in your community but out of that pool will come some of your brightest contributors. And I think the reason they don’t do anything because they haven’t connected to the community vision and goals. In other words they haven’t connected to something deeply intrinsically motivating.” The original motivation for including the imagery of Zombies came by way of the folks over at Janrain who hosted a great webinar on Zombies overrunning your web database.

“I use Cog’s ladder theory to help me figure out what our group dynamics are. Right now we’re in the “polite stage”. People are being pretty graceful to one another and there’s no real friction yet. So this framework helps me develop my communication strategies to drive more engagement.” I don’t know who Cog is really, but this is indeed a really good model for developing community management tactics around communication and engagement. More on Cog’s theory here.

“The term of the year in community management: Gamification. This is an If/Then environment where if you do this, then you get a reward, a badge, etc. Gamification is usually looked at through an online lens. But it can be also be applied to real world scenarios, such as cupcakes.” There are lots of gamification players out there. The bigger ones are Bunchball and Badgeville.

“So what is a game? There are 5 components: A bit of Intrigue, A Reward, A Status symbol, A Community, and a Challenge. Games can be used to drive engagement. But from my experience it can be really tricky when tying them to your longer term engagement strategy.” There are some good thoughts on these 5 gamification pillars here.

“Some folks think that rewards like cupcakes shouldn’t really be used at all. The author Daniel Pink created this nifty diagram about it in his book called Drive. In it he suggests that extrinsic rewards should only be used to habituate mundane or uncreative tasks.” Drive is a great book. Daniel Pink a great author. More on this book and the ideas within can be found by watching Pink’s TedTalk.

“Others believe they these types of rewards are completely okay. Michael Wu of Lithium suggests that using extrinsic rewards like cupcakes does work, so long as the activities performed lead to those intrinsic values of the individual.” Michael Wu is brilliant. Most of the supporting points for this argument of his can be found on this blog post.

“So what I get out of all this is that I’m really trying to connect users to their intrinsic values. If games are created, they have to not only incent contributions, but, to be sustainable, they also must connect people to something intrinsically motivating.” The sustainable part is critical because if you can’t connect people to something deeper, then whatever rewards you gave them early on will be a lost cause – they’ll go back to not engaging with the site/community.

“Now a bit about my story. So I manage Conduit, which is a professional social network that’s goal is to to accelerate energy efficiency in the NW. All of our internal staff is on board, as well nearly 200 utilities throughout the region.” What I don’t mention is that Conduit is very young – only 6 months old. So driving engagement has been priority #1. Check out the site at www.conduitnw.org.

“As an initial engagement pilot,I set up a very basic game where internal staff where rewarded when they contributed to the site. The idea was to be somewhat whimsical, and surprising, and have these contests repeat with new challenges every few months.”

“For our first effort we decided to incent new contributions with gourmet cupcakes for a couple hours. Here’s me on the left hauling a very well-decorated cart around the office, giving about 50 folks cupcakes for participating, including Kay who chose the chocolate chip variety.” I also wore a yellow leis and Conduit trucker’s cap. It took about 4 hours to give away those cupcakes that day.

“To stretch out the value of this effort, we created these nice looking cupcake award certificates. After the cupcakes were gone, these awards were left to provide a bit of status, and remind people of their achievement. Suprisingly, many people still have these on their desks.” Interestingly, people still have these on their desks.

“So our first big takeaway. We found we were missing the ever elusive gluten free cupcake. We also found that some participants didn’t even want the cupcake. I think the moral here is that you have to diversify your rewards portfolio to meet the needs of each community member.” Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell and Howard Moskowitz for shedding light on this important component of community management and gamification. Malcolm’s TedTalk can be found here.

“At the end of the month, we found that internal engagement was significantly increased due to the cupcakes. However, because there was no tie to those intrinsic values, our engagement stats dropped back down to their pre-cupcake levels.” How would we have tied to those intrinsic values if we knew that we should have going in? I don’t think there’s any way to know for certain until you start talking to people and listening to how their intrinsically wired at work.

“During the months that followed, I used other extrinsic rewards more broadly, with the whole community. While doling them out, I’ve been striving to understand and tap into those intrinsic values, like thought leadership, altruism, and sustainability and even the game itself.” We’ve used chocolate bars, water bottles, Starbucks gift cards, pens, lanyards, mugs…

“The strategy has been just talking with people to understand the way their wired. So far engagement is creeping upwards. I think the keys have been, on a practical level, just communicating more frequently about the games and the overall state of the community, but most importantly, it’s been about helping people see their intrinsic tie to the community.” And what I don’t mention is that is really really hard to do. I’m still learning, one person at a time. There’s also just a lot of convincing right now. Many members don’t yet see the value the community can bring to them yet. So first it’s selling them on the concept and how it will benefit them, and then rewarding them when they dig in and make those first few posts. We’ll also be thinking of rewards for our super-users once they get enough posts under their belt. But then the point won’t be to continue to habituate desired behavior, but rather a sincere acknowledgement and thank you for their active engagement with the community.

“Thank you very much.”

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