In my experience with strategizing and managing online communities, the goal of getting users to register proves much easier to obtain than getting people to come back to the site and participate. I think a slick site design and promising benefits can easily pull a user in to register because there is no commitment for them to get involved. So how do we get registered users to participate in online communities without forcing a commitment? I don’t think there is a magic formula. It’s always going to differ depending on the type of website, user, etc, but there are things we can rely on that have proven useful without having to do too much preliminary user research or strategy: rewards.
One of the key aspects in getting people to do things is how motivated they are. A main component of motivation, as every one knows, is reward. Wikipedia.org relates reward to “The Incentive Theory of Motivation”:
“A reward, tangible or intangible, is presented after the occurrence of an action (i.e. behavior) with the intent to cause the behavior to occur again. This is done by associating positive meaning to the behavior.”
As Wikipedia.org notes, reward can be tangible or intangible. There are several websites that are utilizing tangible and/or intangible types of reward in their social communities.
Contests (for prizes)
"SurfReel.com is the premier online surfing video competition site, exposing the best untapped talent to the surf industry and community. We provide surfers of all abilities a free social network to communicate and compete globally.
Unlike other surfing competitions, our users vote to decide the winners of each month's competition. And the best part is, there is no limit to the purse winnings. As our online community grows, so does the size of the purse. We split our annual advertising profit with the winners of the Global Event competition."
User-uploaded surf videos are voted on by the registered community using the "Stoked" and "Choked" buttons.
Monthly prizes vary. Prizes have included Quicksilver Cypher wetsuits and signed surf gear.
Monthly winners even have a shot at the Annual Purse. Winners are voted on each September.
"MadeLoud was started by two bands nerds wanting to change a few things around for the benefit of artists. Our idea was to create a website that incorporates the content of an indie music publication with the services of an online music retailer."
Artists received 85% of all Merchandise sales. All registered Artists are allowed to list and sell merchandise.
Artists receive 80% of all Music sales. During Beta, all registered Artists are allowed unlimited music uploads. Singles or full albums can be marked for sale or for free download.
The idea of giving a registered user "points" for completing a desired task, ties in to reward. Khalid Baheyeldin, from 2bits.com, notes advantages of using user points within online communities:
- Psychological factor
- Mimics "gaming"
- Instant gratification
- Users strive for recognition
"At SparkPeople, our mission is to SPARK millions of PEOPLE to reach their goals and lead healthier lives. We offer nutrition, health, and fitness tools, support, and resources that are 100% free, while other sites like Weight Watchers and eDiets.com charge their members for similar services."
SparkPeople gives a different number of points to registered users for performing certain actions relating to the site.
Reading an article is an example of an action on the site in which the registered user can click to receive points.
Users who reach a set number of points receive "virtual trophies" which appear on their SparkPeople homepage sidebar after logging in.
User visibility can increase user participation by giving registered users a chance to stand out from other users and display their talents or accomplishments.
Users have the opportunity for their video to be listed in the "Top 5 reels" section on SurfReel's homepage for the monthly competition. Last month's winners are also featured on the homepage.
MadeLoud gives users the opportunity to be listed as a "Featured Artist" or have their merch be listed as "Featured Merch." Featured listings are chosen by MadeLoud staff.
The sites listed have implemented unique methods of providing reward to increase user participation. I do not think there is a "best" method. The "best" thing to do is to hypothesize what might work, implement it, get feedback, and adjust. Testing and adjusting are key to any website's success, and participation determines success for online communities who plan to grow and thrive in the overwhelming social online world.