There are plenty of ways to design reward programs. This isn’t one of them.
In my recent online communities strategy report, I stressed the importance of designing reward programs to encourage visitors and members to engage in the conversation, rather than lurk and listen. It’s the secret to the success of the largest and most vibrant communities – whether they are targeted at brand building or product support.
The issue is, of course, what kind of reward program? Should companies dangle an iPad or a cruise in front of members or go for bragging rights?
Bragging rights are the most popular and arguably the most effective. These programs are usually based on a point system. Members get points when they answer a question – and receive additional “Brownie points” when the answer actually works.
Point levels create a pecking order where members with the highest points qualify for a particular status – and thus, more community trust. Typical levels range from Contributor (clueless but participating) to Expert (actually knows what s/he’s talking about).
As an aside, it’s worth mentioning that Oracle.com’s Ace program has an interesting variation on the theme. It allows members to vote for other members to become an Oracle Ace – the highest status on the OTN site. It’s a great way to allow the community to decide who really provides value (vs. activity) – although the ballot process requires the company to sponsor the contest and handle the back end logistics. (Think of it as a really complicated Cosmo quiz with some bite.)
And then we have HP, who uses a series of point systems with some very odd twists.
Its Business Support Center forum levels range from “Shining” to “Radiant” to “Beaming” to “Sweltering” (which is, for some odd reason higher than “Hot” — I live in Arizona, so I should know).
Meanwhile, HP IT Resource Center members can achieve “Pro”, “Graduate”, “Wizard”, “Royalty”, “Pharaoh”, and various “Olympian” levels.
But wait, there’s more. If you are participating in the HP Support Forum, you have the opportunity to be a “Student”, “Top Student”, “Tutor”, “Teacher”, “Grad Student”, “PHD Student”, “Associate Professor”, “Tenured Professor” and (drum roll please) a “Distinguished Professor”.
Which brings me to an interesting question. What happens if you participate in all three venues? Can you be a Beaming Wizard Grad Student? Or, perhaps a Sweltering PHD Student on your way to becoming a Tenured Professor?
And then there’s the bunny – the icon that shows a rabbit being pulled out of a hat. This icon is slapped on any question that gets answered. I guess that means that any support answer provided in an HP forum is – well you know.
This brings me to a couple of salient points. First, if you’re going to have a reward system, it’s a good idea to be consistent. It’s also a good idea to design a system that’s relevant for the members who want to achieve bragging rights. How many business professionals do you know who want to become “Beaming” or “Radiant”? Do you know many IT professionals who are burning the midnight oil to become a “Pharaoh”? Finally, do you know what HP.com is thinking? I don’t.