A while back, Jeremiah had an excellent post about Social Media Optimization. Actually, his post stemmed from five rules originally posted by Rohit Bhargava. Jeremiah added two more rules and before you know it, five blogs had contributed for a total of sixteen rules. Then other blogs contributed translations. But what I’m really writing about here is one of Jeremiah’s rules: #7 Reward helpful and valuable users.
For my first social media site (previously discussed here), I have a special interest in rule #7. I asked Jeremiah to elaborate on that point via his blog post, and he (along with other readers) gave some ideas. So, what I’m going to say here is partially reiteration of those comments and partially ideas I had to fill in the holes.
In my site mockups, I have proposed a (currently) numeric system for rating users. With each post and comment, a user can be rated with a “+” or “–”, depending on whether or not the reader found the comment or post useful. I say “currently” numeric, because I have not decided if the number will be the value that is actually translated to the readers or if the number will be used to calcuate a certain user class [for example, will a new user's profile read "Adam Darowski (2)" or "Adam Darowski (newbie)", with "newbie" encompassing all users with a rating of 0-20].
Now, how can one of these ratings systems be used to help encourage particpation and repeat visitation? Here are a few ways:
1. Raise Awareness of the System
Everybody loves public recognition. Well, not everyone, but on the web people welcome it more. For this reason, an obvious addition to the site would be a “Top Contributors” list by rating appearon on (at least) the home page. A “View Entire List” link would make it possible to show the top 100 or so (or however many you want), so more and more people could see their name and be tempted to help out to raise it.
Perhaps allowing that list to contain a short text blurb from that user could convince people to try to raise their ratings. I’m thinking of a model similar to baseball-reference.com where individual page sponsors can contribute any text they like, be it some sort of personal note or an advertisement.
The beauty of this is that it doesn’t take the forum model of elevating users based on their number of posts. User rating only raises when what you post is deemed HELPFUL—and if you start posting dozens of meaningless comments to try to raise your rating, the community will actually knock it down through the minus option. All of this implies that you make the user rating system VERY apparent to your users so that they see the benefits for both themselves and the rest of the community.
And how do you deal with someone getting mad at someone else and giving them minus after minus every time they post? Well, make the rating history for a particular post/comment public. Any sneaky work can be policed by the community. The questionable ratings can be removed.
A second, but very important point within the raising awareness category is to communicate with the top users, letting you know they appreciate what they are doing. A little communication can go a long way.
2. More Privileges
In my example I linked to above, I talked about having a wiki-based curriculum as a main resource on the site (I’m calling it wiki-riculum). Having a user-editable curriculum can not only make it more detailed and expansive, but grow the sense of ownership for your top users and contributors.
Many people with drop their jaw and say “ANYONE can edit it?” That is the beauty of it, but since the field I’m designing for isn’t quite as Web 2.0-savvy as others might be, it scares them a bit. So, the ratings system can help act as a buffer. Once you reach a certain rating, you have proven that you are legitimate and are then given access to the wiki-riculum. That’s WRITE-access, of course—everyone has read-access.
Don’t make this rating level too hard to attain, though. All you’re doing is weeding out those that are not serious. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are policing who can or cannot do work for you for free. Make it accessible.
The ratings system can also dicate who can post on the site’s main blog versus who is only allowed to comment. Same rules appy—just weed out those that haven’t quite earned the trust yet, but let people contribute for free if they want.
3. Give them Gifts
Who doesn’t like presents? Give your top users physical gifts. Give them t-shirts and mouse pads (does anyone still use a mouse? mine’s been in a drawer for six months). If you use the “freemium” business model, give them a free premium account of they reach a certain level. If they have already paid for it, extend them a year. Does your site have a sponsor? Work with your sponsor to give top contributors free or discounted products or services from the sponsor. Does your site have an Amazon book list through the affiliates program? Buy them something off that (perhaps something that’s on their Amazon wish list)—at least you’re kicking back a little money to the site in the process.
4. Invitations and Branching
This last one is a bit more out there… I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. Word of mouth, of course, is the least expensive way to attract new users. So, perhaps when a new user registers, an optional “referred by” field appears. If a user is listed as a referrer, then he gets a kickback through the user rating system.
Once the user that you referred reaches a certain status, you could get a boost in your ratings system. It’s like some corporate programs that offer employees bonuses once their recommended hires are there for six months or so. Once the user you invited hits 20, you get 10 points (or something like that).
You could even take it a step further and say that for every point that your invited user friend accumulates, you could get a percentage of a point. So, if your system dictates that ever ten points your friend gets means one more point for you, you could be consistenly rewarded for introducing new users. The system does, after all, attempt to measure your contribution. When you bring in new users that contribute a lot, you are helping the community in a big way.
Of course, what happens if your invited user gets hammered with negative ratings? How will that affect the member in good standing? Do you get points taken away for letting a bad contributor in? Tough to say.
There are still some quirks to be worked out with my user rating system, but I think it is developing well. One of the more prominent sites to feature a user ratings system is digg. One of the reasons that system has gotten a lot of pub is that AOL tried to lure top users away by offering them cash money to populate the new Netscape. Then there’s the problem where 56% of digg’s content is contributed by the Top 100 users. This isn’t as much of a problem for my site, since it is a very focused profession, but for others it could be.
Am I missing anything? Feel free to comment!
Update: Here are some problems with user rating systems, inspired by Digg.