Friday, March 6, 2009

Social Media: Social Rewards for Building Lasting Online Communities

I came across a brilliant book, thanks to Kevin Rose
, founder of Digg, Predictably Irrational
. The premise in one of the chapters is that we are happy to do things, but not when we are paid to do them. Here's how it works according to Dan Ariely

We may intuitively know that basing a relationship on social norms and exchanges is more lasting and more powerful than when we get paid to do something. What we don't usually know is when to cross the line between social and into market (or money) exchanges and what effect that transition has on the relationship longer term. Dan conducted a number of experiments and discovered that people are willing to work for free or for a reasonable wage - but when you offer them a small amount, they usually walk away. Dan points to open source software where people contribute their free time to develop projects or fix bugs on collaborative platforms - if these same engineers were to paid for the work, they would command high wages - yet, they are willing to do it for free. Why? Because social rewards and social reputation can be enormous behavioral motivators.

What was also interesting was that people who got paid reasonably to do a job were motivated to do almost as good of a job almost as those who did it for free, but they tended to avoid collaboration. Apparently, thinking about money made people more self-reliant and less willing to ask for help. What's more important, I think, is that once we move away from a social exchange into a market exchange, we are governed by the market forces for a long time - you ask a friend for a favor, maybe a free yoga session, and she gladly helps. She does it a couple of times - then, you offer to pay. The friend takes the money - and the friend now expects to be paid each time.

So does this mean for us, social media marketers?
1. People will work for free - they will gladly volunteer their time - in exchange for the right social rewards. Social reputation is a huge motivator - so whether you are running a for-profit social network, an online community, or a non-profit initiative, make sure that you recognize and thank your volunteers.
2. Recognize your volunteers contributions - on your home page, in your newsletters, Twitter feeds, or Facebook account. Make them the stars of your community - give them special status, offer them exclusives, make them part of your business decision-making process. People don't just work for free.
3. Offer them symbolic gifts - a thank you card personally signed by everyone on the team, a virtual hug, a t-shift - for each of their meaningful contributions. Don't ever forget that in social relationships you are always exchanging social currency - it is a give and take. Every time. I recently attended a meeting of marketers to help a non-profit organization - I spent two hours there, contributed and did not hear back. A simple thank you in most cases would do.
4. Be clear about the norms for your community - what you consider social and what you consider market. And don't mix the two. American Express Platinum Card is known for its exceptional Cardmember customer service - you get a very special treatment when you call. Only a select group of people get the privilege to carry one - yet, for a bounced check or a later payment, Platinum customers get the same monetary penalties as everybody else.

As Dan Ariely says, "If you want a social relationship, go for it, but remember that you have to maintain it under all circumstances."


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