Enough with the water bottles and t-shirts…

Enough with the water bottles and t-shirts…
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya / Unsplash

Everyone loves good swag, but the key to motivating the behaviours you want to see in your community is focusing on intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards. Intrinsic motivation is based on internal incentive such as pleasure or interest, so the key to rewarding appropriately is to support those behaviours.

Humans are beautifully predictable and the science of Behavioural Economics has seen right through our mysterious human condition and put it on naked display.

Exhibit #1 in the courtroom of human peccadilloes is the rather unsurprising discovery that human beings love recognition and rewards – airline miles, coffee cards, trophies, badges – they are all very important to us.

This translates in the community-world to the exploration of all kinds of ideas for rewarding people, often shipping them cute little swag kits that they can then use to humblebrag on Twitter.

Now, I love swag, but in my mind it is Step 3 of the “process” and many people almost entirely skip Steps 1 and 2. So what are these mysterious steps?

Step 1 is really zoning in on what behaviours you want to encourage or reward in the first place. Swag is cool, but why are you sending it to people and do they deserve really it?

You should focus on two things: did the person do something new for the first time (e.g. first time speaking at an event), or did they add value for others (e.g. creating a piece of content or tutorial)? These are great behaviours to reward.

Also keep in mind that platforms often have features built in to recognise maturity and encourage behaviours from community members. Discourse has an awesome feature called Trust Levels which bands members into 5 different levels based on their participation. This is a fantastic model to tie rewards to.

I love to reward people when they hit Trust Level 2 and Trust Level 3 - they are big moments in a community for those members.

This then leads us to Step 2 – how do we deliver an intrinsic reward?

“A what reward, Bacon?”

Well, everyone in the world needs validation. It doesn’t matter whether you are an elementary school kid or the CEO of a multinational corporation, everyone needs to know they are on the right track. Validating their behaviour is the outcome of an intrinsic reward.

So, when someone performs a behaviour you want to recognise, send them a personal thank-you note, or tweet about them, or call them out in a newsletter, or offer to write them an endorsement on LinkedIn, or something else… but with a key focus on showing how much you appreciate and recognise them. And the good news is that this usually costs nothing other than your time.

Then we get to Step 3, where we consider extrinsic rewards and as you might have guessed, this is the swag we send to people.

Sadly we often see a pure lack of imagination when it comes to swag. T-shirts, water bottles, stickers, wireless USB chargers…they have all been done to death…

My challenge to you is to be totally unique, and to choose swag that is meaningful to the recipient.

Organic dog treats for a dog lover, challenge coins, commission an artist to draw the member as a comic book superhero and send them a framed copy, get a Cameo video from one of that member’s heroes…

…mix it up, make it interesting, and make it exciting.

Sure, water bottles and t-shirts are easy but they are BORING…and the greatest communities in the world are never boring, but they push the envelope on what is possible.

Good luck!

Jono Bacon is a leading community strategy and execution consultant, author of People Powered, and creator of the FREE Community Ignition Workshop as well as the Community Experience Masterclass.