If You Build It, Will They Come?

Rewarding early contributors in online communities drives a culture of innovation.


There is always a chicken-and-egg problem when launching a new collaborative community online. Organizers must launch the project with tremendous fanfare so that participants and potential participants will look up and take notice. The Catch-22 is that when these individuals visit a new community, the streets are often empty and there is no content yet.

It’s a little like when new towns were established in the expansion of the United States. Visitors headed west in search of new lives and lifestyles but arrived in places without any infrastructure. The first generation of pioneers built and contributed to their communities to support the new visitors who arrived behind them. Somehow, these communities managed to take root and grow into the dynamic cities seen today.

Pioneers. Trailblazers. Risk takers. They put a flag in the ground and envisioned a future for the community. These are the same individuals credit union's would be wise to seek out for building online communities. The challenge is how to find them, and once they’re indentified, how to get them to contribute?

Rewards and Gaming

Every budding community faces the same challenge: how to assemble content and how to fuel the engine to build on itself and eventually become self-sustaining. Some communities turn to online rewards through reputation-based systems to foster engagement. The more a content-producing individual contributes, the more he or she gets recognized in the community. Often called the gamification of online communities, these rewards take different forms like distinguishing titles, karma points, or achievements. Through this recognition, the real contributors and elder statesmen who shape the community emerge.

Gamification is the current motivation trend in the online world. Every individual has different motivators and learning to leverage these motivators is what enables success, like a good manager who is able to get the best results possible out of his or her employees by speaking to their goals and desires. This same tactic appeals to online community members. Depending on the community and audience, credit unions can choose the influences that will generate the greatest urge to participate and contribute. This can be difficult in an online community, since you don’t know who is going show up and who is going to be an early adopter.

Perhaps influenced by the recent influx of reality TV shows, many people are driven by the need to seek fame or financial benefit. In the real world, gaining recognition is difficult. In the online world, becoming well known seems a more attainable goal. Couple a boost to the user’s online identity with the ability to earn fame through rewards in the online community and individuals will find they can transcend many barriers to their influence and insight that exist in real-world interactions.

The other common motivator is financial incentives. Money is an essential motivator for most people. Otherwise, why would we all show up at work every day? But monetizing online community participation can be a difficult and potentially costly endeavor. First, it requires need a way to track the involvement. Second, user involvement must be controlled to prevent it from spiraling out of control. Third, the community must actually fund the participation. If the community organizers do not have the first two steps taken care of, the budget can get out of control.

In some cases, it may not be practical for a credit union to start a new collaborative community for members, employees, or the cooperative system on their own. Instead, these institutions may consider joining a developing online community, and help shape its ongoing direction as a next-generation pioneer.

Coinciding with the United Nation’s International Year of the Cooperatives, CU*Answers recently launched Cooperative Score and several new web application tools to facilitate sharing knowledge and resources among clients and the credit union industry at large. By their very nature, these collaborative applications launched with little or no contributed content, but CU*Answers is giving industry movers and shakers a chance to shape their future and provide assistance to their not-for-profit peers in a rewarding way.

Enter CollabRebate

CollabRebate is a nascent program from CU*Answers that rewards clients financially for participating in these collaborative efforts. Through CollabRebate, a credit union can earn direct monetary discounts off their core processing invoice simply by contributing to the credit union industry through the Cooperative Score family of sites. CollabRebate is set to drive adoption and participation in these tools, but also to solve the chicken-and-egg problem by incentivizing pioneers to contribute content early in the process.

The company believes in the intrinsic value of these cooperative tools or it would not have created them. However, CU*Answers is also directly encouraging cooperation through financial rewards. In the future, a CollabRebate discount for participation in the community may be the additional fuel needed to keep the participation fire going.

The CollabRebate program is already evolving and growing. CU*Answers has issued an internal request to every department to create potential CollabRebate rewards beyond the task of starting a community. No ideas were left out and an initial catalog of potential discounts is currently being reviewed. Look for more information on CollabRebate later in 2012.

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