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10 Ways to Motivate Your Community: Reward and Recognition

  • Sanjay ShettySanjay Shetty

For 13 years something has hung on top of my desk, right where I can see it.

It’s a certificate recognizing my contributions as part of the Microsoft Regional Director Program, an honorary position was conferred to me based on my contributions to the geek community.

Do you have something like this? Maybe it’s a plaque, or a note of appreciation, or a shiny medal. What it is, isn’t important, my reader, what is important is to ask how have you done the same for your community members?

In the 12 years since I received my certificate, I’ve received a number of giveaways whether in the form of a cool gizmo or personalized letterheads, t-shirts and so on. I’ve treasured these, but for me personally, that piece of paper has motivated me the most as it was something concrete, which demonstrated an appreciation of my efforts.

What have you received that you’ve treasured? Maybe it’s just an online badge of recognition for your contributions on a forum or a piece of paper which makes you happy.

It’s funny that most of us, when we’re building an online community, don’t focus on this aspect of appreciating the people who participate in it – the commenters on our blog or our website members or our community members. Now I don’t mean the occasional thank you, but you knew that, didn’t you?

I learned my lessons on appreciation from none other than the big bad boy of the software industry – MICROSOFT. Yep I even published a paper on how they appreciate their brand advocates. Surprisingly I couldn’t find a single person, (and I’ve Googled and Binged my fingers out trying) who’s documented this phenomenon.

I believe the power of enthusing your community rests in your ability to help your members shine and in appreciating what they do to make your community a community.

Below I’ve shared my discoveries on how the most awesome community leaders appreciate and make their online communities grow by using reward and recognition to motivate their members.

That you’ll apply at least one of these ideas, beyond what you’re currently doing and report back here in the comments. Or at least share with everyone out here what ideas you’ve used successfully. DEAL?

So here goes – 10 different ways to use reward and recognition with your brand advocates, the people who make your community.

RECOGNITION: Five Ideas to Recognize Your Brand Advocates

1. Promote them – Offline is sometimes the best way to recognize your advocates. If you’re a big firm with a PR/corporate communication division, get them to do interviews with your key advocates, which can be featured both online and offline. Your advocates will love the attention. If you’re just a lone blogger, or have a forum/community site, then do an interview with the contributors and feature them in one of your articles, get their picture in there.

2. Give them something to display – If you don’t already provide them with a plaque/certificate or similar item, make sure you give something to them. Simple things like online badges or a certificate, like the one I got, work wonders.

3. Preferred treatment – Shower them with love e.g. at your conferences/events, make sure you provide them discounted offerings, separate seating for them right up front, maybe a separate dedicated Wi-Fi connection or a special lounge. If you’re a one man team, host special online events exclusively for your brand advocates.

4. Enable engagement for them – On your website and your social networks: Introduce a brand advocate of the month, feature a key advocate, let them take the lead for a day whether it’s via their blog post or virtual presentation by them or via a tweet chat or online Skype calls between community members and them. Help them make new connections, they’ll remember and appreciate it for a long time. This might seem similar to the first suggestion, however, here instead of just shining the light on them provide them a direct way to engage with others.

5. Speaker/Contributor Bureau – Setup a registry/list of your top contributors/advocates and showcase them on your site. You could begin with just a simple list of people within your community and why you think they are cool. This is a longer term activity, different from the one time featuring of a person. This builds a deeper relationship and provides them long term visibility and recognition. If you’re a big company, create a visible list of speakers and provide facilities for your communities and user group leaders to request speakers. If budgets allow for it, give the speaker a travel allowance for community events.

STOP – Remember the promise you made at the beginning? 

Do This: Pick one, just one, idea from the above, which you think you can apply to your business. You can also do something else along the same lines – but please, whatever you do, add it to the comment box below. I and the readers of the blog will really appreciate and learn from your experience.

Thanks! Not that hard. Right!  I almost though you won’t share. I’ll talk about rewards now, and also some “gotchas” you need to watch out for.

REWARDS: Five Ideas to Reward Your Brand Advocates

When giving a reward follow these three principles as far as possible: Make it Personal, Shareable and Unique. Below are ideas to get you thinking:

1. Publications and books – It’s very easy to team up with publishers/authors who can provide discounted offerings or free books for your advocates to review. E.g. in the technology space check out publishers like O’Reilly, Pearson who’re extremely pro-advocates and communities. Almost every industry has their share of publications who want more publicity. Additionally, encourage your advocates to submit their reviews of books on your community/blog sites, benefiting everyone.

2. Shareable giveaways – Microsoft gives some of their advocates subscriptions to their MSDN which the advocates can give away to their audiences, the list price of which varies from $700 to almost $12,000.

Now, I know not everybody is a Microsoft fan, but you can get creative in the same fashion. How about letting your advocates give away your next eBook or whitepaper to others in their communities or via their blogs etc? Other giveaways could be complimentary coupons for training by partners, free consultations or review services. The possibilities are limited only by your budget and your imagination.

3. Custom T-shirts/Letterheads/Envelopes – T-shirts/Jackets – Which prominently state the advocate’s expertise or contributions. These need to be cool, mind. Just slapping your logo on to a t-shirt is useless. How about something as simple as providing printed envelopes or business cards with their name. This is uber cool if executed well.

4. Invite them to share, contribute or co-author content with you – Feature their articles on your blog/community sites, try and get content syndicated even in regular print channels if possible. Include links to their samples, and presentations within your articles, documentation and product literature.

5. Invite them to the inner circle – The group of people within your community who advise you on how to better serve the community, like what to cover in your next blog post. Companies can provide key advocates access to their top execs/teams/special events or include them in your product planning process, or you can share your next eBook or collection of tips with them first. It’s an advanced idea which would require you to plan well in advance as you need to ensure that what you’re sharing is special and provides great value.

What You Should NOT Do:

1. Cash rewards – Direct to the advocate is something to avoid. It’s unsustainable in the long term, and is not the most effective motivator. As an alternative, you could create a system whereby you reward them by giving X dollars to their favorite charity. Whenever possible, however, provide “in-kind” rewards.

2. Hide the rules of engagement – Make whatever technique or program you use super transparent. Create a prominently visible criteria and benefits document, ensure it’s easy to understand and encourages participation.

Before We Go – One Last Idea:

Segmentation/Levels – The idea here is to encourage and recognize different skills, expertise and contributions. For individual blogs and communities, this could be in terms of recognizing different kinds of people – some contribute articles, some provide their time – guiding and supporting others, some are great at reviewing content etc.

For a company, segmentation of advocates can be based on the products they specialize in, on the kind of activities people do. E.g. people who blog, podcast, webcast, speak at events, contribute on forums, or their presence in traditional media. You might begin with a general overall reward and recognition program. However, you will probably need to segment as the number of your advocates and contributors increases.

13 thoughts on 10 Ways to Motivate Your Community: Reward and Recognition

Sanjay Shetty

Anyl, Vindo, Fiona, Eliza, I’m glad that you found the post useful, thanks for taking the time to comment and share.

Sanjay Shetty

Eliza Olson

One of the simplist and easist recognitions is a creatively deisigned certificate of appreciation in a simple document from from your local Dollar Store. I have hooked up with Keven from “ for fantastic document sized clocks with a picture and a working clock face! I have two sitting in my cabinet just waiting for the right time to give to two terrific guys who have spent months helping us transition from our old database to Salesforce. We could not afford the many hours Derrick Shackleford with JDQ Systems has put in, moving us gently and determidlyforward!

Tthe advantage of the “” is that you can put a picture that interests the person you are giving it to, with your logo placed discreetly on the clock, it is workable/usable and everytime your recipient looks at that clock, s/he will think of you. In our case we put a picture of an animal found in Burns Bog or a picture of the Delta Nature Reserve on the edge or lagg of Burns Bog. The choices are endless!

Fiona Prince

Thanks for all your suggestions for rewards and recognition, Sanjay. I’m new to building an online community but for my business I usually do the following:
Online, I acknowledge people in social media and/or I send them eCards from Blue Mountain and JacquieLawson. Offline, at meetings and networking events, I give inexpensive items (journals, gift bags, and other nick-nacks) as a ‘thank yous’ to people for their contributions and/or participation in the group. I also send cards and small gifts to people who’ve hired me. I use the Sendout Cards service for this.
This is a fairly haphazard process for me and I need to formalize it. Thanks for the tips on how to do that. 🙂

Vinod Kumar

Nice post Sanjay. Reminds us of the basics and more importantly have a long way to go. It is a journey and tough for people to appreciate the same. Thanks for the wonderful post …

Anyl Thapa

its too helpful post for me thanks..


Very useful! I have found that sending a certificate made up with the person’s name on it for Best Contributor or whatever you want goes a long way. I use this offline as well. Thanks!


Sanjay Shetty

Hi Scott,
Thanks for sharing, yes something as simple as a certificate goes a long way. In fact you might want to announce the various categories on your community site and intimate new members as they join in. This helps people align with your goals.

Sanjay Shetty


Nice blog 🙂 but; just, one bad guy(headlong, arrongant, attitude guy) would spoil any community. Just think, if he gets support 🙁

Sanjay Shetty

Hi Venkat,
Life throws up all kinds of people. Though the focus of the article is on a different subject I’ll try to address the very valid issue you’ve raised. Most of the times I’ve noticed that when there is a person who is upsetting the community the community typically handles it when it is a mature community. You as a community manager have a responsibility too and can intervene and do a number of things; whether it’s ensuring that you’ve got a clear policy of what’s allowed or not in your community, or by adressing the person directly via a separate private thread or speak in person as appropriate. Worst case sometimes you might need to ask the person to leave. Again this topic deserves a separate much more detailed response, it’s a post in itself and I’d be happy to help you if that is an area of concern for you.

Sanjay Shetty

Pinal Dave

Clearly shows your experience with community management.

Thanks for this pot!

Sanjay Shetty

Thanks Pinal.

Sanjay Shetty

Hi Jeannette,

Glad you found the post useful. Do let me know which idea you intend to put into practice 🙂


Sanjay Shetty

Jeannette Paladino

This is an outstanding post. I’ve already implemented a couple of your ideas but on a sporadic basis.
You’ve given me one idea that I intend to put into practice soon as I return from vacation. The point is you can never say thank you too often. So thank you for sharing your ideas.

Comments are closed.