Friday, February 9, 2007

Killing community

Kathy Sierra, who is one of my absolute favorites to read, has an interesting post on inspiring your user-evangelists. It‘s chock full of good advice, but she sums up why people become evangelists with a list of two items:

1) You're small--or in trouble--and they want you to succeed.
2) They believe in the benefits of whatever you offer, and want others to experience that (especially their close friends and family)

Then she mentions to me what is the most important element, or actually the biggest mistake organizations make when trying to create some social networking magic:

Paying them, or even doing a "refer a friend and get YOUR next thing free..." program changes the incentive. And while it may not change the users motivation, it taints the incentive. Irrevocably, in my opinion.
If you have truly passionate users, paying them is not only not necessary, it could hurt. That doesn't mean you don't reward them, of course, there are gazillion great ways (and reasons) to reward your loyal users. But that's for their continued loyalty, support, patience, feedback, etc... not for some kind of paid referral program.

It is this exact same dynamic that kills many enterprise 2.0 efforts. As soon as you make it someones paid job you totally devalue the contributions of your most passionate users. In your attempts to “jump-start” the process and to get something done (product?), you destroy the very dynamic that makes it work in the first place. What you think are the products of your social networking applications, are in reality by-products of a healthy, functioning, vibrant community. As soon as you make the product the focus you are toast.

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