In today's Web 2.0 world, users aren't born with an insatiable desire to be part of the online conversation in a community; they are motivated to participate by an inner drive to be accepted and respected by their peers, observes Dave Hersh, CEO of Jive Software, a provider of enterprise collaboration software. A built-in feature of Jive's solution is a point system that rewards users for sharing knowledge within their organization and with their customers.
In the enterprise, the point system has evolved as a practical means to recognize, encourage, and reward helpful staff and subject experts. "If you're seen as an expert in your community, then you're much more likely to garner their respect and interest in what you have to offer," Hersh explains. "Our customers are always surprised at how powerful a motivator it actually is to allow people to gain status and points in different areas and to be seen as the expert. They're also amazed at how competitive users can become in the process."
The same scheme applies to the UGC space, where users seek similar recognition for their individual contributions, as well as what they do for the good of the online community. An example is video game-publisher Electronic Arts (EA), which implemented Jive's collaboration software and point system, and grew the community by a whopping 1,600% less than a year after the site relaunch. EA was "floored" by the response, says Nathan Fahrenthold, EA senior community manager. Today the site is a new epicenter for EA gamers everywhere.
"From a traffic, posting, and membership perspective, our original plan was to be in beta for six months while we closely monitored growth, which we expected to be flat or about the same. As soon as we relaunched the community as brand extensions, with fast performance and excellent content moderation—it exploded," Fahrenthold explains.
To move communities and collaboration to the next level, Jive recently launched Clearspace, a solution designed to let users share documents, write blogs, and discuss topics of interest in forums. "Part of this integrated platform is aligning the incentives, so users can earn rewards for posting a blog, contributing to a wiki document, or taking part in a conversation," Hersh explains.
The value of encouraging content should not be underestimated. The Global CEO Study of 765 business leaders conducted by IBM Global Business Services found that companies increasingly rely on their customers as a source for their most innovative ideas. In fact, external sources of innovation were only prevalent in the ranking of CEOs' most significant sources of ideas; they also comprised a substantial portion of the overall quality of ideas. As one CEO quoted in the study remarked, "If you think you have all the answers internally, you're wrong."
Against this backdrop, developing solid sites and systems to identify, encourage, and reward users may be a chief source of competitive advantage. "Web 2.0 started out being about opening the dialogue, the next level is about making sure we all have a voice and use it," Hersh says. And it's not just a warm and fuzzy feature sites will need to show they care; it will be an integral part of hard-nosed business models. Entire organizations could stand and fall on their ability to encourage UGC and translate the conversation into a significant source of ideas and insights.
Sidebar: iStockphoto Stocks Up on Community
While the social alchemy required to garner user content contributions remains elusive, it is clear that an increasing number of users are drawn to destinations that emulate a virtual bazaar, where they can connect with colleagues, barter with customers, and soak in the excitement of a bustling content marketplace.
One site that understands the importance of democratizing content creation, as well as the mechanisms to monetize users' contributions, is iStockphoto. The online storefront—widely regarded as an eBay for images—sells photos and videos created by a tight-knit community of 33,000 amateur and professional photographers and filmmakers from six continents. More importantly, it gives them a cut of the purchase price and a chance to raise their profile among potential buyers and their peers. "Empowered by technology and ever-expanding media options, consumers have become their own brand managers," observes Bruce Livingstone, iStockphoto CEO.
It's this control, combined with the freedom to create and connect with other "iStockers" that motivates Nick Monu, 21, one of iStockphoto's most active and enthusiastic community members, to spend an average of three to four hours a day on the site. Monu, who is a medical student at Brown University, expects to earn $50,000 to $60,000 on image sales this year, but it's not the money alone that keeps him coming back. It's more the feeling that it's his place—an informal space where he can hang out, connect with other members, share photo techniques, trade stories about recent photo shoots, and even challenge a few of the die-hard iStockers to a contest of wits and Photoshop skills. "It's the whole community and the whole community package," Monu says.
In addition to a wide range of features that take the pain out of perfecting his craft, including a technical wiki where Monu can learn some tips and contribute his own experiences, the site offers a number of real-life perks, including official iStockphoto business cards, that make this virtual experience an integral part of his daily life. He says, "It's also great when you can see your images used in the real world. On a vacation to Spain, I saw my images were used on a flyer and that was the most exciting moment."
Companies Featured in this Article
Electronic Arts www.ea.com
Jive Software www.jivesoftware.com
Outsell Inc. www.outsellinc.com
Prospero Technologies www.prospero.com
Reality Digital www.realitydigital.com