This post is part of the OC Tribe series. Each 2nd Tuesday and 4th Tuesday of the month, online community practitioners are be encouraged to explore a particular topic via blog, video blog, twitter, or whatever suites their fancy. The topic for Tuesday, July 28 is Valuing Participation in Online Communities. Check the post and tag your musings with #octribe. A recap will be hosted at the originating blog later this week. This ad-hoc group is just starting up, so please join in! #octribe
Some discussion of assigning value to members in a community tend toward how valuable a particular community member is to the host of the community (be they a brand, reseller, or even non-profit). This often raises concerns that community members are being taken advantage of. The AOL volunteer lawsuit gets thrown out as one of the third-rail types of stories -- danger! do not touch! What is often lost is that AOL ran volunteer programs for a long time before the lawsuits with few issues. What changed? Part of the answer is that AOL was using free access as a perk for their volunteers. However, when AOL went from a rated service (access charged by the hour) to a flat-rate (unlimited access for a monthly fee), the value of that perk plummeted. It's not the whole reason some volunteers stood up against AOL, but it certainly added to some of the resentment.
What if we add another level to the idea of ascribing value to the contributions of a community member? Let's say we are a bookseller. People who write reviews are valuable to our business, not because they buy books in large quantities (in fact, we might even send them books to review), but because their reviews help sell books to people who will appreciate them. Even by steering some people away from a book, the reviewer can help the bookseller build long-term relationships with book buyers. It's pretty easy to see who we might ascribe a value to the reviewer -- sales of books after viewing a particular review (or, better, after marking it "helpful" and then going on to purchase the book).
So where's the value to the reviewer? Part might be that the seller puts high-value reviewers at the top of promotional book give-aways. So reviewers get more books. Reviewers might even be allowed a small percentage of the sales of books they review. And, of course, there is notoriety in being a highly ranked reviewer.
Is there value for the community at large, particularly, those community members who might not receive a high valuation in this scheme. Perhaps so. After all, they want to spend their money wisely and so are likely to also find the high-value reviewers helpful, useful, valuable.
Granted, I cherry-picked a fairly easy business and model for my example, but I challenge my fellow community managers and facilitator. What other kinds of positive feedback loops can we create that build value for different aspects of our communities such that even if the value were quantified as a number, people would still be willing to contribute?