The False Promise of Incentives in Online Communities

When you’re trying to sell something, using incentives to get people talking about the product is a great marketing tool.

But when you’re trying to bring people together online under an idea, topic or cause, the use of incentives is a false prophet for growth and engagement.

You need to be able to convince people to join and stay with you because your content is relevant to their daily lives, not because they won a large prize from us for participating in an contest on Facebook application.

Richard Millington, founder of FeverBee Limited, an online community consultancy, summed up perfectly why using incentives to build communities is a bad idea:

First, they’re often expensive and time-consuming. It’s easy for an organisation to become over-reliant on incentives. Second, and most importantly, on a psychological level it has a negative long-term effect. Members who join to get an incentive will always associate their action with that reward and not motivation to participate in a great community.

When you’ve reached the point of needing incentives to drive engagement and interest around your community, you’ve neatly hit rock bottom. It may be time to consider the purpose of the community and its viability in the long-term.

Can you turn around the content strategy? Should you focus on a particular niche? Should you call it a day and start again from scratch?

All of these things should  be considered instead of implementing a strategy where the success or failure of the community hinges on a Hail Mary incentive-based campaign.