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Joel R

Rewards & Reinforcement: Delivering Member Greatness in Online Communities

This is the July edition of my 2019 Year of Community series to help Invision Communities of all sizes build successful communities.  Today’s article is the third of four elements of our Sense of Community foundation series: Membership, Influence, Reward, and Connection.  Read other thought leadership on community management and company updates in the Invision Community Blog, a free service to help Invision Community clients manage successful communities.  

Bad communities promise great things to its members. Good communities offer great things to its members. Great communities fulfill the greatness of its members. 

A primary purpose of every community is to fulfill the needs of its members.  A strong community will go beyond the immediate, basic needs and ensure that fulfillment is a positive experience.  By doing so, it builds in positive rewards and reinforcement for an enjoyable sense of togetherness. 

One of the cornerstone ideas of behavioral sciences is reinforcement: delivering a positive experience to members through multiple dimensions.  Why they come, why the stay, and how to fulfill those needs is our third element of Sense of Community: Rewards & Reinforcement.   Discover all the ways to fulfill member needs for your Invision Community. 


Fulfillment of Functional Needs               

Your community must have a clear and unique purpose.  Your community must offer something valuable. And your community must solve a problem. 

This is the prime reason why a user would visit you in the first place and how you fulfill his most basic needs. He searches for a question, and your community provides the answer.  Many communities build up their expertise through two ways:

  • Crowd-source community solutions - You can highlight community-driven solutions in Invision Community to curate attention to the best answers.  Two of the most underutilized features are Content Messages and Recommended Replies, which allow moderators to showcase and explain great user content.  
  • Bring experts into the community – Authoritative content should be posted and marked separately from regular user content.  You can accomplish this by giving experts a dedicated Blog, authorship in Pages, or enabling Post highlights

Fulfillment of Personal Needs

Beyond the fulfillment of basics needs, users want other wishes and desires. It’s impossible to identify all personal needs, but here are three of the biggest ones why users come together more: 

  • Group Status – People like to be on the “winning team,” and community success brings group members closer together.  Highlight community success in your monthly newsletter or topic announcements. 
  • Competence – People are attracted to others with skills or competence.  Introduce superusers and subject matter experts (SMEs) through interviews, team talk, or AMA topics ("ask me anything").  
  • Rewards – Behavioral research shows that users gravitate toward groups that offer more rewards.  Use tools like the Leaderboard, Group rank, Badges, and Reputation for extrinsic motivation that excite users and make them feel special.   

Fulfillment of Shared Values

Society and our upbringing instruct us in a set of shared values.  We bring those values into our online communities because they provide a framework of how to address our emotional and personal needs and the priority in which we address them.  When users with shared values come together, they’re more receptive to helping others with the same value system:

  • A Values Statement: Make it a point to identify the shared values in your community, in Guidelines or on a separate page.  Affirm those principles in your interactions and, in difficult situations, frame your decision by referencing your community values.  Private communities with high engagement usually have the strongest statements of values. 
  • Process vs. Outcome: How you answer is just as important as the answer. If you run a community that is technical, offers customer support, or involves lots of questions-and-answers, the process by which you arrive at the solution can help other users troubleshoot similar but different problems.  Reinforce the solving process, and you’ll discover users will feel better about sharing their knowledge even if they don’t know the exact answer.   

Fulfillment by Networking

Groups will naturally coalesce into smaller groups, as people find other people that they enjoy and who fulfill their own needs.  Strong communities find ways to fit people together. 

  • Multiply Relationships: The sooner you can build relationships among members, the stronger those members will feel towards your community.  In my community, I’ve created an “Ambassador” task force that welcomes new members to build personal relationships as soon as possible. 
  • Be a Networker: One of the virtues of being a community manager is that you’re normally introduced to the greatest number of people.  Use your personal network within the community to connect two users together, bring other users into a conversion, or tap the expertise of others to help answer user questions. 



There’s an Arabian proverb that says, “A promise is a cloud, fulfillment is rain.”

Make it rain. Find ways to fulfill the greatness of your members, unleash a tidal wave of rewards and reinforcement that touch upon all the functional, personal, communal, and social needs of your members in the ultimate approach to  member fulfillment. Build not just a good community, but a great one.   

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