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Online community best practices: Reward your top users

Online communities are all the rave because people have a unique opportunity to connect with others with similar interests all over the world. Furthermore, it offers businesses unprecedented insight into consumer behaviors, preferences, and demographics.

90-9-1 rule for social design

In a 2006 online white paper about participation inequality, Jakob Nielsen revealed this staggering rule of thumb:

In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.

How important are the people who contribute content to your online community? Extremely.

Rewarding that remarkable 1%

Public recognition

90% of your content is coming from that 1%, and there's no better way to thank them than publicly. Public recognition also provides an example of good behavior for the other 90% or the new-comers who may one day be part of that elite 1%.

Don't limit this recognition to your website! Do it in your newsletter and offline promotions as well.

Here are 3 unique examples of public recognition from Ohio Disc Golf Project, Typophile, and Twitter.

Ohio Disc Golf Project

Typophile

Twitter

Free swag

Alltop

Alltop.com recognized influential user Calvin Lee of Mayhem Studios by sending him free stuff. The result? Calvin, one of the most influential people on Twitter, began raving about Alltop.

Giving top users free branded swag is a sure fire way to reward them and at the same time sink your brand further into their daily lives.

A "personal thanks"

It's important to give recognition as a private and personable exchange as well. A personal thanks increases the sincerity of the appreciation, allows for the direct connection between top users and community authorities, and offers a great opportunity to mine valuable feedback from influential users.

Ask a brand executive or a relevant public authority figure to take his or her time to speak directly with the users that "pay the bills."