Everyone knows the line. It’s a classic. Why is it important? Because as social media makes its inevitable evolution from interesting tactic to its grown up form, social marketing; badges, like blogs are on everyone’s mind. We want badges…We need badges. We must have a program that incorporates badges. We require points that are tied to badges.
Do you really need them?
No. You don’ need no stinkin’ badges. What you do need is a viable (and scalable) reputation management system. ‘Rep Man’ for short.
Why do you need to employ a rep man system? Two simple reasons. If you work for a brand you need a way of segmenting customers or community participants. You need to plot their value on a grid.
Measure engagement horizontally, across the spectrum of your community activity. Measure interest and expertise vertically. Think of this like shopping in a store. When you walk in a store and browse around, you are essentially moving horizontally.
When something catches your eye and you stop, lingering over something for a long time you are measuring their vertical performance or their interest in one single thing.
Reputation management in it’s simplest form needs to work the same way. Points and badges are simply provide structure and a visual way to represent Rep Man.
Granted, the structure I show here is an significant oversimplification of a real Rep Man system, but hopefully you get the idea.
Most people (or community members) don’t know this exists or really care about this structure for that matter, nor should they. Users see badges as a visual indicator of reputation (which is skill and ability, as well as, third party validation of that skill and ability) and relevance (which is interest). A good Rep Man system makes badges, points and the availability and awarding of both possible. If you want to see evolved reputation management systems in play, look to MMOLG such as World of Warcraft.
There is a true science to this. The architects of these systems have spent man-years dialing this critical element of social interaction in. Other things you need to consider are the economics of points. Like the money supply of the U.S. dollar, you need to determine the total value of points you want to make available. Like I said at the outset and like anything in life, there is much more to developing a best practice Rep Man system than simply awarding points and assigning badges. Doing it right isn’t just turning on a widget.
And yes, you need to think about how people will game the system. Poachers are everywhere and having the ability to fool people allows them access to things and rewards they don’t deserve.
Reputation badges, like Subject Matter Expert (SME for short) can quickly tell a person whether or not to trust you. These badges must be earned and can’t be self bestowed. Badges for reputation reside on the vertical axis. Just because I say I am an expert doesn’t make it so. I have to prove it.
By looking at SME badges, I can quickly understand this person’s worth to me. For instance, if I had to pick one of two guys to walk my wife through a dangerous area and one wore this badge, I’d pick him. No matter what. Why? It’s a SME badge. Expertise. The Navy Seal Trident. This expertise badge is earned. Any such badge is worn with pride. This is a guy I don’t want to mess with. His badge states this fact. Individuals can and do pick up lots of earned badges. They move both horizontally and vertically in a Rep Man system. These are valuable individuals! They are community gold.
Simply glancing at this fellow’s SME badges tells me I would be comfortable getting lost in the woods with him. He’d know how to get us out. If these weren’t earned but self bestowed badges, I wouldn’t be nearly as comfortable with that assessment.
Given the fact these are earned badges, as well as, badges earned in selected topics of interest…as a community participant, he holds tremendous value to you.
So what about relevance and interest badges? Is the Boy Scout a SME? Sure. However, he chooses the badges or topics he becomes a SME in. So, Interest is important. However, Interest and SME are not mutually exclusive!
Interest badges are self bestowed and have a different value. They provide context. What’s the person interested in?
By quickly glancing at the stickers on the back of this truck, I see a few self-bestowed badges. Hmm, Marmot Pro outdoor, Rock Shox and Sidi…all of which are brands. We have industrial strength outdoor gear, mountain bike equipment and high-end riding shoes. These badges tell me this guy likes to ride and he’s probably a bit more intense of a rider than the average joe.
Oh, he’s a golfer too, since these are all grouped together, they are all important to him.
At a glance, I can see his interest set (horizontal in a Rep Man system). If these are relevant to me, he might be somebody I want to talk to to get the skinny on the best place to ride locally. Interest badges are just as important as subject matter badges but for very different reasons. Interest badges say a lot about personality. His SME badge (his bike hanging off the back of his truck) tells me he’s an expert. Interest badges, as well as, expertise.
If you are going to build a community and somebody mentions badges or points. Stop and shift the discussion to Rep Man. Without a well thought out Rep Man structure, your community will be a chaotic unproductive place where badges and points have little value or meaning. You’ll never be able to segregate worth and value of your different user groups to you and your community members will have a hard time distinguishing each other.
So spend some time and work on the structure and strategy before the tool and the tactic. It’ll pay dividends, and yes, there is a badge for that.
There’s a Seinfeld episode where Jerry rents a car only to find out when he goes to pick it up that there’s no vehicle available for him. Following I paraphrase the episode.
Seinfeld goes up to the counter and says he has a reservation for a mid-size car,. The reservationist searches her computer and informs him that they have no mid-size cars. Jerry exclaims, “But I had a reservation.” She replies, “I know you had a reservation but we have no cars.” Jerry spars back “But that’s what a reservation is. You hold the car.” She retorts, “I know what a reservation is; but we did not hold a car for you.” Jerry goes on, “You people are good at taking reservations, but not at holding the car. Anyone can take a reservation. It’s holding the car that counts.”
Budget must have been his rental car company. A ComBlu team arrived in Austin recently with two hours to spare before our first client meeting. We went to the Budget desk at Austin-Bergstrom Airport only to be told to go somewhere else to pick up our contract and keys. No biggie. Like a rolling herd, we traipsed over to the new location and gave name, rank and serial number. The attendant assigned us a sub-compact car that was gassed-up and waiting. So what’s the problem, right? Our party consisted of five travelers who all had roller bags and various back packs, brief cases, and satchels. The car couldn’t seat five people much less provide ample trunk space for the luggage. We relayed the info that we had reserved a car or van that would accommodate our party and its massive array of bags. The reservation was for 1:00 p.m; it was now close to 1:30. The attendant told us that she was sorry but that no car was available for us. No offer to solve the problem. We started nicely pleading our case, with no result. After amping the intensity of our communications, a call was made to a satellite lot to bring in an SUV.
At this point we were told it would be another 10 or 15 minutes to get our car. In the meantime, we decided to go ahead and eat the moveable feast we had bought in the airport for an in-car picnic en route to our meeting. We huddled behind the Budget shack and used an air conditioner for a table. After 20 minutes, we inquired about our still non-existent vehicle. No dice. Seems, they never actually talked to anyone at the remote lot because all the walkie talkies were broken. Really? In another scene in the Seinfeld episode the reservationist stalks off to talk to her supervisor. Jerry and Elaine go off on a riff about how the reservationist is just pretending to talk to the supervisor and that when she comes back she will have no solution! Yikes, Obviously, the budget crew pulled the same stunt.They simply told us they had talked to the satellite lot to pretend to handle the problem of distraught customers.
At this point, we started to worry that we would be late for our meeting and conveyed this to the attendant. You’ve got it. She shrugged and said “That’s not my problem.” In all fairness, another woman on the scene did seem concerned about our plight but claimed that there was nothing they could do. Everyone was either at lunch or wouldn’t answer their page. No offer was made to give us two smaller cars for the price of one or to intercede with another rental firm to see if they could accommodate us.
In the meantime, a colleague walked over to the Hertz window and discovered we could immediately get behind the wheel of an Escalade. As we were about to make the transaction, our Budget car magically appeared. Since it was going to be faster at that point to jump in the Budget car, we thanked Hertz and drove out of the airport like Batman from his cave. No discount was offered; no coupon for an upgrade. Just a here’s your car; don’t forget to fill the tank before you return it.
Before the current Great Recession, we were Hertz Gold users. We switched to Budget because they were a better value for us and our clients who often pay our T&E. Here’s what this has taught me: it’s not a value when you are late for a meeting and Hertz should have taken better care of its gold members during the recession.
In the meantime, you’ve got to wonder: does Budget used old Seinfeld episodes for training tapes?
We have a saying here at ComBlu. “Good community is more social science than computer science.”
This last week, I had an experience that underscored this for me that I want to share.
Recently, a friend of mine invited me over for the evening. He lives in ‘old town’ in our city. His home sits on a postage stamp lot with half a dozen massive 300 year old oak trees. More line the street. His home is a modest 95 years old. Others that surround it are another 25. All, somewhat compact but immaculately kept.
We spent the evening at his house (well, we began at his house) before heading downtown to the NCAA Final Four Championship. We started by hanging out on his lawn then and moving up and down the neighborhood. Upon arrival I didn’t really know what to expect, only this guy was a good friend and I was there at his invitation.
First, a little background. Everyone in a five block area knows either everyone else or is one step removed. Kids roam free, moving from house to house to house. Big kids watch the little ones close. Adults from 10 yards away. Play clumps form, morph and split. Same with the nearby adults. People walk, quite literally into one house or another where groups have gathered and help themselves to a cooler or fridge full of beer.
Me being the outsider was tagging along. Here’s what I noticed, besides having a great time. You see, I came from somewhere else (the suburbs) but was vouched for by a community member…who on many occasions left me in my own conversations. My friend has a great reputation, as measured by his actions and how those around him perceived him. People would ask where I lived and when I said “Carmel” (which is 8 miles away as the crow flies), I may have said '”Budapest.” Carmel is outside the beltway. Big lots. Suburb-land.
Back to the evening. Even though I was from a suburber, I was welcomed because “he’s Sean’s friend.”
In several instances that evening, Sean’s ‘reputation’ as an ‘expert’…in craft beer, being an ex-pat, and European Healthcare (two of three children born in two different European countries), preceded him, meaning he was invited to lead a discussion or settle a debate…or even suggest a subject matter expert from the throng of people milling about or nearby. He texted one subject matter expert to come over from across the street in one case.
Another individual brought into one such conversation was a single subject matter expert. He wore the necessary badges to identify himself (Crooked Stick Golf Club Club Championship golf shirt-for those who don’t know, the club is one of the Top 100 courses and site of a number of PGA/LPGA Majors), Taylormade golf hat, copper bracelet and golf sock tan line visible in early April. The topic was a debate on how to force a fade off the tee and wound up in a mini lesson session amidst 6 people on the back deck.
On that same deck, five conversations were going on. The NCAA, Tiger Woods, healthcare, living in the suburbs versus old town, education and raising kids. As we moved down the street across the community of interwoven streets and stately old homes, some went with us, we passed others. New conversations, new insights, continued debates with new participants.
As we made our way downtown later that night, I told my friend I had a blast. He invited me back and suggested I bring my wife and two kids. They’d enjoy it. Turns out they (being the general community members) tend to do this thing, depending on the weather at least one night a week if not two or three. Not everyone participates each time, only when and how they choose to.
Truly this was a well rounded group. A very healthy community.
Now, let’s dissect it.
Most are Catholics (though not all), who send their kids to the nearby Catholic school. They have a common view of life and from a socio-economic standpoint are very similar, although ethnically they are much more diverse than you’d expect.
Is there a common vision or reason for the community? Yes.
Who controls the discussion or the topics? The owner of the home? Nope? Members choose their own discussion paths.
Is there moderation? Yes. One home owner had to cut off another guest (a friend of a friend in from East Lansing) who had had one too many and was degrading the Butler Bulldogs using language not appropriate for nearby 6 year old ears.
Were there subject matter experts? Yes. Advocates cut from the Connector cloth brought them into discussions.
Were there multiple types of advocates? Yes, since that night was mostly about the Final Four, the majority of the topics centered around that. Advocates of the content creation persuasion, who were longtime Butler season ticket holders told interesting stories and shared interesting facts like Duke’s athletic budget allocation per basketball player was more than Butler’s entire budget.
Was there any reputation management? Yep. People love micro fame and work hard on managing their reputation. My friend included. He’s the ‘mayor’ of Broadway Avenue.
They all work hard on their neighborhood, as individual contributors and as a neighborhood association.
How about faceted engagement? Sure. You can go to any house, and join in games of horse, poker, join a pitch-in cookout, play with the kids, take a dip in someone’s pool, or sample virtually any kind of beer known to man-kind. Or you can skip it all together or for weeks on end. Your call.
Is it a closed community? No, but you have to register. People like to know you. Anonymity isn’t recommended. Best case, you won’t be invited into some groups, worst case, you won’t have any fun or want to come back. You can walk anonymously up and down the street and watch what’s going on to your heart’s content though.
There are even a kind of forums. Heck, there are even blogs! Back decks and driveways serve as forums. Hyperlinks are the sideways and open gates in between. Blogs are the soapboxes and advocates and SME’s get on. There’s even analog UGC…the golf buddy who grabbed a 6 iron out of his neighbors garage to give a demo on how to finish your shot to fade it (it looks easier than it is).
As much as we focus and talk about online communities and focus on the shiny penny du-jour and talk ad-nausem about gaming dynamics and if we built a robust platform with dynamic apps and widgets, this will drive online engagement and elicit the behaviors we as marketers seek, we have majorly missed the boat.
You see, virtually nobody played a game because the code was elegant (well except the 35 year old who lives in his mother’s basement and prefers Second Life to First Life). People play the game because it was fun and because of the enjoyment of playing with others. Same goes for community. Same goes for any social marketing initiative. Shiny pennies are great enablers for making engagement better. Sort of like a new deck. They are not, however, the be-all-end-all.
So take some time. Unplug and look for social marketing best practices taking place in the social venues you frequent. Take a moment and inventory what’s going on and why. Learn from it and apply that insight into what you are working on.
I guarantee you’ll achieve greater success than chasing that next shiny penny.