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.

Steve Hershberger

Steve Hershberger