Online communities and brands are now inseparable from one another – so much so that a bad community has a knock-on effect on overall brand sentiment. In other words, your reputation is no longer only about your product or even your post-sales support – it’s about the health of your wider community.
When it comes to the video games industry, this fact is particularly poignant – a lot of otherwise great games have developed a poor reputation simply because their player communities are chock full of trolling and generally toxic behavior. That’s the sort of community that becomes a liability rather than the valuable marketing and support asset it should be.
A Rewards System Is the Foundation of Any Healthy Community
The most obvious way to clear your forum of bad apples is to simply unleash the ban hammer. Unfortunately, that doesn’t achieve much when it comes to setting an example and cultivating a healthy community from the outset. While there will always be the occasional poster who needs to be permanently removed from the forums, your priority should be to reward good behavior.
A gamified rewards system isn’t just about allowing your most valuable members to show off their forum ranks and badges – it’s about creating an environment that encourages people to post good content and help automate moderation. It’s also fun to use, given that your members feel a sense of achievement after ascending in rank, and in doing so, gain access to cool new abilities tied to said rank.
In much the same way that people enjoy the sense of achievement that comes with reaching a new level or accomplishing another goal in the games they play, they also feel inspired to become more valuable members of the community if there’s a reward in it. That’s why gamification, which refers to the use of elements normally associated with games in non-gaming contexts, is becoming popular across many other applications.
How to Implement a Rewards System that Works
A community rewards system can work in a few ways: either based on a peer-to-peer moderation system, with manual intervention from a community moderator, or a combination of the two.
Unsurprisingly, the easiest system to implement is one that allows your community members to rate and flag posts themselves. For example, if a post receives too many negative reactions, it might be greyed out, while a post that receives lots of likes might lead to the poster reaching a new rank, as well as access to any abilities tied to it. That way, people who consistently post comments that are valuable to the community automatically ascend through the ranks, unlocking new features on the way (such as the ability to add a forum signature, include links in their posts or create sticky threads). The possibilities are really limited only by the abilities of your forum software, hence it’s important to choose a system that offers the versatility you need to build a healthy gaming community.
Manual involvement is important too, particularly in special circumstances. That doesn’t mean that community moderators should only be visible when they’re policing the forums, however – they should be ready to respond and thank the pillars of the community as well. Blizzard Entertainment does this with its MVP (Most Valuable Poster) program. By manually reviewing recommendations from other community members, they give some posters a special status that greatly enhances their visibility in the forums.
Through a combination of intimate community involvement and the right technology, there’s nothing stopping you from laying the foundations for a healthy and thriving gaming community that will ultimately become the bread and butter of your future marketing efforts.