How to “Reward” Your Users in a Social Media Environment: the Yelp Example

Having worked in the videogames industry in a previous life, I was intrigued by this blog post by Jeremy Liew from Lightspeed Ventures Partners. In it, he discusses how point systems can reward user behavior in social media and takes Yelp as an example.

Here’s an excerpt from his post:

Look at a typical Yelp user page

Yelp Profile Page

Note that each number (circled in red) corresponds to a user behaviour that Yelp wants. Most important of all is the number of reviews – in this case 26. But almost as important is that those reviews are of high quality – that they are Useful (45), Funny (4) or Cool (11). Readers of reviews can with one click rate a review as Useful, Funny or Cool, and this positive feedback incents users to write reviews that will earn the appropriate feedback. Another important metric for Yelp is Firsts (7) as this helps drive the coverage ratio of businesses that have at least one review. (…)

An interesting point to note is that while reviewers rate businesses with 1-5 stars, users can only rate a review as Useful, Funny or Cool. There is no option to rate a review as Useless, Lame or Boring. Thumbs up, but no thumbs down. Why the difference? I suspect its because reviewers drive Yelp . Positive feedback is more likely to drive more reviews than negative feedback. (One of the “compliments” that Yelp users can send each other is even more explicit – “Write More!”). On the other hand, giving a business a poor rating (1 star for example) won’t change their behaviour towards the site one way or the other, and it is valuable information to users. (…)

What it means: in the traditional business directory world, there are all sorts of promotions to incent the advertiser to “contribute”, i.e. be the first to advertise in a specific heading, add more content to his/her ad, etc. But not a lot of thoughts is being put into the user side of the equation. In a user-generated content world, you need to think about your user “incentive plan”. How will you motivate your user contributors? I am a strong believer in point systems as they put a numeric face on your contribution. A bit like your school report card. “Did you do well this year?” “Are you top of your class?”, etc. This motivates contribution. I suspect though that this system must create a pareto principle effect, with 20% of your users contributing 80% of your content. These are the people you want to identify and nurture.

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