#OCTRibe Topic: Valuing Participation in Online Communities

Note: This is cross-posted from the Online Community Report.
I’m pleased to be kicking off the 2nd topic in the #octribe discussion, following the kickoff topic of “Influencers” by Gail Williams two weeks ago.

How OCTribe works

Write something tomorrow (Tuesday, July 28), tag it #octribe or tweet it as #octribe, and your post will be linked from the recap page. Moving forward, each 2nd Tuesday and 4th Tuesday of the month, the call and the recap will be hosted on the site of another one of the bloggers in the loosely defined OCTribe group. This conversational project is just starting, so please join in!

The Topic: Valuing Member Participation and Contribution in Online Communities
Admittedly, this topic is a bit of a double edged sword: Assigning financial value to online community member participation and contribution.

On one hand, a community manager could can paint a compelling portrait of value for internal stakeholders by determining a financial value to member participation (assistant moderate, guiding discussions, welcoming new members, etc.) and assigning value to member contributions (support forum posts, tutorials, reviews, feedback and ideas).

On the other hand, if an organization were to make the valuations of member participation and contribution public, it would likely set off a firestorm of debate about member compensation, legal boundaries around “volunteer opportunities”, and ultimately, force the host organization to account for true cost and true value of the activities and content created in their online community.

It seems clear that it would be useful for organizations to have at least notional values for member contributions and participation. What is less clear is how (if at all) to talk about this value with the community, and how (if at all) social capital is exchanged for financial capital in online communities.

The questions I would like to explore in this #octribe series are (feel free to pick one, all or explore your own!):
• Do you currently assign an internal financial value to member contributions and participation?
• Do you use an assumed value as part of your communities ROI reporting?
• Do you account for social capital in your system of accounting for online communities?

Reading the following article from forbes (2001) spawned the “participation value” question for me. In the article, staff writers sketched the value of the cost savings AOL benefited from via their volunteer program.

http://www.forbes.com/asap/2001/0219/060s02.html

“How much has AOL saved by using volunteer labor during the past nine years? That’s not an easy question, and with AOL involved in litigation, the company is not eager to furnish the answer. But even with the most conservative numbers available, we estimate that by using volunteers AOL escaped nearly $973 million in expenses since going public in 1992. That poses the question: Would AOL have thrived-or even survived-on Wall Street without free help from volunteers during its first seven years as a public company? Not likely.

The many jobs that volunteers have performed for AOL would be compensated at a wide range of hourly rates in the labor market (see story). To be safe, we used a conservative figure of $15 per hour-about equal to that of a security guard-as the median salary for today’s AOL volunteers. We adjusted the hourly rate backward using an annual rate of inflation of 4% (historical note: Inflation hasn’t been as high as 4% since mid-1991). For the purpose of the model, each volunteer is assumed to have worked 10 hours per week, 50 weeks a year.”

Please note that I am including the article because it is one example of valuing member participation.

So, to wrap up:
• Please post your thoughts on valuing member participation on Tuesday, July 28th
• Tag the posts and any related tweets as #octribe
• I’ll compile a wrap up post that includes all tagged posts by the end of the week

If you have any questions, please email me.

2 comments

  1. rich reader

    Online community content creators, contributors, and critics need to know why they’re pitching in because it is generally true that publishers of any feather can count on an interminable supply of freely provisioned content. The positive feedback loop is generally a segment of the audience that the content provider would like exposure or access to.

    A simple case in point would be MediaPost Publications and their event channel OMMA (the online media marketing and advertising association). Their meetings should be viewed as a face-to-face component of their online communities. I’ll be attending their Behavioral conference on Thursday and their Metrics and Measurement conference on Friday, serving as a journalist. I go because I’m interested in meeting speakers and attendees, as well as digesting the content in my own consulting practice. The speakers are generally not paid, but are getting a chance to illuminate their practices for potential clients in the audience. The quick lesson is that there’s something in the game for everyone.

    There’s no shortage of positive feedback loops.

    #octribe

  2. Pingback: Online Community Roundtable – now Online Community Tribe | Bill Johnston: Online Community Strategy

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