What Makes A Badge Work?

Can you imagine anyone walking around your local community wearing a badge saying “hey, I started a conversation”?

Hopefully not, but that’s what we seem to expect members to do.

Not a single member cares about getting a ‘conversation starter’ badge when they post their first question (tip: they care a lot more about getting an answer to their question).

Forcing people to receive (and display) an embarrassing badge undermines the entire purpose of badges.

Badges work in three ways:

1) They’re connected to dedicated efforts. Scouts know this well. You decide what badges you want and work towards obtaining them for dedicated effort (i.e. not something members would do anyway). This works for medals too.

2) They’re an acknowledgment of expertise/status/contributions. They recognise great people for their contributions. The more unique the contribution the better. It’s hard to automate these. Knighthoods, purple hearts, and lifetime achievement awards all fall into this category. They can be applied for or awarded.

3) They’re a (good) hidden surprise. No-one knew the badge existed until someone did something completely unique and gained a new badge.

You can create and award an infinite number of badges to members. Automating badges for minor behaviors isn’t just lazy, it’s counter-productive. Badges should be the community equivalents of setting and achieving our goals, winning trophies, being knighted, or a surprise reward.

If you want badges to motivate members to do something extraordinary, you have to give them to members when they do something extraordinary. If a member wouldn’t boast about the badge and proudly display the badge next to their name, don’t create the badge.

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