The Visibility of Status Symbols
Robin writes a terrific post about status-seeking:
"At which point these new behaviors will have become your new status game. You see, status-seeking behavior must be a respected behavior that isn’t seen as overtly status seeking. Because we all agree that we don’t respect behavior that is done mainly to gain status. Even though we do, we do, we very much do."
Status-seeking is the inexhaustible fuel which drives activity in most social groups.
The majority of people participate to increase their status. They're insecure, unsure of their ranking, and need to receive positive feedback. That feedback is the quantity and quality of responses.
This is extrinsically-motivated behavior.
You can make the status symbols more visible. You can have lists, rankings, scores, and badges. You will get more activity, but members won't internalize their behavior.
In some communities you don't need members to internalize that behavior. In customer service and knowledge-sharing/CoPs, for example, responding to a question and contributing knowledge for whatever reason achieves your goal.
If you just want activity, extrinsically-motivated behavior is fine.
The problem is one of autonomy. If I'm participating to increase my status, I'm not participating because I enjoy the act of participating. It's coerced participation. I don't feel a sense of unity or connection with other members (or the host). I don't feel a greater sense of brand loyalty or commitment.
That's a problem in ROI terms. It's why some communities simultaneously have high levels of activity but a low sense of community.
You have a choice then. You can make the status symbols, whatever they may be, more visible or you can make them less visible.
Less visibility of status might mean less activity but a stronger sense of community. It certainly means members not have the freedom to rationalize or internalize their participation however they choose. That's a good thing.
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