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I recently spoke at an #NewMR event hosted by Vision Critical's Ray Poynter, 'busting' the myth that research participants are only motivated by incentives.

Extrinsic incentives - things like vouchers, prize draws or free swag - can certainly help show members of insight communities that you value their time. However, believing that these are the sole motivation for members can often result in us organising our insight communities and research projects around them; this can be damaging to the overall health of communities.

We need to make sure to nurture, not neglect, the other motivations that research participants may have. So how do you do this?

  1. Understand people's motivations.

Different people are motivated in different ways.

Yes, extrinsic incentives are important to some members of the community, but don't assume that everyone feels the same way.

Figure out what drove people to sign up for your community in the first place, and then match your incentives accordingly. You'll find that people like to be rewarded through praise, feedback and information - not just financial incentives.

In one of the communities I work closely on we regularly offer small prizes.

However, after running a satisfaction project on the community we found that whilst prizes are brought up as a point of satisfaction among members, it's actually the feedback and the feeling that their input is valued that members crave more of. The community's prizes are considered more of a 'nice to have'.

  1. Set the right expectations.

If you start by paying people, you're setting expectations right from the off. It's difficult for people to miss what they have never had or what they have never been offered.

For example, in one of my communities we've never offered incentives, so our members don't expect them. Instead, people in the community have learnt to develop a different kind of motivation behind their participation.

When you're inviting people into your community, are you being clear on the type of rewards that they'll gain from participating? When deploying new surveys or discussions, is it clear what's in it for people in your community?

  1. Use extrinsic incentives as a thank you, not as a payment.

At Vision Critical, we conduct millions of interviews a year, across about 700 insight communities. In very few of these do we pay members per survey. Our community members are rational; when there are prize draws they know their chance of winning is small, and the prizes themselves tend to be quite small too. Members take the rewards as a gesture, not as a bribe.

Ask yourself, what would you feel happier receiving - a surprise gift or hard cold cash? Incentives should communicate your appreciation for people's time; don't treat it as compensation.

When offered in moderation, extrinsic incentives can make people feel valued. We need to ensure that we don't abandon or disregard the other motivations of members - particularly as these tend to be the ones that genuinely inspire and encourage quality member participation.

Remember that closing the feedback loop is just as important as providing extrinsic rewards. If your goal with incentives is to let people know you value their time, then showing the impact of their participation in the insight community can be just as powerful as giving a free iPad.

For a recording of the "Explode-a-Myth" NewMR event, listen below.

interactive infographic

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