Online Community Building: Make affiliations more valuable by making people earn them

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 26:  Boy Scouts salute th...
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What happens if you make people do something to earn their affiliation to an online community?  Clearly there is a trade off of quantity for quality but I wonder if you make up in engagement what you lose in volume. Does anyone have good examples of  where this has been done?

Most online (and offline) groups and affiliations only distinguish people by how much they give, and make no effort at accounting for what people actually do. Unfortunately, all the flag waving and fund raising in the world is useless without the people that actually implement the good works.

Take Causes.org* for example. While Causes.org is provides better accountability than most online affiliations because it measures what users donate and how many other people they recruit, they have no means of recognizing people that actually implement the good works.

It always annoys me when I go to a benefit at, say, the New York Philharmonic, and there is a gigantic list of people that have donated money, but no mention of the people that have donated their time, connections, or reputation to make things happen. Similarly, it has always annoyed me that you can just plaster your Facebook or linked-in profile with hundreds of badges of organizations and associations that you have never once lifted a finger for. Sure spreading the word has value, but I think that associations and badges would become more meaningful if one actually had to do something to acquire them.

Look at the Boy Scouts. Do we give away “fire starter” badges to kids just because they want to fill the empty space on their belt? What about black belts in karate? There is a big difference between a dojo where people earn their stripes and one where people pay for them.

Especially now that most work is digitally distributable, there is no reason that one couldn’t harness the social web to actually get actual work done. I might not have $10 at the moment, but I’d be happy to donate 10 minutes of data entry for a FB badge of a cause I believe in.

I am interested in the community building effect of making people earn their affiliation. Does anyone have good examples of  where this has been done?

*Causes.org is a non-profit Facebook application that enables users to identify and support the “cause” (charity) of their choice. Causes users can do three main things: 1) “join” a cause (place a specific charity’s badge on their profile), 2) “donate” to a cause (directly send money to the specified charity through the app), or 3) “raise” for a cause (recruit their friend’s to join and donate). Causes’ 15mm active monthly users make it the 4th most popular Facebook application and thus an incredible hit.

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