Posted by Lucy Langdon

dangling carrotThe word ‘incentive’ is defined as a ‘positive motivational influence’. The purpose of this post is to explore the different kinds of user behaviour that can be encouraged with incentives. Although this will hopefully include links as a helpful byproduct, the advice focuses more on increasing user interaction and engagement.

(This post isn’t about creating great content as an incentive for links- other ‘moz posts have talkedcomprehensivelyaboutthat.)

1. Let’s Get Competitive

If you run a site that thrives on user generated content (or you’re thinking of adding this feature to your site but aren’t sure where to start), then this is one technique to increase interaction from users. In forums, competitive behavior occurs naturally as users try to achieve various levels of status within the community. Other sites can mimic this behavior (and the consequential engagement it brings) but they may need a structure to help it along. Here are a few ideas:

– if you have a product or place that you want reviews for, feature a ‘Review of the week’ (don’t forget to email them to let them know they’re featured!). It’s up to you how far you want to take this- why not take your top 5 reviewers out for dinner once a month?
– take a leaf out of Trusted Places‘ book and create badges for Local Experts
– follow SEOmoz’s example and create a leader board that is powered off thumbs

Any of these incentives could be turbo-charged by adding a followed link back to the user’s site.

2. Feature your users

Allowing guest posts, or even ‘guest content’, on your site is a great way to let your users know how much you value them. If a site I spent time on came to me and asked me to write a feature for them because they valued my input up to now, I’d be bowled over (yeah, I know, it doesn’t take much).

If you’d rather not put the time into contacting individual users, try just putting a button on your site that invites guest posts or pitches. Savvy bloggers will be in touch before too long and you’ll give off great vibes implying how much you value your users.

3. Donate to charity

Promising you’ll donate to a charity if someone links to your site feels a bit mafia-esque to me. Seeing as donations are a slightly gray area anywhere, I’d advise going after other kinds of beneficial user behaviour. For example, a client of ours donates about $5 to charity every time someone reviews his product. You could also use this method to acquire usability feedback, UGC and email newsletter sign ups.

How to do it

  1. Have a look at your site and decide where it is this tactic could be useful. Ideally, users will be very close to interacting in these ways already- the charity angle just serves to push them into action.
  2. Depending on what you’re after, present the donation option when the user is in the right place to action it. For example, it would be much more effective to ask for a review of a product once someone has actually bought one! Similarly, why not ask for usability feedback when the user leaves the site, sweetening the deal with a promise to donate if they acquiesce.
  3. You should definitely have a dedicated page that describes what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how much you’ve raised. Include a link to this in any relevant call-to-action.
  4. If possible, have a small list of charities that you donate to and let users choose which one they’d like the money to go to.
  5. Once you’ve had the donations up and running successfully for a few weeks, let the charity know what you’re doing and suggest they might like to link to you to verify the process for your users. Win win.
  6. Make the process as shareable as possible: ask if the user would like their friends to know about how they can make a free donation to charity.

A word of warning: even though this isn’t an opportunistic scam and allows everyone- you, the charity and your users- to benefit, some people will have a problem with it. Make sure to be careful and respectful at all times.

4. Product Giveaway

If you have an ecommerce site, do you have any small, cheapish products that you could send to bloggers to get them to review? If you do, then this is a great way to build relationships with bloggers in your niche and encourage them to talk (hopefully positively) about your company. I wrote a whole thing on how to go about doing this, but then Rob pointed out he’d blogged about it a couple of weeks ago- so have a read of his post about Link Building for Small eCommerce Sites

5. Competitions and Prize Draws

Competitions are a really adaptable way of incentivizing certain types of user behavior. Here are just a few examples that we’ve seen recently:

– To get email sign ups – Fat Face- Win A Camper Van (very viral- has a ‘refer a friend’ draw as well)
– To sign up to a newsletter- – win a silk blanket
– To get reviews – review a campsite and win a tent
– To generate buzz- the Hoxton Hotel competition– first set-number of entries win a room for a £1 and, of course moonfruit– enter anyone that mentions you into a prize draw (This doesn’t necessarily have to happen on Twitter, but the real-time nature of it really helps to add momentum)
– To receive blog engagement- New Scientist – win a piece of moon rock

If you have any other examples of using ‘positive motivational influences’ to encourage certain kinds of user behavior, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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