By: Heidi Kulicke
Remember when your teacher would give you a gold star for a job well done? It was a subtle way to reward and reinforce good behavior, helping the recipient feel special. Now, readers who comment online can have that warm fuzzy feeling all over again, thanks to a badge system implemented at various news sites including The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Mashable, and Google News.
As audiences continue to consume news online, content providers have found that appealing to the senses is an excellent way to generate user loyalty. Badges serve as a tool for community building, encouraging users to follow one another’s comments, share stories, and flag inappropriate comments — ultimately improving comment boards overall. Badge systems can be as simple or as complex as the distributor would like to make them. Mashable awards badges to users who share content and subscribe to news topics; Google News added a simple badge system to track the subjects a user reads frequently.
The Washington Post gives three types of badges, all awarded by Post editors. Users can recommend themselves or others. Badges are awarded to “users who consistently post timely, insightful, and thought-provoking material,” according to the Post’s website.
Five different types of badges are awarded: Post Forum badges are for users who discuss politics or national affairs; Washingtologist badges are for those who discuss local news and trends; SuperFan badges are for those who discuss Washington-area sports; World Watcher badges are for comments on international affairs; and Culture Connoisseur badges are for comments about the arts, lifestyle, and entertainment categories.
Anyone is still able to comment; however, those with user badges will see their comments displayed under the “Top Comments” section. The new comment system is part of an overall redesign of The Washington Post website. “We think it will improve the quality of Post conversations and debates, and make them more useful to you,” the FAQ page states.
Although badges serve many purposes including better comments and crowdsourcing, news organizations can also gain an edge with advertisers through badges. Imagine a local sporting goods store reaching users with sports badges; or the Happy Hour special targeted to users with the arts and entertainment badge.
In addition, news websites could offer incentives to becoming a badge holder by offering a tangible real-world reward. For example, the citizen journalism site Meporter awards badges that can be redeemed for a free magazine subscription. Get creative and you’ll notice reader loyalty and civil, intelligent comments increase, along with targeted advertising revenue.