How Competition in Social Media Creates a Loyal Community

Everyone’s heard of Facebook and Twitter. In fact if you ask someone for a few examples of social media, these two will be the first couple you’ll hear, perhaps with Myspace in tow. Let’s mix it up a bit. In this post I’ll walk you through just a couple sites that I frequent which use the idea of social media in a different and extremely effective way. Instead of simply allowing for interaction within the community, these sites use the idea of competition in conjunction with high quality, user-produced content to maintain members which are even more faithful than those of sites like Facebook.


Threadless is my primary source for clothes online. They produce undoubtedly the coolest graphic t-shirts available on the web. The funny thing is that every t-shirt they sell is produced by the community. Threadless is essentially 99% community based. Anyone with an account can submit a design for judging. The designs then go through a panel from Threadless who then “ok” it and pass it along to the community. The design then spends about a week being judged by the community, the judgment options going from 1-5 as well as the coveted “I’d buy it” button, which is essentially a 6. If you happen to click the “I’d buy it” button and the design later gets made into a t-shirt, you’ll get an email letting you know. After the judging process Threadless choses a few t-shirts from the top rated. They then release 10-15 shirts a week, with limited numbers available. Most of the shirts sell out before the next release. As a result of this system, Threadless has created an extremely active and competitive community. Certain designers who have been repeatedly published are well known, and the rest of the designers strive to reach their level of renown. But their fame is only as a result of the participation of the rest of the community. Threadless essentially intersperses producers and consumers, with the consumers spurring the producers towards higher quality while filtering out the lower quality work. Through the inclusion of competition within community, Threadless creates an extremely strong cult audience, which is maintaining, producing, and purchasing their products.

Reddit & Digg

Reddit and Digg are competing social news sites. They both have an extremely simple structure. You post a link to a story or really anything at all. People start to view it, and then based on the quality of the link, they either upvote or downvote it. Below the link itself is a comment section which is essentially a forum where people comment on the story itself within the confines of the reddit or digg community. Then people can similarly upvote or downvote your comment based on its quality. The different site gives all these processes different names, but they have the same purposes. Ultimately, the simplicity of this system ends up putting only the best quality links on the front page. If someone looks at that link, because of the system, they’ll only see the best discussions and comments on the link. This system is in itself competitive, but reddit takes it a step further. Reddit has something called “karma points”. This system sticks with the theme and is extremely simple. Every time you get an upvote, you get +1 karma point. Every time you get downvoted you lose a point. Here’s the description from reddit’s FAQ.

“When a particular item is promoted or demoted, the user who posted it is either rewarded or punished — a system of editorial karma. In the same way that popular submissions are voted to the top, the individuals who post them get increases in karma. Every redditor affects one another’s karma equally, regardless of his/her karma. Although democracy isn’t perfect, this experiment should supply the public with the information they demand while also rewarding those who provide it.”

The karma system creates a sense of competition as well as a sense of community. Members are more likely to downvote or upvote in the interest of maintaining the quality of the karma system of which they are a part. It’s karma.

The Lesson

How does a website get a community rather than just a group of regular users? These sites are just a couple examples of how competition is one factor which can really connect users, making them work together for you while competing against each other. Without the strong communities that they have, sites like Threadless, Reddit, and Digg would never be able to be completely run by the community.

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