The Art of the Kudo (How to Build Relationships by Spreading Positive Mojo)

Ever have someone just tell you something really nice, seemingly out of the blue? I know it’s been a while since we just wandered about the world for interactions like that to happen, but it’s important to remember that feeling. That glow. That bounce in your step.

Why? Because that feeling is possible in the digital world too. And it’s the key to not only starting your community right, but for blazing a path forward so that others might do the same.

gamification image

Gamification is Cool, but It’s Still Technology

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hater. If there was just three points left to Level 50 and unlocking MySpace flashing font for my signature, well, know that I’d totally battle you for them.

But a battle for status doesn’t bring people together. Your status is a sign of how well you are playing the game. It might bring respect or awe. Others might be unimpressed. At the end of the day, even the most cleverly crafted gamification rules around engagement pale in comparison to the kudo.

If gamification is the $19 Hallmark card that pops up with music and flashing lights, the kudo is the handmade gem with the imperfectly drawn heart that says love in the way you actually hear the person saying love to you. And you save that card forever.

Image of three doors to choose from.

Doing Kudos Right

There are four types of kudo, and there’s really no one specific way to tell you which to use.

I have ranked them in order from the personal to the public in terms of their reach, but how you use them really depends on the vibe of the space you have built.

Don’t worry so much about the rank order. Instead, worry about overdoing them. We aren’t training puppies here after all -- there’s no need to reinforce every. single. time. your users do something.  

Part of the magic of the kudo is a unique combination of scarcity, specificity and the surprise factor. If you’re a vocal leader in the day-to-day (I hope you are) then bash that like button. Like it all. But remember you purposefully didn’t bring enough kudos for everyone.

Direct Message Scrabble Pieces

Kudo in the DMs

This is personal recognition and private as well. As a leader getting started, these are the easiest ones to give because it’s really just a private message. At the same time, these are the most meaningful kudos.

Why? Because no one else sees them. It means you aren’t simply doing a drive-by thumbs up. You are taking a moment to recognize someone for their words, actions, deeds, etc. Keep it short and sweet.

“Thanks for waiting up for the last few folks on that weekend hike. It was super challenging, I was overwhelmed and it really made a difference. That kind of teamwork is part of what makes our community such a great place. You rock!”
Image that says hello

Kudo in the Intros

Another level of personal recognition, the Kudo Intro is my personal favorite.

It’s next-level because you are recognizing both parties in this case. One is worthy of being introduced, and the other is worthy of being heard.

By bringing two people inside your community together, you are sparking a connection and making the community that much more real.

“John, I saw your question about underwater basket weaving techniques for beginners. It made think of Jane and all the incredible work she did last year completely submerged in her parent’s broken hot tub. You can read about it here [LINK]. Jane, I was most impressed with your daily macrame consistency and I’m hoping you can give John some good advice. Thank you both!”

This is also a great action on your behalf as a leader. The Kudo Intro reinforces that you aren’t the most important person here because of your personal knowledge or experience.  You are important because you can make this connection.

Image of smart phone being shared between two people

Kudos Inside the Community Space

We move to be slightly more public with this Public Kudo by recognizing a member for something that has significance to the broader community. This can be done in a public reply/comment, or it might take the shape of an update or recap post.

This type of kudos best reserved for actions that you expect other community members to do as well. It’s not personality-based; after all your community members come in all shapes, sizes and flavors!

If you run a community of custom drone builders, for example, you might publicly recognize those members who flew their custom drones for the first time this past weekend. Or the members who used their homemade drone to lure the local cat down from that dangerously tall tree in the neighborhood.

In both of these examples, highlighting these actions publicly affords recognition and equally inspires others to walk the same path.

typewriter with testimonial written on it

Kudos on the Website (and Beyond!)

Sometimes what a member does or achieves is so powerful, it is worthy of sharing beyond your community.  The medium can be a Case Study on the website. It could be a podcast or video interview. Whatever fits your vibe and conveys the nature of what this individual has achieved, then use it!

This Brand Kudo is an official stamp of legitimacy, but know that some of your members might prefer to fly a bit more under the radar (so always ask first). In this situation you can highlight what someone has done without specifying the person.

This could be someone who is part of your learning to swim course that actually saved someone from drowning while on vacation. Or as simple as one of your members turning the basic content in your space into motivational images that others can use as wallpaper on their laptop or phone screen.

Since the Brand Kudo is public some kind of proof is needed. An image of the creation or the act of kindness. Maybe a picture from the local newspaper article. Brand Kudos need a bit more context because they are directed at an audience that lives outside of your community.

post it notes on corkboard with decision options

Where to Start?

If your community is new and young, the private words of encouragement matter most of all. It doesn’t scale but you need outsized impact at the start.

If your community is new in a more established space, the introductory model might work best as you can build connections between members that are known yet still new inside the new community.

All communities can benefit from the Public Kudo, but I suggest you “time box” that to just 1x a month at the most (keep notes) can be overwhelming otherwise.

As for Brand Kudos, unless you have a dedicated person to help this is probably best organized 1x a year. Build a process to reach out to these folks (a message with a link to a form is likely best) so you can capture all the information you need in a single go. Just remember to run it by them before you go live!

Good luck and please share your comments and feedback.

~ Patrick