Chairman's Challenge Cup
Creative Commons License photo credit: dan taylor

I love yearly award programs for online communities. I think the act of rewarding your members through your own version of the People’s Choice Awards is a beautiful thing and something that, when done with care, can add a nice touch to your community.

In October, we ran the eighth (8th!) annual Awards and in November, the seventh annual Awards. You can follow the program through my announcements by viewing the call for nominations (,, for votes (, and, finally, the announcement of the honorees (, Please feel free to borrow from my posts and how I word things and organize the programs.


There are legitimate concerns, such as dealing with abuse and disappointment when someone doesn’t win, as well as the winners taking it a little too seriously and allowing it to go to their head, but all of that can be mitigated through proper cautions, explaining the awards and what they are really for.

You want to stress that the awards are for fun, but that they also have meaning. People are being honored – and being nominated in and of itself is a great thing – but it’s for the community as a whole to enjoy. Congratulate the winners, and thank the community.

If the awards are treated like a joke, then that is what they are. But, if you do that, I think you’re doing a great disservice to yourself and the community and missing out on a great opportunity to spread good vibes.

If you want it to have meaning, take it seriously. Organize it, give it thought. Run it well. Tell people not to cheat and what happens if they do. Try to adopt guidelines that actually make sense and that can be enforced. I don’t know if it’s a good idea to tell people not to promote that they are in your awards, but I think it is plenty reasonable to tell people not to encourage others to create multiple accounts and vote for them.

One abuse prevention mechanism I have in place is to only count votes and nominations by people who were registered with at least one post before the awards themselves were announced. You can find your own sweet spot for this, but limiting votes in such a way cuts down on junk votes while increasing the chances that the people you actually want to vote – the members of your community who are already there – are the ones that vote.

Have serious categories. Think long and hard about the categories. Don’t just add random awards that seem cute, add things that people can actually define.

Wait for Activity

I only run a yearly awards program on two of my sites and I started it on those two because I felt the momentum was there and I would recommend you wait until that point, as well. You want to be sure that you have the activity where people will participate. You don’t need tons of votes – at least 6-10 can be enough – but you still need some.

When the awards are going on, use all available means to promote them. All of your community outlets (Facebook page, Twitter page, etc.), e-mail newsletters and more. Post a link in your header that is big and bold. Even invite active contributors via private or direct message. And make sure that you and your staff nominate and vote, as well, especially if you aren’t receiving triple digit vote counts. There is no reason that everyone’s vote and voice shouldn’t count.


You’ll notice that has awards that could apply to any community, while has mostly awards that apply specifically to our community; things like Hack Author of the Year, Hack of the Year, Style/Template Author of the Year and so on.

You can go beyond this. If you have a movie community, you could vote for Movie of the Year, Actor of the Year, or whatever. If you had a sports community, you could vote for Athlete of the Year, MLB Player of the Year, etc. If you have the activity to support it, you can go as deep as you want category wise.

Be careful not to do too much. It’s best to conquer a few categories and then add more next year and so on. Don’t feel like your stuck and unable to add or remove categories, but also try not to add ones that you feel you might have to remove later.

Who’s Eligible?

As the administrator, I run the game and I decided to automatically withdraw myself from any consideration just because I feel it’s better than anyone but me be honored. But, that doesn’t mean I hold my volunteer staff out of it.

While I do have awards that exclude the staff, I also have awards that include them. While they would understand, I don’t see a reason to hold them out of it in this case and penalize them totally. And, yes, you could say it is not a penalty but a responsibility of being on staff – to let regular members have the glory – and you wouldn’t be wrong. But, still, I like to allow my staff the honor – if they deserve it and the community picks them.

For example, on, Member of the Year and New Member of the Year are for regular members only. But, the Community Spirit Award, Funniest Member of the Year and Article of the Year awards can be won by anyone. And the Staff Member of the Year category is for staff members only, of course.

Generally speaking, I want an award or two for members, an award or two for staff and then awards that anyone can win, except for me. I find this makes up a good balance.


Once this is all in place, the process starts with the call for nominations. I accept these via private message because, well, it’s private. This helps members feel more free to nominate and also doesn’t allow the current nomination totals to affect everyone else’s nominations. i.e., if a member feels that someone has no chance, judging from other nominations, they might not nominate that person. I want it pure, not jaded.

I then take the top 4 plus ties and create the ballots, which are poll threads on our forums. I post another announcement and send a private message to everyone who was nominated, so they know (if they don’t know, it’s less fun for everyone!). The voting results are hidden from everyone for the same reason the nominations are.

After this voting period passes, I audit the results and then come up with the final announcement. I post it, reveal the full results and congratulate the winners, sending a private message to everyone who won. Yay!

The Payoff

What I love about it is that it is the genuine appreciative recognition that it embodies. There is no money, just straight member selected goodness. You honor people with the announcement and maybe a mention on a dedicated page or a badge. “Spread love,” as the late Christopher Wallace said. “It’s the Brooklyn way.”