How TBD’s candy jar is a seamless metaphor for news site participation

Candy Jar

This is in no way a forced metaphor.

When I started at TBD, I intended to bribe my coworkers into getting to know me by buying them candy.

I bought a $10 candy jar and filled it with chocolate from the CVS. I had a nice spot for it at the end of my desk, and sure enough, colleagues were regularly stopping by to chat and get their sugar fix. I was enjoying their visits, so I continued to buy candy to refill the jar. It was a pleasant transaction for all.

But as they kept coming back for more, some of them realized they ought to pitch in or they wanted more variety, so they started buying their own candy to keep the jar full. Great for me – free candy! And it really was starting to get expensive, so I wasn’t sure if I had the financial resources to keep this great thing going. I couldn’t do it by myself, and my personal candy judgment didn’t always create the best product possible.

So my new mission was to create a sustainable, crowdsourced candy jar operation, beneficial to all but cumbersome to none. To do this, it’s not enough to simply rely on your reputation as the desk where everyone can find candy. Emotional appeals and guilt-pushing wouldn’t work, as that would simply turn people off. No, you have to give them non-financial incentives to participate.

Here were the keys to making that happen.

Give them public credit. When people buy candy, they get public credit for it. They get a nametag right in front of the jar, making clear who was kind enough to supply his or her coworkers with sugar. Whenever someone instinctively thanks me for the candy, I always remind them that it was Nathasha who brought in the Starburst, not me, and that she deserves the thanks.

Mandy Jenkins was the runaway winner.

Mandy Jenkins was the runaway winner.

Appeal to their competitive side. When someone brings candy, they tally a point on the Leaderboard, kept right above the candy jar on my cubicle wall. For large bags of candy, homemade baked goods or other special occasions, they can sometimes tally two or three points. I believe it was reporter Sarah Larimer who, upon discovering the Leaderboard, responded: “I didn’t know it was a competition! Now I have to buy more.”

Open communication. The candy jar has its own Twitter account that updates TBD, ABC7 and POLITICO staffers of when there is new candy available, and makes desperate pleas for help when it is empty. Employees always know the current status of the candy jar.

My point, clearly, is that news sites need to consider the incentives they’re offering readers to contribute, and that new hires should always buy a candy jar.