Notes: Beenen et al. (2004). Using social psychology to motivate contributions to online communities


Beenen, G., Ling, K., Wang, X., Chang, K., Frankowski, D., Resnick, P. & Kraut, R.E. (2004). Using social psychology to motivate contributions to online communities. CSCW ‘04 Proceedings of the 2004 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work. 6 (3) pp. 212-221.

the paper describes 2 experiments to redesign web based software to increase meaningful contributions from community members.

on software design to encourage meaningful community contributions:

it is an important and difficult challenge to design technical features of online communities and seed their social practices in a way that generates ongoing contributions from a larger fraction of the participants.

on social uniqueness and social loafing:

The collective effort model posits that people will socially loaf less when they perceive that their contribution is important to the group1. If they believe that their contributions are redundant with what others in the group can offer, then their contribution is unlikely to influence the group's outcome. Conversely, if they think they are unique, they should be more motivated to contribute, because their contributions have a larger chance of influencing the outcome that they value.

on the importance of email notification of contributions: (how easy is it to subscribe to email updates in Bb or WP…)

email messages can motivate people in an online community simply by reminding them of an opportunity to contribute.

on setting goals to promote contribution (ratings, posts, etc…):

The most robust result from this experiment was that specific goals led to higher contribution rates than non-specific ones. This is the first study to document that this finding from goal-setting theory applies to contributions to an online community and should encourage designers to be more specific about assigning goals or providing opportunities for individuals to declare contribution goals for themselves.

insights on increasing contribution:

This study provides a number of insights that contribute to solving the problem of under-contribution in online community. First, specific, challenging goals have been shown to be powerful motivators of online contributions, particularly when contributors are not part of a group. The fact that this was shown using a simple email manipulation, without interface modifications, suggests specific challenging goals can have a strong effect on increasing individual contribution in an online community. Second, assignment to a group condition in the context of a large, anonymous online community seemed to raise contribution levels, even though it was a group in name only, with members neither knowing the identities of other members nor interacting with them. Integrating both these findings with usability design principles should provide an even greater performance boost.


  1. Karau, S. and K. Williams, Social loafing: A meta-analytic review and theoretical integration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1993. 65(4): p. 681-706.