The motivation paradox: Understanding contradictory effects of awards on contribution quantity versus quality in virtual community

The motivation paradox: Understanding contradictory effects of awards on contribution quantity versus quality in virtual community

Banerjee S., Bhattacharyya S., & Bose I.

Journal: Information & Management

Abstract: Virtual communities have grown tremendously in terms of their size and impact over the past decade. For instance, Yelp, a popular community on sharing reviews of local businesses, contained a massive 265 million reviews as of December 2022, which were read by 33 million average monthly unique consumers!  The success of such communities depends solely on members’ contribution. Hence, improving member contribution is a critical goal of virtual communities. One of the common strategies used to do so is providing intangible extrinsic incentives like awards (in form of badges, titles, etc.) to supplement the intrinsic motivation of members. Encouraged by the need to create an integrated ‘holistic’ model of the effects of awards on virtual community members, along with a clear theoretical understanding of the underlying behavioral mechanism, and prediction of possible consequent contribution ‘trajectories’ across time, the authors propose to investigate the following research question in our study: In virtual communities, how and why does the influence of awards on the quantity and quality of member contribution change with time and repetition of awards? 

Drawing on psychological theories of motivation in organizational context (specifically, the effects of extrinsic incentives on intrinsic motivation), they first develop a theoretical model on the effects of awards (including moderating factors) on contribution outcomes. They then propose theoretically different expected curvilinear trajectories of quantity and quality aspects of contribution across multiple incentives over time. Then to verify our propositions, they conduct quasi-experimental studies (ex post facto design) and 2x4x2 mixed factorial ANOVA on multiple years of data from, which has an annual ‘Elite’ award system. They validate that the influence of award stimuli on contribution outcomes become significantly moderated by the aspect of contribution (quantity vs quality) and the novelty of stimuli (time and repetition of awards) to interestingly form divergent (downward vs upward) curvilinear trajectories of contribution outcomes over time. Further, they triangulate the results by conducting other replication studies on Yelp using other timeframes and samples.

The conceptual model and findings of this study allow us to make not only substantial intradisciplinary theoretical contribution to business management literature related to online reviews and virtual communities but also a cross-disciplinary contribution to a major debate raging for decades in the core psychology literature regarding the impact of intangible extrinsic incentives on intrinsic motivation. In addition, the practical insights shared in this article can be used by the managers of virtual communities to strategize more effective design and implementation of awarding mechanisms to encourage their prosumers.

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