Over the recent years, social media has conquered its position as the most powerful and popular source of information, created by and for consumers that want to learn more about products, persons, brands, and basically everything. Social media has transformed the way we do business and the success of social media websites is highly dependent on their users. Some users may now also say that they owe their success to social media, as they have become well known celebrities due to their contributions on social media websites. Beside this highly unlikely carrier prospect, it is still debatable what people exactly benefit from social media and for what reason they would contribute.
The majority of co-created platforms do not provide any tangible or monetary incentives to their contributors. Some contributors may provide content solely based on altruistic motives, as they would like to help and inform others. Other non-tangible, but more self-centered motives are professional exposure, reputational gain and enhancing one’s ego (Rafaeli & Ariel, 2008). Additionally, there are platforms that pay part of their advertising revenue to the contributors, based on a revenue sharing model.
Previous research regarding participation incentives has a focus on knowledge sharing and community contributions, which have an altruistic nature. Though, in the situation of contributing on social media websites, users are confronted with significant differences. These differences in dynamics and nature of contribution environments should be included when trying to identify potential drivers for participation on social media.
So what drives social media contributions?
Tang et.al.,(2012) show that when considering social media contributions, the decision to contribute is motivated by three major incentives; exposure, reputation and revenue benefits. Getting exposure from self-presentation and social presence offers the possibility to achieve social gains and get attention, for which social media is eminently accessible.
Because of the enormous amount of information available, the social media environment contains high variations in information asymmetry. In such situations, users generally tend to depend on the content providers’ reputation when selecting explicit content. Reputation is established by reviewing contributors popularity and the quality of their offered content in comparison to other contributors. The informative value and the incentivizing effect of reputations is essentially represented by the relative reputation of the contributor as this ignites the feeling of competition and the desire to improve (Lerman, 2007). The online reputation of the contributor could gain him respect, status, the satisfying feeling of a warm glow, and could even affect ones professional life.
Though, when it comes to high quality content contributions, reputation alone is often an insufficient incentive. Therefore, some social media platforms share their revenue with (a specific part of) their contributors in order to mitigate incentive misalignment and thereby motivate quality content.
Social media platforms have a business model that relies on advertising revenue. Businesses obtain relative gain from advertising via social media compared to traditional media sources (e.g. television), as they incur lower costs and have more frequent customer interactions. The same factors that incentivize the contributors count for the social media strategy for businesses, that is getting attention and building a reputation. And for their positive attention and good reputation, they rely on their contributors for which implementing monetary (potential) rewards for high quality is becoming a must as they mitigate high contribution costs that are nowadays induced by the (video) content development. Because of this revenue sharing, many contributors have been able to make contributing their full-time profession. Their decision making process of social media contributions is dynamic and forward looking, as contributors take in account the current benefits and the potential future gains
The study of Tang et. al. (2012) is based on data from a single, specific and unique social media site, that is worldwide known as the biggest video platform. Because of this narrow scope, combined with the consideration that the world of social media is ever changing, it could be that what might be important in this particular setting has a lesser value in another setting. Still, this study provides clear, generalizable evidence that exposure, reputation and revenue benefits are the main significant drivers that motivate the contributors of social media.
– Tang, Q., Gu, B., & Whinston, A. B. (2012). Content contribution for revenue sharing and reputation in social media: A dynamic structural model. Journal of Management Information Systems, 29(2), 41-76.
– Lerman, K. (2007, November). User participation in social media: Digg study. In Web Intelligence and Intelligent Agent Technology Workshops, 2007 IEEE/WIC/ACM International Conferences. 255-258. IEEE.
– Rafaeli, S., & Ariel, Y. (2008). 11 Online Motivational Factors: Incentives for Participation and Contribution in Wikipedia. Psychological Aspects of Cyberspace. 243-267.
R.L. de Vries, 361372