The Central Role of Engagement in Online Communities


ENGAGEMENT

(noun) emotional involvement or commitment

 


You might haven’t noticed but in one way or the other we’ve all interacted on or with an online community. Whether it was while searching for travel routes, computer settings or in a fashion context. Chances are you read some posts until you found what you were looking for and then left the page without contributing. You are not alone in this, 90% of users never or rarely contributes, while 9% contribute 10% of the content and 1% contribute 90% of the content. This is commonly referred to as the 90-9-1 rule. But how can online communities encourage more people to create content and to help recruit others?

This was one of the questions that led Ray and Morris (2014) to conduct their research. More specifically, their goal was to introduce the concept of engagement, which drives pro-social behaviors in the context of open, non-binding online communities. Prior research has extensively recognized the role of engagement in communities, interestingly online community engagement has not been explicitly conceptualized, modeled, measured, or analyzed as a mediating construct in the information systems literature. This paper is the first to do so.

Building on Ma and Agarwal’s (2007) framework the authors propose a model that shows the central role of community engagement and how it relates to different outcomes (Figure 1). Data was collected from 301 users of online communities and structural equation modelling was used to test the proposed model. The developed framework recognizes that online communities are unique socio-technological environments in which engagement succeeds. In particular, members primarily contribute to and re-visit an online community out of a sense of engagement.

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The authors find that members must feel engaged with the online community to actually create content and that members who merely feel satisfied can still help the online community by saying things that might help recruit others. In addition, they found that self-identity verification (the extent to which the way you see yourself matches the way others see you) has an indirect effect on knowledge contribution through engagement. Furthermore,  this paper provide evidence that engagement also mediates the effect between knowledge self-efficacy (the belief that you have the ability and expertise to contribute) and intention to contribute.

The main strength of the paper is its methodology. The authors have applied several models and control variables to ensure valid results. The main managerial implication for community managers is to help members enhance their self-identity, which eventually will lead to more contribution. They can do so by creating signals for members either by letting them choose a badge themselves or by automatically creating signals from prior activities and achievements such as for example”300+ posts on Data Science”.

In conclusion, this Ray and Morris (2014) found evidence that merely satisfaction is not enough to encourage consumers to actively contribute to online communities, but that engagement plays a central role. To get back to the main question raised in the introduction, the key to promoting pro-social behavior (creating content and recruiting others) in online communities is to create the right balance of engagement and satisfaction.

 


Sources:

Ray, S., Kim, S. S., & Morris, J. G. (2014). The central role of engagement in online communities. Information Systems Research, 25(3), 528-546.

Ma, M., & Agarwal, R. (2007). Through a glass darkly: Information technology design, identity verification, and knowledge contribution in online communities. Information systems research, 18(1), 42-67.

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