Why users contribute knowledge to online communities: An empirical study of an online social Q&A community


Knowledge & the Internet

Ever since the inception of the Internet, the volume of knowledge has exceptionally increased, especially since it improve-knowledge-managementfacilitates crowdsourcing knowledge. Websites such as Wikipedia and Quora help individuals provide other individuals with information and answers to lingering questions. Quality control is also crowd controlled, where different kinds of voting systems enable fellow users to assess the provided answers and filtering out low-quality ones. Online Q&A communities are special social networks focused specifically on information sharing. They are a special place since there is usually no monetary incentive to motivate people to contribute. This paper focusses on these online communities and tries to explain the motivation behind the contributors.

Related Theory

There are 3 theories that are related to this study and on which the hypotheses are built, they are social cognitive theory, social capital & social exchange theory. The Social cognitive theory claims that that people’s thinking and actions are influenced by watching others through social interactions (Anderson, Winett, & Wojcik, 2007). The theory has been used to analyze how content is generated by users and how this content affects future contributions. Social capital is a known concept describing the value derived from interpersonal relationships and is built over time. It includes trust, respect & friendship among other things (M.M., 2005). The social exchange theory highlights intrinsic rewards from social interactions, similar to economic exchange theory it claims that individuals will behave in a certain way to acquire rewards from an interaction (Liu & Chen, 2005).

What is measured and how?

Based on the previously mentioned theories/concepts 4 aspects were identified that are possible drivers of knowledge contribution in online Q&A communities.

Identity Communication

Identity communication refers to an identityindividual’s efforts to express and present his/her identity. It explains who a person is and how he/she is different from others. It includes the concept of self-presentation information; the transfer of personal information about one’s personality, experience etc. so others understand their social identity (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). In the study, it is measured as a number of items that a user discloses about himself with a maximum of 11 (maximum of items available on the website).

H1: Individuals who disclose more self-presentation information will contribute more knowledge to online social Q&A communities.

Peer Recognition

The more knowledge becomes available the more attention is divided between different sources of information. The same goes for the information in online Q&A communities. Peer recognition is the positive feedback users receive on their behavior and is measured by the number of usefulness votes on a post.

H2: Individuals who receive more positive feedback will contribute more knowledge to online social Q&A communities.

Group-size Effects

Since most intrinsic rewards are based on transactions with others, as explained before, the presence of others and the number of possible recipients are important. A larger following means a wider reach and thus more social rewards (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998). A member’s following is measures by the member’s so-called ‘followers’.

H3: Individuals with a larger group size will contribute more knowledge to online social Q&A communities.

Social Learning

Social learning is a type of learning that comes from observation of others. In online communities content feeds provide constant updates of other individuals actions, providing continuous learning opportunities (Anderson, Winett, & Wojcik, 2007). Social learning is measured by the number of topics, questions and members a participant is subscribed to, the more they are subscribed to the more learning opportunities a member has.

H4: Individuals with more social learning opportunities will contribute more knowledge to online social Q&A communities

Results

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The researchers have analyzed 1.762 data points from 306 members of a popular online Chinese Q&A community. These data points include all knowledge contribution behavior from March 15 to June 22, 2014. After processing the data H1, H2 & H4 are supported and H3 is rejected.

Why is this important?

The internet is a great tool to share knowledge, people from all over the world can distribute information to others. This can help people with a more difficult start in life acquire knowledge to help them further. Understanding why people contribute to online knowledge sharing can help increase knowledge that is available online.

References

Anderson, E., Winett, R., & Wojcik, J. (2007). Self-regulation, self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and social support: Social cognitive theory and nutrition behavior. Annals Of Behavioral Medicine34(3), 304-312. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/bf02874555

Anderson, E., Winett, R., & Wojcik, J. (2007). Self-regulation, self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and social support: Social cognitive theory and nutrition behavior. Annals Of Behavioral Medicine34(3), 304-312. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/bf02874555

Jin, J., Li, Y., Zhong, X., & Zhai, L. (2015). Why users contribute knowledge to online communities: An empirical study of an online social Q&A community. Information & Management52(7), 840-849. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.im.2015.07.005

Liu, C. & Chen, S. (2005). Determinants of knowledge sharing of e-learners. International Journal Of Innovation And Learning2(4), 434. http://dx.doi.org/10.1504/ijil.2005.006665

M.M., W. (2005). Why should I share? Examining social capital and knowledge contribution in electronic networks of practice. MIS Quarterly: Management Information Systems29(1), 35-57.

Nahapiet, J. & Ghoshal, S. (1998). Social Capital, Intellectual Capital, and the Organizational Advantage. The Academy Of Management Review23(2), 242. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/259373

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