In his terrific new blog, Jurgen Derlath reports on the work of Kraut et al. concerning the sailence of the benefit (how aware you are of the benefit from participating in the community).
If you stress the benefit to the individual, or to the group, from participating in the community, does the level of activity increase?
The answer, surprisingly, is no.
In fact, by reminding members of the benefits to themselves or others, the level of activity decreased against the control group.
"Does reminding the participants of the potential benefits enhance the contribution rate? In order to answer the question, the benefit manipulation contained four conditions: no benefit, only benefit to self, only benefit to others, and benefit to both self and others. Once again participants were sent a personalized email. Participants who received
- the self-benefit message/the other-benefit message reduced their number of ratings,
- both self-and other-benefit messages increased their number of ratings almost to the level of the control condition.
This was contrary to the expectations of the researchers who had hypothesized that users would rate more movies when the personal benefit/the benefit provided to the community is made salient."
This is one study from one community. It might not reflect all communities.
However, it matches something we see often. When organizations stress the benefit to members, the psychological reason to participate changes. It becomes a transaction. In a transaction members give the least to receive the most. They participate solely to get something tangible from the community.
Persuading members to participate more is a subtler art than stressing benefits. It's a case of slowly socializing members with one another, nudging them in the right direction, coaxing them to give their opinions on issues. It involves gradually guiding members to feel a stronger sense of community.
Remember, the reason why people join and the reason why people participate are very different. Benefits might get people to make their first contribution. However, to keep them active, you need to take a different approach.
I've never seen a community's activity move upwards after stressing the benefit from participating.