Getting beyond the 1% rule – Intrinsic motivation and online communities

Recently I posted about the rule of 1% for online participation and why I think it still applies in many  of the online communities I frequent. This is a ‘note to self’ and a plea to a few people I know with the ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy for online knowledge sharing. I admire the commitment, but it is worth thinking about how you move beyond 1% participation. That’s got to be good for the business case and the return on investment figures. It also avoids the sad faces when things get closed down after 12 months because not many people turned up and hardly anyone stuck around.

There are two really good sources of information I’ve found on this, both on the website. Sponge is a service that provides a platform for online Q&A communities. It also has a very helpful blog that talks about engagement and participation in online communities. Given what they do, I think they are in a good position to provide this view.

The first source to mention is 6 reasons why we participate in online communities. These are all things many of us will recognise, but maybe not think about when we set up our online communities. Check out the post for further explanation and links to research behind each of the reasons why people participate:

  1. Anticipated Reciprocity
  2. Reputation
  3. Sense of Efficacy
  4. Altruism
  5. Sense of Belonging
  6. Emotional Connection

The second post is about motivation in online community participation. The standout message for me is summarised by the graphic they use. Basically, participation will peak early on for reasons to do with newness and then decline. Whether or not that decline becomes permanent or grows and stabilises depends upon the degree of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation within the community. I’ve seen this happen, in both online and offline communities. Looking at this from a 1% rule of participation perspective, the lower line in this graphic could represent the 1% of people actively participating to keep the community alive.

The extrinsic motivation factors mentioned in the post are things like rewards and quizzes, great for getting things started. When it gets down to intrinsic motivation, the post identifies three things; learning, self-expression and fun. Look at the explanation in the sponge post, but from my own perspective here’s an observation on how this might apply to the world I know:

  1. Learning. This is great, the primary reason why online knowledge sharing communities get established. It’s just a case of making sure that people can learn as well as share. This might require someone actively posting material for others to learn from and respond to. What we need to avoid is this just being activity by the eager 1%.
  2. Self Expression. This sort of answers the point above. If people are able to express themselves through posting comments and their own material we could get a virtuous circle  developing. The big barrier is still however the confidence to post material. Something I’ve talked about before, but things like micro-participation and private discussion groups will help to build confidence and more significantly, trust.
  3. Fun. This is a tricky one. There is a bit of an ‘anti fun’ movement in parts of the world I know. Regardless of that, I think we should persevere. I’m open to suggestions on how to inject some fun into an online community on for example….. refuse collection vehicle maintenance…….. there must be a way.

Thankfully there are some shining lights I know of. Here is a link to a post by Helen Reynolds about an online community that’s doing very well, Monmouthshire Foster Carers. They seem to have the intrinsic motivation factors I’ve been talking about which is great.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Anticipate a significant drop in participation during the early stages of and online community (I’ve seen it take some people by surprise).
  2. Online communities need careful thought in their design of you want people to participate and the community to grow and be sustainable.
  3. Think carefully about how you support the intrinsic motivation around: learning, self-expression and fun (any pointers on fun please let me know). How do you get better than 1% participation?

Picture source: Graph website

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

10 Responses

  1. makemeadiva

    Reblogged this on On wishes and horses and commented:
    This excellent post is being reblogged as part of my attempt to make a personal filing cabinet out of all things interesting and relevant on the world wide web.

    I may be a while.

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