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Why Users Generate Content

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A key aspect of Web 2.0 is letting users create or enhance a site’s content. This sounds great, but in practice can be hard to achieve. The Web is littered with dead forums, unreviewed products, spammed-out wikis, and other failed attempts to build user-created sites.

Why users upload content

Consulting giant McKinsey has posted a research brief, How companies can make the most of user-generated content, that helps explain why users add content to websites, and how to best encourage the process. The firm surveyed nearly 600 users of four German video sharing sites, and reached some interesting conclusions:

We observed that users cite a variety of reasons for posting content online—chief among them, a hunger for fame, the urge to have fun, and a desire to share experiences with friends. While some users were open to the idea of being compensated for their contributions, that wasn’t a primary driver: the people we studied weren’t paid for their contributions.

We also found that a few users posted the most popular content. Depending on the site, just 3 to 6 percent of the membership added 75 percent of the videos available for download, and videos from just 2 percent of the member base accounted for more than half of all videos viewed. (As the “long-tail” effect would suggest, half of the videos posted accounted for only 10 percent of all downloads.)

These findings are consistent with studies of business communities, McKinsey reports:

At one cable company we studied, for example, more than half of the installers who contributed to an internal wiki said that social factors such as reputation building, team spirit, and community identification were the main factors motivating them to contribute. Only 20 percent cited the possibility of a financial bonus as their main driver.

These findings match my own experience in building and administering online communities. Some members are far more helpful than others and contribute much of the site’s quality content. These members are most often driven by either pure altruism or a mix of altruism and a desire for recognition as an expert. In business contexts, this recognition may help gain new clients, though such linkage is often indirect. Often, in my experience, the client exposure aspect is more of a rationization for the time spent posting than a productive marketing technique.

There are a huge number of factors that go into building a successful community, but the McKinsey study underscores a few important ones that we always try to employ. First, be sure that user contributions are recognized – at the very least, showing the number of posts or reviews, for example. Prolific contributors can be promoted to higher user levels, and perhaps granted additional privileges. Reputation systems can reward users for high quality contributions. Second, by keeping interaction civil one can reduce the chance of quality contributors being driven away by transient but annoying members. If one is flamed after every good post, there’s a disincentive to keep posting. In short, spend less time creating complex compensation schemes and more time on the human factors of community building.

(Thanks to Opensource.Association and Experience Curve for leading me to this study.)

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Why Users Generate Content
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About Roger Dooley
Roger Dooley is the founder and president of Dooley Direct, LLC, a firm specializing in web marketing and online community building. Dooley's background includes direct marketing, publishing, and strategic planning. He holds a BS from Carnegie Mellon University and an MBA from the University of Tennessee. He authors several blogs, including Neuromarketing and the eclectic rogerd's notebook. WebProNews Writer
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