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Why Do People Contribute Content to Twitter?

Understanding people’s motivation to contribute to social media is essential to developing effective social media strategies.

What motivates social media users to contribute content? Is it intrinsic motivation to broadcast or share information with friends and the world at large? Or is it simply that users want to build social status? Olivier Toubia and Andrew Stephen examined those questions in an article in Marketing Science.

They focused on noncommercial Twitter users who do not benefit financially from their Twitter contributions. In a field experiment, they exogenously added followers (or follow requests, in the case of protected accounts) to a set of users over a period of time and compared their posting activities to those of a control group. They estimated their users’ utility function (i.e., intrinsic or status-seeking motivation) using a dynamic discrete choice model.  

People tweet to communicate information to others and also to affect how others see them, with the latter often being more important.

For users who had very few followers to begin with, becoming more popular didn’t change anything. Increasing followers for super-users didn’t have much of an impact, either. But users who had a moderate number of followers posted more frequently as they gained followers, suggesting that the more followers they had, the more value they derived from posting. Users who had a somewhat higher number of followers to begin with actually posted less as they became more popular. That behavior is consistent with the idea that these users are on Twitter to earn status, and that once they reach a certain status, their motivation to post declined.

These results suggest that both types of motivation are at play: some users have an intrinsic motivation primarily to broadcast to the world, while another group of users has a more image-conscious, status-seeking motivation. At the same time, their model suggests that image-related motivation is stronger for most users.

Download article (Free from INFORMS until 5/13/14)
Intrinsic vs. Image-Related Utility in Social Media: Why Do People Contribute Content to Twitter? by Olivier Toubia and Andrew T. Stephen, Marketing Science (May/June 2013)

Related links

Broadcasting and Narrowcasting: How Audience Size Impacts What People Share
Alixandra Barasch and Jonah Berger (2013) [Report]

Building the B[r]and: Understanding How Social Media Drives Consumer Engagement and Sales
Yogesh V. Joshi , Liye Ma, William M. Rand, and Louiqa Raschid (2013) [Report]

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