“Your Action Is Needed”: The Effect of Website-Initiated Participation on User Contributions to Content Websites

Lior Zalmanson and Gal Oestreicher-Singer, 2015, 15-118

Content websites rely on user contributions—both social participation and monetary payments or subscriptions—for sustainability, but to what degree marketers can actively influence user participation and contributions is an open question.  

Previous research has focused on implicit encouragement to participate (i.e., making the user aware of the contribution behavior of his or her fellow users). In this study, Lior Zalmanson and Gal Oestreicher-Singer investigate the effects of website-initiated participation, in which the website requires the user to engage with its social features in order to consume content.

In a series of experiments on a video website, they issue different “calls to action” (e.g., prompts to rate, like/dislike, comment on, or tag the video he or she is viewing) at different points in time, and record users’ behavior on the website before and after their exposure to these prompts.

They find that users who are given such calls to action donate more money to the website compared with users who are not exposed to such prompts. Even one prompt is enough to increase users’ likelihood of voluntarily engaging with the website and to increase the number of contributions. Further, these prompts do not affect users’ enjoyment or willingness to continue using the website.

They also show that the sequence of participatory activities is crucial; when the participatory task prompts are presented in increasing order of effort level, users tend to donate and participate more than when tasks are not ordered. Moreover, website users can be prompted to climb a ladder of participation (i.e., to increase their levels of engagement with a website) even in the absence of community response or encouragement.

The authors also present a heterogeneity analysis that shows connection between the number of videos watched by the user and his or her susceptibility to website-initiated participation.

Overall, these results show that consistent and gradual calls to action, initiated within a short timeframe, can encourage users to contribute both content and monetary funds. This suggests that firms can play a greater role online in eliciting social participation and conversion from their users, thus improving the deployment of freemium-related business models.

Lior Zalmanson is a doctoral student in Technology and Information Systems and Gal Oestreicher-Singer is Associate Professor in the Management of Technology and Information Systems Department, both at the School of Management, Tel-Aviv University.

The authors would like to acknowledge the Google Inter-University Center for Electronic Markets and Auctions, Marketing Science Institute, and the Henry Crown Institute of Business Research for their generous support.

Related links

Using Forums and Search for Sales Prediction of High-Involvement Products
Tomer Geva, Gal Oestreicher-Singer, Niv Efron, and Yair Shimshoni (2015) [Report]



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