Explicit Incentives in Online Communities: Boon or Bane?

Ina Garnefeld, Anja Iseke, and Alexander Krebs
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 17 Number 1, Fall 2012, p. 11-38.

Abstract: Online communities may increase customer brand loyalty, deliver customer feedback, and lead to cost savings. Yet they also suffer from weak contributions that limit their survival chances. This study explores whether two types of explicit incentives— monetary and normative pleas—encourage members of an online community to contribute actively. Community managers often administer explicit incentives to increase members’ participation, but economic and psychological theories indicate that their effects depend on members’ previous levels of voluntary contributions. An experimental study among members of a large, public question-and-answer community confirms varying effects: Online community managers can use monetary incentives to increase active and passive community members’ participation in the short term, but these rewards’ hidden costs likely emerge in the long run because participation motivation among formerly active members decreases after the incentives expire. Explicit normative pleas should be administered only to increase active members’ short-term intentions to post messages. These results can help community managers decide whether to use explicit incentives to increase member participation and which kinds of explicit incentives to offer to various community members.

Key Words and Phrases: Crowding-out effect, incentives, member participation, online communities.