Motivating contribution within a networked community environment : this thesis is presented in partial fulfillment of the degree of Master of Design, Massey University, College of Creative Arts, Toi Ruawharangi, Institute of Communicative Design, Wellington, New Zealand
To be successful, social network sites need continual activity to flourish and grow. One of the most important challenges faced by designers of social network sites, is to encourage contribution from community members. ‘Self-sustainability’ is critical to the survival of networked communities and is dependent on community members adding content in a sustained way over time. Motivating community members to take it upon themselves to freely contribute information is the key to the success of any social network environment (Powazek, 2002; Ling et al., 2005).
This thesis aims to investigate whether persuasion techniques can be used to inform the design process in order to motivate members of a social network community to contribute content.
While persuasion theories have been effective in influencing target behaviour outside of the online environment, traditionally they have not been utilised by digital media designers. With the advent of social media, the application of social psychology is becoming more valuable in the development of features and strategies for the online environment. Recently the field of Captology has begun to systematically investigate computers as persuasive technology. Within this field, this thesis has investigated using the ‘Elaboration Likelihood Model’ (ELM) as a strategic framework and ‘Social Proof’ as a motivating influence to develop peripheral elements designed to encourage user online contribution, and to design a site that is visually appealing and functional. This is essential in establishing the credibility of the site without which the influences of persuasion are unable to function.
This Masters ‘research through design’ project engages an existing community group of water sports enthusiasts in a trial of a live prototype website. The website was designed to utilise the internet as a medium and social networking as a tool, in order to gather individual knowledge, give it a context, and to create a self-sustaining collective knowledge base of locations, optimum conditions and user experiences. Users were divided randomly into two groups – the test and the control. Using ELM, the peripheral and central routes of processing communication were identified, and used to build the framework on which to develop the test environment. Both groups were exposed to the same fundamental design and functionality, however the test group was presented with additional peripheral elements designed using the principles of Social Proof.
The research charted user contributions over the course of 82 days, with a survey undertaken with both groups at the completion of the test period. Results indicated a significant difference between the two test groups with users exposed to the influences of Social Proof more motivated to contribute content and visit the website more often than users from the control group. The findings of this study show that motivating contribution can be achieved using ELM and Social Proof to design persuasive elements in a social networking environment.
The synthesis of graphic design, interface design and the theories of social science can guide designers in the creative process of developing networked environments for social media, and lead to a more engaging user experience.