the frequency a kenny chung blog

I’m going to lead off by saying that I could have named this blog post many different things, and they all would have been accurate. One title that I threw around was “Crowdsourcing 2.0 – Translating Reward Systems to Web 2.0.” Another was “Quora vs. A Tale of Two Reward Systems.” But alas, I ended up with a title somewhat amalgamating the two: “Quora vs. Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation in Crowdsourcing.” While I’ve written about the value of crowdsourcing before (Crowdsourcing- wisdom of the masses?), this post is not so much an update, as it is an analysis of two sites that I feel are doing it right.

I’ll start off with a brief introduction of the services, as I am wont to do: Quora is a question and answer site, much in the vein of Yahoo! Answers. The main difference is that it’s not anonymous, so the answers are typically of higher quality and many respondents are actually professionally qualified to give their opinions (as long as you stay out of the Psychology Quora page). Users can vote up or down each answer that a question receives, and they can also “Thank” someone for their answer. The difference (at least from what I’ve read in a Quora thread) is that voting means you think a response is the most appropriate answer, whereas Thanking someone could mean you appreciate their effort or unique input. is a crowdsourcing music website where the “audience” listens to up to 5 users (DJs) take turns playing songs. The crowd can vote a song up if they like it or down if they want it to change. Each positive vote gives the DJ who selected the song 1 point. Alternatively, if enough people vote down a song, the song skips and the next DJ gets to have their shot in the limelight. Points can be used to change your user avatar into something either ridiculously large or just ridiculously “expensive”.

Quora vs. Turntable.fmQuora vs. – Slightly different audiences

Obviously, Quora and are about as different as you can get in terms of social media websites. I’ve been using both a lot more lately (just to plug, here’s a link to Quora/Kenny-Chung, where I answer questions about SEO, Graphic Design/UX, Psychology, etc.). Both were quite addictive to use, but the area that interested me the most was how different their reward systems truly were.

And now (as I am also wont to do), I’ll provide some basic psychology 101 terminology. Intrinsic motivation refers to when someone does a task or chore because they want to (because they like doing it, if they like helping others, etc.). Extrinsic motivation means that someone is doing something for reasons outside of themselves (money, to avoid consequences, to be better than others, etc.). Those are highly simplified explanations, but they’re adequate for the purposes of this blog post.

With regard to these two sites, Quora uses intrinsic motivation to drive user responses (the votes and Thanks don’t amount to anybody’s profile being quantitatively better than someone else’s, unlike on sites like Reddit). Yahoo! Answers has the opposite approach. There, users gain points for answering questions, for being chosen as the best response, or for voting. This is a form of extrinsic motivation, and it can be argued that that’s why the community answers there are so… terrible. Because Quora targets knowledgeable and educated people to begin with, intrinsic motivation is more naturally suited for its user base. And from personal experience, it actually does feel good to know that I could help someone out with the knowledge that I’ve accrued over the years.

On the other hand, is driven by extrinsic motivation (for its DJs). The reason people spend their time picking songs for others to listen is for points. While it’s very possible that people enjoy the music they choose, sharing a space with others, and spreading knowledge of their favorite bands, I’ve found that most rooms are an exercise in self-affirmation, with the DJs choosing popular/safe songs in fear of being skipped and not gaining any points. But for a site where the focus is all on the audience’s enjoyment, I think it works well.

So is one reward system better than the other? Yes and no. It depends on context. It’s hard to tell which is the chicken and which is the egg, but reward systems attract certain types of people, and certain people are attracted to certain types of reward systems. There’s a barrier of entry to answering questions on Quora (actually possessing knowledge), whereas is more for fun and anybody can join (well, only if you’re Facebook friends with someone already using it).

I’m going to end with a well known idiom- “different strokes for different folks.” Especially in this growing online environment of crowdsourcing, the most important consideration when building a loyal fanbase is whether or not users are engaged and if they have any reason to be. And the best way to do that is by motivating users properly.

So next time you’re on a social networking site, take a step back and see how they’re getting you to do what they want you to. And if you’re thinking of starting your own web service with a reward system, my only advice is to choose wisely.

Every first year Psychology student has learned about the phenomenon of confirmation bias. In a nutshell, it means that people tend to selectively interpret information in order to reaffirm their preexisting beliefs. For instance, let’s say you believe that microwave popcorn tastes better than movie theater popcorn. Then there’s a good chance that the next time you microwave the perfect bag, you’ll forget all the other times when not all the kernels popped or when it came out a bit burnt. You’ll only retain the memories of when the popping went right and ignore the consistency of the theater’s popping machines.

What does this have to do with branding and social media? Consider Twitter’s trending topics. Millions of Tweeters determine the trends of the day, week, or even month. At the most basic level, these trending topics tell us where the conversation is. In an ideal system, the topics would also be what people value the most or hold the most important. In a way, trending topics are an open system of self-reinforced agenda setting. Agenda setting is a mass communication theory that posits that the media can control what the public believes to be newsworthy simply by reporting about it. Repetition combined with freshness will make people believe that a story or issue is important (this ties in really neatly with the psychological concept of the availability heuristic).

Now think about how this can help or hurt a brand. Let’s use the Tiger Woods Nike Commercial that I last blogged about as an example. If Person A (let’s call him Brandon) just saw the commercial on TV without any context or explanation, where would he find information? A lot of people would go to news sites or social networks. So Brandon types in “Tiger Woods Nike” into the Twitter search box, which returns tons of opinions in real-time (more or less). In turn, Brandon, who hadn’t previously formed an opinion about the commercial, will see that different people find the commercial brilliant, confusing, or downright creepy. It’s possible that these Tweets will help Brandon make up his mind and feelings about the commercial.

But what if the person already had an opinion on a topic but still wanted to see what other people thought? Let’s consider Person B, named Judy. She watched American Idol last night and found her favorite singer Lee to be the best performer. So later on, she clicks onto a TV show review blog and reads blog posts or comments either saying that Lee was awesome or that Lee was terrible. Because Judy already formed an opinion on the matter, she’ll likely disagree with the divergent blog post or comments. Rather than consider both sides of the argument, Judy will knowingly nod her head when she reads thoughts that she agrees with and vehemently shake her head when she wonders how others can have a differing opinion.

For established brands selling products or services, returning customers and loyalists are much more valuable than new one-time purchasers. If Apple had to choose, I’d venture that the marketing team would rather have the person who buys every new generation iPod as a customer than the person who makes the iPad his or her only on-brand purchase (Apple has actually done an amazing job grooming more consumers to fit into the former category).

By extension, when it comes to social media pushes, the brand behind them should be looking to target both the Brandon’s and the Judy’s. Provide a jump-off for the social conversation and let people discuss freely. Companies have to accept that they cannot control the conversation anymore. Agenda setting is now crowdsourced by anybody who wants to get involved. Social media should not be an exercise in damage control, but rather, a chance to gain real-time feedback on whether or not a campaign was well done.

Therefore, if brands reward and reinforce the positive feelings that people like Judy have about them, that’s already more than half the battle. I’m not saying that the potential Brandon’s should be ignored, but brands shouldn’t have tunnel-vision and take the loyalists for granted. Treat them well, and their words will do a lot of the brand building legwork for you.

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