Posted by : Amitha Amarasinghe Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sometime back, I initiated a discussion thread on the topic “What Motivates People to Be Highly Engaged in a Community?” on Richard Millington’s community site "Commania".  This discussion created one of the liveliest threads on Commania, which brought quite a lot of interesting insights into,what really keep motivating people in actively participating in online communities.

Having an idea of what drives the most active participants in a community is important for a community manager to keep the liveliness of the community. If it is said that only 1% of the users of Social Media, actively contribute for content creation; then, isn’t it important to know what motivates this 1%? If you know the factors driving these people, you can intensify the existence of such factors, and hence increase the level of participation.

I’ve researched several literature written on human motivation, and summarized some of the salient drivers in a self explanatory model.(Click on the image to view it in full size)

Before participating actively in social media, one must have an intention of doing so. Even if you have the intention, sometimes the situational factors can cease you from actively participating in the community.

Your intention to participate can arise from either intrinsic factors or extrinsic factors.

Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation embedded in the action itself (comes within the individual), rather than from external rewards such as money or recognition. Intrinsic motivation comes from the pleasure of completing the task satisfactorily. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation refers to the motivation coming outside the individual. These are external factors such as money or recognition. For example, a person might engage in a certain action because of the monetary benefits that he could gain by completing the action. These rewards provide satisfaction and pleasure, that the action/task itself may not provide.

Personality of an individual plays a major role, whether he/she is motivated mostly by intrinsic factors or by extrinsic factors. A person with a highly extroverted personality, might be more likely to be motivated by factors like recognition, reciprocity, and affiliation, whereas a person with a more introverted personality might not be interested in such factors.

Defining Some of the Concepts in the Model

Altruism (as defined in Wikipedia) is selfless concern for the welfare of others.

Peter Kollock (1999) suggests, a person is motivated to contribute valuable information to the group in the expectation that one will receive useful help and information in return. Indeed, there is evidence that active participants in online communities get more responses faster to questions than unknown participants. He identifies three major reasons for why people actively participate in online communities. 

Anticipated reciprocity., A user is motivated to contribute to the community in the expectation that he will receive useful help and information in return.

Increased recognition., individuals want recognition for their contributions. The desire for prestige is one of the key motivations for individuals’ contributions in an online community.

Sense of efficacy., Individuals may contribute because the act results in a sense that they have had some effect on the community.

Other Resources

This presentation by Trebor Scholz, on the topic “Motivating People to Participate” is one of the most resourceful information I found on the internet about this topic.

Dawn Foster of Fast Wonders blog writes about “What Motivates Participants to Engage in Online Communities”, which I thought as quite comprehensive too.

[Way] back in 2006, Kelly Nuxoll writes about “What Motivates People to Participate in Online Communities?” on

If you have any other helpful resources on this topic, please feel free to leave a comment, or post a link to a related web resource.

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