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Motivations in Virtual Communities: A Literature Review
Camponovo, Giovanni (Sep 2011). Motivations in Virtual Communities: A Literature Review . European Conference on Information Management and Evaluation: 598-IX. Reading: Academic Conferences International Limited.
Camponovo, G. (2011). Motivations in virtual communities: A literature review. Paper presented at the 598-IX. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1010055872?accountid=1724
One of the major recent trends in the IT landscape is the fast emergence of community-based models centered on the active participation of users as contributors. This trend is so strong that many observers consider it as a step in the evolution of systems, for instance by referring to it as Web 2.0.Community-based models permeated various types of services like social networks, user generated contentcommunities, interest or practice communities, peer-to-peer networks, open source software communities, wireless communities and so on. However, using a community-based model is not a guarantee of success, as the primary key success factor is the ability to attract a critical mass of contributing users. Therefore, a key research issue is to understand what motivates users to actively participate in such virtual communitiestypically characterized by a loose group of individuals that primarily interact via some computer-mediated communication media. This paper proposes a review of existing studies of user motivation in various types ofvirtual communities with the goal of highlighting a few general motivations that are recurring across the various community types as well as suggesting that motivations are context sensitive by pointing out that the importance of the various types of motivation is somewhat different across the different types of communities. The results of this paper are a taxonomy of communities in four broad types according to their primary orientation (social relationships, contents, interests and resources), a taxonomy of motivations (intrinsic, psychological, social and economical) and a mapping between the various community types and motivations.
Keywords: virtual communities, motivations, literature review
The rapid emergence of community-based applications and business models centered on the active participation of users as contributors is probably the most influential trends occurring in the ICT landscape. This trend is so strong that many observers consider it as a step in the evolution of information systems. For instance, many now commonly refer to community-based web systems like social networks, blogs and user-generated content sites as "Web 2.0", implicitly suggesting that they are more evoluted than the old "Web 1.0" sites. This view is well described by Musser and O'Reilly (2006): "Web 2.0 is a set of economic, social, and technology trends that collectively form the basis for the next generation of the Internet-a more mature, distinctive medium characterized by user participation, openness, and network effects".
The characteristics or user participation, openness and network effects are the basis of a more general family of community-based business models which includes various types of services such as communities of interest or practice (e.g. thematic forums and news), social networks (e.g. Facebook), user generated contentcommunities (e.g. Youtube, Flickr), peer-to-peer networks (e.g. BitTorrent), open source software communities (e.g. SourceForge), wireless communities (e.g. FON) and so on.
Although there are many successful examples of business using a community-based model, the major difficulty and primary key success factor is the ability of the community to attract a critical mass of contributing users. It is widely acknowledged that the development and sustainability of a community heavily depends on the involvement of many motivated members willing to make contributions or share their resources with it. The value of a community does indeed strongly depends on network externalities (as the number of members increases, the network becomes more valuable which then attracts even more users and so forth) and thus building critical mass is a key imperative for growth and sustainability.
Therefore, a key research issue is to understand what motivates users to actively participate in such virtual communities typically characterized by a loose group of individuals that primarily interact via some computer-mediated communication media. This research question has been tackled by many researchers in different contexts and with different theoretical models. Because this heterogeneity makes it difficult to get a comprehensive broad overview of research in this topic, it is useful to aggregate and summarize the various contributions in a literature review. This paper therefore proposes a review of existing studies of user motivation in various types of virtual communities with the goal of highlighting a few general motivations that are recurring across the various community types as well as suggesting that motivations are context sensitive by pointing out that the importance of the various types of motivation is somewhat different across the different types of communities.
Relevant papers about motivations in virtual communities were identified through an extensive literature review whose initial corpus consisted in the articles published after year 2000 in the top ten journal in the information systems discipline as proposed by the Association for Information Systems and in particular by the ranking of Rainer and Miller (2005)1 as well as the main IS conferences (ICIS and the various regional conferences).
To this corpus, we added other papers we could find through online databases like ACM Digital Library, ABI Inform, JSTOR, Elsevier and SpringerLink. The search strategy used to identify articles in those search engines was based on combining relevant keywords like virtual communities (with variants such as onlinecommunities, electronic communities, electronic networks of practice as well as the various specific types ofcommunities identified thereafter in the paper) and motivation (with variants like participation, contribution, gratifications and action).
Finally, other references were obtained from this initial corpus by looking at the references cited in the various papers, with the process being repeated iteratively until no further references were identified. In this phase we also collected the various papers describing the various general motivation theories cited in the various articles.
Of all the references collected, we only retained papers proposing empirical studies using primary data: we considered both qualitative studies (e.g. based on interviews or content analysis) and quantitative studies (e.g. based on surveys) leaving out purely theoretical papers. These references were then entered into a reference management software to check for duplications and relevant papers were classified by type ofcommunity and summarized into a spreadsheet containing the authors, year or publication, methodology,community type, country, reference theories employed, the various motivations found and their relevance.
3. Literature review
3.1 General motivation theories
Human motivation is a popular theme among researchers in a broad number of disciplines like psychology, sociology, economics and information systems. Consequently, many theories have been developed to explain human behaviour and hereafter we briefly illustrate the ones that are most relevant to our context (that have been used as a basis to explain motivations for participation in virtual communities).
One early theory is the expectancy-valence theory (Vroom, 1964; Atkinson, 1966), which suggests that individuals are motivated to do an activity if they expect that their efforts will lead to a good performance (expectancy), that will lead to desirable outcomes (instrumentality) that are valuable to them (valence).
A first stream of motivation theories focuses on the determinants of intentional behaviour. The Theory of Reasoned Action (Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975) suggests that a person's behavioural intention depends on his attitude towards the behaviour (i.e. "a function of beliefs about the behaviour's consequences and evaluations of those consequences") and his subjective norm (i.e. his "beliefs that relevant referents think he should or should not perform the behaviour and his motivation to comply with the referents"). The Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen, 1991) extends it by adding the construct of perceived behavioural control to consider "the perceived ease or difficulty of performing the behaviour". Building on these two theories, the Technology Acceptance Model (Davis, 1989) states that intention of using a technology is determined by its perceived usefulness (the belief that it would enhance one's performance) and its perceived ease of use (the belief that it would be free of effort). Finally, the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT) (Venkatesh et al., 2003) combines several of the preceding theories by considering four determinants of intention (performance expectancy, effort expectancy, social influence and facilitating conditions) and four moderating variables (gender, age, experience and voluntariness of use). It is worth to notice, that there are many variants of these models that consider others constructs like trust, playfulness, self-efficacy etc.
The last aspect of self-efficacy is the cornerstone of the Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura, 1977): if people believe in their capabilities to perform a specific action (the idea of self-efficacy) that they believe to be capable of attaining a desired outcome (outcome expectancy) they are more inclined to do so (they also considering perceived impediments and opportunities).
The self determination theory (Deci and Ryan, 1985; Vallerand, 1997) offers another well suited theoretical framework as it explains motivations of people within social contexts. Unlike the preceding theories, it does not treat motivation as a unitary concept that simply varies in intensity, but differentiates different kinds of motivations. More specifically, it raises a distinction between intrinsic motivation (doing something for the pleasure of doing an interesting activity or to satisfy some on psychological innate needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness) and extrinsic motivation (we do something for the purpose of receiving some separable outcome as a result of our action such as obtaining tangible rewards or avoiding punishments, obtaining social rewards such as approval and status or obtaining some psychological reward such as get self-esteem, pride or avoid guilt or anxiety). While this theory suggests that people can have more than one motivation type, several studies propose that extrinsic motivation can have a negative effect on intrinsic motivation, the so-called crowding out effect (see Gagné and Deci, 2005 for a brief review).
Another interesting stream of research in social psychology has studied motivations underlying prosocial behaviour intended to benefit other people such as helping, comforting, sharing and cooperating (Batson, 1998). While much of this research studied spontaneous helping in unexpected situations, some authors have also examined planned helping such as volunteering. For instance, Clary et al. (1998) propose that people volunteer because it serves one or more functions such as gaining knowledge, express one's values, comply with social expectations, get utilitarian recompenses, enhance one's ego or protect oneself against negative feelings about oneself. While members may not see contributing to a virtual community as volunteering, It appears to be fruitful to examine whether those typical motivations are a factor in members' decisions to join and participate in a community (Butler, 2004).
Other applicable theories focus on the idea of exchange. Economic exchange theory posits that individuals behave rationally according to self-interest (i.e. when rewards exceed costs), whereas social exchange theory (Blau, 1964) suggests that social exchange also involves intangible benefits such as improved relationships as well as feelings like reciprocal obligation, gratitude, trust etc.
Innovation diffusion theory (Moore, 1999; Rogers, 2003) describe the patterns of adoption of an innovation among the members of a social system and propose a set of factors that influence this process. These theories describe a number of characteristics of an innovation that favor its diffusion (relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, observability) and the characteristics of the different adopter types (from the more venturesome early adopters that may be more attracted by intrinsic reasons to the more skeptical and traditional late adopters which mainly seek proven solutions and less risky outcomes).
Finally, the expectation-confirmation model complements the abovementioned theories by not focusing on the initial adoption of a system, but on its continued use which is also critical for its long-term viability. This model was ideated by Oliver (1980) to explain repurchase intentions based on satisfaction, which in turn depends on the confirmation of initial expectations against performance. This model has been applied to information systems by Bhattacherjee (2001), suggesting that continuance intention is determined by its perceived usefulness and the user satisfaction, with the latter being determined by the confirmation of expectations following actual use as well as its perceived usefulness.
Many of the concepts of the various theories are rather similar and can be regrouped as follows:
The taxonomy of motivation proposed in table 1 will then be used as a basis to describe the motivation in the various types of wireless communities, with the exception that effort and facilitating conditions will not be included because they are not motivations in a strict sense, but rather contextual factors that may hinder or facilitate participation. On the other hand, we will distinguish utility into two separate concepts: the satisfaction of a personal need and the attainment of an external reward. We also add the concept of reciprocity as it is one of the defining element of virtual communities.
3.2 Definition and types of virtual community
One of the first definition of virtual communities (also called online communities) is the one from Rheingold (Rheingold, 2002): "social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace". While this definition highlights the social character as a defining element of a virtual community, other authors propose a larger set of elements of what constitutes a community which includes shared resources, interests, needs or activities that are the primary reason for belonging to the community, common values, reciprocal behaviour and a shared context of social conventions (Whittaker et al., 1997; Preece, 2000).
Based on such a broader view of what constitutes an online community, several authors identify various types of virtual communities and propose different classifications.
Many classifications are based on the primary goal of the community. One of the first of such classifications is proposed by Armstrong and Hagel (1996) who distinguish four different types of virtual communities:communities of transaction, interest, fantasy and relationship. A comparable classification is proposed by Hummel and Lechner (2002), who classify communities from the more communication oriented to the more transaction oriented, distinguishing five types of communities: gaming communities, communities of interest, B2B communities, B2C communities and C2C communities. Finally, Markus (2002) proposes an expanded taxonomy of virtual communities that encompasses both classifications which distinguishes based on theirsocial orientation (relationship building and entertainment), professional orientation (expert network and learning) and commercial orientation (B2B, B2C and C2C). We also feel that it is important to add communitiesof resource-sharing" such as peer-to-peer networks and wireless communities.
A different criteria is employed by Porter (2004), who based on community structure distinguishes between member-initiated and organization-sponsored communities: the former is established and self-managed by members and can have a social or professional orientation, the latter is established and managed by either a commercial, non-commercial or governmental organization. This distinction is also made by Camponovo and Picco-Schwendener (2010), who differentiate pure communities (built and managed by members in a self-organized way) and hybrid communities (built and managed by an organization that supports individual members that are willing to participate).
Because both criteria are expected have an important impact on members' motivations, we propose here to use an integrated taxonomy that combines both criteria which is shown in the figure below (remark that acommunity may also span over more than one community type at the same time).
This framework is used as a basis for the following chapters dedicated to describing the motivation in the various types of communities. Our choice of community is made firstly by choosing three types of communities according to their goal: a social-oriented type of community like communities of interest, a professional-oriented community like open-source communities and a commercial oriented community like a wireless community (C2C). Then within the three types we will make a further distinction based on community structure, distinguishing between member-initiated and organization-sponsored communities.
3.3 Motivations in wireless communities
A nice starting point for describing research on motivation in wireless communities is a literature review (Bina and Giaglis, 2005) that identifies 8 papers that propose a first list of motivations (cooperative spirit, gain prestige, challenge telecom firms and promote free communication) without empirical investigation.
The first attempt to study these motivations empirically developed a theoretical model with a broad mix of intrinsic (enjoyment, competence, autonomy, relatedness), obligation-based (reciprocity, shared values) and extrinsic motivations (explicit rewards, external pressure, self-esteem, ego involvement, connectivity needs, human capital, career prospect, altruism). The model was tested with surveys in Greece (Bina and Giaglis, 2006) and Australia (Lawrence et al., 2007), finding that different groups of members participate with different mixes of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, with the former being more prevalent.
Subsequent studies in Canada (Wong and Clement, 2007; Cho, 2008) found that similar short-term motivations based on personal interest (fun, learning, social, professional networking, free access) are complemented by long-term motivations based on public interest (promoting inclusion in the Information Society, media democracy, civic activism). A recent paper (Shaffer, 2010) found similar self interest motivations like gratification from using technical skills, obtaining free access and public interest motivations like contributing to expanding broadband access.
Finally, (Camponovo and Picco-Schwendener, 2010) analyzed motivations in large 'hybrid' community(supported by a firm) finding that unlike in pure communities members are motivated mainly by utilitarian (free network access) or psychological (idealism and feeling competent) rather than intrinsic or social motivations (socializing with peers or feel part of a community).
A graphical summary of these papers and the relative motivation is shown below.
It appears that while motivations are very heterogeneous, utilitarian motivation (obtain free connectivity), together with altruistic motivation (help others by offering access) and competence (the possibility to learn and show technical skills) are the most frequently cited motivations. While the mix of utilitarian and altruistic motivation may seem strange, it is worth noticing that with the diffusion of flat-fee broadband connections offering free access to others does not have any impact on costs or personal use.
What is more interesting is that social and intrinsic motivations are higher in pure communities, whereas utilitarian motivations are more salient in hybrid communities. This may be explained by the presence of a firmin hybrid communities, their greater use of rewards (which tend to have a negative effect on intrinsic motivation (Gagné and Deci, 2005)), their larger size (which increases utility due to network externalities (Economides, 1996) and reduces the strength of social ties among members (Olson, 1971)) or because they emerged later (thus attract late adopters that are more attracted by tangible aspects (Moore, 1999)).
3.4 Motivations in virtual communities of practice
Virtual communities of interest or practice are without doubt the most studied virtual communities, probably because they have a much longer tradition than the other types (they exist since more than 30 years in the form of Usenet newsgroups and forums) and have been widely adopted inside organizations (in particular to help communication and share knowledge among employees). A selection of the most relevant empirical studies of member motivations in such communities is shown in the next table.
The investigation of motivation for contributing to organizational communities of practice aimed at sharing knowledge inside organizations has produced a large body of literature that focuses on the importance of sharing knowledge as a foundation for a firm's competitive advantage (cf. Grant, 1991) and the importance of personal beliefs, institutional structure and context (cf. Bock et al., 2005 for a nice literature review).
With regard to empirical studies about the motivations of individuals, various authors have been inspired by different theories and have consequently found rather heterogeneous results as shown below in table 5. For instance Bock et al. (2002; 2005) found that contributors are driven primarily by anticipated reciprocal relationships, a sense of self-worth by contributing and an organizational climate that is fair and innovative, but may be hindered by extrinsic rewards. In contrast, (Kankanhalli et al., 2005) confirmed that self-efficacy was important, but also found that extrinsic factors like rewards played an important role. Other studies also add recognition as an expert as a relevant motivation (Ardichvili et al., 2003). It is difficult to fully explain such a heterogeneity of motivation, which probably depends a lot on contextual factors such as organizational culture (trust, climate, norms etc.), business sector and national culture.
Communities of practice in public settings, such as thematic forums and newsgroups, have also received a lot of attention. Motivations differ to a certain extent with regard to enterprise communities, especially as socialaspects and personal needs are much higher (Chen, 2007; Huang et al., 2008). These motivations have been extensively investigated as part of a debate on lurkers versus active contributors, based on the observation that many members just to get the information they need but do not actively contribute. Butler et al. (2007) found that active participant have higher social and altruistic motivations (they really enjoy interacting with people with similar interests as well as helping them) but are less motivated by information benefits than lurkers. Nonnecke et al. (2006 ) similarly focused on the difference between poster and lurkers, finding similar results except posters also had higher motivations with regard to information benefits as well as intrinsic enjoyment. Other papers also add competence and visibility as other significant motivations (Wasko and Faraj, 2000; 2005; Peddibhotla and Subramani, 2005; Sangwan, 2005). The absence of rewards from motivations is not surprising as they are hardly used by this type of communities.
3.5 Motivations in open source software communities
Literature about motivation in open source software communities is also quite large. In the following table we summarize the most relevant papers that study contributors' motivations empirically. It is worth noticing that there also are a number of papers describe motivations using a case-study methodology or economic models (see Bitzer et al. (2007) for a concise review) which are not reported in the following table as they do not offer an empirical justification.
In contrast with the other two types of communities examined in this paper, in this case it is often not possible to make the distinction between member-generated and firm-supported communities since most of the papers described below wither addressed their surveys to a mix of communities (thus potentially comprising communities of both types) or did not specify to which type the community belonged.
Table 3 shows that the motivations that drive open source participants are variegate. The most important motivations appear to be the need of feeling competent (which is also close to the feeling of enjoyment of taking on a challenge) as well as altruism (which is coherent with the values of freedom behind the open source movement). Another common motivation is linked to personal need: many open source projects and contributions do indeed start with the idea of developing functionalities needed by the developers themselves. The presence of rewards is also unsurprising, as enterprises increasingly make use of the open source development model and developers are increasingly being paid to work on it (Fitzgerald, 2006). On the other hand, it is surprising that reputation and social relations are seldom found to be important motivations.
4. Discussion and conclusions
By performing a literature review of empirical studies in virtual communities, this paper shows that the motivations that drive members to participate in such communities are rather diverse and variegate: they comprise intrinsic psychological reasons (such as intrinsic enjoyment, need to feel worthy and competent and good feeling of being altruistic), social reasons (such as the desire to entertain social relations with interesting people, get social recognition or respect reciprocity exchanges in a community) as well as economic reasons (such as the utility obtained by satisfying a personal need as well as extrinsic benefits).
This paper also proposed a classification that distinguishes among various types of virtual communities based on their orientation (social, professional and commercial) and their structure (pure communities self-managed by members and hybrid communities supported by a firm or nonprofit organization).
By examining empirical paper in three types of communities (communities of practice, open sourcecommunities and wireless communities), this paper found that motivations are diverse both within and acrosscommunities. In particular, while empirical results of papers are somewhat heterogeneous - namely because of the large number of reference theories employed (see section 3.1) and thus often focusing only on a subset of potentially relevant motivations supported by the chosen reference theory - some general observations can be made. Firstly it appears that the importance of extrinsic rewards is more important in hybrid communitiessupported by a firm (this can be seen in wireless communities and, to a lesser extent, in communities of practices). Secondly, it appears that members often are motivated by a combination of different motivation that reinforce each other such as satisfying personal needs (which triggers usage of the community) as well associal and psychological needs (which also favor a more active contribution).
Of course this paper has some limitations in that it only focuses on empirical studies (thus neglecting to do proper justice to the vast amount of more theoretical papers) and only considers three types of virtual communities. It might therefore be interesting to extend this work to pure relationship communities such associal networks, entertainment communities such as gaming and user generated content communities (e.g. video and photo communities), commercial communities (e.g. social shopping sites, buyer groups, brandcommunities) as well as peer-to-peer networks.
We hope that this work makes a bit of order in the existing research and stimulates further research. We feel that it is especially important to extend existing research in three directions: 1) make an effort to avoid an excessive proliferation of reference theoretical models by comparing, integrating and consolidating reference theories, which would permit both a better evaluation of competing theories as well as a better comparability of results across studies; 2) better understand the impact of many contextual factors that could help explain the heterogeneity of results across the different studies both within and across the various types ofcommunity and 3) expand the research about communities within and across of different types ofcommunities.
This paper has been supported by a research project financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation under grant number 100014-127006.
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University of Applied Sciences of Southern Switzerland
Giovanni Camponovo is lecturer at the Department of Business and Social Sciences of the University of Applied Sciences of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI). He received a PhD in Business Information Systems from the Faculty of Business and Economics of the University of Lausanne. His current research focuses on innovative business models, information systems, adoption and usage.
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