Helping people online is taken for granted. Be it user reviews or advice that is dispensed freely. But why do people help each other? Specifically, people who don’t know each other.

For the purpose of this post, let’s look at two user groups who you may expect to see in an online community:

  • Decision Makers – These are people that need to make a decision.
  • Decision Helpers – These people held the Decision Makers.

 

What motivates Decision Helpers to help Decision Makers?

There is a wealth of anecdotal evidence across online communities. People freely dispense advice to help others make decisions. Think Amazon or TripAdvisor reviews. Fake reviews aside (we’ll talk about them in another post), what is driving people to help strangers, many of whom they will never interact with?

We looked at the reasons people share thoughts and opinions online. A New York Times study of 2,500 online sharers revealed the motivations of people who share online can be grouped into 5 categories:

  • Bring valuable and entertaining content to one another – 49% say sharing allows them to inform others of products they care about and potentially change opinions or encourage action.
  • Define themselves to others – 68% share to give others a better sense of who they are and what they care about.
  • Grow and nourish relationships – 78% share information online because it enables them to stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with. 73% share information because it helps them connect with others who share their interests
  • Self-fulfilment – 69% share information because it allows them to feel more involved in the world.
  • Get the word out about causes they care about – 84% share because it is a good way to support causes or issues they care about.

We can extract from this list two key rewards for people how provide help to others online – altruism and self-fulfilment.

 

Alturism

A study by University of Oxford made a closer examination of people leaving online reviews. They found altruism in particular was the key motivator:

 [A study of eBay] examined hundreds of thousands of online transactions and found that in over 60% of them, buyers and sellers provided feedback even though they had little to gain from it as individuals…altruism and reciprocity are key parts of our human behaviour, which is why we want to let others know when we meet a bad or good trader online, and reward or punish behaviour depending on how we have been treated ourselves.

These motivators suggest the right framework can provide altruistic incentives for people to share their thoughts, experiences and suggestions.

 

Self-fulfilment

This behaviour covers the what’s in it for me side of helping others online. Key to supporting the self fulfilment behaviour is looking at reward based techniques. These in turn can be offered to people who help others. Our research and previous experience building social networks led us to investigate gamification. You can read more about gamification here. In short, gamification provides a structured way of showing the help and support provided in a community. This is typically realised through trophies and trophy cabinets. Helping others is attained through the former. The latter is used to show others how helpful an individual member is. When deployed in the proper way, gamification techniques can increase the ratio of people who help others.