RAA: Applying “the power of the ask” in social media website?

RAA stands for: Research Article Analysis

Paper discussed:

Wash, R., & Lampe, C. (2012). The power of the ask in social media. Proceedings of the ACM 2012 conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, CSCW  ’12 (pp. 1187–1190). New York, NY, USA: ACM. doi:10.1145/2145204.2145381


I’ve always wondered what motivates people to post comments on social media websites. Contributing, fun, or self-presentation? Probably most of readers are just like me: I usually felt lazy and seldom intensively involved in online discussions. This CSCW2012 paper came from Dr. Cliff Lampe at University of Michigan, trying to apply “the power of the ask” to promote more comments on social media websites. Let’s see if he can achieve this goal.


1. Purpose of the research:
Test a UI design grounded on “the power of the ask” strategy in philanthropy to see if it can induce users to contribute on a social media website.
The foundation of this research goal is that “charities and social media systems are both instances of what economists call public goods”. Voluntary contributors are needed but it is always hard to motivate people to become one. The authors claimed these two systems face two similar issues that prohibit people to contribute:
  • Which websites/charity organization to contribute to?
  • When should this contribution happen? Procrastination happens and stops them from contributing later.
The power of the ask is a powerful fundraising method widely used in charitable fundraising to solve these issues: upon asking to donate explicitly, people can react to the request, donate money immediately (when) to the person sent out request (to whom). Thus, the authors would like to apply this method to social media website, based on the similar nature of these two systems.


2. Methods:
The authors carried out a randomized field experiment on an existing social media system: the Great Lakes Echo, which is a WordPress based news service run by the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. During the experiment period (10 weeks), users were randomly assigned to 3 conditions: no ask, immediate ask, and reminder. No ask provides the default interface as we can see in a WordPress blog, with comments and commenting textbox at the end of the article. Immediate ask and reminder conditions both provided popup windows 500ms after the page was full loaded, with two buttons: No Thanks, and Leave a Comment. The difference is that the immediate ask conditions provided a commenting box for readers to comment immediately, while the reminder condition asked readers to comment after reading the article. If you click “Leave a Comment” in the reminder condition, the page will automatically scrolled down to the comments area.
A reader is assigned randomly to only one of the conditions and it will be kept in the browser cookie so that he/she would always encounter the same condition during the experimental period. Also, one can only see comments posted by other users under the same experimental condition.


3. Main Findings:
A total of 266 comments were generated during this 10-week period.
  • No ask and immediate ask conditions performed similarly, with 83 and 81 comments generated respectively. Reminder condition had higher comments: 102.
  • There is a dropoff in the effectiveness of the popups over time, and 3 conditions are converging to approximately the same number of comments on average.
  • Popups didn’t promote the quality of comments.


4. Take Aways:
I like this article in the way that it borrows idea from another area reasonably and tested with a field study, which is quite interesting to read. However, I found several pitfalls (in my view), which I think compromised the study results.
  • The popup windows were shown 500ms after the article was fully loaded. The authors did a good argument on why other solution didn’t work and this one is the most clean one and it is worth to try “at the expense of some amount of external validity”. However, if you could imagine, at the time the window pops up, most readers must have just started reading a little bit, which basically made the “immediate ask” condition useless: who can give a comment when he/she just starts reading? So I’ve expected the result that “no ask” and “immediate ask” would make no difference. I am curious at what percentage of users clicked “No thanks” button under this condition? This was not reported in the paper. Similarly, I am curious to know what percentage of users clicked “No thanks” under the condition of “reminder”.
  • In the result part, it was claimed that 179 out of 209 commenters only contributed a single comment during the study, which could almost rule out the possibility that a single individual contributed enough comments to alter the results. However, it was unclear whether those 30 commenters were uniformly distributed in 3 conditions. With only 206 comments, if most of these 30 commenters who intend to post more comments were happen to aggregate in a certain condition, it would bias the result a lot.
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2 thoughts on “RAA: Applying “the power of the ask” in social media website?

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