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How can apps get users to generate content? ASU study finds gender differences

Competition or cooperation as motivator? Men and women differ, ASU study finds.
September 13, 2017

Research team discovers that cooperation, competition are different motivators

China’s largest recipe-sharing platform needed a carrot to motivate more content from users, and research from a team of Arizona State University professors was able to pinpoint what works.

A new study by faculty in the W. P. Carey School of Business found that specific kinds of notifications could elicit more content from the app users — and that there are differences between men and women. Feedback that promoted a message of helping others prompted women to contribute more content, while men were more likely to respond to competitive messages.

The findings are an example of use-inspired research — important because many huge companies are dependent on user-created content, and they are constantly looking for ways to prompt customers to contribute.

Ni Huang, an assistant professor of information systems at ASU and the lead author, said that the teamThe other authors are Bin Gu, a professor of information systems, and Chen Liang, a doctoral student, both from the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU, and Gordon Burtch, an assistant professor in the the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. Gu is the Earl and Gladys Davis Distinguished Professor and is associate dean for China programs at the W. P. Carey School of Business. worked with Meishi, a Chinese company that owns the largest recipe-sharing smartphone application in China, in which users contribute and rate one another’s recipes.

Also on the research team was Yili Hong, an assistant professor of information systems at ASU who has done previous research on companies that require user-generated content.

“One of the questions that resonated with me was that they have tens of millions users but guess how many contribute? Less than 10 percent,” he said of the recipe app.

The Chinese company agreed to let the researchers perform the study with all the users in the new “foodie talk” section of the platform, and the 1,129 subjects were divided into four groups. Each group received a different kind of push alert on their smartphones once a week for seven weeks, and then their content contributions for the following week were recorded.

App users received different types of push notifications.

The control group received a generic message inviting users to look at the app, Huang said.

“Most of the time we find that kind of message is not very effective compared to when you provide performance feedback, how well you are doing in terms of the content you’ve contributed,” she said.

The other groups received feedback on how many “likes” they had, but the content was framed in different ways. One group’s push alerts gave the number of “likes” and emphasized how much they helped other people, saying, “You have provided cooking inspiration” for X number of other users.

Another group received a push alert giving a ranking, such as “you are in the top 3 percent of users.” This is “individualist” framing.

The fourth group was competitive, comparing performance, such as “you beat 98 percent of other foodies.”

The results differed by gender. In the group that received the “helpful” messages, everyone produced more content, but the effect was bigger for women, who contributed about 6 percent more postings than the control group. The “helpful” feedback prompted males to contribute about 2 percent more postings than the control.

In the competitive group, males generated nearly 11 percent more content than the males in the control group — but females responded negatively, uploading about 2 percent fewer postings than females in the control group.

“For females, if you tell them they’re outperforming other people, they’ll actually contribute less,” Hong said.

There was little difference between males and females who received the “individualist” messages with a ranking, Huang said.

The study also compared engaged users, who were already contributing a lot of good content, with users who contributed but did not receive a lot of “likes.”

“Think of it like ‘good students’ and ‘poor students,’ ” Hong said. “When we give this performance feedback, the good students will be more responsive and do even better, but when we tell the poor students this feedback, they’re less responsive. It’s demotivating.”

Companies that rely on user content already know that feedback generates more content among users, and they try a variety of methods to incentivize them.

“But no one knows which practice works or how to optimize for different users and genders, and that is the main contribution of this paper,” Hong said.

When the team submitted the paper to the journal Management Science, the editors were concerned that because the experiment involved cooking, an activity that could be considered female-oriented, the results might not be generalizable. So the group did another crowd-sourcing experiment, using 1,000 online subjects in the United States to rate (non-cooking-related) content, and replicated the results. The paper was accepted and published Aug. 31. Find the study here.

The Chinese app company was excited about the results and asked the team to do more research.

“If you think about the results, we were only looking at people who are already contributing some sort of content, and getting some likes,” Hong said. “But if a person has never contributed anything, how can you convert them into someone who is engaged? Is there a way to nudge them?”

The researchers are looking at the concept of fairness: “We’re using that concept to say, ‘You have benefitted from others; why don’t you try something yourself?’ ” They hope to produce another paper on that topic.

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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September 13, 2017

At the beginning of the year, Arizona State University publicly launched Campaign ASU 2020, a comprehensive effort to raise the long-term fundraising capacity of the university. And at the close of fiscal year 2017, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences had a record year for private support in the books.

By focusing on five of the six main funding priorities — ensure student access and excellence, champion student success, elevate the academic enterprise, fuel discovery and enrich communities — the college raised more than $100 million toward its $150 million campaign goal.

“Gifts of varying sizes from donors have made a significant impact for students and faculty, raising more funds for scholarships, academic programs and research initiatives following the launch of the campaign,” said Patrick Kenney, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Ensuring student access and excellence

“Philanthropy is crucial to the success of the next generation of students,” said Logan Rhind, who graduated with the Class of 2015 and donated to the college last year. “Any size donations are used to give opportunities for others to learn about the world and find their place in it. Personally, I feel honored to give back.”

Rhind, a political science major and European history minor, received a scholarship from the Social Sciences Dean’s Investment Fund. He said without it, he wouldn’t have been able to attend ASU.

“I loved my time in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,” said Rhind, an administrative assistant for development and marketing at Barrett, the Honors College. “The college is doing phenomenal things and I wanted to help those ventures, especially because the arts and humanities are not always receiving funding.”

Rhind said he gave to the same fund he received a scholarship from because he wanted to do his small part to ensure students with a passion for liberal arts and sciences have the ability to pursue their dreams, just like he was able to find his place in student affairs.

“Small gifts are the driving force behind engagement. It reconnects alumni and opens up more opportunities for them to return and assist current students,” he said. “Small gifts are also a sign of respect and gratitude. I gave what I could because I respect the college and university for helping me when I needed it. I plan on making continued gifts to the college as long as I’m financially able.”

Alumnus Jorge Coss Ortega is also interested in engaging recent alumni to give back to the college and university. He just graduated with the Class of 2017 and joined the Dean’s Council Emerging Leaders program, an initiative to re-engage alumni and help shape the college’s future. He donated to the Dean’s Investment Fund and hopes to create his own scholarship fund.

“Philanthropy is one of the best ways to spark change and elevate the social and economic standards of an entire society,” said Coss Oretga, who’s one of the first-ever designated O’Connor Fellows at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and a first-year law student. “I want to create scholarships and programs that will help future leaders attain their educational goals. These opportunities helped me when I was an undergrad, and I want to make sure they’re available to all students.”

Championing student success

Similarly, engaged community members Herb and Laura Roskind are dedicated to helping students succeed with Early Start — a discipline-specific, two-week immersion program held prior to the start of the fall semester to help incoming freshmen gain the necessary tools for a successful college experience. After reading through the Campaign ASU 2020 statement, they started the first Early Start endowment.

“These young people are very bright and they just need a little extra academic push to get them started,” said Laura Roskind, a community member who has been very involved with the university. “I think it’s almost a duty of all citizens to help young people excel, especially young people who’ve never had a chance to have an advanced education.”

Elevating the academic enterprise

Donors Donald Seiwell and Brian Martin have made contributions to the Department of Physics to support teaching and learning at the university and beyond. 

Seiwell earned his bachelor’s degree in physics education and master’s degree in administration and supervision on the secondary level from ASU. He spent most of his career teaching physics and math, but he also had administration experience and served on the Advisory Panel for the State Commission for Teacher Training and Credentialing. He said his years in administration and service created a deeper understanding of how unrestricted funds can enable a department to make a greater impact.

Martin received training in high school physics teaching as part of ASU’s Physics Modeling Instruction program. He has been teaching for more than 30 years and ramped up his efforts with the program’s help. He said he hopes his gift helps the program continue because there are so few educational programs for secondary science teachers, particularly in physics, with years of empirical data proving its worth. 

“I gave back in a very small way compared to what I’ve gotten out of it,” he said.

Fueling discovery, creativity and innovation 

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences values all gifts — small gifts just as much as larger gifts. Donor Albert Thurman, an entomology expedition leader and research associate with ASU’s Hasbrouck Insect Collection, recently donated to the School of Life Sciences PitchFunder campaign to save a species of harlequin frogs that were thought to have gone extinct in Costa Rica.

The online campaign, composed of hundreds of small gifts from donors, ultimately raised more than $8,000 to help pull off the most successful field season with the harlequin frogs to date.

“The continued existence of the species is testimony to the philanthropic support we have received,” said Jan Schipper, a conservation and wildlife biologist in the School of Life Sciences. “We had the first visual evidence of tadpoles in this population ever — so they’re reproducing — and this might be the first year we haven’t had net negative population growth, which is amazing. It’s incredible to see that the combination of smaller donations was able to make such a difference.”

Thurman has also donated specimens from his personal collection to the Hasbrouck Insect Collection, which has the potential to grow into a much larger gift like the one from Lois and Charlie O’Brien — another impactful gift given to further research and discovery.

The O’Briens entrusted to ASU a $9.9 million collection of meticulously classified insect specimens to transform the university’s research in this field. They also endowed professorships in the School of Life Sciences devoted to insect systematics, the process of identifying and naming new species.

Enriching the college’s community with estate gifts

Many donors have set up estate gifts to impact units within the college, including the Department of English, the School of Life Sciences, the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Institute of Human Origins. 

“Estate gifts are a great way to create a permanent legacy,” said Bill Kavan, senior director of development in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “The funding from estate gifts continue to support scholarships, faculty or academic programs forever.”

The college has already received more than $1 million from an estate gift set up by Elaine and Kenneth Leventhal. Elaine Leventhal had served on the board of the Institute of Human Origins for 30 years, and the Los Angeles couple included the institute in their estate because they were passionate about the work being done.

The Roskinds have also set up an estate gift for the institute. The couple served on the institute’s board for more than 10 years and have gone on trips with researchers to Madagascar, Ethiopia and South Africa. Laura Roskind said they’ve become very intrigued with life as it has emerged and changed over the past 2 million years and the kind of research the institute is doing in this arena.

“Philanthropy is absolutely crucial,” said Laura Roskind. “Especially for a university that wants to thrive as being innovative and research-oriented. We can’t do it without the support of donors.”

Amanda Stoneman

Copywriter , College of Liberal Arts and Sciences