Wednesday, April 08, 2009

web contests: could be harmful if mis-designed

Web sites often hold contests as a marketing tool. I myself have thought about doing this for various projects (past and present), but today I started wondering if it actually saps the long-term desire to use the site.

There is a known psychological effect where giving people a reward for doing an activity makes them do it much less once the reward is gone, compared to if they never got the reward at all. See the wikipedia writeup about extrinsic motivation:

Extrinsic incentives sometimes can weaken the motivation as well. In one classic study done by green & lepper, children who were lavishly rewarded for drawing with felt-tip pens later showed little interest in playing with the pens again.

Perhaps the contest holders are willing to accept this negative hit of user retention in exchange for getting their name out, as people tell their friends about the contest. In that case, it's important to design your competition for maximal reach. Make sure the goal aligns with spreading the word about your site, and not about encouraging heavier activity amongst your existing users.

You could take this to its natural extreme and just have a contest of who can refer the most number of users to your site.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

website is one ad way.

--zhao_zhang2004@hotmail.com

Niniane said...

What does that mean?

Philipp Lenssen said...

> You could take this to its natural
> extreme and just have a contest
> of who can refer the most number
> of users to your site.

Throw in some iPods and a pyramid scheme...

mahlen said...

The book "Predictably Irrational" discusses the difference between social norms and market norms; people are happy to do things for free (a social norm) but when offered a payment, they start to weigh the payment against other ways they get paid.

The other lesson is that once you get people thinking about a situation in market terms, it's very hard to get them to think of it as a social norm again.

In other words, the best way to kill social apps would be to pay people to participate in them.

mahlen