Symbolic Awards in Online Communities: Evidence from a Natural Experiment

Alexander Staub, Christopher Lettl, Tom Grad

Publication: Contribution to conferenceConference paper


Online communities frequently suffer from the under-contribution of knowledge in terms of both amount as well as quality. A common method to incentivize contribution behavior by members are nonmonetary rewards, more specifically performance contingent symbolic awards. However, deep understanding of how performance contingent symbolic awards affect existing community members that differ in their experience, and by extension natural propensity to contribute, is currently lacking. A natural experiment is exploited herein, and by analyzing user-week panel data, spanning 48 weeks and approximately 4000 community members, preliminary results show a negative effect of badge introduction on contribution numbers and an insignificant effect on contribution quality in aggregate. Including the moderator for experience, we find that low experience members significantly reduce their contribution quality while not changing their contribution amount, and high experience members reduce their contribution quantity without decreasing their contribution quality. This research contributes to the theory on new forms of organizing, in addition to fostering scholarly discourse on the literature on symbolic awards and online public goods contributions.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2021


  • online communities
  • natural experiment
  • symbolic awards

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