This natural field experiment tests the effects of purely symbolic awards on volunteer retention in a public goods context. The experiment is conducted at Wikipedia, which faces declining editor retention rates, particularly among newcomers. Randomization assures that award receipt is orthogonal to previous performance. The analysis reveals that awards have a sizeable effect on newcomer retention, which persists over the four quarters following the initial intervention. This is noteworthy for indicating that awards for volunteers can be effective even if they have no impact on the volunteers’ future career opportunities. The awards are purely symbolic, and the status increment they produce is limited to the recipients’ pseudonymous online identities in a community they have just recently joined. The results can be explained by enhanced self-identification with the community, but they are also in line with recent findings on the role of status and reputation, recognition, and evaluation potential in online communities.
Brown Bag Seminar: Fostering Public Good Contributions with Symbolic Awards: A Natural Field Experiment at Wikipedia
Jana Gallus (UCLA Anderson School of Management)