A Curious Competition: Mahalo Vs Quora

If you had to guess, would you choose a monetary reward or social recognition as more impactful incentives for users to provide good answers to questions?

Let’s take a real life example to see how this played out.

Mahalo.com was a Q&A site that utilized a special incentive process to get users to ask and answer questions.

Whoever submits a question also offered a bounty in the form of a virtual currency, ‘Mahalo Dollars’ for the best response.

The ‘Mahalo Dollars’ could then be exchanged for real money.

The motivation behind this structure was to drive user engagement.

But over time, users began to lose interest.

Around that same time, Quora began to boom.

Unlike Mahalo, Quora did not offer a single cent to anyone answering questions.

Why was Quora’s engagement growing while Mahalo’s was shrinking, despite having a monetary reward?

The answer: an incomplete understanding of their user’s drives.

On Mahalo, monetary rewards were so rare to occur that it wasn’t impactful. So those who were driven by money were better off working at their hourly jobs then answering questions.

On the other hand, Quora demonstrated that social rewards and the variable reinforcement of recognition from peers proved to be much more FREQUENT and salient motivator.

In the book “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” Nir Eyal argues that every behavior is driven by one of three ‘Core Motivators:’ Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, seeking hope and avoiding fear, seeking social acceptance while avoiding social rejection.

Only by understanding what truly matters to users can a company correctly match the right variable reward to their intended behavior.

Photo by Ilkka Kärkkäinen on Unsplash.

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