This article is motivated by Olli’s recent post on reddit about his feeling toward the reception of his Road to Blizzcon Series on Team Liquid. I want to discuss the social dynamics between content creators and content consumers.
Olli’s tweet caught my attention (see below), and my first instinct was that there was a clear gap between expectation and result. I replied to his tweet to know more about his expectation, and later I saw his post on reddit.
I have much empathy about the issues Olli brought up for obvious reasons. I am one of the rare few writers in Starcraft, so I understand the challenges one faces in this niche domain. The other reason I feel so connected to the issue is my area of research (I am at the end of my PhD journey). My research areas are social influence, political psychology, information sharing, and evaluation. Thus, why, how, and what people share are topics of my interest to say the least.
In this post, I want to discuss both the content creators’ and content consumers’ perspectives, and what we can do as a community to get better.
Content creators’ perspective
You don’t need to create actual content to get a feel of how content creators feel. You may have posted a comment on reddit or other forums, and that makes you an information sharer. Thus, you should be aware that a sharer cares about what others think about what they have shared, and it is just a matter of how much and how you react. People care whether they get upvoted or downvoted, and hence, you often see people insert reaction to others’ evaluation, for example, “Edit: I don’t understand why you people downvote this”. If you have put in some effort in a post (for example, a strategy guide), I will not be surprised that you refresh it often to look at the comments.
Why we create/share content
So what does caring about how others judge us mean? This behaviour is reflective of one of the most important motivations behind sharing, which is self-enhancement [1 – refer to the academic reference list at the end of this article]. Self-enhancement refers to the basic human need to feel good about oneself . We are more likely to share things that make us look good than those that make us look bad. We are more likely to tell others we beat a strong opponent than bm in chat after we lost. Thus, positive feedback to our shared content directly satisfies our self-enhancement needs. It is a no-brainer that negative feedback generally do not align well with our self-enhancement motivation. However, while we dislike others’ negative reactions toward our content, we hate no reaction even more! This is evident when you look at Olli’s reply to my tweet (see below).
Social exclusion could have immediate detrimental effect on our mental health . You feel ignored when no one reacts to your content, and that hurts. Creating content is costly (time and effort), and a motivation-based approach would suggest that content creators want something in return for their effort. Research in various different areas has shown converging evidence that our action is affected by our perceived influence (often on others) of that action. For example, in political science, people do not vote, because they believe their votes are not going to matter . Also in information system, newly posted online product reviews diverge from the average star ratings, because people do not believe it is necessary to write a review if it does not affect the average rating somehow. If the average is four, you are unlikely to write a four or five star review, but you are more likely to write a one or two star review [5, 6]. All in all, we want to have certain influence when we share or create content, and readers’ reaction is perceived as the measurement of the influence. Therefore, Olli’s reaction is understandable especially when he had high expectation.
Of course, self-enhancement is not the only motivation behind sharing. Other motivations include emotion regulation, information acquisition, and social acceptance. There is a paper published in the latest issue of Journal of Consumer Research (the top journal in my field) that suggests social acceptance as another motivation to share content, and this is the focal motivation when you share with people with close ties (e.g., family and friends) . In the same paper, the author emphasises that self-enhancement is still the main motivation when you share with strangers. In fact, I was at a consumer research conference in San Diego few days ago, and I met the author. She is amazing. The fact that she found my research interesting is the highlight of my whole trip (see? I’m self-enhancing right now). Anyway, other research has found that we are more self-focused when we share with many people than with few people . Taken together, when you share content online with the gaming community, it is difficult to not have a strong sense of self-enhancement.
What content we create/share
The mainstream content nowadays is video, at least in the gaming community. Gaming channels do well in Youtube rankings, and gaming also pushes streaming services to the next level. Readers used to ask me to make videos, but I chose not to due to skill limitation and communication medium preferences (I just like to write). This is comparable to watching a movie versus reading a book as a past time, and the majority would pick a movie over a book. Most people are aware that video is more popular than article in general, but the discussion point is usually focused on the ease of digesting the content. There are contents that get more responses than others, and the differences go beyond just video versus article. In order to understand why some contents get more interaction (e.g., likes, comments), we need to look at the content consumers’ perspective.
Content consumers’ perspective
Everyone is a consumer. But, some are more active than the others, or we can simply call them “posters” and “lurkers”. The academic literature does not have a consensus on the definition of lurkers, but I think those who do not comment or even like/vote should be a fitting categorisation for lurkers in the Starcraft community. Why posters post (i.e., comment) and what they post? Why lurkers lurk? These are broad questions that are popular ongoing research topics, and I will just share some common understandings that are applicable here.
Why and what posters post
Posters can be seen as “secondary” content creator, and their motivations are not that different from those I had already mentioned. Hence, the primary motivation, whether conscious or not, is still self-enhancing. Due to self-enhancement reasons, people generally share positive things about themselves and negative things about others . The more negative others’ performance and experiences are, the better people feel about themselves. This is consistent with the general social comparison paradigm . Thus, people are more than willing to point out the mistakes a content creator made, and they rather remain silent when there is nothing negative to say. Of course, these findings are not suggesting that ALL people are doing that in ALL conditions. The main takeaway is the relative tendency of the phenomenon. The comic below illustrates it pretty well.
The most worrying thing is how we intentionally adjust our explicit evaluation to be more negative when we know our evaluations would be seen by others . That is, in comparison to lurkers, posters actually tune their evaluations to be more negative than what their “true” evaluations are if they were to lurk. Such bias actually works in favour of the comment poster, because, those who share negative evaluations are perceived to be more intelligent than those who share positive ones . There are differences between being critical and being cynical. I want to take this opportunity to thank readers who have been very supportive of my work for these five years. Thanks.
Since both content creators and comment posters have the same self-enhancement motives, it is more rewarding to be comment posters than be creators. It is tough for creators to make original content and “put themselves out there”. In contrast, it is a lot easier and drastically less vulnerable to comment on others’ work. What agitates me at times is when some comment posters do not even understand the rationale and limitation behind certain content, for example, one commented that I should not use AI as the opponent to demonstrate a build.
Consistent with this “find fault” mentality, I notice the more “perfect” my articles are, the fewer interactions they receive. Also, I notice controversial articles tend to get more reactions, because they are generally more interesting. Indeed, this is back up by research that moderate controversy could drive sharing especially when the sharers are anonymous . My article What Good Balance Argument is Not is a good example, and the controversy level is further exaggerated when the reddit thread title is “Ladder ranking is the most accurate measurement of skill for the population of Starcraft players”.
Why lurkers lurk
Lurkers are the majority of any online community, so they should not be overlooked. However, due to the nature of lurking (you do not have data about lurkers), existing knowledge about why lurkers lurk is mainly limited to qualitative research. One obvious reason for lurking is that posting is not a requirement to enjoy the content, and hence, it is essentially a public good problem. A public good is a good that is both non-excludable and non-rivalrous in that individuals cannot be effectively excluded from use and where use by one individual does not reduce availability to others (e.g., street lighting). One interesting difference between posters and lurkers is their perception of whether they believe they are a community member . Lurkers, in comparison to posters, believe they are not a community member, and it is unclear what the direction of causality is here. I figure out that many lurkers enjoy the same contents, but they just do not interact and let their feelings known. Perhaps they think it is unnecessary since they do not consider themselves a part of the community. Then, the overall negative sentiment toward the contents is not representative of what the collective content consumers really think. If you are a lurker, I suggest you let one content creator you like know that you like their stuff. #ItMatters
So what now
Before I go further, I want to say that I don’t speak for other content creators. I don’t feel entitled that you have to react to my work. Time after time, I emphasise my primary motivation to write articles on TerranCraft is just to express my opinions, and what others think are secondary. However, I am always honest that I appreciate the interaction readers have with me, be it just a comment. Given how much I know about how to get people to share content, I am more than aware I am not maximising my exposure or even “business opportunity”. It is okay, as I really just want to do what I do. This is also the main reason for not making videos. It is about what I want to do, and not so much about what is well received.
On a wider scale, I doubt we as a community want content creation to die out. So, what can we do?
First, the self-enhancement tendency is an unavoidable human nature, so I do not believe “being positive” is the way to go. I just want to highlight that trying to or appearing to be smart is not just about being judgmental in a negative manner. It takes much knowledge and skill to understand where the content creators come from and appreciate the work. Next time, try to write a positive point for every negative point you want to post, and you may slowly figure out it requires more critical thinking to appropriately point out what exactly is well done than to point out what you think is not good enough.
Second, lurkers could do the minimum. You do not have to make a comment when you really have nothing to say. It makes a huge difference just to like, retweet, share, and vote the content. Like I have discussed earlier, content creators do not want to feel ignored. It means little or nothing on lurkers’ end, but it makes a hell lot of difference for many content creators.
Third, community figures could do more. I understand they do not follow the community that closely, and even a seemingly small thing like sharing the work has to go through the process of deciding whether it is mutually beneficial for them. For example, iNcontroL commented on Olli’s post that, and I quote, “As far as any idea or concept of me being like, required to repost these out of interest for the community etc.. that kind of stuff comes usually from a place of mutual benefits OR it really really is a great piece that made it in front of someone.” Indeed, there are deliberate brand management decisions made on social media, because what these community figures share are often mistakenly taken as an endorsement. If it is just a matter of business decisions, then one must consider the snowball effect of the lack of buzz circulation in the community. There is a big chunk of marketing literature devoted to how to get the community involved, because it is mutually beneficial to the stakeholders. The community figures are stakeholders who benefit most from a healthy and active community.
Fourth, similar to community figure, Blizzard could do more. While I understand why the public think Olli’s reddit post gives a scent of self-entitlement, it is worrying that Blizzard do not promote the Road to Blizzcon Series. From a business stand point, there are plenty of good reasons for Blizzard to do basic social media promotion just by sharing it on Facebook and Twitter, as it attracts attention and creates a background story line for casuals to follow. It takes little to no effort on their end.
I naively believe there is a “we need you, you want us” relationship between content creators and consumers.
EDIT: Based on the comments posted on a reddit thread was posted about this article, I believe I should clarify something.
The main intention of this article is to explain both sides of the coin, and by no mean I am trying to make people feel guilty for not reacting to different contents being put out there. If a content is bad or not interesting, it is okay to speak your mind or ignore it. The sensitive issue is how people who like certain content interact with the content. You should not feel obligated to comment or share, but I hope the community knows how the social dynamic is at work here and how no-reaction toward content you really like may slowly push the creators away.
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