We Need You, You Want Us

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.

Background

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 [2]. 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 [3]. 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 [4]. 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) [7]. 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 [8]. 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 are 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 [9]. The more negative others’ performance and experiences are, the better people feel about themselves. This is consistent with the general social comparison paradigm [10]. 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 [11]. 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 [12]. 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 [13]. 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 [14]. 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.


Academic References

[1] Berger, J. (2014). Word of Mouth and Interpersonal Communication: A Review and Directions for Future ResearchJournal of Consumer Psychology24(4), 586-607.

[2] Baumeister, R. F. (1982). A Self-Presentational View of Social PhenomenaPsychological bulletin91(1), 3-26.

[3] Eisenberger, N. I., Lieberman, M. D., & Williams, K. D. (2003). Does Rejection Hurt? An fMRI Study of Social ExclusionScience302(5643), 290-292.

[4] Riker, W. H., & Ordeshook, P. C. (1968). A Theory of the Calculus of VotingAmerican political science review62(1), 25-42.

[5] Wu, F., & Huberman, B. (2008). How Public Opinion FormsInternet and Network Economics, 334-341.

[6] Godes, D., & Silva, J. C. (2012). Sequential and Temporal Dynamics of Online OpinionMarketing Science31(3), 448-473.

[7] Chen, Z. (2017). Social Acceptance and Word of Mouth: How the Motive to Belong Leads to Divergent WOM with Strangers and FriendsJournal of Consumer Research, 44(3) 613–632.

[8] Barasch, A., & Berger, J. (2014). Broadcasting and Narrowcasting: How Audience Size Affects what People ShareJournal of Marketing Research51(3), 286-299.

[9] Angelis, M. D., Bonezzi, A., Peluso, A. M., Rucker, D. D., & Costabile, M. (2012). On Braggarts and Gossips: A Self-Enhancement Account of Word-of-Mouth Generation and TransmissionJournal of Marketing Research49(4), 551-563.

[10] Festinger, L. (1954). A Theory of Social Comparison ProcessesHuman Relations7(2), 117-140.

[11] Schlosser, A. E. (2005). Posting versus lurking: Communicating in a multiple audience contextJournal of Consumer Research32(2), 260-265.

[12] Amabile, T. M. (1983). Brilliant but Cruel: Perceptions of Negative EvaluatorsJournal of Experimental Social Psychology19(2), 146-156.

[13] Chen, Z., & Berger, J. (2013). When, Why, and How Controversy Causes ConversationJournal of Consumer Research40(3), 580-593.

[14] Preece, J., Nonnecke, B., & Andrews, D. (2004). The Top Five Reasons for Lurking: Improving Community Experiences for EveryoneComputers in Human Behavior20(2), 201-223.

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24 thoughts on “We Need You, You Want Us

  1. I think I am a lurker, but I will say that I enjoyed reading this article, and also knowing more about the writer besides his passion for Starfact and his writing skills. To share some information in return, I am an engineer by education and a manager by profession, and I also enjoy Starcraft very much. I personally feel lucky to be able to enjoy other’s creations such as articles, videos, maps or arcade games in SC2. I do not contribute much, if not at all. I feel like I should, but I don’t. There is always a “good” (bad) excuse not to. So … thank you! and I do not know about the road to Blizzcon articles but I will go and check it out.

    1. It is okay. You don’t have to feel obligated to “react” to contents, because you should only do it because you want to not have to. I just want to explain how the social dynamic is at work here, and I hope this creates a positive discussion among the community.

      You see, after I “share” the Road to Blizzcon Series, others actually took notice. Perhaps you may not like it enough to do anything, there may be others you know who would like it.

      It is surprisingly refreshing when the other person who is conversing with you disclose that bit of personal information online, every word becomes a lot more candid.

  2. Very intelligent and thoughtful post as usual. This is the first non-strategy post I have read by you and I am not surprised of its high quality based on your approach to topics.

    This post caused some reflection in my own behavior. As an email subscriber and a long-time lurker I realize that I have rarely thought about the person behind the content that I consume. This isn’t the case generally, but it is the case usually.

    I remember back in the day when I would watch all of Day9’s videos, I enjoyed them for free for about a year before I finally said to myself “this is an unfair relationship”. I bought a 25 dollar Day9 t-shirt. Fair transaction? Probably not given the countless hours of entertainment he had given me.

    There is truly a disconnect between the people who enjoy a free internet and the people behind that content that we enjoy.

    I know this article wasn’t looking for pity or attention-seeking, but also, sorry for not previously upholding my end of the bargain as a consumer.

    Thanks for what you do.

    1. I like Day9’s content, but I did not buy his stuff. However, I always share his content with my friends, and quite a number get into the game because of that. Don’t feel bad about lurking, because it’s normal. I lurk a lot, and it’s tiring to keep reacting when there is virtually infinite stuff when you go online. I just hope content consumers can react more to content they truly like.

      I also have other non-strategy articles. Check out the “Thought provoking” column here. https://terrancraft.com/guides-and-builds/

  3. Also email subscriber here and lurker from way way back~

    I have commented at times (mostly asking questions I guess) but nowhere near to how often I read TerranCraft. I believe part of the reason for that happening is the quality of the posts.

    I can’t speak for others but my cycle usually begins like this:
    Problems in my game-play due to new meta & builds > I spot TerranCraft on my email notifications and jump on it > You present the information really well and take into account most of the variables we face in ladder, basically covering most of the holes for us > I get really excited with the new found information and the first thing I think of is “I should go ladder right now and test this!” > End up focused on implementing/executing the newfound knowledge and reaping the benefits rather than giving a shout out or expressing my gratitude for the effort you put in your articles, effort which saves us the readers several of hours of research & testing. Thanks to you plateaus are broken, some of which wouldn’t have been broken without your assistance/contributions. Personally, the breakthrough process/broken plateaus greatly enhances my enjoyment/appreciation for the game, and how good it feels afterwards is probably the only reason I play TBH.

    I hope I don’t sound like I’m making excuses, rather explaining what most of us probably go through. I know it doesn’t do much justice (if any) and even though we’re silent (most of the time at least), it speaks VOLUMES about the quality of your work. You present the information in a manner that’s concise & very easy to digest, so far what I’ve come across has been exclusively correct. Those are just a some of the reasons why TerranCraft emails are one of the few things I jump on as soon as I see them.

    Thanks for the awesome posts! Because of you & your work I’m able to love,appreciate & understand the game at a deeper level, which I wouldn’t have been able to if it wasn’t for you & your awesome contributions!

    ROCK ON DUDE !!! <3 <3 <3

      1. I remember these names! I am very happy that you let me know my articles made a difference. It is hard to express the type of joy I feel, and I think this is the best feeling a content creator can feel. Thank you!

  4. Well now I dont even know what to comment om this Max lol. Youre almost a doctor amd im like a high school kid lmao

    This is actually an amazing article though and is really compelling. Thanks for sharing (and even citing your sources lmao wut) and I think a lot of other communities could use this kind of thought process. Thanks Max!

    1. I may sound like an old man now. I always walk down the memory lane to revisit my high school days, doing stupid stuff with friends etc. You think a lot about the future at your age, but it is also the time period that you always look back on. So yeah, just enjoy your high school days, as they don’t last forever.

      Citation is just a habit. But I mainly to avoid others blindly getting into the debate of, “hey that’s not true, I once bla bla bla”.

  5. I never really comment here because I don’t have much to say but I follow TerranCraft since the beginning. On the occasion of this article I want to say thanks for putting in the time for this site and great article as always! I’ve read every single article on TerranCraft, many of them multiple times :)

    Keep going!

  6. I’m definitely one of those silent lurkers that enjoys the content but never says anything, mainly I just don’t feel I have anything to add! But I think this has inspired me to sometimes add, at the very least, appreciation.

  7. Lurker here.

    After reading this I feel I should say something.

    I love your content and read every article. As a terran player it has helped me a lot. Especially like your articles on “convergence points”. Thank you for being such a great content creator. :)

  8. Hi so your and Olli thread in reddit really helped clearing my mindset. In my private life I try to appreciate every help I get also try not to forget what someone did for no matter how much it was or how far in the past it has been.

    The internet and the kind of minimum social cues one gets really makes you forget that there is someone who is helping you by entertaining or providing information. Even wrong information (by mistake not fake news) help yourself understand complex content better since there is Already knowledge needed for finding the mistake.

    So for me I want to treat online content provider more similar to people which I appreciate in real life as well. I am starting late I guess but being really not a social media user nor all too excited about how people are obsessed with providing public documentation of their everyday life. I never thought about how content provider feel.

    I am reading your articles pretty much from the beginning and they are interesting and help me understand and enjoy the game even more. So thanks for all the content and good luck with ur research feels like u know ur stuff good ;)

    Take care

    1. We often forget there is a real person on the other end, and we behave too differently online. Only if those toxic people in games realise they are hurting real people.

  9. While the “We need you, you want us” concept is true to some extent, a public figure can’t blindly share pieces of content. If a public figure shares some content that will meet the stand of his subscribers he’ll benefit from it, but otherwise he can be critiqued as it may seem his stand contradicts the stand of his subscribers and followers. Therefore a public figure can’t share content that he didn’t read and din’t check whether he is ok with sharing it, as even though he can benefit by doing that he can also be punished hard for it.

    The more followers and subscribers a public figure has the more diverse are the standing of his followers, some may have one stand and others have another. And each probably assumes that that public figure is more supportive of his stand, even though these stands may contradict one another. May be there are some public figures who are very clear with their true stands, but many doesn’t. Simply because by doing that they lose some part of potential followers which will hate them for their views. This is why I think public figures may prefer to not take a strong stand toward one side or another, which is why sharing content is harder for them (a share will make them take the stand of the content they shared).

    If we take Olli’s case. It was a power rank. Some people in the community today are strongly believe that there is a huge gap between foreigners and koreans, while others cheer for the foreigners. There are also people who root for one player or another, and by sharing some content that puts one of the players in a low position in the power rank will hurt the feelings of those who cheer for that guy, as well as the feelings of those who cheer for the foreigners or the other way around. Therefore, I think sharing a power rank is very hard for casters, streamers, and even Blizzard itself.

    I think if Olli was looking for some public figure to share his content he shouldn’t have made it a power rank. Sharing Innovation’s article was easy as no matter what there is no punishment for supporting a stand that Innovation has the higher chances of winning blizzcon. But since Olli started with Kelazhur it was even harder to share it, as the share supports that Kelazhur has almost no chances in Blizzcon.

    1. My intention is quite clear. No one expects public figures to share everything, because it’s unrealistic and silly. Your point is mainly about audience-tuning and impression management, and all these tie to the branding I was mentioning. As I have mentioned, people do not have to share or like everything and they are free to criticise, but they should be more wary about what no-reaction toward content creators they like could do.

      Sharing a content does not mean that they take a stand, like I had said, sharing is often mistaken as an endorsement. Olli’s case is not about the ranking per se, but he’s concerned about the lack of reaction. I am sure he would be more than happy if people debate about the ranking.

      1. Debating about the ranking is taking a stand as well.
        I think Olli could have his stuff shared way easier if it wasn’t a power rank but rather stories of how each of those guys got there. Quite the way it were but without the power rank, as it stole most of the attention of the readers, and a public figure could have problems of sharing such stuff (he could publish it simply in the order of how many WCS points each got by the end of the year).. Olli even mentioned that part of what bothered him was that many of the commentators didn’t really read the articles and debated whether the power rank is correct or not, and were guessing who the next will be on the following day.

        On one hand you agree that sharing can be mistaken for endorsement, so you actually agree that some people do treat it as endorsement. Therefore, even if only part of the followers treat it as endorsement its already problematic sharing an article which clams that Kelazhur will most likely do poorly in Blizzcon.

        1. I think this is a feedback you should discuss with Olli. I believe he could provide a more informed reply than I could regarding the motivation behind the ranking.

  10. I think I’ve always been kind of a lurker, and only the last couple of years have I really started to get self-aware about it. I’ve been enjoying content throughout the internet for many years, but for the most part never posted comments of any sort. Sure I liked most of the videos I watched on YouTube, and upvoted some posts on reddit, but it never felt like I actually did something, it took so little effort. The same applied when I was around other people. Very rarely did join in on discussions and things of the like, it’s still a not-to-often occurrence but I think I’ve gotten a bit better at least. As I mentioned I started to become more aware about this a couple of years ago if my memory is correct, and as a result I been trying to become more and more active, both online and offline. It’s a slow process as I am a shy and introverted person, but every little improvement helps. Thankfully I rediscovered my passion for Starcraft about half a year ago or so, which has also helped me to make more of an effort.
    At last I want to say thanks for this insightful article, and thanks to the person who shared it on reddit which made me aware of this particular website. I also really enjoyed the Road to Blizzcon, although I could have been more active in letting the writers know, I really appreciate the effort put in.

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