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Cons of forum activity percentages

Forum admins have been getting more involved in promoting activity on their forums. One way of promoting activity is giving a user an activity score that shows how active they are in relation to other members. The below is some food for thought on why this may actually have a negative effect.

In a study conducted by Robert B. Cialdini in his book "Yes! - 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive" homes were monitored for electrical output. To summarize, some homes clearly used less electricity than the other homes. The homes using less electricity did so because that is how they are, either naturally or by actively trying. What Robert Cialdini's study did then was inform all the houses of how their energy usage compared to other homes in the neighborhood. Robert then revisited these homes to see if news of their standings in the community made any impact.

The homes that had been recognized for their low energy usage had increased their energy usage. These homes likely realized they were below the average and that they could use more electricity without feeling guilty. The homes that were told they had above average power consumption lessened their usage. These homes likely realized others in the community were making more of an effort to conserve electricity.

What does this study tell us? People tend to conform to social norms and gravitate towards the mean.

In forums, there are active posters and inactive posters and everything in-between. Referring back to Robert's study, one could make the assumption that doing so will actually cause your top members to become less active. It is unlikely that showing an inactive user how inactive they are is going to have much of an improvement on their activity; they aren't posting for a reason. However, it would be reasonable to believe someone who learns they account for 20% of your daily activity may feel rather alone or that they are holding your forum together.

Instead of posting activity percentages for everyone, or even at all, maybe your forum will benefit more from general lists of top posters (like you see on many forum portal pages today) so you give credit where credit is due without giving your users relative data.

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Author: Chris Davis

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