The Rise of Contribution Systems

Sites like Wikipedia, My Space, Facebook, Craig’s List, and eBay all rely on contribution systems. “But wait!” you may say “Facebook has never asked me to donate money.” With the Presidential elections and holidays over we seem to still have financial contributions at the forefront of our minds but there are other, arguably much more important, contributions in the business world. According to an article titled “The Contribution Revolution” in the October 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review, many companies these days are relying on consumer provided information to augment or even create their whole site. Scott Cook, journalist for the Harvard Business Review explains, “User contribution systems aggregate and leverage various types of user input in ways that are valuable to others.”

I. Advantages of Contribution Systems

  • No Cost
    Users will contribute if they think sharing their opinion is worthwhile and as a business owner you do not have to pay for any of that effort.
  • Content Accumulation
    It is easy to accumulate a lot of content on an ongoing basis, especially if you have a lot of contributors because each individual only needs to contribute a small amount to achieve something much larger.
  • Value Creation
    As additional contributions are made the site becomes more valuable in the eyes of fellow consumers, encouraging more people to contribute- leading to an upward spiral of content creation and popularity. This can be a huge competitive advantage over time.

II. Areas That Can Benefit From a Contribution System

Some websites run solely on contribution systems, whiles others user smaller more specialized contribution systems. Either way they can be beneficial both externally and internally to many businesses.

Customer Service
With a forum you can achieve more customer service efficiency because your customers can help each other and other potential customers with basic information regarding your products, company, and business practices. Instead of each customer calling in or emailing when they have a question or problem they can seek the advice and assistance of other customers, freeing up more of your time.
Product Marketing
By letting your target market comment on and discuss your products they are essentially selling your products for you in the most effective way possible. First of all, they know the target market very well because they are a part of that same demographic and understand what potential customers are going to want to hear. Secondly, their advice and recommendation comes off as far less “sales-y” than your words as the business owner.
Resource Expansion
If you count your customers’ resources as your own then you will have a larger and potentially very lucrative supply of resources to use. For example, Honda uses their cars with GPS systems on board to gather information about traffic patterns and conditions so that they do not have to do all of their own research for their GPS traffic tracker.
API
If you let customers share their designs and additions to your software you will have a much larger offering to extend to new customers without having to pour money into research and development.
Content
Letting customers contribute content allows for a more open exchange of ideas and helps to establish your company as a gathering place for information sharing. Early adopters will greatly appreciate this atmosphere and help fuel efforts for other customers down the road.
Employee Satisfaction
Instead of making all decisions unilaterally as the business owner and passing the information along to your employees let them tell you what they want and need. Not only will your efforts be more on base with what your employees are actually facing in their day to day jobs, but it will give them a sense of ownership.

III. Getting Your Business Started

  • Use personal experience to guide your efforts
  • Get enthusiasts to contribute
  • Utilize young employees for fresh ideas
  • Come to terms with having to relinquish some control
  • Let customers start projects
  • Try small experiments first to minimize risk and get experiments into the hands of customers quickly
  • Make it easy for customers to participate
  • Seek organizational buy-in only after getting some solid success

-Kate Pierce eCommerce Specialist

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