Imagine a community one of whose activities is running contests where the winner from a set of finalists is determined by popularity (i.e. most votes). A feature of these popularity contests would be that anyone is allowed to vote as long as they go through the act of joining the community by completing some registration or login process.

I could imagine that this could be an especially good way to build up membership of the community because each contestant in the contest has an incentive to promote themselves outside the community and bring in new members to vote for them.

How effective is this really at creating a sticky membership? Are there any examples of this being done in other communities? Has anyone seen any studies or write ups?

A website offers valuable prizes to whomever can get the most votes on their submission to an online contest. One must register on the site to be able to vote. This leads to a rather high rate of new user registrations on the site during the voting period, because each finalist has an incentive to recruit new members from their social networks. The idea is that this is a good way to build up the user community, because at least some of those new members might stick around to participate in the future.

This seems to be related to (almost the opposite of) "How to prevent "drive by" voting in my forum's contest?"
This question on retaining members after a fun event that attracts new participants may also be relevant.

  • I'm trying to parse the actual question here. Are you wondering if a voting mechanism is a good way to engage visitors into joining your community? Or Are you asking whether having contestants build their fan base to win a contest is a good way to build up membership in a community?
    – Greg Chase
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 20:17
  • I'm making the assumption that the two are effectively tied: that having the voting mechanism incentivizes contestants to bring their fan base into the community membership, and wondering what various sites' experiences with this has been.
    – WBT
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 20:47
  • I would argue the popularity contest is the important aspect here, not the exact method of how popularity is calculated. I will suggest an edit to clarify, and hopefully this will aid in getting an answer to this question.
    – Greg Chase
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 23:26
  • 1
    @GregChase Thanks for your time and effort on the edit.
    – WBT
    Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 3:58
  • Define 'popularity'. Good looks or moderation skills, to name two? Also, (how) is any part of that definition tied to the goal of the community in a theoretical sense as well as practically at the moment of voting? I.e. what value will the new user experience when he is voting? If there is none, forget any people 'sticking around'. (Note: I just see that Greg's answer considers these points as well).
    – user732
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 12:38

2 Answers 2


Dangers of Prizes (Extrinsic Motivation):

I think your proposal is really dangerous. There are a lot of studies and research that show that you have to be really careful about these rewards, or you'll create a system where the rewards are the value instead of your content or community.

The key way to look at your discussion is to frame it as "intrinsic motivation" versus "extrinsic motivation".

The gifts and prizes are extrinsic motivators.

Those motivators can cause negative effects. Here are two examples:

  1. The Overjustification Effect - is when prizes and money decrease your motivation to perform the task.


  2. The Hedonic Treadmill - is when you have to keep increasing the prizes and money to keep people motivated


To satisfy the problem of rewards tangible value, I think you would benefit from researching gamification. There are free courses and other resources on the web that may give you some great ideas on how to carefully implement extrinsic rewards combined with reinforcing intrinsic reasons to participate in your site.

Voting Site Use Cases:

Enterprise Internal Voting System -- DWP Idea Street: The UK's Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) used gamification via a voting system where people could individually vote, and join teams of voters to get points for submitter's ideas. As the idea rose to the top, the voters got more points depending on metrics designed into the system.

Here's the white paper from Gartner Research:


Voting to Engage Users -- Nickelodeon's 'Kids' Choice Awards: Is another example of a popularity contest where the winner gets a prize. This meets your criteria indirectly too, because this ability to "vote" and have your choice "win" is a motivator that increased engagement with Nickelodeon.

Here's the Shorty Award for Nick's efforts:


Famous Voting Cheating -- Sanjay Malakar of American Idol: Who can forget how terrible this guy was? Watch a few videos to see how amazing bad he was. But the communities of VFTW, 4chan, and SA propped him up and kept voting for him as a joke:



Also, a girl who is starving herself because Sanjaya was still in the competition.


Her blog:


  • I'm aware of these factors, and "valuable" is meant to be "valuable" in the eyes of the (potential) recipients; this could be some award/recognition or experience, not necessarily combined with e.g. cash. Your answer responds to a question more like "should I award prizes" rather than focusing on the effectiveness of the voting/popularity stage as a strategy for increasing membership. That is a good question but different from this one, and the right answer depends quite a bit more on what you're asking people to do / how much intrinsic motivation & external costs the task already presents.
    – WBT
    Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 18:59
  • Might you be able to expand on this comment in your answer? Who were the professionals? What did they say about "voting on proposals" as it relates to growing the community? Were those presentations at all recorded or reinforced by other publications those professionals wrote? Are there links to such materials?
    – WBT
    Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 19:22
  • That's probably an example of a prediction market, which is arguably a more detailed form of voting. It's interesting stuff, but unless the finding was something like "prediction markets, being more engaging/time consuming, led people who originally just came in during/for the voting phase to be more/less likely to stick around as engaged community members," it might not be relevant to this question. Things also seem potentially different when a community is limited to within a company and its activities considered part of employees' jobs.
    – WBT
    Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 19:47

A community with a primary activity of running popularity contests that involves recruiting and engaging members in a coalition per contestant is extremely obvious today - political parties.

I've also seen this approach used in communities oriented towards philanthropy. You run for "king or queen" or some other title, but your votes are in fact the total money raised by the people you motivated to join and donate towards your cause.

Maybe someone has better statistics for you, but the way to make this really effective is to have the contest related to the purpose of your community. Nominate elected officials or raise money being just two examples. One might argue that American Idol almost fits this definition as well.

Now keeping these people as part of the community requires additional types of engagement, and activities related to our besides the contest. Otherwise all you really are doing is temporarily borrowing the social network of the influencer you engaged to be part of your contest.

The methods of engagement might involve one or more of these influencers who competed in the contest in ongoing projects. Or, perhaps there are other kinds of activities to engage these new voters.

The important thing to understand is that a "new voter" needs to be treated to a special kind of experience after voting. What is the next step in their journey from newbie-member to contributing member? Tailor your next communications towards getting that next level of engagement.

  • A political party is a highly indirect analogy - people vote for the leader, not for the person who is likely to have recruited them (very few leaders directly recruit past a certain low-scale point). Philantropy example is much better IMHO
    – DVK
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 15:13
  • I purposefully suggested a wider scope edit to the question to account for political parties at a state or national level. However, even at that level they might not do direct 1 on 1 appeal for support, but they certainly have large campaign budgets and activities. At the precinct and local levels, they do actually operate exactly this way.
    – Greg Chase
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 4:34

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