Upvotes, Likes and Karma: Incentives of Social Media Participation









‘Gamification’ ‒ a term coined by Nick Pelling in 2002 ‒ has become a ubiquitous, though somehow transparent layer of social media. The concept describes the transfer of elements, typically known from video/computer games, into non-gaming contexts. Characteristic strategies of gamification are the inclusion of achievement badges, levels and progress bars, providing virtual currencies or points. In contrast to games however, social media usually do not offer objective procedures in order to gain achievements and rewards of participation. Following a games’ pre-defined structure will usually lead to in-game rewards ‒ at least in terms of progress in the gameplay. On the other hand, arbitrarily posting on Facebook cannot warrant likes from your friends; content which is considered boring or promotional will not give you upvotes on Reddit; in order to be retweeted or faved on Twitter your initial tweet needs to be of some informational or entertaining value for other users. Superficially seen, participation is led by incentives similar to gaming, however users do not interact with a calculable programme. Hence, if they want to gain rewards for their participation, they have to acquaint themselves with content logics, audience preferences and communication habits of the respective social media. In order to achieve and maximise feedback ‒ or rather gratification, they adjust their social media participation to an assumed audience.

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