Why consumers co-create


Most organizations want to get close to consumers and to learn about their needs and desires as a way of creating products and services, developing effective marketing campaigns and reducing risk.

Increasingly organizations are using online co-creation communities to do this as it enables them to dig below the surface of people’s opinions and uncover their latent feelings. Usually this process involves recruiting people against a set of selection criteria that is relevant to the task and encouraging their active participation in a closed community of between 300 and 500 members.

Some organizations have permanent communities, while others are task specific. If you ask managers why people are willing to participate in such commercially focused communities, their assumption is that it must be the money. They rate intrinsic factors such as sociality and meaningful experience as the least important.

In search of Motivation

We set out to determine whether this managerial belief is true and to better understand the role intrinsic and extrinsic motivation play in motivating people.

To conduct this research, we invited members of three existing online communities to take part in a study. The communities came from quite different areas: consumer goods, diabetes and high blood pressure, and private health.

The communities enjoy high levels of participation and have active facilitation, an emphasis on non-financial rewards and minimal use of financial rewards. 178 people agreed to participate in the study.

Learning from Conversations

To get insights into peoples’ motivations we used a two-phase online research process. In the first phase we used a qualitative/quantitative research tool, that combines conversation and machine learning to deliver quantitative insights to qualitative questions.

Instead of framing questions where the options are limited and the language has already been determined, the tool allows people to answer open-ended questions by writing down their responses in their own words, which others then vote on, two at a time.

The tool mirrors conversation in that it allows participants to interact with one another and to react in real time to thoughts being exchanged until a resolution is reached that best reflects the thinking of the group. The research featured 9 open-ended questions and 7 poll questions. The 9 open-ended questions generated 1,102 unique responses (the highest count for an open question was 153 responses) and 34,819 votes.  

Once the first phase of the research exercise was complete, we created brief summaries of the first phase research, which we then provided to the communities. In the online discussion we hosted with the participants, we asked whether the summary aligned with their personal experience and invited them to add further comments.  The process generated a further 255 responses.

Key motivational factors

So, what did we learn? Most people in the three communities are dominantly intrinsically motivated. Their motivations are concerned with contributing to something they find valuable and interesting, having the opportunity to express themselves and the ability to develop their knowledge by sharing and listening to others.

However, the research also suggests some nuances to the balance of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. While 39% of people in the study said that they would still participate without financial rewards, the most strongly supported statements combine intrinsic benefits with financial rewards. Financial rewards are seen as more of a “thank you” for participation and for making a contributing to the community.

Freedom of expression

A second aspect of motivation is concerned with control versus freedom of expression. When people have a greater degree of freedom it enhances motivation. Participants feel that the balance is right in their communities and that they have sufficient freedom and good moderation. Notably 97% of participants believe that they have been treated fairly by the moderators, who clearly play a vital role in creating a positive culture and in helping to humanize and cement the solidarity of the community.

Overall, when a community works well it generates high levels of engagement. This is notable in the way participants describe their experience.

Positive, passionate and highly motivated

The participants in these three online sponsored co-creation communities are positive, passionate and highly motivated. These might be attributes that we would expect from fan communities based around Milanese opera or Liverpool football club (both have been studied), but they are not necessarily what we might expect from consumers discussing tooth paste or a health club for commercial organizations.

The study shows people can be highly participative if those managing online communities create an engaging purpose coupled with the freedom to explore ideas.

This requires sensitive moderation, the creation of a trusting environment where people feel they can express themselves and a willingness to take the time to nurture community solidarity where people are connected to each other and to the sponsoring brand.


Nicholas Ind, Nick Coates and Katrina Lerman  (2019): ‘The Gift of Co-Creation: what motivates customers to participate’. Journal of Brand Management https://doi.org/10.1057/s41262-019-00173-7

Text: Professor Nicholas Ind, Department of Economics and Innovation, Kristiania University College.