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User Generated Content, The Cumulative Growth Effect and Organisational Intellectual Capital

User generated content (UGC) allows for users to create and share all types of content, including facts and opinions, via social media platforms. Until now, we’ve explored some of the most common UGC channels (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) and how social media analytics (SMA) can be applied to such content to determine user behaviour insights. We now extend our discussion to see how other UGC channels, specifically wikis, can be used to increase an organisation’s intellectual capital and how the phenomenon of the cumulative growth effect helps to achieve this. We begin by taking a look at the nature of wikis, what the cumulative growth effect is and how organisations can best utilise these channels. Let’s begin!

Wikis and the Cumulative Growth Effect
Wikis are websites that allow for the collaborative creation and modification of content by users. The increasing prevalence of SMA and UGC analytics, in recent years, has resulted in the emergence of new social media trends, including the cumulative growth effect, a trend discovered by marketing and management researchers, Aleksi Aaltonen and Stephan Seiler. This phenomenon suggests that the way in which new forms of content production are organised, such as the premise of wiki pages, inherently motivates and encourages more users to contribute, given the presence of existing content. This sense of motivation is based on the idea that users can contribute small amounts of content on top of what already exists and are be able to see their contributions immediately, rather than producing an entire article from the beginning. The existence of such content motivates others to contribute, and with lower associated editing costs (as opposed to the cost in editing a complete article), users are able to meaningfully contribute to the cumulative efforts of content creation through incrementally editing articles. As a result, articles that are more heavily edited grow in length and will continue to be subjected to the editing process (that is, more users will add, delete and modify the article’s content).

A Research Study on Wikipedia
Taking Wikipedia as the main example, Aaltonen and Seiler’s study reveals that the main driver of the cumulative growth effect is the increase of the number of users editing an article, as opposed to the intensity of an individual’s editing efforts (i.e. how much an individual edits an article). Furthermore, on average, articles that are heavily edited just after article creation are longer in article length.  This is due to the notion of the snowball effect, as any increase in an article’s length motivates others to edit, which in turn increases the article’s length, which results in more editing activity, and so on and so forth. Hence, early changes in an article’s life can significantly influence the entire trajectory of an article’s path-dependent content growth, where early edits ultimately result to a longer article than articles that receive edits later in their lifespan.

Overall, the study observed that after an 8 year period, articles that did not benefit from the cumulative growth effect, were on average, 45% shorter in length in comparison to articles that were subject to this effect.

How does this relate to organisations?
Now that we’ve developed an understanding of the cumulative growth effect and it’s impact on user generated content, I can hear you asking – what does this mean for organisations?

Well, as it has been argued that an organisation’s intellectual capital, the aggregate  knowledge of all employees, is considered an organisation’s most significant intangible asset to enabling innovation and enhanced operations, organisations can increase this shared intellectual capital by cultivating the development of the cumulative growth effect. Based on the study’s results, organisations can do so by adopting social knowledge repository platforms similar to Wikipedia (such as Atlassian’s Confluence and Microsoft’s Sharepoint) and:

  1. Pre-populate articles with content by transferring and consolidating existing content to this new platform, or
  2. Incentivising users to provide initial content – this could include providing extra employee benefits including flexible working hours, monetary benefits and company discounts.

By encouraging this behaviour early on, this allows for a magnified knock-on effect on future edits. Not only does the cumulative growth effect foster new collaboration methods but it also enables individuals to leverage others’ intellectual capital to develop new and innovative ideas.

For a little extra something, take a look at the below video that shows the effects of cumulative growth over time on a sample Wikipedia article (viewer warning: distressing content).

Have we missed something? Or have something to add? Comment below and join us in the discussion.


Aaltonen, A. and Seiler, S., 2015. Cumulative Growth in User-Generated Content Production: Evidence from Wikipedia. Management Science.

Asia Pacific Intellectual Capital Centre, 2015, Intellectual Capital Management, accessed 17 April 2016, <>

The Center for News Literacy, 2013, ‘The Evolution of a Wikipedia Article’, Youtube, accessed 19 April 2016, <>


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