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To help consumers to improve health, mobile applications (apps) are developed to motivate users to engage in physical exercises. For instance, some app developers invest heavily in gamification, rewarding users with game elements such as “badges” and “points”, hoping to make the apps more fun when consumers conduct physical/fitness activities. Interestingly, increasing the “fun” of the apps does not seem to successfully motivate consumers: a recent report even shows that 75% of the users stop using the apps two weeks after downloads. In the meantime, with the increasing importance of the social media, the potential benefits of sharing on social media can sometimes be quite effective in motivating consumers. For example, some gym fanatics are willing to work out every day just to have great selfies to post on Facebook. Seeing the value of socialization, app developers such as Strava took a different approach: instead of making fitness apps more “fun”, they focus on making the apps more “social”, often by enabling consumers to interact with one another (e.g., sharing their achievements and/or getting “likes”). For consumers, their sustaining effort in using the fitness apps to help them engage in physical activities is essential to their health; and for app developers, consumer’s continuing usage (loyalty) in the app is the key to the success of the service the app provided. Question arises as to which one of the two approaches, gamification or socialization, can better encourage consumers to keep using the fitness apps.
In this study, we draw inference from self-determination theory, and argue that gamification and socialization may trigger two different types of motivations: while gamification focuses on using game elements as external rewards and provides more extrinsic motivation, socialization focuses on enhancing interactions among users and provides more intrinsic motivation, and intrinsic motivation is more effective in encouraging consumers. We further propose that a gamified fitness app can stimulate consumers in participating in early stages, but the effects may wear off; in contrast, a socialized fitness app may provide the values that satisfy consumers’ social needs, and motivate consumers to continue using the app more effectively.
A longitudinal field study will be conducted, in which participants will be randomly assigned to use one of the two fitness apps: a gamified app, or a socialized app. The goal is to test the difference in subjects continuing usage (i.e., loyalty) of the apps. Changes in participants’ daily step counts and other items of the related behavioral intentions will be tracked and compared. Participants using the socialized app (vs. gamified app) are expected to show higher loyalty and future behavioral intentions.