CONSTANCE ELISE PORTER , SARV DEVARAJ, AND DAEWON SUN This article analyses the impact of virtual communities –with a close focus on trust- on the customer-company relation, or more specific: “…trust as the critical mediator of value creation in virtual communities (Porter, Devaraj, & Sun, 2013). A virtual community is defined as “an aggregation of individuals who interact around a shared interest, where the interaction is at least partially supported by technology and guided norms (Kannan, Chang, & Whinston, 2000). Specifically, they identify two types of virtual communities, (1) A virtual community that is customer-initiated and (2) a virtual community that is firm-sponsored. Prospective customers seek information in virtual communities in order to gain valuable information about a purchasing decision. In order to evaluate this information, prospective customers evaluate member-generated information (MGI) by three attributes: (1) Information Consensus, (2) Information Consistency and (3) Information. In Firm-Sponsored communities another element is added next to MGI: Sponsor efforts. Sponsor efforts consists of: (1) Content, (2) Embeddedness and (3) Interaction. One model (customer-initiated or firm-sponsored) is not by definition better than the other in creating trust and informedness of customers, it depends on the situation and stage of the customer process. However firms can take specific actions in order to optimize their firm-sponsored virtual communities. Many firms have enabled customers to provide summarized star reviews for products to provide a better consensus of customer-ratings, however this research shows that this only moderately helps in the customer. In order to improve on this, managers should focus on the consistency and distinctiveness dimensions of MGI in customer conversations. Example: to encourage perceptions of consistency, firms could focus on developing reliable customer management policies and business processes that are aligned across the organization (e.g. return policy, warranty management process) (Porter, Devaraj, & Sun, 2013). An important thought is that firms do not necessarily have to choose for one of these communities; firms can have both are even more than 2 (a customer-initialized, firm-sponsored and third-party virtual community) because they all have different positive and negative attributes. For example, a customer-initiated Virtual Community might be perceived as independent and therefore more credible (Gu, Park, & Konana , 2012). However firm-sponsored communities can provide both customers and the firm itself valuable information about each other (the opportunity to create direct relationships with customers). Also, virtual communities might follow an evolutionary path; firms might not have the resources initially to foster a well-organized, virtual community, but customer may have initiated one. Over time, this community might change in a firm-sponsored community because the firm decides to allocate resources to create a virtual community to improve relations and informedness of customers. An overview of the two models: Customer-Initiated and Firm-Sponsored Virtual Communities
- Gu, B., Park, J., & Konana , P. (2012). The impact of external word-of-mouth sources on retailer sales of high-involvement products. Information Systems Research , 182-196.
- Kannan, P., Chang, A., & Whinston, A. (2000). Electronic communities in e-business: their role and issues. Information Systems Frontiers , 415-426.
- Porter, C., Devaraj, S., & Sun, D. (2013). A test of two models of value cretion in virtual communities. Management Information Systems , 30 (1), 261-292.