Today, one of my group members stained my suede jacket with permanent marker whilst discussing our business idea. After panicking, the first thing I did is type the sentence “how to get ink out of suede” into Google. The pages I end up at are online communities, in which people share their experiences on the same problem and provide me with the knowledge I need to remove the stain. This example might sound very familiar to you: There are more than 2550 of such communities worldwide! These online knowledge sharing platforms provide a space for social interaction where individuals can obtain knowledge and feedback and exchange opinions on certain topics, such as stain removal.
Considering the relevance and growth of these online communities, much research has explored the underlying reasons for individuals to contribute. Naturally, the information is useful to me, because I want to remove the stain. However, why do individuals want to help me by sharing their knowledge? Ye, Feng and Choi (2015) attempt to understand knowledge contribution by exploring the effect of community and leader support.
The authors draw upon two theories to develop their hypotheses. First is the social exchange theory, stating that individual participate in knowledge sharing because they expect benefits from it. Second is the organisational support theory, which posits that organizational and supervisor support predict the behavior of community members. Subsequently, they expect that perceived community as well as leader support are positively related to knowledge contribution, influenced by four factors shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Model of hypotheses
Based on 214 surveys from online community users, Ye, Feng and Choi (2015) found evidence to support all their hypotheses. This is insightful on both academic and practical level. Academically, the authors adopt a different perspective than previous literature, identify important antecedents and underlying mechanisms and extend the theory of organizational support to online knowledge contribution. Practically, the most important finding is the effect of leadership and community support on individuals’ contribution. Currently, motivating members to share experiences and ideas is a challenging task for most service providers and e-commerce websites. Highlighting the presence and recognition of a forum leader and other members could therefore play a major role for the success of online forums. There are several useful suggestions:
- Display the online status of the forum leader to community members
- Let peers rate and review each other’s contributions
- Enhance social perceptions and interactions by including personal/social information of peers and leader
Figure 2: Summary of the academic and practical implications
Looking back to the forum I visited to remove the stain out of my jacket, I realize that they had already implemented most of these practical finding to a certain extent:
- They have (a fictional) forum leader: Grandma
- They allow comments and “likes”
- They display personal/social information of peers through profiles
Nonetheless, there are still many opportunities to enhance and sustain the sharing of online knowledge for this and the other 2250 communities worldwide and it is safe to say that the paper by Ye, Feng and Choi (2015) takes significant steps for doing so.
Figure 3: Visual of the Dutch online knowledge community ‘Oma Weet Raad’
Source: Ye, H.J., Feng, Y. and Choi, B.C., 2015. Understanding knowledge contribution in online knowledge communities: A model of community support and forum leader support. Electronic Commerce Research and Applications, 14(1), pp.34-45.