Customer participation in virtual brand communities: The self-construal perspective


Introduction

Nowadays, as one of the marketing activities, many firms have a virtual community where they can informally communicate with customers and where customers can share ideas with each other. However, it is found that most of the participants on such platforms are lurkers instead of actively participating and contributing. To tackle this challenge, firms implemented different strategies with the hope of encouraging their customers to participate. They aim to provide a balanced platform where both homogeneity and heterogeneity view exist. To elaborate, firms aim to provide a platform where customers are able to satisfy their needs of social interactions and belongingness. At the same time, firms wish to provide their customers a platform where they can maintain their personal independent identities by being able to express and showcase their difference in background, opinions, commitments, and expertise.

Because such a virtual platform today includes different kind of individuals, either homogeneous or heterogeneous, research needs to be conducted about how individuals with a different kind of orientation might affect one another’s participation in such platform. The article examines how customer participation is influenced by self-construal with community rewards and public self-consciousness. Self-construal refers to the extent which individuals consider themselves as independent entities or interdependent entities. Community rewards refer to an external incentive that firms can offer to participants. Public self-consciousness, on the other hand, refers to the participants’ awareness of their individual’s unique role in the community from the public perspective, thus more an external incentive.

The first research question that the authors intend to answer is: “How does self-construal impact VBC participation?”. The second question is, “How do community rewards and public self-consciousness interact with self-construal to align heterogeneous actors with shared norms?”

The authors collected data through an online survey in two Chinese smartphones VBCs. VBC, as in Virtual Brand Ccommunity, is defined as an online platform where firms share product information, provide service support and inform customers. In both platforms, consumers are provided with updates of current and future products and they are able to interact with each other.

The findings of the articles are as follow:

  1. Independent construal is positively influencing the intention to participate but interdependent construal not. This indicates that participants on VBC platforms are more discovering and exhibiting themselves, rather than longing for a relationship with other community members.
  2. Both community reward and public self-consciousness have a negative impact on the relationship between independent construal and the intention to participate. This is due to the fact that independent construal is, as the definition refers to, oriented toward freedom, thus not constraint by rules. Having to follow rules in order to gain community reward, therefore, has a negative impact on customers’ intention to participate. Furthermore, independent construal also refers to leaning toward actualizing the private self. This is, consequently, not in coherence with the concept of public self-consciousness.
  3. On the other hand, Public self-consciousness has a positive effect on interdependent construal with the intention to participate.

Limitations

  • The survey is conducted on two Chinese smartphone virtual community platforms. Other kinds of platforms might imply different findings because the participants in different kind of platforms have different characteristics. Also, even though the authors in total sent out 1000 invitation to complete the surveys and provided incentives to participants, they only gathered 167 valid responses in the end. In addition, most of the participants are males and young people. Therefore, the generalizability of the study is questionable. Studies in the context of different platforms, such as travel online community or food online community, need to be conducted to see whether the findings remain the same. Additionally, the results are possibly not representative of female participants and older generations.
  • Moreover, the authors offered prepaid mobile card as an incentive to complete the survey. This is a context-related incentive. However, the result is not ideal. Perhaps participants feel like they do not need a second mobile card. Therefore, future research can consider offering direct monetary incentives.
  • The authors just randomly selected participants from the two platforms and did not examine the effect of the degree of active participation of these participants. Different results might present when active participants are separated from inactive participants.

References

Wang, Y., Ma, S.S. and Li, D., 2015. Customer participation in virtual brand communities: The self-construal perspective. Information & Management, 52(5), pp.577-587.

 

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