The increasing use of online communication and advertising practices has led to a rising interest in understanding the drivers and influencing factors of consumers in terms of their interactions with brands. The research paper of Mousavi et al. (2017) has set its focus on online brand communities (OBCs). These are defined as “specialized, geographically non-bound communities, based on a structured set of social relations among admirers of a brand” (Muniz & O’Guinn, 2001). OCBs were found to be marketing instruments that increase customer loyalty and commitment towards a brand (Hartmann et al., 2015). Until now, most research in this field had its focus on the behavior of active members (“posters”) in OBCs. However, so-called “lurkers” represent the vast majority of online communities (>90%). This is why recent research has become interested in finding out more about the motivations behind passively consuming information on online communities. The paper investigates this question and extends it with the examination of the effects of OBCs on brand commitment, positive word-of-mouth, and resistance to negative information.
What differentiates posters from lurkers?
The researchers base their reasoning on the theory of social identity formation: Social identity is a person’s sense of who they are based on their group membership(s).[i] According to the theory, there are two different routes of social identity formation (Postmes, Haslam, & Swaab, 2005):
The inductive route which has its basis in interactive participation in groups (bottom-up process). In the context of online communities, former research has shown that inductive social identity formation can result in higher identification than deductive social identity formation. According to this theory, posters will form a stronger social identity than lurkers because of more experience of involvement in the group tasks which leads to a greater emotional attachment.
The deductive route is a top-down process of self-categorization which is based on a response to the perceptions of shared characteristics within the group. This one does not require active participation, hence social identity is acquired by lurkers without active participation. According to this theory, lurkers are not nonproductive and nonparticipant. Their passive information consumption is a positive activity and a means of acquiring knowledge that guides future behavior.
This study investigates the mediating role of social identity in OBCs on brand commitment. In their hypotheses, the researchers expected the components of social identity (which are illustrated in figure 1) to have a stronger effect if people fall into the “poster” category.
For the data collection, an online survey was carried out. No specific online community was targeted; people had to indicate whether they were members of OBCs after having given them some examples for OBCs. Therefore, the sample consisted of participants from a wide variety of different online communities, which the researchers saw as an advantage in terms of generalizability. 752 usable questionnaires were collected, consisting of 55% lurkers and 45% posters. Using multi-sample analyses, the researchers tested the hypotheses for the moderating effects of members’ participation type for posters and lurkers.
The results suggest that, in general, being part of an OBC cultivates customers brand commitment. This leads to greater positive WOM and higher resistance to negative information consumers may hear about the brand. Although lurkers do not visibly participate in the community, they are as likely as posters to feel the sense of belonging to the community. They do see themselves as members, and so identify with the brand community and experience a social identity. The different components of social identity in OBCs for both posters and lurkers stimulate brand commitment, positive WOM, and resistance to negative information for both groups.
Fig.1: Comparison between posters and lurkers. Source: Mousavi et al. (2017)
The research gives useful insights into the consumer behavior in the context of online brand communities. Given the fact that the majority of their visitors are lurkers, it is interesting that most prior research had its focus on only the active members. Mousavi et al. (2017) filled a gap with their study by finding out that lurkers also feel part of the community. The researchers suggest to further investigate the influences of marketing techniques on visitors who prefer to passively consume the contents of online communities. The fact that such a huge majority of people are classified as lurkers, yet prior research had mainly focused on the active members, gives ground to further explore the behavior and motivations of the passive members.
Hartmann, B. J., Wiertz, C., & Arnould, E. J. (2015). Exploring consumptive moments of value-creating practice in online community. Psychology & Marketing, 32, 319–340.
Mousavi, S. , Roper, S. and Keeling, K. A. (2017), Interpreting Social Identity in Online Brand Communities: Considering Posters and Lurkers. Psychol. Mark., 34: 376-393. doi:10.1002/mar.20995
Muniz, A., & O’Guinn, T. (2001). Brand community. Journal of Consumer Research, 27(4), 412-432.
Postmes, T., Haslam, S. A., & Swaab, R. I. (2005). Social influence in small groups: An interactive model of social identity formation. European Review of Social Psychology, 16, 1-42.