Community based innovation: How to integrate members of virtual communities into new product development


Online consumer groups represent a large pool of product know-how. Hence, they seem to be a promising source of innovation. At present, except for open source software, little is known about how to utilize this know-how for new product development. In this article we explore if and how members of virtual communities can be integrated into new product development. We explain how to identify and access online communities and how to interact with its members in order to get valuable input for new product development. This approach we term “Community Based Innovation.” The Audi case illustrates the applicability of the method and underscores the innovative capability of consumers encountered in virtual communities.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. [1]

    Amabile, T. (1993). Motivational synergy: Toward new conceptualizations of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in the workplace. Human Resource Management Review, 3(3), 185–201.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. [2]

    Anderson, T.W., Challagalla, G.N., & McFarland, R.G. (1999). Anatomy of exchange. Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, Fall 1999, 8–19.

  3. [3]

    Armstrong, A., & Hagel, J. (1996). The real value of on-line communities. Harvard Business Review, May–June, 134–141.

  4. [4]

    Bagozzi, R.P. (1975). Marketing as exchange. Journal of Marketing, 39(October), 32–39.

    Google Scholar 

  5. [5]

    Barnes, S.J., & Vidgen, R. (2001). An evaluation of cyber-bookshops: The WebQual Method. International Journal of Electronic Commerce, 6(1), 11–31.

    Google Scholar 

  6. [6]

    Bartl, M., Füller, J., Ernst, H., & Mühlbacher, H. (2003). Managerial perspectives on virtual customer integration: Cognition, attitude, and intention. Proceedings of the 2nd Interdisciplinary World Congress on Mass Customization and Personalization. München.

  7. [7]

    Baumgartner, H., & Steenkamp, J. (1996). Exploratory consumer buying behavior: Conceptualization and measurement. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 13, 121–37.

    Google Scholar 

  8. [8]

    Blau, P. (1964). Exchange and power in social live. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  9. [9]

    Bloch, P.H. (1986). The product enthusiast: Implications for marketing strategy. The Journal of Consumer Marketing, 3, 51–63.

    Google Scholar 

  10. [10]

    Butler, B., Sproull, L., & Kiesler, S. (2002). Community effort in online groups: Who does the work and why?. In S. Weisband & L. Atwater (Eds.), Leadership at a Distance (in press).

  11. [11]

    Chan, N., Dahan, E., Lo, A., & Poggio, T. (2001). Experimental markets for product concepts, MIT workingpaper no. 149, URL:, 31.08.2003.

  12. [12]

    Clausing, D. (1994). Total quality management (pp. 121–124). New York.

  13. [13]

    Cooper, R.G., & Kleinschmidt, E.J. (1995). New product performance: Keys to success, profitability & cycle time reduction. Journal of Marketing Management, 24(5).

  14. [14]

    Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention (1 edn.). New York, NY: HarperPerennial.

    Google Scholar 

  15. [15]

    Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life (1 edn.). New York, NY: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  16. [16]

    Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1975). Play and intrinsic rewards. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 15(3), 41–63.

    Google Scholar 

  17. [17]

    Dahan, E., & Hauser, J.R. (2002). The virtual customer. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 19(5), 323–353.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. [18]

    Emerson, R. (1990). Social exchange theory. Psychology, 1(1), 30–65.

    Google Scholar 

  19. [19]

    Ernst, H., & Gulati, R. (2003). Virtual customer integration—Bringing the customer back into the organisation, Working Paper (2003), Evanston, Ill., USA.

  20. [20]

    Ernst, H., Soll, J.H., & Spann, M. (2004). Möglichkeiten zur Lead-User-Identifikation in Online-Medien. In C. Herstatt & J. Sander (Ed.), Innovation mit virtuellen Communities realisieren—Grundlagen, Forschung und Praxis. Hamburg.

  21. [21]

    Fisher-Buttinger, C. (2002). New media branding with online communities. Ph.D. Dissertation, Universität Innsbruck.

  22. [22]

    Franke, N., & Shah, S. (2001). How communities support innovative activities: An exploration of assistance and sharing among innovative users of sporting equipment. Sloan Working Paper #4164.

  23. [23]

    Füller, J., & Schmidt-Gabriel, M. (2003). Vom Lead User zum Unternehmer—Virtuelle Kundeneinbindung am Beispiel des “DiGGiT” Snowboard Rucksacks. In F. Piller & C. Stotko (Eds.), Mass Customization und Kundenintegration (p. 17). Düsseldorf.

  24. [24]

    Griffin, A., & Hauser, J.R. (1993). The Voice of the customer. Marketing Science, 12(No. 1, Winter 1992), 1–27.

  25. [25]

    Gummesson, E. (2000). Qualitative methods in management research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  26. [26]

    Hagel III, J., & Armstrong, A. (1997). Net Gain: Expanding markets through virtual communities. Boston MA: HBS Press.

    Google Scholar 

  27. [27]

    Hakansson, H. (1982). International marketing and purchasing of industrial goods—An interaction approach. New York.

  28. [28]

    Hemetsberger, A. (2001). Fostering cooperation on the Internet, social exchange processes in innovative virtual consumer communities. Working Paper, Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck.

  29. [29]

    Hirschman, E. (1980). Innovativeness, novelty seeking, and consumer creativity. Journal of Consumer Research, 7(December), 283–295.

    Google Scholar 

  30. [30]

    Hoffman, D., & Novak, T. (1996). Marketing in hypermedia computer-mediated environments: Conceptual foundations. Journal of Marketing, 60, 50–68.

    Google Scholar 

  31. [31]

    Iansiti, M., & MacCormack, A. (2000). Developing products on internet time. Harvard Business Review, 75(5), 108–117.

    Google Scholar 

  32. [32]

    Kollock, P., & Smith, M. (1998). Communities in cyberspace. London.

  33. [33]

    Kozinets, R. (1999). E-Tribalized marketing?: The strategic implications of virtual communities of consumption. European Management Journal, 17(3), 252–264.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. [34]

    Kozinets, R. (2001). Utopian enterprise: Articulating the meanings of star trek's culture of consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 28(June), 67–88.

    Google Scholar 

  35. [35]

    Kozinets, R. (2002). The field behind the screen: Using netnography for marketing Research in Online Communications. Journal of Marketing Research, 39(1), 61–72.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. [36]

    Lengnick-Hall, C. (1996). Customer contributions to quality: A different view of the customer-oriented firm. Academy of Management Review, 21(3), 791–823.

    Google Scholar 

  37. [37]

    Leonard-Barton, D. (1995). Wellsprings of knowledge. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

    Google Scholar 

  38. [38]

    Liu, C., Arnett, K.P., Capella, L. M., & Taylor, R. D. (2001). Key dimensions of web design quality as related to consumer response. Journal of Computer Information Systems, 42(1), 70–78.

    Google Scholar 

  39. [39]

    Lynn, L., Aram, J., & Reddy, M. (1997). Technology communities and innovation communities. Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 14, 129–45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. [40]

    Manning, K., Bearden, W., & Madden, T. (1995). Consumer Innovativeness and the adoption process. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 4(4), 329–45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. [41]

    McAlexander, J., Schouten, J., & Koenig, H. (2002). Building brand community. Journal of Marketing, 66, 38–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. [42]

    McWilliam, G. (2000). Building strong brands through online communities. Sloan Management Review, 41(13).

  43. [43]

    Morrison, P.D., Roberts, J.H., & von Hippel, E. (2000). Determinants of user innovation and innovation sharing in a local market. Management Science, 46(12), 1530.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. [44]

    Mühlbacher, H. (1988). Ein situatives modell der motivation zur informationsaufnahme & —verarbeitung bei werbekontakten. Marketing ZFP, 2. Jg., Mai, 85–94.

  45. [45]

    Muniz, A., & O'Guinn, T. (2001). Brand community. Journal of Consumer Research, 27(March), 412–432.

    Google Scholar 

  46. [46]

    Nambisan, S. (2002). Designing virtual customer environments for new product development: Toward a theory. Academy of Management Review, 27(3), 392–413.

    Google Scholar 

  47. [47]

    Narver, J.C., & Slater, S.F. (1990). The effect of a market orientation on business profitability. Journal of Marketing, 54(October), 20–35.

    Google Scholar 

  48. [48]

    Pallister, J., & Foxall, G. (1998). Psychometric properties of the Hurt–Joseph–Cook scales for the measurement of innovativeness. Technovation, 18(11), 663–675.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. [49]

    Piller, F., Koch, M., Möslein, K., & Schubert, P. (2003). How to overcome the mass confusion phenomenon of customer co-design. Working Paper, TU München.

  50. [50]

    Prahalad, C., & Ramaswamy, V. (2000). Co-opting customer competence. Harvard Business Review, Jan/Feb., 79–87.

  51. [51]

    Rheingold, H. (1993). The virtual community: Homesteading on the electronic frontier. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.

    Google Scholar 

  52. [52]

    Sawhney, M., & Prandelli, E. (2000). Communities of creation: Managing distributed innovation in turbulent markets. California Management Review, 42(4), 24-55.

    Google Scholar 

  53. [53]

    Schouten, J., & McAlexander, J. (1995). Subcultures of consumption: An ethnography of the new bikers. Journal of Consumer Research, 22(June), 43–61.

    Google Scholar 

  54. [54]

    Shah, S. (2000). Sources and patterns of innovation in a consumer products field: Innovation in sporting equipment. MIT Sloan Working Paper #4105, 1–27.

  55. [55]

    Spann, M., & Skiera, B. (2003). Internet-based virtual stock markets for business forecasting. Management Science, 49(in press).

  56. [56]

    Thibaut, J., & Kelley, H. (1967). The social psychology of groups (5th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

    Google Scholar 

  57. [57]

    Thomke, S., & von Hippel, E. (2002). Customers as innovators. Harvard Business Review, 80(4), 74–81.

    Google Scholar 

  58. [58]

    Ulwick, A.W. (2002). Turn customer input into innovation. Harvard Business Review, (January), 91–97.

  59. [59]

    Urban, G.L., & Hauser, J.R. (2002). Listening in to find unment customer needs and solutions. Working Paper MIT (Paper 156 July 2002).

  60. [60]

    Urban, G.L., Hauser, J.R., Quallis, W.J., Weinberg, B.D., Bohlmann, J.D., & Chicos, R.A. (1997). Information acceleration: Validation and lessons from the field. Journal of Marketing Research, 34, 143–153.

    Google Scholar 

  61. [61]

    Urban, G., Hulland, J., & Weinberg, B. (1993). Premarket forecasting for new consumer durable goods: Modeling categroization, elimination, and consideration phenomena. Journal of Marketing, (April), 47–63.

  62. [62]

    Urban, G.L., Sultan, F., & Qualls, W. (1999). Design and evaluation of trust based advisor on the internet. Working Paper MIT (Paper 123 July 1999).

  63. [63]

    Urban, G.L., & von Hippel, E. (1988). Lead user analyses for the development of new industrial products. Management Science, 34(5), 569–82.

    Google Scholar 

  64. [64]

    von Hippel, E. (1986). Lead users: A source of novel product concepts. Management Science, 32(7), 791–805.

    Google Scholar 

  65. [65]

    von Hippel, E. (1988). The sources of innovation. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  66. [66]

    von Hippel, E. (1990). Task partitioning: An innovation process variable. Research Policy, 19, 407–418.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. [67]

    von Hippel, E. (2001). Learning from open-source software. MIT Sloan Management Review, (Summer), 82–86.

    Google Scholar 

  68. [68]

    von Hippel, E. (2001). Perspective: User toolkits for innovation. The Journal of product innovation management, 18(4), 247.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. [69]

    von Hippel, E. (2002). Horizontal innovation networks—by and for users. Working Paper, MIT Sloan School of Management.

  70. [70]

    von Hippel, E., & Katz, R. (2002). Shifting innovation to users via toolkits. Management Science, 1–13.

  71. [71]

    Wikström, S. (1996). Value cration by company-consumer interaction. Journal of Marketing Management, 12, 359–374.

    Google Scholar 

  72. [72]

    Williams, R., & Cothrel, J. (2000). Four smart ways to rune online communities. Sloan Management Review, (Summer), 81–91.

    Google Scholar 

  73. [73]

    Yin, R.K. (1984). Case study research: Design and methods. Newbury Park: CA.

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Johann Füller.

Additional information

Johann Füller is assistant professor in marketing at Innsbruck University School of Management and board member of HYVE AG, a company specialized in virtual customer integration. He received his Ph.D. in business administration at the Innsbruck University School of Management. Johann holds a degree in mechanical engineering, and industrial engineering and management. His research interests are in the field of innovation creation in online communities and in virtual consumer integration into new product development.

Michael Bartl is member of the management board at the HYVE AG in Munich, Germany, specialised in Customized Innovation and Product Design. He finished his Ph.D. Thesis in Business Administration at the Otto Beisheim Graduate School of Management (WHU) obtained his Dipl. Kfm. from the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich and his B.A. (Hons) from the University of Westminster London.

Holger Ernst is professor at WHU—Otto Beisheim School of Management, Vallendar, Germany where he holds the Chair for Technology and Innovation Management. He is currently visiting professor at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA. His main research interests are in the fields of technology and innovation management, intellectual property management, new product development and entrepreneurship. He has published in the Journal of Product Innovation Management, International Journal of Management Reviews, Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, Research Policy and R&D Management. He consults multiple European organizations in the area of technology, patent and innovation management.

Hans Muhlbacher is Professor of Business Administration at the Innsbruck University School of Management. He has been President of the European Marketing Academy and currently is the Associate Editor for International Business of the Journal of Business Research. All along his career he has extensively taught internationally at business schools such as ESSEC or universities such as Emory University, Tulane University, or Paris Pantheon-Assass. His main research interests are in the field of strategy formation, branding, and innovation.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Füller, J., Bartl, M., Ernst, H. et al. Community based innovation: How to integrate members of virtual communities into new product development. Electron Commerce Res 6, 57–73 (2006).

Download citation


  • Online communities
  • User innovations
  • New product development
  • Virtual customer integration