Increasingly, consumers use the internet as a vehicle for pre-purchase information gathering. While technical specifications and potentially biased selling points can be gleaned from corporate web sites, online brand communities are becoming essential conduits for the customer-to-customer (C2C) sharing of product information and experiences. This study develops and tests a model of online C2C communications in developing desirable online brand community outcomes. Two studies were used to test the model. In Study 1, a netnography technique was employed and conversations between brand community members were coded and combined with survey data to test the research model. In Study 2 an experiment was conducted to further test the sequence of events in our base model. Our findings show that online brand communities are effective tools for influencing sales, regardless of whether these communities reside on company-owned or independently-owned websites. In addition, we demonstrate interesting asymmetrical effects, whereby the positive information shared by community members has a stronger moderating influence on purchase behavior than negative information. Further, we find that online brand communities are effective customer retention tools for retaining both experienced and novice customers. These findings highlight the need for all firms to carefully consider their online community strategies.
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Relationship quality is defined as the customer’s overall assessment of the strength of the relationship they have with a firm (Crosby et al. 1990; De Wulf et al. 2001). Relationship quality has been conceptualized as a higher-order construct made up of relationship satisfaction, trust, and commitment (Crosby et al. 1990; De Wulf et al. 2001). According to Social Penetration Theory (SPT) relationship partners will continue to strengthen relationships if they perceive that the relationship is beneficial (Altman and Taylor 1973). In the OBC setting, members display the strength of their relationship, if they perceive the relationship to be beneficial, through actual purchases. Crosby et al. (1990) showed this linkage between relationship quality and repeat purchase (depth of purchase) and cross-buying (breadth of purchase) behavior in successful customer-salesperson relationships. Relationship quality has also been shown to be a strong predictor of the customer’s repeat purchase behavior in the traditional brick-and-mortar environment (Bolton et al. 2004; Verhoef et al. 2002); therefore we include relationship quality as a control variable to account for these past findings.
For examples of corporate-sponsored and independent forums dedicated to the same brand, see www.ferrariworld.com and www.ferrarichat.com, respectively.
In this study, brand communities, online brand communities, and discussion forums are used interchangeably.
A “thread” is defined as the initial discussion board posting by a respondent and all the replies to that message.
We only looked at threads where the creator asked a product related question and not threads that creators started for the purposes of selling his/her own products. Also, threads started by employees as well as those with replies from employees were excluded from the sample.
Converting textual material into quantitative data is not new in the marketing literature. For instance, to assess the strategic orientations of the firms in their sample, Noble et al. (2002) converted senior management letters to shareholders into quantitative data. On a similar note, Mohr and Nevin (1990) acknowledged that the content of communication can be analyzed using pre-determined categories by counting the frequency with which messages of a particular category are conveyed.
We also included relationship quality in our CFA because we controlled for the influence of relationship quality on consumer purchase behavior in our model.
Shared variance between pairs of constructs is calculated as the squared correlation between the constructs in question.
Splitting our sample into two resulted in a sample size of 159 for corporate-sponsored forum members and 53 for independently-owned forum members. Although the latter sample size is quite small, this data split was only done to test one hypothesis in our model, i.e., the moderating role of communication setting on the influence of C2C communication quality in reducing uncertainty. Therefore, we do not consider this limitation a major problem for the study as a whole.
When we randomly selected 50% of the total sample (N = 97), the results remained consistent (we did this three times to check the robustness of the results).
We thank the anonymous JAMS reviewer for suggesting the additional content analysis to examine the different types of questions OBC members with relatively higher/lower expertise ask. Two researchers—one is a co-author on this study and the other is not involved with the study—did the content analysis. First, the respondents’ expertise was coded as low/high based on a median split. Next, the two coders read and coded the questions asked as either specific/broad within the low/high expertise categories. Finally, the categorizations were compared, and any differences were discussed in order to reach consensus.
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The authors would like to thank Anthony Ammeter, Victoria Bush, Mark Bing, Frederick Adjei, Gordon Brunner II, Douglas Vorhies, and the four anonymous JAMS reviewers for their insightful comments on this manuscript.
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Adjei, M.T., Noble, S.M. & Noble, C.H. The influence of C2C communications in online brand communities on customer purchase behavior. J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. 38, 634–653 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11747-009-0178-5
- Customer-to-customer communication
- Online brand communities
- Information exchange