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Virtual Brand Communities: Pathways to Brand Trust?

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Rediscovering the Essentiality of Marketing


Little doubt exists about virtual brand communities (VBCs) strong impact on branding (e.g. Schau and Muniz 2002; Fournier and Lee 2009). Specifically, brand community identification, participation, and community commitment all empirically lead to brand loyalty and positive behavioural outcomes. However, the impact of VBC participation on customers’ brand trust, which is essential to relational marketing (Albert et al. 2013), remains unclear. The mechanisms mediating and/or moderating VBC effects on customers’ brand trust remain uncharted. Specifically, scholars and practitioners should understand customer pathways to brand trust through VBC participation. Furthermore, although lurkers (non-active members) make up the highest proportion of participants in virtual communities (Walker et al. 2013), little research has yet examined them (Thompson et al. 2014). Since lurkers are the majority of virtual community members, understanding how ‘lurkers’ build brand trust and whether this differs from ‘poster’ (active members) pathways in direction and/or strength would equip VBC managers in building successful communities that would lead to brand trust for all users.

This study intends to uncover such issues and proposes a model of building brand trust in VBCs by integrating elements of social identity theory with the current literature on customer–brand relationship and virtual communities. We empirically investigate the mechanism that translates VBCs into members (both posters and lurkers) brand trust. Using a sample of 734 virtual brand communities’ members, the study finds that the more valuable support customers receive from a brand in its virtual community (i.e. the three constructs of recognition for contributions, encouraging interaction, and content enhancement), the stronger will be their social identity in the community which leads to their trust towards the brand. In addition, a brand can increase its customers’ trust in its virtual community by encouraging those members to share information within the community, facilitating interaction among members, and providing accurate, complete, up-to-date information. Brand knowledge serves as such a full mediator connecting lurkers’ social identity with their brand trust. Lurkers’ sense of social identity in a VBC does not automatically translate into their brand trust. Without cultivating their brand knowledge, lurkers in a VBC may not necessarily trust the brand.

The study contributes to the growing research on VBCs and branding literature by articulating the key determinants of members’ brand trust, as it relates to different types of participation in VBCs. Implications of this research will allow managers to know how both posters’ and lurkers’ participation in a VBC promote pathways to brand trust and so how to utilize a virtual community as a channel to develop and maintain strong relationships with their customers.References available upon request.

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Correspondence to Sahar Mousavi .

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© 2016 Academy of Marketing Science

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Mousavi, S., Roper, S., Keeling, K. (2016). Virtual Brand Communities: Pathways to Brand Trust?. In: Petruzzellis, L., Winer, R. (eds) Rediscovering the Essentiality of Marketing. Developments in Marketing Science: Proceedings of the Academy of Marketing Science. Springer, Cham.

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