Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Business and Law

First Advisor

Associate Professor Madeleine Ogilvie

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Maria Ryan

Third Advisor

Dr Claire Lambert

Abstract

In an internationally competitive market a company’s brand is its most valuable asset, and increasing and retaining loyal customers is key to long-term success. Forging binding relationships between consumers and their brand is therefore of critical importance to most organisations (Lhotáková, 2012). Previous studies indicate that online brand communities (OBCs) effectively facilitate such relationships (Backhaus, Steiner & Lugger, 2011; Madupu & Cooley, 2010) and provide companies with reliable marketing intelligence to potentially gain a competitive advantage.

OBCs are online forums dedicated to a specific brand, where consumers gather and exchange information and socialise. Today they are more prevalent than ever before, yet research in this area is still limited. From a marketing perspective, research indicates that creating bonds between the consumer and the brand offers stability to the brand, and consumers who involve themselves with brand communities’ exhibit higher levels of brand loyalty (Brodie et al, 2013; Thomas & Veloutsou, 2013). Therefore it is essential that marketers understand the culture of OBC’s, in order to retain existing members, and to develop strategies to encourage new members to join.

The objective of this study was to identify and examine both individual and community level attributes that influence members’ participative behaviour and sense of belonging (SOB) to OBCs, as these factors are critical for retaining members and sustaining the community. In addition, the strength of each relationship was measured, based on whether members were socialisers or information seekers, as this has been the subject of significant discourse in the online community literature.

The investigation employed a mixed methods approach and two-stage process. The first stage involved netnography and focus groups (qualitative research) in order to provide depth and clarity to the study and structure to the questionnaire (quantitative research) used in stage two. The sample for this study consisted of 659 OBC members from around the world; however the majority of respondents (455) were from one specific community with an affiliation to the LEGO® brand. Exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was conducted to determine if items loaded on their respective constructs, Cronbach’s alpha was performed to check the internal consistency of the items for reliability, and confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was used to determine the convergent and discriminant validity of the model. Finally, structural equation modelling (SEM), in the form of path analysis, was used to test the hypotheses.

Key findings from the research indicate that the strongest individual level influence on participative behaviour in an OBC is the network ties that develop between members in the community. This suggests that friendships between community members have the capacity to increase the time they spend in the community and the number of posts they contribute. The level of perceived anonymity is another individual level factor found to have a significantly negative effect on participative behaviour, and a sense of belonging, therefore as members become more recognisable in the community the more they actively participate, and the greater attachment they develop to the community. From a community perspective social capital represented by a shared language, shared vision, social trust and reciprocity has the most significant influence on the sense of belonging members develop in the community. This suggests that the quality and structure of the relationships in an OBC, and the culture of the environment has a strong effect on the strength of the connection members cultivate with an OBC. Interestingly when the data is separated between subgroups of information seekers and socialisers network ties only increase participative behaviour for information seekers, and perceived anonymity only has an influence on participative behaviour for socialisers.

The results of this study support the proposed conceptual model and offer insights into the different influences on consumer behaviour in OBCs, and how the purpose for participation affects the composition and strength of those influences. Iimplications for marketers, organisations and OBC administrators include a greater understanding of the factors that encourage and support participative behaviour and sense of belonging to the community. Consequently, stakeholders can use this information to develop strategies that will ensure the ongoing success of their OBCs. Theoretical contributions include bridging the gap between the literature related to online communities in general and the unique characteristics of OBC’s, developing a valid measurement scale for social capital in an OBC context, and establishing a structural framework of consumer behaviour specific to OBC’s.

Included in

Business Commons

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