Investigating the process from needs to connect to active participation in online communities


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Investigating the process from needs to connect to active participation in online communities

  1. 1. Investigating the Process from Needs to Connect to Active Participation in Online Communities:Focusing on the Roles of Social Identity and High Quality Connection Advanced Industrial Psychology By Eun Hee Ko 1
  2. 2. Table of ContentsIntroduction 3Research Background and Hypotheses Development 4 The Motives for Participation in Online Communities Quality of Connections Social IdentityResearch Methodology 10 Data Collection and Analysis MeasuresImplications 12References 13 2
  3. 3. Introduction People are gathering in online communities to fulfill their desires to interact with orhelp others. With this new phenomenon, marketers have become more and more interested inlearning about, organizing, and managing online communities on their internet venues(Bagozzi & Dholakia, 2002), viewing online communities as consumer groups of varyingsizes that meet and interact online for the sake of achieving personal as well as shared goalsof their members (Dholakia, Bagozzi, & Pearo, 2004). Researchers have examined various themes with regards to online communities (virtualcommunities) or brand communities on a basis of diverse theories such as social networktheory, life cycle models, or motivational theories. For example, Muniz and O Guinn (2001)investigated the characteristics, processes, and particularities of three online brandcommunities - Ford Bronco, Macintosh, and Saab – and found traditional markers ofcommunities: shared consciousness, rituals and traditions, and a sense of moral responsibility.Szmigin, Canning, and Reppel (2005) studied about how online communities enhance therelationship within internet communities, developed a conceptual framework that enablesgreater understanding of the contributions of service delivery and online communities in thedevelopment of bonds in interactive relationships, and found three key elements of theframework: service value, technical infrastructure and interactivity. All in all, the purpose of this paper is to present a framework for understandingparticipating behaviors in online communities. There are a lot of lurkers in online or onlinecommunities, whereas there are also participants or activists there. So, here is the keyquestion of this paper; what makes people participate or behave in online communities?Especially, this study is interested in whether or not the quality of connections betweenorganizations (online communities here) and people and the ones among people in theorganizations play an important role in making the people active participants. This paper alsofocuses on the issue about how social identity operates in the process from the needs toparticipation to behaviors of active participation in online communities. There are a number of studies regarding participating behaviors in online communities,for instance, “Antecedents and purchase consequences of customer participation in smallgroup brand communities” by Bagozzi and Dholakis (2006), but little attention has been paidto the mechanism of how participants become active members of online communities or of 3
  4. 4. how the participants become to have commitment or loyalty to the communities. This paper proposes that high quality connection among members within onlinecommunities is an important factor in increasing the participations of members in onlinecommunities. It also proposes that a participant’s social identity strengthened by high qualityconnection is another important factor in making the participants active community membersin online community. High quality connection is normally studied in general relationship contexts amongpeople or organizational contexts. For example, using broad definition of connection quality,including emotional affect, reciprocity, mutuality, interdependence, and mutual motivation tobe responsive, Higgins and Kram (2001) developed a framework illustrating factors thatshape developmental network structures and offer propositions focusing on thedevelopmental consequences for individuals having different types of developmentalnetworks in their careers. In a more business context, Naude and Buttle (2000) examined highquality dimensions in business-to-business relationship and found five underlyingdimensions: trust, needs fulfillment, supply chain integration, power, and profit. This paper hypothesizes that the high quality connection affecting relationship amongpeople or some subjects in off-line spaces also has influence on relationships in on-linespaces. It also examines the concept of social identity in the online community context, whichwas introduced by Tajfel (1971) and refers to “the individual’s knowledge that he belongs tocertain social groups together with some emotional and value significance to him of thisgroup membership”. Regarding the concept of social identity, this article is interested in thetie between social identity and participation behaviors in online communities. This article first examines the previous researches with regards to the antecedents ofbeing participants of online communities, high quality connection, and social identity. Then,theoretical framework is developed concerning the process from the needs to participation inonline community to active participating behaviors. Finally, methodology will be discussed inthis research proposal. Research Background and Hypotheses DevelopmentThe motives for participation in online communities 4
  5. 5. Many scholars have investigated the motives for participation in the onlinecommunities in diverse fields, such as psychology, marketing, communications, or humancomputer studies. Some of them have suggested hierarchical needs theory (Maslow, 1943) asan appropriate method of understanding and supporting users of online communities. Forexample, Grosso (2001) asserted that the hierarchical needs theory can be useful inexplaining that individuals may fulfill some of their needs in online communities. Dholakia, Bagozzi, and Pearo (2004) stated that people participate in onlinecommunities broadly for two motives, individual motives and the motives driven by socialinfluences. In their model, the authors hypothesized and proved that such antecedents aspurposive value, self-discovery, maintaining interpersonal interconnectivity, socialenhancement, and entertainment value give people the motivations to gather in virtualcommunities. Bishop (2006) proposed a conceptual framework regarding what drivesindividuals regularly participate to online communities and act there. They developed theframework in three levels describing what drives such individuals to carry out actions such asposting messages and adding content (level 1), the cognitions they use to determine whetheror not to take such actions (level 2) and the means to by which they go about carrying out theaction in the environment (level 3). On the other hands, rather than seeing online communities as independent types ofcommunities, Koh et al. (2007) viewed online gatherings through communities as extensionsof offline engagements and examined leaders’ involvement, level of offline interactions, andusefulness drive affect the level of virtual community. Indeed, Sangwan (2005) suggestedmore comprehensive constructs of participation motives of online communities. Investigatingprevious research with regards to virtual community usage, Sangwan (2005) drove threeconstructs of the usage, which are functional needs fulfillment of required uses by quality ofcontent, emotive needs fulfillment and acceptance of relationship building through interactionand communication in virtual environment, and contextual needs that relate to individual userspecific expectations and experiences beyond and other than functional and emotive needs.As described above, people connect to online and get in with certain motives. As a result, Iexpect that:H1a: Functional needs motivate people to participate in online communities.H1b: Emotive needs motivate people to participate in online communities. 5
  6. 6. H1c: Contextual needs motivate people to participate in online communities.Quality of Connections Network theory has a long academic tradition in sociology or organizational studies.Pioneer of social networks in the late 1800s include Emile Durkheim and Ferdinand Tonnies.Durkheim (1897), in his study regarding suicide and religion, gave a non-individualisticexplanation of social facts, arguing that social phenomena arise when interacting individualsconstitute a reality that can no longer be accounted for in terms of the properties of individualactors. Specifically, Durkheim (1897) explored the differing suicide rates among Protestantsand Catholics, explaining that stronger social control among Catholics results in lowersuicide rates. His studies were the first ones which investigated certain phenomena, whichhad been previously considered as individual ones, from non-individualistic perspectives, andhad influenced on many related studies such as network theories or relationship studies. As related study, there is a study about ties. Mark Granovetter (1973) examined weakties, saying that more numerous weak times can be important in seeking information andinnovation. Specifically, he argued that weak times enable reaching populations andaudiences that are not accessible via strong ties. This was probably the first study whichexamined the degree of strength of ties or connections among people. The study regarding quality of connections has been rather recently studied by scholars.Such themes as influences and characteristics of high or low quality connection have beenheavily studied especially in organizational context. Although there is no universal definitionabout connection quality and the concept needs more work, several definitions have beenreferred to in organizational or network studies. For example, Granovetter (1973) definedconnection strength in sense of the emotional weight of the attachment or by emotionalweight coupled with reciprocity and frequency of communication, and Higgin and Kram(2001) employed the concept in terms of emotional affect, reciprocity, mutuality,interdependence, and mutual motivation to be responsive. This article adopts the definition used by Dutton and Heaphy (2003). The authorsdefined the quality of connection in terms of whether the connection is life-giving or life-depleting, and explained the features of the actual connection of between two people and thesubjective and physiological experiences of high-quality connection. Especially, their 6
  7. 7. investigations regarding subjective experience of high-quality connection are adopted aselements which positively affect participants of online communities. This article hypothesizesthat subjective experience of individuals in high quality connection in online communitiespositively influence on being active participants. According to Dutton and Heaphy (2003),people in high quality connections share three subjective experiences: feelings of vitality andaliveness, positive regard, and mutuality. One of the purposes of this article investigates whatroles the subjective experiences of high quality connection in off-line spaces play in on-linespaces. Therefore, the three hypotheses with regards to the mediators between participatingbehaviors and high quality connection and high quality connection are as follows:H2a: Feelings of vitality mediate positive influence on formatting high quality connections among members in online communitiesH2b: Positive regard has positive influence on formatting high quality connections among members in online communities.H2c: Mutuality has positive influence on formatting high quality connections among members in online communities.H3: High quality connection leads to higher level of participation behaviors in online communities and vice versa.Social Identity Tajfel (1971) first developed the concept of social identity, which refers to “theindividual’s knowledge that he belongs to certain social groups together with some emotionaland value significance to him of this group membership”: how a system of socialcategorizations “creates and defines an individual’s own place in society”. Turner el al.(1992) broadened social identity theory by developing the self categorization theory, whichspecified how social categorization creates prototype-based depersonalization of self andother and, thus produces social identity phenomena. Dholakia, Bagozzi, and Pearo (2004) investigated the concept of social identity in amarketing context. According to them, social identity captures the main aspects ofindividual’s identification with the group in the sense that the person comes to view himselfor herself as a member of the community, as “belonging” to it. Adopting the concept of social 7
  8. 8. identity involving cognitive, affective, and evaluative components (e.g., Bergami & Bagozzi,2000; Ellemers et al., 1999), Dholakia and the colleagues (2004) examined how socialidentity works in online spaces such as virtual communities. Specifically, they studied therelationship between the levels of value perception s and the strength of social identityconcerning the virtual communities and the relationship between the strength of socialidentity and the levels of we-intentions to participate in the virtual community. Bagozzi andDholakia (2006) studied the antecedents and purchase consequences of customerparticipation in small group brand communities and proposed the model incorporating socialintentions, three aspects of social identity (cognitive self-awareness of membership in thebrand community, affective commitment, and evaluative significance of membership),anticipated positive and negative emotions toward achieving of failing to achieve groupparticipation goals, and desire as a transformative mechanism translating reasons for actinginto social intentions to do so. Like the studies above, this study also has the purpose to examine the role of socialidentity in online spaces. Specifically, this study is concerned about whether or not socialidentity is formed in online communities through participation behaviors, whether or not thesocial identity can be strengthened by high quality connection among people or between theorganizations (online communities) and their members within online communities, andwhether or not the strengthened social identity has positive influence on the degree ofparticipation in online communities. Accordingly, following hypotheses have been generated:H4: People within online communities will have social identity through participation in online communities.H5: Social identity formed in online communities is strengthened by high quality connections.H6: Strengthened social identity leads to higher level of participation behaviors in online communities and vice versa. 8
  9. 9. Figure 1. A Framework of the Process from Connecting Needs to Active Participating Behavior Feelings of + vitality High quality connections Functional need + Positive regard + + + Active Mutual Participation + Participation commitment Behavior Emotive need Behavior + + + Social Social identity identity Contextual need formation + StrengthenedConnect to online Participate online Actively Participate to onlinecommunity community community Activity flow in online communities 9
  10. 10. MethodologyData Collection and Analysis Survey will be conducted for this study via online questionnaire. Respondents will berandomly selected in several major online communities in South Korea. Each respondent willreceive email with a link to the online questionnaire attached. The email with completedsurvey will be taken back to an investigator. The structural equation modeling (figure 1) willbe run using LISREL program.MeasuresAntecedents of connection to online communities To measure the motivations of why individuals connect to online communities, themeasurement developed by Sangwan (2005) is utilized. There are three constructs in thismeasurement, which are functional needs, emotive needs, and contextual needs. Firstfunctional needs mainly measure 1) information need, including ‘objective information’,‘information of high value’, ‘information for my exact needs’, ‘expert information’,‘information from opinion leaders’, and ‘trust information for investments’. Second, emotiveneeds consist of three subordinate ones: 1) social interaction, 2) personal uses, and 3) selfexpression uses. Social interaction includes ‘visit threads’, ‘enjoy discussion andparticipations’, ‘enjoy virtual companionship’, ‘interaction with people’, and ‘large numberof membership’. Personal uses contain such items as ‘meet peer group’, ‘easy to find peoplein a community’, and ‘meet industry leaders and influential people’. Last subordinate elementof emotive needs, self expression uses, includes ‘express my knowledge’, ‘reader and acontributor’, and ‘moderation of content’. The last construct of the measurement is contextualneeds consisting of 1) entertainment and 2) host. Entertainment contains such items as ‘chatgroups’ and ‘the site surfing and navigation’. Host includes ‘rules and regulations’ and‘postings from CEO’.Mediators of Participation Behaviors and High Quality Connections 10
  11. 11. 1) Feeling of Vitality The scale of feeling of vitality is adopted from the study by Ryan and Frederick (1997).The scale consists of two factors. The first factor contains seven energy-related items and thesecond factor consists of six items related to having interests, goals, and purposes. 2) Positive Regard Proper scale concerning positive regard cannot be found from previous literature for thisstudy. In the future, the scale will be developed from near concepts such as a feeling of beingknown or being loved, and attachment. 3) Mutual Commitment In this article, mutual commitment is defined as an individual’s perception of the degreeof commitment that exists in his/her relationship with the organization and the one that existsamong people. The scales measuring perceived organizational support, which refers toorganization’s commitment to individuals, are adopted from the study of Kessler and Purcell(2004), consist of nine items capturing individual’s perception of his/her organization’scommitment to them. The scales of organizational commitment measuring organizationalcommitment, which refers to individual’s commitment to the organization, are also adoptedfrom Kessler and Purcell (2004)’s study. This scale consists of seven items. It is highlypossible that the items in these scales will be adjusted in the future. In addition, the properscale for mutual commitment among people in online context cannot be found from previousresearches so that the scale will be developed in the future.Quality of Connections The scales measuring the quality of connections in general relationships among peoplecannot be found from previous studies. Relatively, there are several scales measuring therelationships between customers and service providers or between customers and firms inmarketing context. One scale measuring the relationship quality between customers and firmsis expected to be used for this study after being adjusted properly in online communitycontext. The scale, which was developed by Roberts, Varki, and Brodie (2003), measure thequality of relationship between customers and firms in five dimensions: trust in integrity, trust 11
  12. 12. in benevolence, commitment, affective conflict, and satisfaction.Social Identity The measurement of social identity is adopted from the study by Dholakia, Bagozzi,and Pearo (2004). The measurement consists of three kinds of social identity, which arecognitive social identity, affective social identity, and evaluative social identity; each of themincludes two measurement items. Specifically, cognitive social identity items ask what degreeyour self0image overlaps with the identity of the group of friends as you perceive it and howyou would express the degree of overlap between your personal identity and the identity ofthe group you mentioned above when you are actually part of the group and engaging ingroup activities. Affective social identity items ask how you are attached to the group youmentioned above and how strong you would say your feelings of belongingness are towardthe group you mentioned above. Evaluative social identity items ask how much you think youare valuable member of the group and how much you think you are important member of thegroup. Each item will be measured on a basis of seven-point “agree-disagree” scale. Implications The results of this research will have several theoretical and practical implications inpositive organizational scholarship and online marketing. First, this article suggests that highquality connection and social identity, which have been mainly studied about off-line spaces,can be applied to on-line spaces. For example, authentic leadership, which is one of importantissues in positive organizational scholarship, can be a very interesting topic in virtualcommunity study. Extending the results found in this article to online world, this study willsuggest a number of new research themes regarding positive organizational scholarship andonline spaces. Second, scholars in marketing field have paid little attention to positivescholarship, and there are very limited studies regarding it. In fact, such concepts as quality ofconnections and social identity are very new to marketing scholars. Yet, as this study shows,positive scholarship gives a number of research themes to marketing scholars. Indeed, thisarticle provides marketing scholars with another insightful study field. Finally, this researchprovides marketing practitioners with important insights with regard to online communitiesand positive organizational scholarship. Today, online communities are more essential 12
  13. 13. marketing tools than ever. Consumers are flourishing there, and swift practitioners alreadyuse them as critical marketing tools. Therefore, deeper understandings conducted in this studywill give a lot of implications to marketers. For instance, through encouraging high qualityconnections among members or between web sites and members within online communitiesand developing diverse marketing strategies with in-depth understanding of them, marketerscan have numerous benefits. ReferencesBagozzi, R. P., & Dholakia, U. M. (2002). International social action in virtual communities. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 16(2), 2-21.Bagozzi, R. P., & Dholakia, U. M (2006). Antecedents and purchase consequences of customer participation in small group brand communities. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 23, 45-61.Bergami, M., & Bagozzi, R. P. (2000). Self-categorization, affective commitment, and group self-esteem as distinct aspects of social identity in an organization. British Journal of Social Psychology, 39(4), 555-577.Bishop, J. (2006). Increasing participation in online communities: A framework for human- computer interaction. Computers in Human Behavior, 23, 1881-1893.Dholakia, U. M., Bagozzi, R. P., & Pearo, L. K. (2004). A social influence model of consumer participation in network- and small-group-based virtual communities. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 21, 241-263.Dutton, J. E., & Heaphy, E. D. (2003). The power of high-quality connections. In K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton, & R. E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline (pp. 263-278). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler. 13
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