Converting Online Community Visitors into Online Consumers
Lee Moh Shan (National University of Singapore, Singapore), Juliana Sutanto (National University of Singapore, Singapore) and Atreyi Kankanhalli (National University of Singapore, Singapore)
Copyright: © 2006
Virtual communities have been studied using various perspectives (Hagel & Armstrong, 1997; Jones, 1998; Rheingold, 1993). Amongst these, Hagel and Armstrong’s (1997) interpretation of the virtual community as a business tool to encourage greater customer loyalty and higher revenues, has the greatest commercial implications. However, as virtual communities often have a high risk of failing, researchers have predominantly concentrated on discovering what factors render some virtual communities successful and others failures. Previous studies (Blanchard & Markus, 2004; Koh & Kim, 2004) suggest that members in successful virtual communities have a strong “sense of virtual community” (SOVC). The presence of SOVC distinguishes a virtual community from other noncommunity-like online social structures, for example, virtual publics. Four dimensions of the “sense of community” have been postulated, that is, feelings of membership, feelings of influence, integration and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connection (McMillan & Chavis, 1986). These dimensions contribute to create the affective bonds that distinguish real-life communities from neighborhoods. The presence of SOVC signifies strong bonds among the members in the community. These affective bonds are crucial in ensuring that members continue participating in that particular virtual community. One of the problems all commercially oriented virtual communities face is that frequently, many of them have visitors but not consumers. Essentially, the e-business hopes that each visitor will make the transition from being a mere surfer to becoming a repeated customer. Affective bonds with other members and a developed obligation toward the community can hasten this process. This article thus focuses on how to convert an online visitor into an online consumer. The stages of the consumer’s decision-making process are reviewed and online and off-line consumer behavior is contrasted, whilst concentrating on changes in consumer perceptions. The literature regarding the stages and changes in the participatory status of a virtual community member is integrated with the consumer decision-making process literature. A framework that considers the needs of the online consumer is then proposed, and some measures facilitating this conversion from visitor to consumer are highlighted.