The rapid growth of virtual communities has created a new interest in researchers. Indeed, understanding these communities is especially relevant because it may allow for the obtaining of valuable information (e.g. needs of particular groups of people). In this respect, this work tries to explore which factors motivate individuals to take part of a virtual community since participation is one of the most important variables for the development and sustainability of virtual communities. More specifically, we analyze the effects of trust in a community, satisfaction with previous interactions and the communication level of the members’ intentions to participate in a given virtual community. The data (obtained through an online surveys made to members of several virtual communities) show that trust in a virtual community had a positive and significant effect on members’ participation in a virtual community. In addition, we found that satisfaction with previous interactions and the level of communication in a community significantly increased the level of trust in that virtual community.
The Internet has come out as a new medium for social activities (Kim et al., 2004) that favours the connection among individuals and organizations (Pitta et al., 2005). Indeed, consumers are increasingly turning to computer-mediated communication in order to get information on which to base their decisions (Kozinets, 2002). They are using several online formats to share ideas and contact other consumers who are seen as more objective information sources (Kozinets, 2002). These online interactions have motivated the creation of social groups in the Internet that have been traditionally called virtual communities (Rheingold, 1993).
The importance of virtual communities for marketers is continuously increasing since relationships between consumers may influence brand choice (Wind, 1976) or the election of a specific service (Pitta et al., 2005). In addition, these online communities provide a great opportunity to understand the members likes, dislikes, needs, behaviours or concerns (Ridings et al., 2002; Pitta et al., 2005). However, there is still a lack of studies that analyze empirically which are the main precursors of consumer’s participation in these virtual communities. In fact, although the concept of virtual community is almost as old as the concept of Internet (Flavián and Guinalíu, 2005), little is known about what motivations induce people to participate in virtual communities (Ridings et al., 2002). Therefore, this study is designed to identify some of the factors that influence the members’ intentions to participate in a virtual community. More specifically, following the trust-commitment theory (Morgan and Hunt, 1994), we firstly consider that to participate actively in a virtual community, an individual will need to trust first in that virtual community and in its members. Secondly, we also consider that a general satisfaction in the previous interactions with the virtual community and a higher communication quality in the community may increase the level of trust placed in a virtual community.
Taking into account the previous considerations, this work is structured as follows. Firstly, we carry out an in-depth review of the relevant literature concerning the concept of virtual community and the variables included in the study. Secondly, we formalize the hypothesis. Then, we explain the process of data collection and the methodology employed. Lastly, the main conclusions of the work are discussed and the future research is presented.