Virtual Community as New Marketing Channel
Chingning Wang (Syracuse University, USA), Kangning Wei (Syracuse University, USA) and Michelle L. Kaarst-Brown (Syracuse University, USA)
Copyright: © 2006
Virtual community is a virtual meeting place where individuals with common areas of interests share information, ideas, experiences, and feelings (Rheingold, 1993) by using information and communication technology (ICT), especially the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW). It has been taken for granted that people with shared interests would aggregate together. This assumption is equally applicable to the virtual world. As such, a wide variety of discussion topics bring different Internet users together online across time and space. Virtual community has been a pervasive concept emphasizing social aggregation and social events in the computer-mediated environment. This concept has been extended to the horizon of commerce. Hagel and Armstrong (1997) contend in their book, Net Gain, that virtual community could be an important element of a successful Web-based business structure and that community-based business structure helps expand markets for businesses. Businesses have increasingly begun to recognize that they can build their brand images, deliver promotional messages, and retain consumers’ loyalty through online communities. As such, more and more businesses include bulletin boards, discussion groups, and e-mail functions in their business Web sites with the aim to creating a community atmosphere among their customers (Maclaran & Catterall, 2002). This strategy not only helps attract consumers but also helps increase return rate (Hagel, 1999). In the long run, it could promote favorable attitude toward the brand and increase purchasing behavior (Subramaniam, Shaw, & Gardner, 2000). Indeed, virtual communities have opened up new opportunities and established new models for business to reach out and communicate with their consumers. Although the market has become more and more fragmented with the globalization of commerce, virtual communities provide businesses with access to targeted consumers in that various aggregations of Internet users are like different segments of markets. Virtual community indeed has become a new marketing channel for business. Many online communities are business oriented in nature with business participating as organizers, sponsors, or advertisers.