Highlighting Visibility and Benevolence to Harvest Good Relationships with Company-Managed Virtual Communities: A Netnographic Study

Highlighting Visibility and Benevolence to Harvest Good Relationships with Company-Managed Virtual Communities: A Netnographic Study

Imene Ben Yahia (High Institute of Finance and Taxation, Sousse, Tunisia)
DOI: 10.4018/ijcrmm.2014040104
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The objective of this article is to better understand how to deal with company-managed virtual communities in order to build a good relationship with members. The authors explore and compare between companies' practices and members' perceptions and expectations. The research is based on a netnographic study which includes 1.5 year of participant observation and 25 in-depth interviews with members and managers. Results point out the gap between what members expect and what companies do. First, instead of being on the sidelines, the paper shows that the company's visibility within the VC is a pre-requisite to build good relationships with members. Second, it shows that to be successful, reciprocity is no more enough, companies should rather prove benevolence. Finally, the paper draws attention to the necessity of adapting targeting efforts of gratification and benevolence according to the members' ties with the VC.
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The transformation of the consumer from a passive to an active customer and the development of virtual communities (VCs) directly affect companies’ competitiveness (Garrigos, Gil, and Narangajavana, 2011; Rieder and Voß, 2010; Kleemann, Voß, and Rieder, 2008) and push them to build an interactive relationship with their markets that creates value not only for them but also for customers (Garrigos-Simon, Alcamí, and Ribera, 2012; Garrigos, Gil, and Narangajavana, 2011; Shiffman, 2008). Companies that can measure and appreciate their markets can, indeed, enjoy significant benefits (Palmatier, 2008).

Since their emergence, VCs have been suggested as an interesting business model for their promising opportunities. They foster trust with members and also turn them into regulars towards the sponsoring firms (Porter and Donthu, 2008). Many companies launch business to consumers VCs by providing spaces to customers either in their websites or elsewhere on the Web (Porter, 2004). However, in practice, businesses are still experimenting with VCs. Most of their actions are not deemed successful (Coutant and Domenget, 2011). VCs’ members are skeptical and hostile to the interactions with companies (Stenger and Coutant, 2011) because the latter are associated to acts of spying and to sources of pressure (Cova and Carrère, 2002). Members want to talk only to other internet-users and not to companies. Obviously, businesses want to know how to manage this uncharted territory to achieve strategic objectives.

Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to better understand how to deal with company-managed VCs in order to build good relationships with them. We will particularly explore and compare companies’ practices in VCs with members’ expectations and perceptions. To attain our objective, we have conducted a netnographic study that includes a participant observation for 1.5 year in two company-managed VCs, informal ground discussions as well as distant in-depth interviews. Before describing our methodology, we will briefly present literature on VCs. Then, in order to understand how to build long-lasting relationships with VCs’ members, we will draw on the relationship marketing literature. In a following section, our methodology and results will be presented and discussed. The paper will finish by developing further research-agenda.

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