The Creation and Management of Online Brand Communities

The Creation and Management of Online Brand Communities

Paola Falcone (University of Rome, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-869-9.ch002
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This chapter intends to identify, describe and analyse the main issues concerning their creation and effective management.
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Online Brand Communities

Online brand communities (Muniz and O’Guinn 2001; Cova and Cova, 2002) are a specific type of virtual community (Rheingold, 1993; Hagel and Armstrong, 1997; Bagozzi and Dholakia, 2002), characterized by the fact that different people with the common trait of being “admirers of a brand” are gathered together (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001).

As for any other online community, they base themselves upon relations, resulting from three basic elements (see Prykop and Heitman, 2006):

  • people (community members);

  • a shared interest (in the brand);

  • a common space of interaction (the platform).

So, they are marketing tribes (Cova and Cova, 2002), made up of different people, either customers or not, coming from different countries, with different socio-demographic features, who have in common an interest in the brand (Kapferer, 1992; Fournier, 1998) and want to interact with both the firm and their peers.

The brand is the mediator for this online interaction, and benefits foremost from the positive social interaction within the community. Brands tell stories (Semprini, 1992) and the most truthful and strongest are those that people recognize some common, personal traits in. This recognition process helps customers to accept these stories, to make them their own.

As “passionate consumers want their brands to become a form of self-expression” (Brady, 2004), brands acquire much more sense beyond a simple positive reputation. This way, in fact, they enter the customers’ imagery, generate some identification processes, becoming “lovemarks” (Roberts, 2006).

Online brand communities are good places to carry on the process of social construction. Within online brand communities this process is co-managed by both marketers and brand admirers (see among others Muniz and O’Guinn, 2005); in fact, the latter help the former to transform and enrich the brand sense through a co-construction process.

The consequence, in the brand value system, is that its identity is not just “the brand concept from the brand’s owner’s perspective” (Aaker and Joachimsthaler, 2000), but the synthesis of its original identity with the customer’s experience, which is both functional and emotional, within the brand community context. Through the brand community’s constant re-actualisation, customer participation and interest is renewed. What happens to consumers is something similar to being called to co-create an open work, a plurality of meanings, co-existing all together, within a single significant (Eco, 1962).

The brand community acts as a multiplier of meaning (Musso, 2005): in fact, it is the perfect place for brand sense and meaning co-creation.

In this virtual space people can experience the brand, feel part of its world (identity, culture, values, image) and share opinions. In doing so, they develop “a shared consciousness, rituals and traditions, and a sense of moral responsibility” (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2002, p. 412) in the exchange.

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