The Role of Virtual Communities in the Customization of e-Services

The Role of Virtual Communities in the Customization of e-Services

Bill Karakostas (City University London, UK), Dimitris K. Kardaras (Athens University of Economics and Business, Greece) and Adéla Zichová (City University London, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1553-3.ch008
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Abstract

Virtual communities are groups of people with similar interests who meet online and together act as a learning environment, place for social support, or as bodies for influencing public opinion. In this paper, the authors identify characteristics of a virtual community that influence its members to customize e- services provided to or received by the virtual community. The authors propose a theoretical framework of factors influencing service customization in a virtual community that has been validated with two case studies conducted in health-focused virtual communities. The findings confirm that the quality of the learning environment, social support, and the virtual community’s ability to influence public opinion, positively contribute to the perceived usefulness and active participation in the community by its members. In turn, these factors were found to have a positive influence on customization of e-services by the members, based on the community’s suggestion. The research also suggests several areas of focus to enhance e-service customization through virtual communities.
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Literature Survey

The definition of virtual communities varies, depending on the perspective from which they are considered. From a business perspective, Hagel and Armstrong (1997) define virtual communities as online groups of people with common interests and needs. Preece (2000) looks at virtual communities from the e-commerce perspective and argues that, according to e-commerce entrepreneurs, any communication software such as a bulletin board can be regarded as a virtual community. Balasubramanian and Mahajan (2001) consider the virtual community from an economical perspective, and they define them as any entity that exhibits the following characteristics:

  • It is made up of an aggregation of people.

  • Members are rational utility-maximizers.

  • Members interact with one another without physical collaboration; however, not every member must necessarily interact with every other member.

  • Members are engaged in a social-exchange process which includes mutual production and consumption. Each member is engaged in the consumption process; however, not everyone is involved in the production.

  • Social interactions between members revolve around a well-understood focus that encompasses a shared objective, shared property, or shared interest.

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