The Creation of Online Communities and Social Networking Sites based on Constitutive Elements of Identity

The Creation of Online Communities and Social Networking Sites based on Constitutive Elements of Identity

Androniki Kavoura (Technological Educational Institute of Athens, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9787-4.ch139
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Introduction

This chapter employs theories of nationalism that define identity and its contributing elements that connect people together to offer an interpretative tool for examination of online communities and social networks. The sense of belonging or the sense of community may contribute to the structure of networks where online communities are created. Concepts which are employed in the creation of nations -the existence of the ‘significant other’ with whom one differentiates him/herself, the use of specific symbols such as language, the role of mechanisms for preserving such a sense of community-, may well account for the way networks and online communities can be created and maintained bringing together members. These members can be consumers of e-retailers. Marketing managers may benefit from the creation of online brand communities based on these concepts in order to establish strong relationships with loyal customers for their e-commerce activities.

Among the first authors who defined online communities was Kozinets (1999) who argued that online communities allow communication among “affiliative groups whose online interactions are based upon shared enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, a specific consumption activity or related group of activities” (Kozinets, 1999, p. 254). Different communities exist online and offline and interact with one another. These communities share common characteristics whether they are small-group brand communities, virtual communities and people identify with such groups and smaller ones within these communities; they create interconnected relationships based on the sense of belonging; members are included, outsiders are excluded, setting in that way, boundaries and promoting cohesion (Casaló, Flavián, & Guinalíu, 2011; Dinhopl, Gretzel, & Whelan, 2015; Haron & Razzaque, 2015; Zaglia, 2013).

It is interesting to explore ways that members of these communities engage and bind with each others. Gruzd, Wellman, & Takhteyev (2011) argued that although people get together and exchange messages on the physical and virtual environment, this does not mean that they feel they belong to a community. That is, we argue, the emphasis on the sense of community is necessary and how it takes place.

From a theoretical viewpoint, this chapter aims to examine and synthesize the literature of nationalism into a set of propositions about how the processes seen in the evolution of nationalism may help us understand the creation and maintenance of online communities and the structure of networks. We argue that both online communities and networks base their existence on the concept of identity and its constitutive elements. This takes place from a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach, since social and behavioral sciences but also computer sciences are brought together. An online community can have strong bonds among its members if it takes into consideration the

  • 1.

    The sense of belonging,

  • 2.

    The presence of the ‘significant other’ that allows the community to define itself and set its boundaries,

  • 3.

    The use of symbols and association of ideas among members,

  • 4.

    The existence of specific people who play the role of experts, have a high degree of connectivity within a network and may lead the online communication. These are concepts from the social and behavioral sciences which may be combined with

  • 5.

    The degree of ‘centrality’, that is, how close one is to the others within a network, to borrow the concept from networks and computer sciences.

Key Terms in this Chapter

social networking sites: A relationship created between strangers or people who know each other that takes place online.

Centrality: A concept used in network analysis to identify points that are connected within a system and can be important and influential people.

Social Network: A platform on the Internet that brings people together to share ideas and interests.

Significant Other: The presence of the ‘other’ in the form of another entity, person, country, community with which one defines and differentiates himself/ herself.

Social media: Internet-based channels that allow users to interact, create and exchange user generated content.

Imagined Communities: Group of people who even if they have never met, belong to a community with similar interests. It is a concept initially employed by Benedict Anderson to define identity and nation.

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