Plan du site

De Valck Kristine

Dissertation Research


The objective of my dissertation is to investigate various aspects of virtual community participation and its effects on the consumer decision process. This is done by means of three exploratory studies that each addresses a different aspect of community participation and influence. Data collection took place in two rounds using two different methods, i.e., an online survey and a netnography. In both cases, I collected data in one and the same virtual community, i.e., SmulWeb ( SmulWeb is a Dutch virtual community organized around culinary matters. Its topics of interest include recipes, restaurants, kitchen utensils, food products, wine, dieting, and culinary events. The community has been online since 1998 and it counts nowadays approximately 160,000 members. It is important to note the community’s content is entirely generated by the members. The administrators take care of the infrastructure, but the members provide the rest. The community’s database with their contributions is large and extensive. In Chapter 4, we will further elaborate on the community’s characteristics. Below, I discuss each research project and the guiding research questions in more detail.

Study 1: Virtual Community Influence on the Consumer Decision Process

The first study examines the determinants and effects of community influence on consumer decision-making. The goal of the study is to generate systematic insight in interpersonal influence online in the context of virtual communities of consumption. My research framework is based upon existing theories of interpersonal influence and word-of-mouth recommendation. I explore in what respect these theories can be extended from the traditional context to the computer-mediated context of virtual communities. What are the driving factors of interpersonal influence online? Additionally, we are interested in the effects of community influence on the various phases of the consumer decision process. Does community influence manifests itself only in an increased knowledge base or does is also affect consumers’ needs, preferences, and satisfaction with consumption decisions? Because community influence on the consumer decision process may be affected by product characteristics, I compare results for consumer decision-making regarding three different consumption experiences.

Study 2: Patterns of Virtual Community Participation

The second study examines community participation behavior. The goal of the study is to classify community members on the basis of how they make use of the community, and, consequently, the extent to which they are influenced by it. The most widely used typology of virtual community members distinguishes between lurkers and posters, i.e., members who only read posts versus members who make contributions to the community’s content. This simplistic typology ignores the diversity that can be found in how members lurk and post (i.e., how often? for how long? what do they get and what do they bring?).This study classifies community members on five behavioral dimensions that discern them in terms of visit frequency, visit duration, and online behavior. The resulting member typology is profiled on other variables related to community membership and general consumer characteristics, and the extent of community influence on decision-making is compared across member types. Thus, I arrive at a more realistic and richer representation of community participation behavior, that enables me to formulate marketing strategies that fit the profile and particular way in which each member type participates in the virtual community.

Study 3: Frames of Discussion in Virtual Community Forums

The third study examines online forum discussions by means of a netnographic analysis. The goal of the study is to analyze how the forum discussants communicate with and influence each other, and to gain insight in their discourse with respect to the community’s focal consumption activities. The forum discussions are to a large extent generated by the community’s core member group. Because of their extensive involvement in and contribution to the community, core members play an important role in determining the valence of the community as a reference group and source of word-of-mouth recommendations. My overall objective is to present an illustration of online discussion practices, and to point out what marketers may learn from tracking and analyzing the core members’ discourse about the community’s topics of interest.