Antecedents of an experienced sense of virtual community

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    y (Serences, aroamue ofst thbut

    rened SOVC conceptualization and operationalization for virtual-community research, and by opening

    nd cohannelirtuald earlycommuty (SOC, 1997

    level social processes and practices that appear to have an impacton the individuals experience of a virtual community (Blanchard,2008; Blanchard & Markus, 2004; Ellonen, Kosonen, & Henttonen,2007; Roberts et al., 2002). However, although SOVC is anindividual-level concept, there is a lack of investigation focusing

    tive, social-integrative, personal-integrative, and hedonic types ofexpected benets, and explore their linkages with different typesof community participation (reading and posting messages), andconsequently with the experienced SOVC. We test the hypotheseson a sample of 395 members of a virtual community hosted by aFinnish business newspaper.

    The rest of the paper is organized as follows. Section 2 describesthe conceptual model and sets out our hypotheses. Thenwe explainthe methodology we used in our empirical research. We report thendings of the study in Section 4. Finally, we discuss the implica-tions and suggest some promising avenues for future research.

    Corresponding author. Tel.: +358 40 480 9428; fax: +358 5 621 7299.E-mail addresses: lisbeth.tonteri@gmail.com (L. Tonteri), miia.kosonen@lut.

    (M. Kosonen), hanna-kaisa.ellonen@lut. (H.-K. Ellonen), anssi.tarkiainen@lut. (A.Tarkiainen).

    Computers in Human Behavior 27 (2011) 22152223

    Contents lists availab

    Computers in Hu

    evi1 Fax: +358 5 621 7299.2004; Jones, 1997; Roberts, Smith, & Pollock, 2002). SOVC thus re-ects the feeling that individual members have of belonging to anonline social group. It is a focal construct explaining communitydynamics and facilitating the vitality of the virtual community(Blanchard, 2008; Blanchard & Markus, 2004; Koh & Kim, 2003;Sangwan, Guan, & Siguaw, 2009). Hence, it would be valuable tounderstand the conditions under which SOVC develops.

    A majority of studies on SOVC have focused on the community-

    that in order to enhance understanding of how a sense of virtualcommunity develops we need to distinguish between the individ-ual expectations, actions, and the resulting community-relatedfeelings.

    In the following we utilize the uses and gratications (U&G) ap-proach (Katz, Gurevitch, & Haas, 1973; Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch,2003) in exploring the expected benets to community members.We adopt Nambisan and Barons (2007) categorization of cogni-1. Introduction

    An increasing number of users awith each other through online caround shared interests and form vfocusing on virtual communities notecould experience a sense of virtualequivalent to the sense of communitional face-to-face encounters (Baym0747-5632/$ - see front matter 2011 Elsevier Ltd. Adoi:10.1016/j.chb.2011.06.018up the individual-level actions that build up a sense of virtual community. 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    nsumers today afliates in order to interactcommunities. Scholarson that their membersnity (SOVC), an online) experienced in tradi-; Blanchard & Markus,

    on its individual-level antecedents (Koh & Kim, 2003). What typesof individual-level actions lead to an experienced sense of virtualcommunity?

    SOVC is a relatively new research domain (Blanchard, 2008;Blanchard & Markus, 2004; Obst, Smith, & Zinkiewitz, 2002;Roberts et al., 2002) and hence the concept is not fully developedor established. Current conceptualizations centre on an individualsfeelings, although inherent in many recent denitions are elementsof expectation (i.e. needs) or action (i.e. sharing support). We arguedriven by the expectation of cognitive benets, while posting messages seems to be largely driven bythe anticipation of both social and personal integrative benets. Our study contributes by providing aAntecedents of an experienced sense of v

    Lisbeth Tonteri 1, Miia Kosonen , Hanna-Kaisa EllonLappeenranta University of Technology, School of Business, P.O. Box 20, 53851 Lappeenr

    a r t i c l e i n f o

    Article history:Available online 23 July 2011

    Keywords:Virtual communityParticipationSense of virtual communityUses and graticationsApproach

    a b s t r a c t

    Sense of virtual communitonline social group. Yet thargue that in order to enhathe individual expectationuses and gratications appwith different types of comthe hypotheses on a samplpaper. The ndings suggepositive impact on SOVC,

    journal homepage: www.elsll rights reserved.tual community1, Anssi Tarkiainen 1

    , Finland

    OVC) reects the feeling that individual members have of belonging to anis a lack of investigation focusing on its individual-level antecedents. Weunderstanding of how SOVC develops we rst need to distinguish betweenctions, and the resulting community-related feelings. Drawing upon thech, we explore the community members expected benets, their linkagesnity participation and consequently with the experienced SOVC. We tested395 members of a virtual community hosted by a Finnish business news-at both forms of participation reading and posting messages have athe expected benets differ. Participation by reading messages is mainly

    le at ScienceDirect

    man Behavior

    er .com/locate /comphumbeh

  • Green, 2002; Spears & Lea, 1992), the implication being that mem-bers may become committed to the purpose or topic in question

    man(Ren, Kraut, & Kiesler, 2007). Our view in this paper is thus thatSOVC reects both individual identities and a shared social identityamong virtual-community members.

    For the purposes of this study we dene a sense of virtual com-munity as human experience of a community feeling in a virtualenvironment. Hence, we operationalize SOVC as comprising ve2. Theoretical background

    In this section we introduce the SOVC concept and its variousdimensions, discuss virtual-community participation and therelated expectations, and develop our research model andhypotheses.

    2.1. A sense of virtual community

    The SOVC concept has its roots in the Sense of community (SOC)framework developed by McMillan and Chavis (1986). They origi-nally dened SOC as the feeling members have of belonging to acommunity, the belief that members matter to one another andto the community, and a shared faith that their needs will bemet through their commitment to the community. These four ele-ments, membership, inuence, integration and need fullment,and shared emotional connection, also apply in recent SOVC stud-ies (Blanchard, 2008; Blanchard & Markus, 2004; Koh & Kim, 2003;Sangwan et al., 2009). SOVC has been explored in different types ofvirtual communities, including blogs (Blanchard, 2004), listservsand bulletin boards (Blanchard, 2008), and discussion forums(Blanchard & Markus, 2004; Ellonen et al., 2007; Koh & Kim, 2003).

    A sense of virtual community as a construct is complex and stilllacks an established conceptualization. What are common to mostdenitions are the dimensions of membership and a shared emo-tional connection (Blanchard, 2008; Blanchard & Markus, 2004;Ellonen et al., 2007; Koh & Kim, 2003). However, there are also dif-ferences in how the original SOC dimensions have transferred toSOVC. Whereas some authors consider inuence a focal aspect ofSOVC (Koh & Kim, 2003; Roberts et al., 2002), manifested as takingresponsibility and engaging in supportive tasks in the community,for example, others posit that inuence may not be as important invirtual settings as in traditional communities (Blanchard, 2008;Blanchard & Markus, 2004; Obst et al., 2002). However, Blanchardand Markus (2004) also found evidence that members feel an obli-gation and the need to give back to the online collective (see alsoWasko & Faraj, 2000. In our view, SOVC investigations should payattention to inuencing and being inuenced by the community.

    Identity and identication (Blanchard, 2008; Blanchard & Mark-us, 2004; Ellonen et al., 2007) are recognized as novel dimensionsof SOVC that are of particular relevance to virtual communities.Traditionally there have been two different perspectives on iden-tity, the individual and the social. A number of virtual-communityscholars have described how members create their own virtualidentities online (Baym, 1997; Rheingold, 1993; Wellman & Gulia,1999), and how they are able to identify other members and linkcommunity actions to certain identities (Blanchard & Markus,2004). The focus of identication may also switch to the collectivelevel in wider communities that allow anonymous interaction(Ellonen et al., 2007). The SOVC conceptualization by Obst et al.(2002) incorporates the notion of social identity, describing anindividuals self-concept derived from perceived membership in asocial group (Ashforth & Mael, 1989; Turner, 1987). Social identityhas been identied important for virtual groups (McKenna &

    2216 L. Tonteri et al. / Computers in Hudifferent dimensions: the feeling of membership and ones rightsand obligations in the community, the feeling of inuence in thecommunity and of being inuenced by the community, the feelingamong the individual members of having a distinct identity in thecommunity, the feeling of having a common social identity andidentifying with the community, and the feeling of a strong emo-tional connection among the community members.

    In this sense our conceptualization of SOVC differs from the oneput forward by Blanchard and Markus (2004) for example, who seeintegration and need fullment in terms of mutual support in thevirtual community. We note the difference between individualmembers feelings and perceptions about the community, and ac-tual community-like behaviour: in our view, mutual support is acommunity-level phenomenon that takes the form of participation.Similarly, we believe that need fullment precedes the develop-ment of SOVC rather than being one of the components (Ellonenet al., 2007; Koh & Kim, 2003). Whereas need fullment mainly re-ects member expectations, SOVC focuses on the current state ofan individual members feelings of belonging to the community(Koh & Kim, 2003). Hence we differentiate the individuals expecta-tions and actions from his or her feeling of belonging, and considerthem both antecedents of SOVC.

    2.2. Expected benets and virtual-community participation

    Differentiating between expectations and actual experiences isin line with the uses and gratications (U&G) approach Katzet al., 1973, 2003; McQuail, 1983; Nambisan & Baron, 2007, accord-ing to which the assumed benets shape individuals media usage.Katz et al. (1973, 2003) identify the types of benets people aim toobtain from their media usage. As Elliott and Rosenberg (1987)note, in communication studies the U&G approach has focusedon peoples motivation to use a new technology that has reachedthe stage of mass communication, and also on nding out howthe expected benets shape the users future interactions in differ-ent media environments.

    In recent years researchers have also applied the U&G approachin order to enhance understanding of user participation in virtual-customer environments (Nambisan & Baron, 2007), user-generatedmedia sites (Shao, 2009), and online games (Wu, Wang, & Tsai,2010). We follow Nambisan and Barons (2007) categorization inthis study in order to explore the benets gained through vir-tual-community participation. A brief description follows.

    Firstly, cognitive benets refer to gaining valuable knowledgeand improving learning opportunities (Nambisan & Baron, 2007).For instance, members of a virtual community may acquire knowl-edge about the features of a certain product or technology, or gainaccess to up-to-date information. We operationalize expected cog-nitive benets accordingly as expectations of developing personalknowledge and problem-solving capabilities. Secondly, social inte-grative benets are related to social ties between participants thatare established and develop over time, such as the virtual-commu-nity relationships that give members the sense of belonging to agroup (Kollock, 1999; Nambisan, 2002; Nambisan & Baron, 2007).Our operational denition for expected social integrative benetsis the expectation of being able to network and communicate withvirtual community members. Thirdly, personal integrative benetsmanifest as achieving a sense of self-efcacy, in other words hav-ing an inuence on the surrounding social collective (Bandura,1997; Blanchard & Markus, 2004; Hsu, Ju, Yen, & Chang, 2007).For instance, members may improve their personal status and rep-utation by sharing valuable knowledge within the community.Accordingly, our operational denition for expected personal inte-grative benets is the expectation of getting satisfaction fromenhancing ones status as an expert and inuencing others. Finally,hedonic or affective benets provide pleasurable experiences to the

    Behavior 27 (2011) 22152223user (Muniz & OGuinn, 2001; Nambisan & Baron, 2007). Commu-nity participation may open up opportunities for enjoyableexperiences on the one hand, and for mentally or intellectually

  • The consumers virtual participation in a virtual communitycomprises all the activities that are carried out in the community

    activities that allow members to better identify with and under-

    sue concerns creating a personal identity and being able to affect

    2001). It is thus likely that a virtual communitys ability to provide

    manin order to obtain and share information and experiences (Casal,Flavin, & Guinalu, 2007; Koh & Kim, 2004). Virtual participationis typically computer-mediated action and interaction in differentvirtual communities, although it may also involve face-to-facemeetings between community members (Muniz & OGuinn,2001). Virtual participation allows individuals to share experiencesaround a common interest (Hagel & Armstrong, 1997), and to ex-change knowledge, ideas and emotional support (Casal et al.,2007; Koh & Kim, 2004). Some scholars see virtual participationas visits to websites (Srinivasan, Anderson, & Ponnavolu, 2002),even if the term participation here implies interactivity and notmerely consuming online content (Shao, 2009). Hence, virtual par-ticipation is related to interacting with other community members(Kosonen, 2008) in order to help others (Koh & Kim, 2004) and de-velop a positive community atmosphere (McWilliam, 2000).

    There are many ways of participating in virtual communities(Mallat, Tinnil, & Vihervaara, 2004; Nonnecke, Andrews, & Preece,2006): reading messages posted by others, posting messages, andengaging in dialogue with others by answering messages postedby others. Since it may be difcult to differentiate between postingmessages and answering messages posted by other members, wehave chosen to concentrate on two forms of virtual-communityparticipation, namely participation in the form of reading mes-sages and participation in the form of posting messages. The twoforms differ in terms of how much activity is required from theconsumers, and it is highly likely that they are driven by differentmotives. Participation by reading is operationalized as reading dis-cussion forums actively in order to get information and help fromother participants of the virtual community. Participation by post-ing means sending messages or answering questions to shareinformation and own experiences in the virtual community. Simi-lar operationalizations of participation are applied in existing re-search (Shang, Chen, & Liao, 2006).

    2.3. Research model

    According to Sicilia and Palazn (2008), the consumers onlineparticipation is usually goal-oriented, and the key motivating fac-tors are the benets that give functional, social or entertaining va-lue. Thus, it is likely that the expected benets will have an impacton participation in the virtual community.

    Virtual communities provide spaces for exchanging both factualand experiential knowledge (Nambisan & Baron, 2007). In bridgingtogether knowledgeable individuals a community offers its mem-bers unique opportunities for learning, especially when it focuseson specialized expert knowledge that cannot easily be obtainedelsewhere (Ardichvili, Page, & Wentling, 2003; Jeppesen & Freder-iksen, 2006). Expectations about the potential learning benetsmay thus lead to increased participation in the virtual community.We based our rst two hypotheses on this logic:

    H1a. Expected cognitive benets have a positive inuence onvirtual-community participation in the form of reading messages.

    H1b. Expected cognitive benets have a positive inuence on vir-tual-community participation in the form of posting messages.stimulating interaction on the other. Our operational denition forexpected hedonic benets is the expectation of feelings of amuse-ment, relaxation and/or refreshment.

    L. Tonteri et al. / Computers in HuPrior studies on virtual communities attest to the signicance ofestablishing social ties that provide a sense of belonging, and hav-ing a group of peers that can be reached any time and anywherepleasurable experiences is related to levels of participation, irre-spective of its focus and scope. According to Koh and Kim (2003),members whose hedonic needs are met by engaging in interactionin the virtual community are likely to become attached to thatcommunity, which results in increased participation.

    H4a. Expected hedonic benets have a positive inuence onvirtual-community participation in the form of reading messages.

    H4b. Expected hedonic benets have a positive inuence on vir-tual-community participation in the form of posting messages.

    It is argued that an individuals virtual participation affects hisor her perception and experiences of a virtual community (Casalet al., 2007; Thompson & Sinha, 2008). Participation is tightlylinked with the communitys success in terms of helping it tothe surrounding social collective through participation. Ma andAgarwal (2007) note how developing ones own identity andassuming that others are aware of and understand it may lead toincreased participation in and satisfaction with the virtual commu-nity. Furthermore, communities focused on specialized knowledgegive their members opportunities to gain in personal status andreputation as an expert, thus contributing to the development oftheir personal identity and motivating them to participate (Hsuet al., 2007; Wasko & Faraj, 2005).

    H3a. Expected personal integrative benets have a positive inu-ence on virtual-community participation in the form of readingmessages.

    H3b. Expected personal integrative benets have a positive inu-ence on virtual-community participation in the form of postingmessages.

    Playfulness and enjoyment are recognized as critical factorsreecting user acceptance of websites in general (Moon & Kim,stand other members, and thus enhance the cohesiveness of thecommunity (Koh & Kim, 2003). Hence, we posit that positiveexpectations of a communitys ability to support the establishmentof valuable social ties are also likely to increase participation.

    H2a. Expected social-integrative benets have a positive inuenceon virtual-community participation in the form of readingmessages.

    H2b. Expected social-integrative benets have a positive inuenceon virtual-community participation in the form of posting mes-sages.

    We have highlighted the importance of learning from othervirtual-community members and their identities. Another key is-(Chiu, Hsu, & Wang, 2006; Kakuko, 2002; Ley, 2007). Indeed, Blan-chard (2008) points out how the role of individual relationships isaccentuated in virtual-community settings compared to face-to-face communities: being able to identify others is necessary inorder to keep members in the community. Various tools and prac-tices are used to support the establishment of social relationships,ranging from disclosing personal information to organizing off-line

    Behavior 27 (2011) 22152223 2217achieve its goals, while signalling member satisfaction andinvolvement (Cothrel, 2000). At the same time, participationthrough sharing information entails a social dilemma: individual

  • users benet the most if they do not contribute themselves butonly use information that others provide (Cress, Kimmerle, &Hesse, 2009; Jian & Jeffres, 2006). This poses a challenge for main-taining social exchange in online settings. However, research onboth virtual communities (Blanchard & Markus, 2004; Ellonenet al., 2007; Sangwan et al., 2009) and organizational computer-supported information sharing (Cress et al., 2009; Jian & Jeffres,2006) points out how identication and positive orientation withthe collective increase the members willingness to contribute.The shared interest underlying the online collective may providea fruitful basis for identication and thus encourage participation(Blanchard & Markus, 2004; Wasko & Faraj, 2005). According toBlanchard and Markus (2004), members of virtual communitiesengage in community-like behaviour such as helping others andgiving mutual support in order to achieve certain objectives, andSOVC results from continued engagement in such behaviour.

    Fig. 1 depicts the research model applied in the study.

    who regularly read the contributions and/or wrote on the discus-sion forum) of the online community were invited to take part inthe survey. The respondents responded to the survey of theirown accord. This type of method is common in studies focusingon online contexts (Bagozzi & Dholakia, 2006; Casal, Flavin, &Guinalu, 2008; Steenkamp & Geyskens, 2006), and allows the sam-pling of users who meet the study requirements. We received a to-tal of 592 responses; having deleted the incomplete answers wewere left with 395 useful responses for use in the regressionanalysis.

    The majority of the respondents (89%) were men. The youngestwas 16 years old and the oldest was 79, but the biggest group (32%)comprised those aged between 31 and 40 years. The gender andage distributions in the sample corresponded to the informationobtained in interviews with the newspaper representatives. Themajority of the respondents (86%) were not subscribers to the print

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    2218 L. Tonteri et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 27 (2011) 221522233. Research design, methods and data

    3.1. Data collection and sample

    The empirical study reported in this paper focuses on membersof the online discussion forums of a Finnish business newspaper.The newspaper website hosts one of the most active discussion for-ums in Finland. The data was collected by means of an online sur-vey conducted in 2009 in cooperation with the newspaper.Announcements publicizing the survey appeared on the newspa-per website and discussion forums, showing a link to the electronicquestionnaire that was open for 1 week. Active members (i.e. those

    Cognitive

    Social integrative

    Personal integrative

    Hedonic

    Re

    Expected benefits A

    Po

    H1a

    H1b

    H4a

    H2a

    H2b H3a

    H3b Through their participation, members exchange information andgive mutual support themselves, or they may perceive others doingso, and this is likely to contribute to their positive feelings towardsthe community. In addition, participation in community activitiesis necessary in terms of establishing relational ties and creatingidentities. Indeed, various studies point out how participation pre-cedes the development of SOVC (Blanchard & Markus, 2004; Ello-nen et al., 2007; Sangwan et al., 2009; Yoo, Suh, & Lee, 2002).Hence, we posit:

    H5a. Virtual-community participation in the form of readingmessages has a positive inuence on experienced SOVC.

    H5b. Virtual-community participation in the form of posting mes-sages has a positive inuence on experienced SOVC.H4b

    Fig. 1. Research model. The proposed relationships between four types of eversion of the newspaper, reading the news on the website or inthe paper version at work. Nearly half of them (47%) indicated thatthey needed the information provided by the newspaper and itswebsite in their work.

    Most of the respondents were experienced users of the web-sites: 51 per cent had been using them from between 1 and 4 years,and 39 per cent from between 5 and 10 years. The discussion for-ums were also very familiar: 58 per cent of the respondents hadbeen using them from between 1 and 4 years, and 32 per cent frombetween 5 and 10 years. The majority visited the websites severaltimes a day (47%) or daily (32%), and most also visited the discus-sion forums daily (37%) or several times a day (34%). In addition,for the majority of respondents using the discussion forum, partic-ipation involved reading messages very often (42.76%), and only afew read them very rarely or never (1.75%). Approximately 68 percent had posted messages to the discussion forums. All in all, thesample represents active discussion-forum users whose demo-graphic prole closely matches the website-visitor prole.

    3.2. The development of the survey instrument

    The measures we used were mainly adapted from previousstudies, and carefully selected from the relevant literature. Weadapted the 12 items measuring the expected benets of virtualparticipation from Nambisan and Baron (2007). However, wedeveloped the 12 itemsmeasuring virtual participation for the pur-pose of this study. We differentiated between two types of partic-ipation: in the form of reading or of writing messages. The 17 itemsmeasuring SOVC were adapted from four different studies. For themost part they were based on Blanchards (2007) SOVC measure,but we adapted the social-identity part from Mael and Ashforth

    g messages

    Sense of virtual community

    H5a

    ns Feelings

    g messages H5bxpected benets, reading and posting messages, and feelings of SOVC.

  • (1992), with the addition of one item from Algesheimer, Dholakia,and Herrmann (2005), and based the inuence part on Chavis, Hog-ge, McMillan, and Wandersman (1986). We used a Likert-typescale ranging from one to seven (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = stronglyagree) for all the measures. The survey instrument was pretested inorder to ensure that the measurement items are clear and unam-biguous, and that the web instrument functions properly. We in-vited comments from a total of 38 people from the newspaperstaff and the academic community, and people who were similar

    (b = .066; p < 0.10). The positive inuence was stronger in the caseof participation in the form of posting messages, thus supportingHypothesis H2b (b = .199; p < 0.01). There was support for bothH3a and H3b in that the expected personal integrative benetshad a positive inuence on participation in the form of both read-ing (b = .132; p < 0.01) and posting (b = .493; p < 0.01) messages.There was also support for H4a and H4b, given the positive inu-ence of hedonic benets on participation in the form of both read-ing (b = .099; p < 0.01) and posting (b = .087; p < 0.01) messages.

    issues. Thus the discussion forums clearly complement the news-

    L. Tonteri et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 27 (2011) 22152223 2219in demographic prole to the nal sample. The pre-test was con-ducted in four stages. In the rst stage the aim was to ensure thatthe measurement-item wordings were clear and understandable.Feedback was obtained from eight persons. In the second stagethe aim was to check that the measurement items were univocal.Feedback was obtained from 11 persons. In the third stage theaim was to ensure the functionality of the electronic questionnaire,and feedback was obtained from 12 persons. Finally, in the fourthstage of the pre-test, overall comments on the questionnaire wereinvited from seven persons. The needed adaptations were madeduring each pre-test stage. Appendix A lists the items in English.

    3.3. Measure validation

    The nal survey was conducted in Finnish. In order to ensurethe reliability and validity of the measures we subjected all ofthe scales to further exploratory analysis, and removed items thatwere poorly or cross-factor loaded from the nal scales. All of thefactor loadings were above 0.45. We assessed the reliability of themeasurement scales by means of Cronbachs alpha, and thereliability of individual measurement items was assessed withitem-to-total correlations (see Appendix A). The results of the reli-ability measures are given in the appendix. We used Pearson cor-relation coefcients to test the strength of the associationbetween the different types of expected benets and participation,and SOVC. Table 1 presents the values in the form of a correlationmatrix. The nal scales are also given in the appendix.

    It is clear from the matrix that all the correlations, except thosebetween cognitive and hedonic benets, were signicant atp < 0.01 and suitable for regression analysis.

    4. Data analysis and results

    We used SAS Enterprise Guide 4.1 software in the data analysis.The hypotheses were tested on the nal sample of 395 by means ofconrmatory regression analysis, the results of which are pre-sented in Table 2.

    The data supported the hypotheses positing a positive inuenceof anticipated cognitive benets on participation in the form ofreading (H1a) and posting (H1b), although the evidence supportingH1b was relatively weak (b = .061; p < 0.10) compared to supportfor H1a (b = .603; p < 0.01). There was weak support for HypothesisH2a in that there was a positive inuence of expected social-inte-grative benets on participation in the form of reading messages

    Table 1The correlations between the summated scales.

    Personal Cognitive

    Personal integrative benets 1Cognitive benets 0.193*

    Hedonic benets 0.161* 0.002Social integrative benets 0.614* 0.194*

    Posting messages 0.607* 0.148*

    Reading messages 0.301* 0.630*SOVC 0.553* 0.310*

    * Correlation is signicant at the 0.01 level.paper content in bringing more insights into the published articles.Personal integrative motives, in other words improving ones

    status and reputation within the community, also constituted asignicant predictor of this type of participation. This does not nec-essarily mean that people read the messages in order to enhancetheir status in the virtual community. It could as well be that theyseek deeper knowledge for use in other communities (e.g. at work)in order to gain status as an expert. Thus, it could be that the com-mon denominator for these anticipated benets is the knowledgethat is shared in the virtual community, either obtaining it or usingit to improve ones own status.

    Participation in the form of posting messages, in turn, seems tobe largely driven by the anticipation of both social and personalintegrative benets, the latter apparently playing the bigger role.This is in line with ndings reported by Shao (2009): producingcontent online is driven by personal integrative motives, in otherwords self-actualization and self-efcacy. Given that both personaland social integrative motives are related to an individuals role in

    Hedonic Social Posting (m) Reading (m)

    0.144*

    0.199* 0.508*

    0.132* 0.276* 0.389*Overall, the different expected benets accounted for about 41per cent of the variance in participation in the form of reading mes-sages. It seems from the values of the standardized regression coef-cients that expected cognitive benets have the strongest impacton participation in the form of reading messages, and that the sec-ond strongest predictor is the expectation of personal integrativebenets. In turn, nearly 44 per cent of the variance in participationin the form of posting messages was attributable to the anticipatedbenets, and the strongest predictors were anticipated personaland social-integrative benets.

    Both hypotheses H5a and H5b were supported, indicating thatvirtual-community participation in the form of reading (b = .408;p < 0.01) and posting (b = .456; p < 0.01) messages has a positiveinuence on experienced SOVC. Overall, participation accountedfor about 52 per cent of the variance in SOVC. Participating by post-ing messages seemed to have a slightly stronger impact than par-ticipating by reading.

    Fig. 2 gives a picture of the results.

    5. Discussion and conclusions

    It seems from the results of the current study that participationin the virtual community in the form of reading messages is mainlydriven by the expectation of cognitive benets, which in this casemeans obtaining knowledge on business- and economics-related0.223* 0.479* 0.615* 0.585*

  • 2.41eta

    .13

    .60

    .09

    .06

    .43

    .49

    .06

    .08

    .19

    .51

    .45

    .40

    manTable 2The results of the regression analyses.

    R0

    B b

    Participating by reading messages(Constant) 0.958 Personal integrative benets 0.130 0Cognitive benets 0.543 0Hedonic benets 0.085 0Social integrative benets 0.069 0

    0

    Participating by posting messages(Constant) 0.102 Personal integrative benets 0.694 0Cognitive benets 0.079 0Hedonic benets 0.107 0Social integrative benets 0.299 0

    0

    SOVC(Constant) 0.665 Participating by posting messages 0.321 0Participating by reading messages 0.411 0

    2220 L. Tonteri et al. / Computers in Huand relationship with the community, one could speculate thatparticipation in the form of posting is related more strongly tointeraction with people within the virtual community. Shao(2009) also points out how interactive forms of participation aretypically related to social-integrative benets and contributing tocommunity development. In order to full their social-interactionneeds users may interact directly with other members on the mes-sage boards, or indirectly by rating the content, for example.

    What is of signicance is that whatever the form (and whateverthe motivation), participation has a positive inuence on the devel-opment of a sense of virtual community. Of course, in the form ofposting the messages it has a slightly stronger inuence, but bothmeans of participation act as SOVC building blocks.

    The contributions of this study are threefold. Firstly, it contin-ues the conceptual development of a sense of virtual communityin differentiating between the individuals initial expectations re-lated to participation, his or her behaviour in the community andexperienced feelings towards it. The rened conceptualizationand operationalization of SOVC will support the development ofthis relatively new research eld (Blanchard, 2008; Blanchard &Markus, 2004; Obst et al., 2002; Roberts et al., 2002).

    Secondly, in focusing on the individual-level antecedents thepresent study complements existing community-level research(Blanchard, 2008; Blanchard & Markus, 2004; Ellonen et al.,

    Cognitive

    Social integrative

    Personal integrative

    Hedonic

    Read

    Expected benefits Actio

    Post

    .603a

    .061c

    .099a

    .087a

    .066c

    .199a

    .132a

    .493a

    Fig. 2. The results of the regression analysis. Standardized regression coefcients of thmessages, and feelings of SOVC.Adj. R2 F Sig2 0.408 102.48

  • This study carries several implications for practising managers.Firstly, those hosting virtual communities should be aware of thevalue of lurking. Reading content produced by others is an essen-tial form of participation, and given the linkage with a sense of vir-tual community, concrete actions could be taken in order to makethe input of lurkers visible through ratings and voting tools, forexample. Thus readers would contribute to the positive commu-nity-level atmosphere while simultaneously fullling their owninformation-related needs and establishing feelings of belonging.Secondly, designers of online services should take into accountthe fact that different groups of participants expect different ben-ets from their participation. This could result in various trade-offsand thus in an increased need for more personalized communitysites. For instance, the most active message posters could benetfrom promoting members virtual presence and opening a richerset of channels for both private and public communication, therebysupporting the development of personal relationships (see alsoMcKenna & Green, 2002). On the other hand, members who expect

    to gain valuable information by interacting mainly with the com-munity content may nd such advances unhelpful, and wouldrather benet from a subtler organization of community topicsand more rened search facilities.

    In terms of limitations, an obvious one is that our study concernsa single community with a relatively homogeneous user prole andfocuses mainly on information (rather than social) support. Thendings should therefore be validated in other types of virtual com-munities and with different sample proles. We also note the limi-tation of the sampling,whichwas not random in that the informantswere volunteers visiting the community of their own accord. Thus,there may be some selection bias in the results, meaning that therespondents are the most active participants in the discussion for-um. However, given the study focus on active participants, the biasis probably not that problematic. Future SOVC research endeavoursshould further investigate the processes of identication andattachment, whether driven by the establishment of personal rela-tionships or identication with the wider social collective.

    Appendix A

    Measures following the factor analysis.

    Measures Cronbachsalpha

    Item-to-totalcorrelation

    Scalemean

    Scalevariance

    Expected benetsBased on Nambisanand Baron (2007)

    The following statements are related to various benets that onemight expect to gain by participating in discussion forums.Please rate the extent to which the following statementsdescribe your expectations when you started using thediscussion forums hosted by this newspaper. I expected . . .

    Cognitive 0.820 4.84 1.73To strengthen my knowledge of business issues 0.735To increase my knowledge of business matters 0.742To nd solutions related to business problems 0.566

    Social Integrative 0.753 1.96 1.27To expand my personal network 0.607To enhance connection with other participants in the discussionforum

    0.607

    Personal Integrative 0.790 2.29 1.37To derive satisfaction from increasing other participantsknowledge of business matters

    0.578

    odu

    f bu

    uss

    getessticipanien

    L. Tonteri et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 27 (2011) 22152223 2221To enhance my status/reputation as a prcommunityTo inuence other peoples knowledge o

    HedonicTo refresh my knowledgeTo get fun and amusement from the discTo have some relaxation time

    Participation All newitems

    Participation in theform of readingmessages

    I read the discussion forums in order toI get well-informed answers to my businI get general information from other parThe personal experiences of other particiI enjoy reading about the personal exper

    participantsct expert in the 0.601

    siness matters 0.736

    0.838 4.36 1.890.699

    ion forums 0.6440.761

    0.839 4.63 1.41

    information. 0.667-related questions. 0.539pants 0.726ts are helpful to me. 0.708ces of other 0.616(continued on next page)

  • ati

    busporelp

    par

    manAppendix A (continued)

    Measures

    Participation in theform of postingmessages

    I send messages in order to share informparticipantsI share information with othersI willingly answer questions concerningI answer posted messages in order to supI share my own experiences in order to hWhen I share my experiences the otherunderstand my situation

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    Antecedents of an experienced sense of virtual community1 Introduction2 Theoretical background2.1 A sense of virtual community2.2 Expected benefits and virtual-community participation2.3 Research model

    3 Research design, methods and data3.1 Data collection and sample3.2 The development of the survey instrument3.3 Measure validation

    4 Data analysis and results5 Discussion and conclusionsAppendix AReferences

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