Managing brands and customer engagement in online brand communities

  • Jochen Wirtz, Anouk den Ambtman, Josée Bloemer, Csilla Horváth, B. Ramaseshan, Joris van de Klundert, Zeynep Gurhan Canli, Jay Kandampully
  • Journal of Service Management, June 2013, Emerald
  • DOI: 10.1108/09564231311326978

online brand communities

What is it about?

What is an online brand community? An online brand community (OBC) is a collective of brand admirers who principally communicate online. These communities can take many forms, some are community governed while others are heavily administered by the company. The same goes for funding. Ultimately they are online spaces for fans to share their stories, ask questions of other users and give their opinion on the brand. Why do people join OBCs? Many people join so they can interact with like-minded consumers, often seeking assistance or advice about a product or purchase decision. There are also psychological aspects to joining an OBC, as social group membership is shown to boost self-esteem. Many OBC members feel they can trust the information they get from other members, perhaps more so than the company itself, so they use it as an information bank. There can also be monetary drivers, for example there may be loyalty points or discounts for members, set up by the brand to increase participation in the community. What are the benefits to brands? OBCs can be very beneficial to brands. They can provide valuable customer insight and participants take the form of visible brand ambassadors in the wider market. Research shows engagement in an OBC can increase loyalty and brand satisfaction, and they have been shown to have a direct positive impact on purchase intentions. What could firms do better in relation to online brand communities? Many OBCs are not supported financially or administratively by the company who owns the brand. Supporting these groups could lead to enhanced customer insight and closer customer relationships. Brand managers are warned not to be too controlling – genuine co-ownership is needed between brand and community for the relationship to work.

Why is it important?

This article is the first to explore key dimensions of online brand communities and explores these from the consumer and firm perspective. What do Harley Davidson, Nike and Apple all have in common? Their fans have formed groups online, known by researchers as Online Brand Communities (OBCs). These are virtual spaces for them to discuss their love for the brand, ask questions of other users and share their stories. These communities can offer many benefits to firms if managed correctly. Brand managers can enjoy enhanced consumer insight and improved customer loyalty, while OBC members can make friends and learn from other members.

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The following have contributed to this page: Jochen Wirtz