For consumer marketers still unsure how virtual communities fit into their strategic management objectives, a new study lends credence to the idea that online efforts can produce concrete benefits.
“Relationship Marketing in Virtual Communities,” co-authored by Marketing Professor Constance Porter and a colleague, analyzed responses from 663 members of such communities to help identify which efforts most benefited marketers. The sample included members of communities sponsored by powerful brands such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard, as well as hundreds of smaller firms with niche markets.
The study found that though quality content had a demonstrated positive effect, fostering member embeddedness—or making consumers feel like insiders—had an even greater impact. Porter suggests that marketers can foster embeddedness by seeking members’ input on new products or community policies, or by facilitating direct contact with company representatives.
Porter shows that online relationship-building efforts can lead to valuable outcomes such as customer information, collaboration in new product development, and loyalty. And she suggests that understanding how nonprofit organizations can use virtual communities to nurture member trust is an area “ripe for future research.”