Consumers in an online brand community: uses and gratifications, social capital, and brand loyalty
With the popularity of online brand communities, consumers interact and build social relations with other consumers to share information about products and services. The purposes of this study were to investigate: (1) what needs bring consumers to participate in and what social resources are generated in an online brand community, (2) the process of how needs to use an online brand community are gratified through achieving social resources in an online brand community, and (3) what outcomes of social interaction in an online brand community influence loyalty toward brands which communities endorsed. A conceptual model was developed combining two theories -- uses and gratification theory and social capital and network theory -- to test causal linkages among consumer needs to participate in an online brand community, social capital accumulations, knowledge sharing, community commitment, and brand loyalty.
Data were collected using a web-based survey through Amazon Mechanical Turk. A total of 499 respondents were U.S. consumers who had been members or visitors of an apparel, shoes, or accessory online brand community. Confirmatory factor analysis identified five needs to participate in an online brand community -- socialization, entertainment seeking, self-status seeking, information seeking, and convenience seeking -- and three social capital accumulations in the online brand community context -- structural, cognitive, and relational capital.
Structural equation modeling indicated that consumers' needs to use an online brand community did not directly influence the outputs of social capital accumulations such as knowledge sharing and community commitment. However, needs influenced social capital accumulation, and these accumulations influenced social capital outcomes (i.e., knowledge sharing, community commitment). Consumers' socialization need in an online brand community positively influenced all dimensions of social capital (structural, cognitive and relational capital). Self-status seeking positively influenced structural capital formation. Information seeking positively influenced cognitive and relational capital. Convenience seeking positively influenced relational capital. Structural capital positively influenced knowledge sharing, and cognitive capital positively influenced community commitment. Relational capital positively influenced both social capital outcomes of knowledge sharing and community commitment. These findings provide an understanding that consumers' needs to use online brand community are gratified by interacting with other consumers through social resources generated within a network of an online brand community. In addition, to obtain more social capital, consumers engaged in social interaction (i.e., knowledge sharing) and felt cohesion toward community.
In addition, relational capital and community commitment positively influenced brand loyalty. Thus, this study provides an understanding that emotions and feelings toward relationships within an online brand community are important factors related to attitudinal and behavioral loyalty toward the brand endorsed within the community.
The findings have managerial implications for apparel marketers and retailers in operating online brand communities and in understanding what needs consumers have in regard to their participation in an online brand community. Finally, the findings show how interaction and participation in an online brand community satisfies and reinforces consumers' brand loyalty.