Consumer Engagement in Online Brand Communities: Community Values, Brand Symbolism and Social Strategies

Haili Pan
Interdisciplinary Journal of Information, Knowledge, and Management  •  Volume 15  •  2020  •  pp. 065-090

This study examines the kind of community value companies should provide when strengthening the relationship between customers and brands through the establishment of an online brand community, and how this kind of community value promotes customers’ sense of community engagement and willingness to spread brand reputation. The paper also discusses how an enterprise’s brand symbolism affects the relationship between community value and customers’ engagement in online brand community. This study explored the important role of brand symbolism in the establishment of an online brand community.

Many companies want to create online brand communities to strengthen their relationships with consumers as well as to provide better service and value to consumers, for example, Huawei’s Huafen community (club.huawei.com), Apple’s support community (support.apple.com/zh-cn), and Samsung’s Galaxy community (samsungmembers.cn). However, these brand communities may have different interests and consumer engagement about the kind of community value to offer to their customers.

This study uses data collection from questionnaire surveys to design a quantitative research method. An online questionnaire survey of mobile phone users in China was conducted to collect data on social value, cognitive value, brand symbolism, customer community engagement, and brand recommendation. The brands of mobile phone include Apple, Huawei, Samsung, OPPO, VIVO, MI, and Meizu. The researcher purchased a sample service of WJX, an online survey company (www.wjx.cn), and WJX company distributed the questionnaire to research participants. The WJX company randomly selected 240 subjects from their sample database and then sent the questionnaire link to research participants’ mobile phones. Among the 240 research participants, the researcher excluded participants who lacked online brand community experience or had invalid data to qualify for data collection. After the researcher excluded participants who did not qualify for data collection, only 203 qualified questionnaire surveys advanced to the data collection and analysis phase, which was the questionnaire recovery rate of 84.58%. For the model analysis and hypotheses testing, the researcher used statistical software IBM SPSS Statistics and AMOS 21 and Smartpls3.

This study deepens the body of literature knowledge by combining online brand community value and brand symbolic value to explore issues that companies should consider when establishing an online brand community for their products and services. This study confirms that brands with high symbolic value establish communities and strengthen social values in the online brand community rather than reducing brand symbolism. Online brand community involves a horizontal interaction (peer interaction) among peers, which can have an effect on the symbolic value of brand (social distance).

First, online brand community value (both cognitive and social value) has a positive impact on customer community engagement. Second, customer community engagement has a positive impact on customers’ brand recommend intention. Third, the customer community engagement is a mediator between the online brand community value and the customer brand recommend intention. Most importantly, fourth, the symbolic value of the brand controls the relationship between community value and customer community engagement. For brands with high symbolic value, the community value should emphasize cognitive value rather than social value. For brands with a low symbolic value, the community provides cognitive or social value, which is not affected by the symbolism of the brand.

Practitioners can share best practices with the corporate sectors. Brand owners can work with researchers to explore the characteristics of their online brand communities. On this basis, brand owners and researchers can jointly build and manage online brand communities.

Researchers can explore different perspectives and factors of brand symbolism that involve brand owners when establishing an online brand community to advance consumer engagement, community value, and brand symbolism.

Online brand community is relevant for brand owners to establish brand symbolism, community value, and customer engagement. Readers of this paper can gain an understanding that cognitive and social values are two important drivers of individual participation in online brand communities. The discussion of these two factors can give readers and brand owners the perception to gain more understanding on social and behavior activities in online brand communities.

Practitioners and researchers could follow-up in the future with a study to provide more understanding and updated research information from different perspectives of research samples and hypotheses on online brand community.

WOM, online brand community, brand symbolism, customer engagement
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