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International Journal of Information Management 34 (2014) 123–132

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

International Journal of Information Management
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/ijinfomgt

Brand communities based in social media: How unique are they?
Evidence from two exemplary brand communities
Mohammad Reza Habibi a , Michel Laroche a,∗ , Marie-Odile Richard b,1

Department of Marketing, John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve West, Montréal, Québec H3G 1M8, Canada
Post-doctoral Fellow, Independent Researcher, Canada

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Available online 28 December 2013
Brand community
Social media
Unique dimensions
Value creation practices

a b s t r a c t
Understanding how brands should operate on social media is very important for contemporary marketing
researchers and managers. This paper argues that due to the social and networked nature of social media
it is an ideal environment for brand communities. Taking a deep qualitative approach and with analysis
of a vast array of data, the article articulates the existence of brand communities on social media. More
importantly, it delineates five unique and relevant dimensions of brand communities based in social
media. The authors advise researchers to consider these dimensions while conducting research on brand
communities and social media. Further implications for practitioners and researchers are discussed.
© 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
“We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going
to live on the Internet! “
Sean Parker in “The Social Network” (2010), Film by David
Believe it or not, this is going to be our new reality. In the age
of social media or, as renamed by some scholars, “people’s media”
(Fournier & Avery, 2011), people spend more than one third of their
waking day consuming content on social media (Lang, 2010). Facebook alone, the hallmark of social media, has over one billion active
users. The unique aspects of social media and its immense popularity have revolutionized marketing practices (Hanna, Rohm, &
Crittenden, 2011) and consumer behavior from information acquisition to post purchase behavior (Mangold & Faulds, 2009; Powers,
Advincula, Austin, & Graiko, 2012). Despite this growing popularity and the general agreement on the influences of social media, a
systematic understanding by brand managers of how to behave on
social media remains elusive.
The networked and social nature of social media allows likeminded people to gather in groups and subgroups with a specific
common interest (Mangold & Faulds, 2009). There are many groups
in social media that are centered on a certain brand. These groups
could be either initiated by brand managers or by consumers. Our
research deals with several key questions: Are these groups related

∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 514 848 2424x2942; fax: +1 514 848 4576.
E-mail addresses: mo habi@jmsb.concordia.ca (M.R. Habibi),
laroche@jmsb.concordia.ca (M. Laroche), odile10@hotmail.com (M.-O. Richard).
Tel.: +1 514 738 3520.
0268-4012/$ – see front matter © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

to the brand community concept introduced by Muniz and O’Guinn
(2001)? Do they manifest brand community characteristics and
benefits, as introduced by McAlexander, Schouten, & Koenig (2002)
˜ & Arnould (2009)? If so, how do these brand comand Schau, Muniz,
munities differ from previously studied brand communities such as
online and offline ones?
To address these questions, we review and build on the literature related to social media and brand communities. Especially,
we explore the unique aspects of social media that could represent
unique aspects of brand communities on social media. Then, we
conduct an in-depth qualitative study in two rich brand-generated
communities on social media and analyze their brand community
elements and practices. We explore the qualities of brand community elements, the structural relationships (McAlexander et al.,
2002), and the value creation practices (Schau et al., 2009) within
these communities. More importantly, we extract five unique characteristics of the social media based brand communities that have
not been studied in previous research.
This research makes several contributions. While there is anecdotal evidence of brand communities on social media (e.g., Kaplan
& Haenlein, 2010; Kietzmann, Hermkens, McCarthy, & Silvestre,
2011), we study such phenomenon and elaborate empirically on
its quality and unique characteristics. Moreover, to the best of
our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate how social
media based brand communities differ from other online and
offline brand communities. Although highly understudied, these
unique characteristics are of the highest relevance to the brand
community literature. This research also has important implications for marketers as they have a historical opportunity to reach
their consumers through such brand communities. Thanks to Facebook, there are brand fan pages that reach several millions users.

This mandates researchers to scrutinize new forms of brand communities. Rituals and traditions also help build and preserve community identity (Muniz & O’Guinn. According to social capital theory (Bourdieu.. were organized into four thematic groups: social networking. consumers symbolize and record their most outstanding experiences with the brand. and allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content” (Kaplan & Haenlein. We agree with McAlexander et al. 2002). Finally. the product. Brand communities encompass all three markers of traditional community. and co-creating value with consumers (Schau et al. Brand communities based on social media Social media is defined as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2. Casalo. Shared consciousness refers to intrinsic feelings of connectedness among group members and manifests itself through such processes as oppositional brand loyalty (Kuo & Feng.R. Brand communities allow sharing of essential resources such as information and experiences. This group of practices includes welcoming. 39) and not only recognize the consumer. Dholakia. Obligations to society are a felt sense of duty and obligations to the community and its members. and marketers to provide a more complete picture of dynamic brand community relationships. and commoditizing. and governing. 2009) in the sense that when they realize a fellow member is asking for help they see themselves obligated to help. which are all conducive to greeting new members. 1985) explains partly why consumers would join a given brand community: they establish a social identity as part of their self-concept by classifying themselves into specific social groups such as brand communities. customizing. Muniz & O’Guinn. 2010) to temporary small brand communities (Schouten.consumer relationships but also delve into consumer relationships with the brand. Flavian. similar to all aspects of human life. 2001). Social networking practices “focus on creating. 2009). Social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner. Community engagement practices include staking. strengthening the cultural norms and values of the brand (Muniz & O’Guinn. 39) to recognize a brand community. For instance. Brand communities provide many benefits for the brand and marketers such as sharing information and keeping in touch with highly devoted consumers (Andersen. p.. 2001) and it is defined as a “specialized. In sum. It assures survival of the community and motivates members to contribute to community practices such as brand use (Schau et al. 2009). these studies enhanced our knowledge of brand communities. This research sheds new light on how marketers can better exploit this historical opportunity.. The schema of a brand community portrayed by Muniz and O’Guinn (2001) basically comprises a triad of customer-customerbrand relationships. (2002) that a mere emphasis on social relationships among consumers is “correct but not entirely complete” (p. Through these practices consumers and marketers interact to enhance better use of the brand.. 2005). it appears that this typology covers almost all outcomes of such activities. sharing interesting brand related stories. and rationalizing the amount of effort and time devoted to brand activities. the most recent of which are those established on social media platforms. Impressions management practices intend to create and maintain favorable impressions of the brand and the community in the external world. 2005. The technological core enables consumers to have access to social media in many formats from blogs and microblogs to video sharing and networking sites (Harris. and lending emotional or physical support to other members. encouraging others to use the brand or preach it. The brand community is very important to both consumers and managers. 2004). 2013. were categorized by Schau and his colleagues (2009) in an extensive.124 M. i. Examples of such practices include sharing good news or favorable information. & Herrmann. 2001) and consumers derive hedonic and utilitarian values through participating in brand community events (McAlexander et al. based on a structured set of social relations among admirers of a brand” (p. Flavian. and community engagement (Schau et al. to uphold a brand community one should “weave through the fabric of community” (p. enhancing. and are conducive to sharing the most essential element in brand community that is “creation and negotiation of meaning” (McAlexander et al. and in-group/out-group differentiation (Algesheimer. McAlexander et al. impressions management. 2010). These activities enhance member engagement in the community and provide them with social capital. 1988) brand communities are a potential form of social network through which consumers realize social capital.e. p. We believe that to study a brand community. 2007). Brand community Despite the fact that the concepts of consumption community and brand community were established long ago. & Guinaliu. obtaining valuable market research from consumers for innovation and new product development purposes (Von Hippel. 61).” (p. in order to provide deeper and more practical understanding for academics and practitioners. 2001) and manifest themselves in a celebration of brand history. For instance.1. 2005). Noble. their dynamic mechanisms.. The concept of user generated content implies that people are not mere consumers of content.0.2. and obligations to society (Muniz & O’Guinn. McAlexander. brand use. the Harley Davidson page has more than 3 million and Coca Cola has more than 30 million members. This definition covers a broad community gamut from virtual (Adjei. shared consciousness. & Guinaliu. 2008. articulating the norms of the community. they include justifying and evangelizing. Shared rituals and traditions are symbolic ways of communication that perpetuate meanings and cultural norms of the community and transfer them to both members and those outside of the community. 2001).. & Koenig. 2010. 2002). Coleman. Basically. milestoning. 2001). 34). Theoretical framework 2. allowing brands to fulfill their needs to identify with symbols and groups (Grayson & Martinec. 2005). They include grooming. 1983. and documenting (Schau et al. and potential benefits. However. 2009. 2. 2002). badging. socializing them. & Noble. qualitative study. and consuming the contents. empathizing. 412).. / International Journal of Information Management 34 (2014) 123–132 For example. consumers derive intangible social capital from their network of admirers or consumers of the same brand. 2009). 2. either online or offline. rituals and traditions.. and sustaining ties among brand community members. integrating consumers into the brand identity and enhancing their loyalty (Andersen. “Groups” is stated as one of the main functional blocks of social media and is described as “the extent to which users can form . which. communities are evolving rapidly due to technological revolutions. They identified 12 common practices. 34). Habibi et al. Since they examined nine brand communities and conducted a meta-analysis of 52 related articles. sharing. non-geographically bound community. Thereby. brand use practices relate to optimal use of the brand. and using a specific jargon within the community (Casalo. all activities that consumers and marketers accomplish within the context of brand communities. only recently has the concept of brand community become important in the marketing field (Muniz & O’Guinn. it is stated that sharing information and resources is the essence of brand communities (Muniz & O’Guinn. in turn. Also. one should scrutinize the realization of these practices within the community. but they actively participate in creating.

the invisible community becomes visible. 2005. The voice of consumers is strong to the extent that marketing gurus warn brands to focus on brand protection rather than brand building (Fournier & Avery. co-creating value. share information. people join social networks to fill some needs such as self-presentation. which we label social media based brand communities (Laroche.g. their symbolic interpretations.. Mangold & Faulds.. Islang. Joon. user generated content. & de Zúniga. 247). Su. those who do not own the product of a brand could join the brand community on social media. 2009). findings different from that of previous online research emerge. the intersection of the two would be an ideal environment for creating. oneon-one communication throughout the world 24/7 thanks to the development of Web 2. while usually they may only join and participate in clubs and ‘brandfests’ once they buy the product (Algesheimer et al. Habibi. 2001. As a result. 2009). we further elaborate on such differences. The word “community” in the former and the word “social” in the latter both imply that they are “instrumental to human well-being” (McAlexander et al. 2011). 2. consumers are no more under the control of mainstream media and brands. discuss. Schau et al. 2000). McAlexander & Schouten. 2009). . introverted persons are less inclined to interact in social media environments. 2010. This might be due to the ideological foundation of social media. 2002. Consequently. This eventually leads to strengthening the bonds among members. 2009). & Sankaranarayanan. brand enthusiasts. but they actively participate in creating. 2009. 38). 2012.g. sharing. Kaplan & Haenlein. self-expression..e. 2008).. valuable resources as well as information are being shared and value is exchanged among members in different forms. We believe that social media is capable of providing such high context communication among admirers of a brand and other brand elements such as marketers and other consumers. 2010. Habibi et al. & Richard. and asks questions and answers other community fellow members. Thompson & Sinha. 2002) and creation and sharing of content are the most important aspects of social media (Kaplan & Haenlein. To sum up. negotiating. video. Yeo. and sharing of contents. Rheingold. The control of brands involving timing. Thus. 1991). and other valuable resources are shared among members. content. Members in social media usually provide their real identities instead of using pseudonyms that are common in online virtual communities. there are some unique characteristics associated with social media based brand communities. and consuming the content. Social media is a platform that enables likeminded people to gather in groups. and enhancing brand loyalty (Algesheimer et al. 2009. flirt.0 technological core refers to a mixed technological and media core that allows instantaneous. global reach and different delivery platforms (Harris. audio. is created unprofessionally. 2010. When someone logs into a social media platform. extraverted persons use social media more than introverted ones (Ross et al. A social media based brand community might be considered as a special case of online brand communities. and medium of communication has decreased dramatically. Habibi. However. Thus. Creation and sharing of meaning are the most important aspects of brand community (McAlexander et al. (2009) identified some of the value creation practices in online communities. 2012) because the platforms are usually free for both brands and consumers and the reach is greater. / International Journal of Information Management 34 (2014) 123–132 communities and sub-communities” (Kietzmann et al. Mangold & Faulds. Today having communities with millions of members is possible. Now it is easier than ever before to have multimedia. Also. Now one consumer may post brand dissatisfaction to 10 million people rather than the traditional offline closed network of 1 to perhaps 10 people (Gillin. and increasing self-esteem (Back et al. providing higher participation and engagement. 2000). researchers considered online brand communities as well because the Internet context is well suited for building relationships between consumers and brands (Schultz & Bailey.R. the age of social media is one of transparency (Fournier & Avery. For example. shares stories. Kaplan & Haenlein.. Brands can no longer keep anything secret. The Web 2. where anonymity is not as possible as it was on former Internet based social interaction tools. which results in changes in almost every aspect of marketing practices and consumer behavior (Mangold & Faulds. 2007).. photos. i. Unique aspects of social media Although social media platforms are based on the Internet. 2013. p. the cost of initiating these communities is lower and the reward is greater than the online ones (LaPointe. 2012). 2002. 2010). & Zhou. This technological advancement has augmented the ideology of social media. So. and values for like-minded consumers. UGC has enabled new opportunities for developing and exchanging knowledge and culture (Benkler.. videos. p. The other unique result stemming from social media is the high transparency of brand activities. pictures. shared consciousness) and Schau et al. This results in a change in the pattern of personality ˜ of community and social media users (Correa.. there is an underlying metamorphosis between social media platforms and other online/offline ones. 2008. These two characteristics lead to a chain of effects.0. and practices on social media.. real-time communication with relatively low cost and utilizes various formats (e. elements. consumption experiences. McAlexander et al. and the ideological aspect of User Generated Content (UGC). frequency. at the intersection of brands and social media are groups or communities of brand admirers. 2009. which refers to the fact that consumers do not passively consume content. In these dynamic rich communications. Muniz and O’Guinn (2001) found evidence of the underlying markers of community (e.3. which indicates a paradigm shift in marketing communications (Mangold & Faulds. From the beginning of studying brand communities. As research on social media advances. or fall in love (Fournier & Avery. & Kyungtae. Laroche. and videos related to the brand. Richard. These unique aspects call for brand communities on social media to be studied separately from their online virtual counterparts... Muniz & O’Guinn. text. 2007). 2011.. Olfman. 2011). Hinsley. Zhang. likes 125 or follows a favored brand community. social media has its own unique imperatives that should be reflected in brand communities. For example. Others examined the positive influence of online brand communities on loyalty (Jang. In this article. 2006). 2006) through groups and communities. For example. Therefore. we expect to observe brand community markers. 2010). Zhou. and is publicly available on the Internet (Wunsch-Vincent & Vickery. and transparency. or photos). 1998). Wilcox & Stephen. meaning. consumers evaluate information obtained from social media to be trustworthier than information obtained from traditional sources (Foux. 2013). there are fundamental overlaps between the concepts of brand community and social media. The content created by users (or UGC) contains a certain level of creativity. 2005. brand stories. 2012). explores the content and news of the community. Brand communities and events can set the stage for members and other brand-related elements to involve a high context communication through which meaningful consumption experiences. This is contrary to findings about other online social interaction tools such as chat rooms. which were used more often by introverted persons (Hamburger & Ben-Artzi.0. Most of this metamorphosis comes from two underlying aspects of social media: the technological aspect of Web 2. There is also another underlying difference between social media based brand communities and other virtual brand communities. 2011. Just like brand communities. For example. everything should be clear. in our view.M.

and also how value creation practices (Schau et al. Nelson & Otnes. however. Shared consciousness is usually manifested by a feeling of being in a family or a close network of friends. 2011). 2012a) and Harley had more than 2. Then we followed and read the two brand pages for more than two years. 3. using an iterative process. 2009) operate in such communities. 2001). Social media based brand communities The main markers of a brand community soon manifested themselves in both brand communities. Saab (Muniz & O’Guinn. 2002. The Jeep and Harley communities on Facebook meet the other five criteria because Jeep had more than 1. also vehicle related brand communities have been targeted in previous studies of vehicle branding including Jeep and Harley Davidson (McAlexander et al. “Netnography. Riding and driving is one of his personal hobbies. we looked at communities that are “relevant. We analyzed more than 100 posts and their corresponding comments. shared videos and pictures that are rich for a netnographic study. bright red. the data archived refers back to four months from September 2011 to January 2012. the goal was to find evidence for predefined categories in brand communities. Thus. We measure our flings in miles.5 million (Facebook.” “substantial. and networking with other people (Kietzmann et al. These reasons explain why Facebook has over one billion users and is the biggest social media outlet in the world. Pettit.” and “data-rich” (Kozinets. a Harley gliding down the road goes hand in hand with Scotland’s breathtaking countryside. 3.R. videos. They are relevant because these brands have strong brand communities and culture. Habibi et al. These members communicate and interact on a daily basis. or yellow. In a discussion about why they use Facebook. or ethnography on the Internet.” In addition to activities that pertain directly to shared consciousness.. Moreover.” “active.2. along with lower time and cost requirements than traditional qualitative methods. The content is comprised of text (most of the comments). sharing views and videos. four other members commented and gave their opinion about what color this person should choose for their new car. we analyzed more than 6000 comments. 2005). 2010.” “heterogeneous. For Harley Davidson on the other hand. Facebook is the most popular social media application. Also.3. we gathered posts on the page created by Harley marketers and the members’ comments on them. 2002). To choose the brand communities for this study.1.1. 89). is a new qualitative research methodology that adapts ethnographic research techniques to study the cultures and communities that are emerging through computer-mediated communications” (Kozinets. one author joined the two communities by pressing the “like” button on the brands’ pages and interacted with their members long before conducting this study. These discussion threads received up to 2000 comments in some cases.. He also owns a Jeep vehicle and is very interested in Harley motorcycles. blogging.0phenomena. finding subscribers.” “interactive.. p.126 M. According to netnography. 2010. To do this we try to identify the most relevant dimensions that may have important implications for researchers and practitioners. Research methodology A netnography (Kozinets. one author is personally interested in cars and motorcycles. rituals and traditions.” On this post. . playing games and using other apps. pictures. The team of authors have product and brand culture familiarity. They create and share contents that are interesting for members and actively trigger discussions and always treat members as if they were part of the community by using “we” and “us”: “Most flings are measured in days. This method has advantages such as being less obtrusive.. 2010). These posts reached up to 800 comments in some cases. 2010) and it was successfully used in past studies (Jayanti. Sample We chose Facebook as the platform on which to study brand communities. and Volkswagen (Brown. Also... These fan pages are organized and run by marketers from the respective companies so they are comparable to ‘brandfests’ and official brand community events. they match all six criteria. 2002). there are many activities on these brand fan pages that establish shared rituals and traditions in the communities. and obligations to society). 2010. we updated our interpretations and extracted new dimensions that are unique to brand communities on social media that we discuss in the ensuing section. 2009). professionals gave reasons such as getting daily news and information.we can change the reputation about what people think about Harley riders” or they consult about private matters with the community members in the same way they do within their families: “The family is getting a 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sports S (manual) but we can’t choose a color. This resulted in more than 1000 posts and their corresponding comments from the Jeep users and more than 75 discussion threads initiated by Jeep. 2011). Therefore. which yields hundreds of discussion threads.. These rituals and traditions foster feelings of consciousness of kind among . Data collection and analysis Data collection started after the communities were selected (Kozinets. 2002. 2010) research approach is implemented to address the main questions of this research. We selected the Jeep and Harley Davidson official fan pages on Facebook. European cars (Algesheimer et al.3. shared consciousness. Netnography was developed specifically to study cultures and communities online (Kozinets. Mini Cooper (Schau et al. the data analysis goal is to reveal the existence and quality of brand community markers (i.e. . Kozinets. The objective is not only to identify the existence of brand communities on social media but also to scrutinize the quality of such existence and most importantly how such brand communities differ from other brand communities. For our initial questions. In both communities members refer to each other as the “Jeep family” or “H-D folks. data collection and analysis require joining and actively participating in the communities under study to become familiar with the context and cultural aspects of the communities (Kozinets. therefore. 2005). 3. / International Journal of Information Management 34 (2014) 123–132 3. These data proved sufficient for our purposes. p. like the Highland Fling offered through H-D Authorized Tours. green. 2012b) members at the time of this study. to show how consumers’ relationships with brand elements (McAlexander et al. Like Hogmanay and haggis. 62). 2003). and sometimes hours. communicating with friends. engaging with communities and sharing knowledge (Linkedin. pictures. which offers many capabilities associated with social media such as sharing texts. Findings 3. Kozinets (2006) mentions how this method is ideal for studying Web 2. & Sherry. which are crucial for conducting netnographic studies.” They talk about their experiences as being in a family and sometimes they want to do some collective collaboration: “.5 million (Facebook. Marketers also take an active role in the process of building shared consciousness. 2002) form as a result of participating in the communities. and videos accompanying explanatory texts (most of the members’ posts on the wall).

. Members either share their experiences of how to find better deals or answer each other’s questions of how to better use their vehicle.:). Even up a pole. Thanks for making such an awesome car. In the Harley community members .” This shows a sense of obligation to the community as a whole. 2009).” “These past 2 weeks I was able to put 2000+ miles on my bike.M. “Ride safe” is a favorite and prevalent word in Harley. feel really really good!!!!!!!! Nothing beats the handling of Harleys. and then they admire their brand and product: “Jeeps can go anywhere. . I would not have survived. we examine whether and how community building relationships identified by McAlexander et al. for example. . but they also form a kind of friendly relationship.but who does?! The kids are half grown now. sometimes unique and impassable.. which strengthens the feelings of community among them. Muniz & O’Guinn.R. 2001). Many of these stories have a more visual aspect in that consumers take pictures or videos of themselves and their Jeep vehicle in different. . This shows the dynamic nature of community building activities that result in enhanced relationships among consumers and focal brand’s elements. (2009) elicited these practices during their research and we believe that the existence of such practices is essential to show the existence and quality of a community. and legitimating and perpetuating of its cultural norms and values (Muniz & O’Guinn. Social media seem to be a suitable milieu for consumers to share their interesting stories.0 you’ll be rocking for a while more!” Gary: “Great” Jeep: “Great choice. Since the communities are established on social media. Consumers also interact with each other on many occasions. . (2002) exist in these two communities. does he not understand the Jeep thing? You keep it till it dies and then you buy another one.I thought I was the only one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:) I’m waiving to ya right now. Welcome to the family” This thread is a good example of how consumers and marketers socialize with a new member. Schau et al. 2001). . In the Harley community many consumers passionately share their personal stories that are usually about their relationship with the vehicle that they own or used to own. Jessica describes her story and her passion and love for riding her Harley vehicle. I had my 4th baby the next spring! [My husband] moved out 8 months later. the moment members notice someone is new or just bought a new vehicle. and co-create social networking practices (Schau et al. In spite of the hardships she had in life. / International Journal of Information Management 34 (2014) 123–132 members as well (McAlexander et al. They provide explanations to the pictures to help others gain context. . they know what vehicle they have and how they like to ride or drive it. everyone has access to and can share content in these communities. and my first Jeep vehicle:)” John: “Welcome to the Jeep family” Britney: “Welcome” Brad: “Tnx everybody. Sharing brand related stories is common in the Jeep community too.” “Love to ride my Harley. Alexandra shared this story along with a photo of her red Jeep Cherokee. I’m a Jeep for life!” Alexandra’s interesting story perpetuates her love of Jeep and impresses other members who read it and see the picture of the crumpled. they welcome and support that person. . Value creation practices illustrate themselves in many ways in the Facebook brand communities. she does not give up the idea of riding her Harley. This story and other similar ones got “Likes” and comments from other members. red Grand Cherokee. I’m not alone!!!!!” In this discussion thread Peter and Mary not only emphasize that they practice the rituals. Habibi et al. 2002. In the Facebook communities. I never ride as much as I would like.. . . Some devotee members know each other very well. Jeep members frequently bubble “it’s a Jeep thing” to allude to points that only “Jeep people” understand: “My husband asked me today if I would keep my Jeep for another two years!?! Seriously. members try to stop those who share irrelevant content on the page. . . Another indicator of rituals and traditions is the jargon developed in each community to facilitate transferring specific meanings among members (Muniz & O’Guinn. . Some important aspects of each brand community are the practices that yield value for both consumers and brands. Peter (pseudonym) ironically promulgates an old tradition among Jeep owners that receives Mary’s response: Peter: “Am I the only one that gets out of the Jeep jumps into another vehicle and keeps waving at Jeeps passing?” Mary: “hahahhahahaahahaaaa. . Especially when the marketers emphasize how much they care about their customers and how much they pay attention to their needs and voices. Peter!” Peter: “Tnx.. or adventures they experienced with their Harley: Jessica: “In 2001 I told my (now ex) husband I wanted to ride my own bike. which was severely crumpled in an accident: “This 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee saved me. In one case.” all referring to rituals of “safety first” among Harley riders. (2002) that consumers’ relationships with brand elements are enhanced as a result of participating in brand communities. Members share rituals in posts or discuss them under brand or consumer posts. In these communities. We believe that the communities on Facebook provided a platform for marketers and brand members to co-build and improve their relationships. Thanks to social media this level of being welcomed and getting emotional support is now available 24/7 for everyone who is a member of a brand community: Brad: “Hello Jeep folks! I just bought a Cherokee! It still rocks. This leads customers to be aware of the precious vehicle they own and what they can do with it. However. .. .try not to ride when you have to watch the clock. So as a single mom of 4. we made some friends and maintained online relationships. a person inserts a picture of another brand’s vehicle on the Jeep’s page. Perhaps the most often repeated element of rituals and traditions in communities is storytelling.. they react collectively to defend the borders of their community. retaining. These represent feelings of moral responsibility. In some cases. When it comes to social networking practices such as welcoming.. marketers actively share videos or reports that demonstrate high capabilities of the vehicles that customers own. In the following. . . I’m proud of this family” The Jeepgirl: “Congrats” Bernard: “if it has a 4. I know that if I had been in other car. my days will come!” In this inspiring story. rituals and traditions emerge in different ways. Love my Jeep.:)” 127 Members in both communities have strong feelings in support of each other and their communities. Three other members remind the person that he is in the wrong place: “Wrong page.this is a JEEP page.” “My Jeep is designed to keep my family safe in any situation. So we went out and bought me a 2000 883XL and I learned to ride and love it! And then . . . In our participation in the Jeep community. In the Harley community members remind each other to “just enjoy the ride and keep it safe” or “. After examining community indicators. which is a sign of emotional support in the social media context. Our analyses confirm the findings of McAlexander et al. . . He said “good you need a new hobby other than having babies!” we had three kids at that time. . . locations to show their vehicles’ abilities. their passion to ride. Storytelling is one of the most focal facets in brand community building. 2001). when members feel their community is threatened.” “All Jeeps Go To Heaven.” Members often appreciate the efforts of the company and its marketers in their day-to-day interactions.

In spite of the findings that brand communities on social media manifest main characteristics of brand communities.g. Brand communities on social media can be uniquely situated in the social context continuum described by McAlexander et al. Through our netnographic analysis we observed many occasions in which members appreciate this unique context. their offline and online counterparts? If we believe that social media has some unique characteristics that distinguishes it from more traditional media and online platforms. badging. Usually the number of likes and comments under such posts are higher than other posts. the documenting practices are occurring whenever consumers share their experiences and stories with the brand. Social context might be important from brands perspectives too because the fact that members can visit . “Jeep Grand Cherokee Owners” is a sub-community of the Jeep community on Facebook and it has over 1000 members (Facebook. and pictures of new developments.” Examples of empathizing practices are numerous. . McAlexander et al. Also. I think it looks cool and so do other people. Linda posts a picture of herself on the Jeep’s Facebook wall. These Facebook communities contain millions of fans and owners and marketers of the brands. 2012c). However.. 3. In the photo she is standing with a big smile on her face on a black Jeep vehicle wrapped in white ribbons: “I love my 50 year birthday present. slow and strong like a rhinoceros just before the charge. For example. . there is a feeling not unlike when a cowboy mounts a bucking bronco at a rodeo. for example. the fourth set of practices that aim to enhance the use of the focal brand.]just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t make it. in the Jeep community members try to impress each other by. All versions. Social media capabilities also accelerate these practices and enhance the indicators in many cases. Erick tells what he is experiencing with his original engine car: “My 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo is 95 miles from hitting 400. 2009). This manifests itself in Facebook by creating new subgroups in the community. unlike in previous online platforms. . use their real identities in their profiles along with pictures and personal history. milestoning. Milestoning refers to consumers’ experiences on specific occasions with their brand. . an outstanding moment in Linda’s life is well documented and shared with her community mates. Unique characteristics of brand communities based on social media In the previous section we found support for the notion of brand communities based on social media and the qualities of people’s contributions. .” Impressions management is the second set of practices that are devoted to sharing good news about the brand and justifying the consumption of the brand. and whatever can impress other members. e. members can easily gain information about one another such as age. an important question remains: If and how these communities differ from other types of brand communities. Consumers share pictures of their customized vehicle and their personally significant symbols on it.3. The third set of practices involves community engagement practices. These dimensions range from social context to structure (e.g. videos. Due to the reach of Facebook and the richness it provides in terms of sharing contents. Like it! Invite your friends!” There are sub-communities for Harley as well that are more based on geographic location.1. The idea being that brand communities differ to the extent to which these dimensions differ. [. . . Social context. For example. and documenting. In the following thread Robert asks how to solve an issue with his car: Robert: “I got a question. we then immersed ourselves in the Jeep and Harley-Davidson brand communities’ data to identify which of these identified dimensions were evident and what was different from the dimensions of other brand communities.. since social media members.” Also members try to govern each other’s behavior by engaging in discussions and reminders of the norms. . Matt explains why he loves Harley under a comment that begins with “WHY HARLEY-DAVIDSON?” then he elaborates: “[. Given these identified dimensions. 2009. which are facilitated by features of the social networks. Habibi et al.000 miles!!!!! Original Engine!” and his post received 4 “likes” and some comments positively reinforcing his experience. sex. it has a low chugging beat. They describe the community as “The FIRST & ORIGINAL page only for Grand Cherokee owners. consumers’ relationship with brand elements.2.] When you straddle the leather seat. championships in great contests. (2002). there are chances for people to meet each other through events. . / International Journal of Information Management 34 (2014) 123–132 also welcome each other: “Hey and welcome girl! Come ride with us.. 3. [. another one tells him that: “[. location. when a member tries to impose his opinion about a picture of a customized motorcycle. happen frequently. our findings support the existence of brand communities on Facebook for Jeep and Harley-Davidson. then how are these unique aspects manifested in subsequent phenomena? Our approach in answering these questions was first to draw upon the relevant literature to direct our attention to the main dimensions of brand communities that can distinguish brand communities from each other. some members check each other’s profiles before answering their questions or they might add each other if they find similarities between themselves. This is my 3rd Jeep and by far the best. members seek to get some advice on how to customize their vehicles. 2002). Social context is a little understood dimension in brand community studies.” In addition. Also members engage in these practices. Marketers share links. The Fat Bottom Girlz in lovely ATL! . Also.. Staking refers to delineating domains of participation by members (Schau et al.] Nothing on the planet sounds like a Harley. In Harley Davidson as well. and marital status by clicking on their profile link. attractiveness. 35). All Years.” or “happy marriage.2.” “happy birthday.3. At an idle. Novice members usually have many questions about the focal brand that they can ask from knowing members. for example. “Badging occurs when a semiotic signifier of a milestone is created” (Schau et al. members lend emotional support to each other in sad or happy moments by sharing comments of “condolences.]. Since the communities are computer-mediated environments. Together these communities comprise a repository of knowledge about how to best use the brands. and value creation practices are commonly observable in these communities. new creativity initiated by consumers.” Twelve other members like this memorable moment shared with them and 8 other members comment on it. we found some underlying unique aspects that have many implications for brand community researchers and practitioners. .. 2002).128 M. which includes staking. sharing pictures that depict them with their car in impassable places to show the power and strength of their vehicle. it seems to be a good environment for these practices. Communications are not as rich as the face-to-face communications in offline brand communities and are not as poor as solely text based communications in online communities (Bagozzi & Dholakia. This makes the practices of brand use.” “congrats.R. This way. especially under posts that are specific to customizing the Harley motorcycles. news. I have water coming into my jeep from bolts in the sunvisor what is causing this and how do I fix it or do I have to take it to the dealer?” Fredric: “I’d take the bolts out wrap em in plumbers tape then put em back” Robert: “I’ll try that” This is an example of grooming that aims to enhance caring for the brand. We showed that all the indicators of brand community. In conclusion.

members still do the same thing but in a different manner as our study reveals. This transparency in brand supporters’ identities impacts brand evaluation and purchase intentions. Habibi et al. what is called the most successful brand community building effort. cultural and traditional elements. Although there is research that pays attention to the moderating role of the size of brand communities (e. instead of narrating a story..2. Storytelling has been pervasive in the consumption context.. 2008). instead. The ranking system in the Coca Cola virtual community in Spain uses criteria such as the sexiest.” (Kietzmann et al. Juric. However. In previous brand community research. members were divided based on their commitment. hence. and individuals. 2002). meanings. Ilic. This is counter intuitive because brand managers prefer a larger brand community as it allows a more extensive . experiences. The purpose here was to focus attention on these dimensions and emphasize the impacts that they could have on other aspects of marketing in social media. for example.3. Content and storytelling. Related to. This is while the Coca Cola brand community on Facebook has over 50 million members without such efforts. There are numerous instances that members.3. there is often a system in virtual brand communities of ranking members based on the number of comments that they make or appreciations they receive from other members. However. 3. share a picture of what happened to them and their vehicle with a description. 5). This is the new trend of storytelling in brand communities. 98). However. Similarly. However. there is a greater possibility of transferring thousands of words with a 4. unlike previous research this research identifies five new dimensions of brand communities established on social media that could have great implications for future research.2. 2010. Myriads of affiliated brand communities. soft core. these brand communities have flat structures.M. This has implications for brand managers since the format of storytelling is changing in the social media era. & Hollebeek. to consider some brands “ethical” or eligible to be reviewed by other members of the community (Brodie. 2004).4. Sood. 3.3. similarity in supporters’ identities enhances evaluation (Naylor et al. 2013). which is a community of “fellow Jeepers to put on something PINK and rally behind a great cause!” (Facebook. Social networks provide the ability for anyone to initiate groups and communities instantaneously. 2013b). For example.. Thompson & Sinha. Although the page administrators and some devotee members are there and are usually distinguished from other members. and marketers collectively participate using a platform that allows them to share their ideas.3. simple picture. This is in line with previous research on online brand communities that distinguishes online brand communities on a variety of dimensions (e. Another related and important observation is the existence of myriads of sub-brand communities. which is a new aspect of these mega communities. is about sharing brand related stories. usually initiated by enthusiastic brand devotees or branches of the company. Now consider the scale dimension.R. 1991). 2001.g.2.. their population tends to be highly heterogeneous. Such variety and access to brand communities is perhaps a new aspect in marketing and also raises issues of multiple community membership. 2004). Muniz and Schau. as many established management methods are ill-suited to deal with customers who no longer want to be talked at.2.g. it might negatively influence consumers’ brand evaluations. Wherever there is a human collective. 2008. little is known about such recent mega brand communities on social media. p. despite large virtual brand communities in which members do not usually have any personal knowledge of one another (Dholakia et al. visual narratives such as videos or photos accompanied by small descriptions or tags were dominant in the communities we studied. and respond. Structure. in our netnographic study we did not find evidence pertaining to any sort of structure or ranking system. Bagozzi. Text was the primary medium in virtual communities to transfer narratives. p. in online brand communities based on chat rooms or discussion forums. Schouten & McAlexander..5 million members after 3 years (Sicilia & Palazon. 2008) and also supports research in the social media context that takes the brand community approach to study the influences of branding activities in social media on brand related variables such as trust and loyalty (Laroche et al. We also showed that these collectives manifest all characteristics and elements of brand communities that were stated by brand community research initiatives (e. and consumption experiences of a common brand in any format (from text to multimedia) and in an efficient manner. 2002). This. West.2. for example. the social context in social media is a way for members to easily find information about each other.5. extensively supported by Coca Cola in Spain. communities. with the brand having some sort of primary or peripheral role.. we found more than a thousand related brand communities that are devoted to some more specific aspects of the brands. Take the social context dimension. Additionally. While most online virtual communities do not exceed more than tens of thousands. pretenders. 2012). and membership duration into groups such as hard core. gained about 1. 3. 1987. We argue that the social context in social media is different from that for previous platforms.3. there are communities such as Harley Davidson Photography (Facebook. 2013. 2008). In social media based brand communities. These members are called “highly engaged consumers” who would earn certain “rights” in the community. there is not an explicit hierarchy or ranking system in these communities. 2012. Scale. 2002). typically people not only use their own real names but it is also possible for them to gather significant information about others just by a click on their profile. 2012).. & Pearo. or outlaws (Fox. feelings. in fact. customers want firms to listen. appropriately engage. Our study shows that although text is still there. Muniz & O’Guinn. Equipped with digital cameras embedded in cell phones. it is highly likely that people are involved in some sort of storytelling. users usually use aliases in order to participate in the community.. Much information is transferred via stories and brands often have a central role in these consumption related stories. but not dependent on. or the most original (Sicilia & Palazon. Therefore. most content being shared is visual in the form of photos and videos. 2013a) or Jeep for the Cure. For example. which has often been neglected by scholars of brand community (McAlexander et al. McAlexander et al. 2007. social context is the scale of social media based brand communities. in the context of brand communities. 3. For both communities. p. The sizes of these brand communities are very large. Thus. We called these collectives brand communities based in social media. Structure is an important aspect of brand communities (Schouten & McAlexander. and stories to other members of the community (Bagozzi & Dholakia. This presents an enormous challenge for firms.g. / International Journal of Information Management 34 (2014) 123–132 129 each other’s profiles can influence their brand evaluation (Naylor. this is not the case with social media. Discussion and theoretical implications “Social media introduces substantial and pervasive changes to communication between organizations. Miller. Wolf. admirers. 1995. “consumers often use products and services as props or anthropomorphic identities to enact story productions that reflect archetypal myths” (Woodside. Lamberton.. 250) The purpose of this article was to delve into a new phenomenon in which brand gurus. the hardest. Dholakia. 1995).

Perhaps one of the motivations of devotee members was to go up the ladder (Schouten & McAlexander. M. M. M. or company (Bagozzi. & Dholakia. 1995) to gain some credit and appreciation in the community. Psychological Science. managers should facilitate conversations among members and marketers to foster such feelings (Powers et al. & Herrmann. Facebook profiles reflect actual personality. & Noble. . 69(3). To take full advantage of the large scale of these communities. the Jeep for Cure community. M. 4. it would be very interesting to examine whether members feel that they are part of a community for lower involvement product categories. 2012). (2010). enhances consumer-based brand equity (Christodoulides. Previously. this research offers practical implications for brand managers... 16(2). 2012). It shows that brand managers have a historical opportunity to reach and foster their bonds with the brand fans in social media through brand community practices. Stopfer. Acknowledgement The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. For a very small cost (LaPointe. Journal of Marketing. For example. Intentional social action in virtual communities. P. S. As we mentioned in the discussion of the social media dimension. Harley. & Morandin.130 M..R.. which consists of members (mainly women) who are interested in raising awareness for curing certain diseases. The social influence of brand community: Evidence from European car clubs. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. We generally agree with Moran and Gossieaux (2010) that marketers should deeply understand the human characteristics and also unique aspects behind these communities in order to be successful in social media-based community deployment. Back. fans of a brand on social media have a strong feeling of being in a community so that they feel obligated to contribute to its welfare. References Adjei. 38(5).. M... B. (2005). 34(1). Social context. which. S. Our research complements previous research and shows how managers can build relationships with consumers in the form of social media-based brand communities. 2012). According to our findings.. Andersen. Marketers also should respect the heterogeneity of sub-communities and try to foster it. Journal of Interactive Marketing. Bristor. Relationship marketing and brand involvement of professionals through web-enhanced brand communities: The case of Coloplast. The influence of C2C communications in online brand communities on customer purchase behavior. 4. Research shows that a feeling of community positively influences consumers’ involvement in UGC. such as videos and photos by. there are numerous brand sub-communities in social media. For instance. Consumers are highly involved in this product category (Zhou et al. A. Therefore. Schmukle. S. Egloff. 634–653. Noble.. Bagozzi. We also suggest that managers use more visual messages to communicate with the audiences. How do these devotee members feel in these mega sized flat communities in social media? Will they still try to find a position in the community or do they find community membership useless? What would be the effect on their community participation intentions (Algesheimer et al. “Scholars of brand community often neglect the effect of multiple community membership” (McAlexander et al. Future research might address this issue and examine its effects on consumption experience and behavior. 1996). J. Multiple memberships are theoretically possible on social media in that consumers can experience multiple identities and connections with their network of friends. It would be interesting to include more product categories and examine whether brand community characteristics will reveal themselves across communities involving various products. These sub-communities are initiated around commonalities among their members. We only investigated two well known brand communities that are related to vehicle categories. social media create an interesting platform where researchers can examine the effects of multiple memberships. 2–21. Dholakia. p. C. 2002. researchers can compare Jeep. Vazire. (2002). Marzocchi. Limitations and future research In addition to the research questions mentioned in the discussion. 2012). in turn. More research into this dimension is needed: What are the motivations of starting up new sub-communities by members? How similar (different) are these communities from their parent community? Lack of structure is another characteristic of such brand communities. not self-idealization. et al. and other communities based on the richness of their interactions with their fans. brand managers can set up brand communities on social media and access millions of brand supporters around the world that are either current or future consumers of their products. R. 39–51. U. 2005)? Research has shown that scale matters in brand communities in some contexts such as higher education. marketers should participate in the community as if they are a member of the community and not the managers. managers must pay attention to the differences that exist between the new form of brand communities and the more traditional ones. Due to the nature of social media. Habibi et al.. brand. / International Journal of Information Management 34 (2014) 123–132 communication (or advertising) channel. S. marketers should not try to impose any unnatural hierarchy to preserve a position for themselves because it might receive negative reactions from the crowd.1. Due to the nature of our research. it is easy for consumers to have multiple community memberships. & Bonhomme. 40). C. 372–374. Researchers can also look at the problem from the perspective of the richness of the interactions among brand community members on social media. P. marketers have to better facilitate the sharing of new forms of communication.. 19–34. Jevons. Gaddis. there are significant differences between small and large institutions with respect to their members’ relationships with brand elements as well as their integration in the brand community (McAlexander & Koenig 2010). More importantly. 21(3). U... (2005). brand communities used to have a certain structure from hard cores to outsiders. However. Bergami. we open some new research avenues to address the limitations of the current study. for instance. Considering the flat structure of these communities. R. Managerial implications In addition to the above discussion.. it was not possible to include multiple memberships in our investigation. Industrial Marketing Management. which has useful hints for managers. (2010). as dimension four (content and storytelling) demonstrates. Merely trying to expand the community as much as possible might not be the best idea because the large variety in identity of support might oppress the evaluations of the brand. content and other aspects are also important dimensions of brand communities that must be considered while studying or being involved with brand communities. Algesheimer. creative photo or video clip contests. D. Therefore. 2012). H.2. & Gainer. What are the negative and positive consequences of such large-scale brand communities? How can practitioners avoid any negative consequences? It seems to us that one way that brand community members (or marketers) commit to initiatives to attract and consequently interact with more similar brand supporters is by initiating new groups (sub-communities).. for instance. Richness of interactions could be one dimension to categorize communities based on social media (Fischer. Researchers need to pay more attention to the effects of mega sized brand communities that are forming on social media.

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His main research interests are in consumer behavior. Habibi et al. He published in Computers in Human Behavior and the International Journal of Information Management. Journal of Advertising Research. and an independent researcher. She published more than 34 articles in journals and proceedings. he is mostly interested in the role of culture and brand decision processes. Marie-Odile Richard is a Post-doctoral Fellow in neuromarketing. and retailing. Concordia University. International Journal of Information Management and Journal of Social Psychology. Journal of Business Research. marketing communications and Internet marketing. services marketing. . Her research interests are in marketing communications (including digital marketing). neuromarketing.132 M. She received her MSc (Marketing) from Concordia University and her PhD (Marketing) from HEC-University of Montreal. services marketing. including the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. Montreal (Canada). Mohammad Reza Habibi is a doctoral candidate in the John Molson School of Business.R. and cultural effects on individual responses. / International Journal of Information Management 34 (2014) 123–132 editor of the Journal of Business Research and as member of the board of governors of the Academy of Marketing Science. His main research interests are in the area of social media and brand communities. Within consumer behavior.