The purpose of this paper is to investigate to which extent the concept of communities of practice (CoPs) can be applied to online communities and to explore how organizations can better utilize online social structures for their knowledge management practice.
A case study was used to examine an online community with the practice‐and‐identity framework that characterizes conventional CoPs. Qualitative data analysis was conducted primarily on 7,853 messages downloaded from the online community during a six week period.
The results showed how an online community could manifest the practice and identity characteristics of conventional CoPs as community members actively engaged in their shared practice and identity development while pursuing a joint enterprise. Research limitations/implications – The study was conducted in a single Chinese online community on traveling, which may limit the generalizability of the findings.
This study suggested how organizations can nurture online CoPs. In addition, a hierarchical model was proposed to help organizations identify the appropriate online social structure for their knowledge management purposes. Originality/value – This study empirically verified that CoPs can emerge from online communities and demonstrated that the concept of CoPs can be used to guide knowledge sharing and knowledge creation in online environments.
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