Executive summary of “Consumer engagement in online brand communities: a social media perspective”

Journal of Product & Brand Management

ISSN: 1061-0421

Publication date: 16 March 2015


(2015), "Executive summary of “Consumer engagement in online brand communities: a social media perspective”", Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 24 No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/JPBM-01-2015-0790



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Executive summary of “Consumer engagement in online brand communities: a social media perspective”

Article Type: Executive summary and implications for managers and executives From: Journal of Product & Brand Management, Volume 24, Issue 1

This summary has been provided to allow managers and executives a rapid appreciation of the content of the article. Those with a particular interest in the topic covered may then read the article in toto to take advantage of the more comprehensive description of the research undertaken and its results to get the full benefit of the material present.

Marketing attention toward consumer engagement is on the increase. Interest is justified by the need to further understand relationships between consumers and brand and growing emphasis on the experiential and interactive disposition of the connections.

Consumer engagement is widely acknowledged as a state which goes beyond conventional behaviors that are “market-ascribed”. However, a common definition continues to elude academics. Both single and multidimensional approaches have been purported, with the latter type offering a “broader perspective”. This prompted a widely deployed conceptualization of engagement that incorporates behavioral, affective and cognitive dimensions.

Empirical investigations into engagement are limited and conflicting in the number of dimensions considered. Tendency to restrict contexts of engagement to such as brands or organizations has also drawn criticism. Some researchers do acknowledge the potential significance to brand or firm performance when people engage with fellow consumers or other “marketplace actors”. Nevertheless, research into interactions within communities of consumers sharing the same interests remains scant.

Brand communities are a relatively recent phenomenon whose growing popularity owes much to the Internet. Being able to interact with like-minded others in an online environment removes conventional barriers of space and time. Community members are often widely dispersed geographically. The various descriptions afforded to such communities also recognize their social nature and enthusiasm for the brand or other “focal object”.

Different studies have pointed out that the emotional bond individuals feel toward a brand is typically strengthened further through their community involvement. They propose that membership positively influences their attachment and behavioral intentions toward the focal brand. Practices constantly evolve in such communities and create added value, loyalty and brand equity. Engagement is not confined to the brand alone though. It also frequently occurs with fellow community members. One suggestion is that engagement is enabled through five sub-processes: learning, sharing, co-developing, advocating and socializing. Social media (SM) illustrates the point perfectly, with tangible examples of engagement evident in such as people liking or commenting on the contributions of others on Facebook.

In the present study, Dessart et al. aim to identify key antecedents and dimensions of consumer engagement in an online brand community utilizing SM. A total of 21 respondents participated in the study, which involved semi-structured interviews conducted either in person or through online video call. English and French speaking subjects from various nations were included in the sample to reflect the cross-cultural nature of brand communities and SM contexts.

Interviewees for the study were chosen on the basis of being “highly involved” in at least one brand community. This was measured by the observed “intensity, frequency and duration” of their participation on Facebook and Twitter SM platforms. Questions related to subjects’ general experience with SM and involvement with online brand communities where their engagement was strong. Opportunity was provided to offer their own definitions of engagement and discuss feelings and behaviors at times when they felt engaged with a brand or community. They could also comment on their engagement levels with online communities managed by the brand rather than other consumers. Study questions covered behavioral, emotional and cognitive dimensions of engaging with an online brand community.

Interviews revealed that subjects use various SM platforms to interact with both brands and other users in what the authors refer to as “double focus”. Variety of networking opportunities offered provided the motivation to use Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. Participants reported engaging with various brands types on SM, especially retailers, fashion brands and services.

Analysis confirmed the three dimensions of engagement, and revealed the existence of seven sub-dimensions. Affective engagement develops from feelings which recur and endure rather than those that are fleeting. The sub-dimensions relevant here are:

  • Enthusiasm: Interest in the online brand community and the pleasure derived from being involved are reflected here. Enthusiasm is initiated and sustained through continuing interactions with fellow members; and

  • Enjoyment: This refers to the pleasure and satisfaction gained from participating in the brand community. Contributing to discussions and reading messages posted by other users or the brand are sources of the happiness felt.

Cognitive engagement incorporates the “sustained attention” that different studies ascribe to various “mental states” which are active and ongoing. Associated with this dimension are:

  • Attention: Willingly interacting with others in the community to the point that it consumes much of their focus and time is a frequent comment here; and

  • Absorption: This more profound state of involvement reflects member difficulty in removing themselves from online brand communities and/or SM platforms. Intensity can be transient though, such as when particular community events are taking place. Content that fascinates and entertains is deemed responsible for high absorption levels.

The significance of behavioral engagement is widely acknowledged. On SM, its sub-dimensions are:

  • Sharing, of content, ideas or experiences: The collaborative nature of SM and brand communities ensures that sharing is a prominent activity, evidenced through mechanisms that include comments, posts and tweets;

  • Learning: This is key to greater participation in an online community. Help can be sought from knowledgeable other members who might then provide valuable information and resources. Earlier work contrasted the proactive nature of learning in an online community environment with the passive approach typical of disengaged individuals; and

  • Endorsing: This element is manifest in ways that include sanctioning of community activities and ideas proposed. Interviewees mentioned using the Facebook “like” button for this purpose. Another example is member recommendation of products and services and how to best use them.

Several factors evidently drive consumer engagement in this context:

  • Relationship with the brand, which is stronger when values are mutual. Other influential factors include knowledge, satisfaction and trust relating to the brand. Shared interests with other members increase the sense of intimacy;

  • Benefits or value in the shape of content or information posted by members, or monetary offers like deals or vouchers; and

  • Structure of community: size appears to be a critical issue here. Respondents report greater satisfaction when their community is relatively small and perceived as exclusive. Dynamics change as its size grows and motivation to engage reduces.

Dessart et al. report key outcomes of engagement. Sustaining relations with the brand is particularly important due to the positive effect on loyalty. Another valued outcome to respondents is the contribution to purchase decision-making of comments and reviews from other members. Engaged individuals are likelier to defend the brand and remain loyal even after an unsatisfactory experience. However, the latter often depends on the brand’s reaction.

This work supports previous belief that brand community involvement can generate a “virtuous circle” with regard to engagement and value creation. The authors note the importance of relations with other members and suggest that brands should take a minor role in managing communities where members attach strong relevance to community practices. Greater prominence on their part is more appropriate when relationship with the brand is the major reason for community membership.

Future work might investigate whether type of SM platform influences engagement. Exploring the possibility that consumer engagement could be higher in certain brand categories is another option. Negative engagement and causal relationships between different dimensions are other research avenues suggested by Dessart et al.

To read the full article enter 10.1108/JPBM-06-2014-0635 into your search engine.

(A précis of the article “Consumer engagement in online brand communities: a social media perspective”. Supplied by Marketing Consultants for Emerald.)