Sunday, November 3, 2013

Bonding in Online Communities

Group attachment is an important aspect of retaining and maintaining customers. As groups begin to identify and interact with new members, they build additional identities with the service or product. Research by Yuquing Ren, et. al (2012), focuses on communication and the understanding of identity, bond, and community identity in online forums. Their study helps highlight how different types of attachment strengthen online interaction and customer retention. 

The far majority of business that seeks to build online communities fail to attract a critical mass of customers even when over a million dollars have been spent (Worthen, 2008).  The primary problem is that they have not been able to create and develop a level of attachment among members. Customers simply come and disappear after a few posts. 

Understanding that there is identity attachment, bond attachment and community attachment can help in fostering the right type of activities that create positive identity with the service. People must feel connected to other members of the group if they are to return to the site on a regular basis. 

Identity attachment can be seen as attachment to members who are similar in appearance or other difference that separates them. It is a primarily visual and surface type identity. Bond based attachments are focused more on connection to group members and seeing similarity in belief, interests or values. Group based attachment is focused on connecting to an entire community of online users. 

The researchers found that identity based attachment is much easier to foster in online communities. One generally must provide an identity, familiarity around products, and in and out-group type dynamics to encourage retention (i.e. you’re different because you use our service). Bond based and community based attachment requires the ability to have personal communications. This is much more akin to social networking than it is other types of online communities. 

Online communities act in the same manner as real life communities. Communication is the key component that allows people to feel connected to others and form an identify around particular aspects of interest. In the online world identity groups and community groups are easier to establish based upon the specific and genera interest in products or identity. Social bonding is more difficult and takes considerable amount of time and energy. It is difficult to determine precisely when and how long bond identity can be formed. However, the use of profiles and communication around topics can encourage this knowledge of other members.

Worthen, B. (July 16,2008). Why most online communities fail. Wall Street Journal.

Yuqing Ren, et. al. (2012). Building member attachment in online communities: applying theories of group identity and interpersonal bonds. MIS Quarterly, 36 (3).

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