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INTERNET AS A MEDIA FOR MARKETING & ADVERTISING: A STUDY ON SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES

1.1 Internet marketing


The Internet is a worldwide, publicly accessible series of interconnected computer networks that transmit data by packet switching using the standard Internet Protocol (IP). It is a "network of networks" that consists of millions of smaller domestic, academic, business, and government networks, which together carry various information and services, such as electronic mail, online chat, file transfer, and the interlinked web pages and other resources of the World Wide Web (WWW). The marketing mix is experiencing a fundamental transformation, and the catalyst is Internet commerce. Largely, this is over the World Wide Web (WWW), it is estimated that WWW sales in 1996 reached half a billion dollars, with the possibility of reaching one-hundred billion by the turn of the century. By that time, 28 per cent of Americans are expected to shop on the Web. Web advertising was estimated at $312 million in 1996, and is expected to reach $20 billion by the year 2015. The Internet has the potential to affect each component of the marketing mix. Place becomes less important as easy and inexpensive communication between individuals on opposite sides of a country or the planet becomes commonplace. The Internet has accelerated a shift in the nature of products from mass produced and tangible to customized and information based. The potential for price discrimination is diminished given the enhanced capability of consumers to identify the least expensive source, regardless of location. Arguably, the component of the marketing mix being most quickly transformed as a result of Internet usage is advertising. The Internet is not only a new media, but it is also a form of media that differs essentially from those preceding it. Internet promotion combines mass medias reach with the personalization inherent in two-way dialogue previously only possible using personal advertising and promotion. Companies which have chosen to enter the field of online marketing have automatically entered a race with the purpose of developing a strong marketing strategy with attractive advertisements as a result. Although there are numerous ways of performing marketing on the internet, the most common ones have been the use of Banners, Pop-ups, E-mail marketing, Search-engine marketing, Blogs and Communities.

However, during the past years, there have been a number of issues related to the effectiveness of the most common marketing methods. In the recently emerged trend of online social networking sites, an initial set of founders sends out messages inviting members of their own personal networks to join the site/community. New members repeat the process, growing the total number of members. The type of network we are studying comes under the category of Social networking services (SNS), which are oriented towards social communities and/or dating, and where users typically fill in personal information, add contacts, share information, and join communities of their interest. The social networking sites have also played a crucial role in bridging boundaries and crossing the seas and bringing all people at a common platform where they can meet like minded people or find old friends and communicate with them. It has become a mean to relationship building and staying in touch with all known. ADD on e-marketing

1.2 Advertising

Advertising is a form of communication whose purpose is to inform potential customers about products and services and how to obtain and use them. Many advertisements are also designed to generate increased consumption of those products and services through the creation and reinforcement of brand image and brand loyalty. For these purposes advertisements often contain both factual information and persuasive messages. Every major medium is used to deliver these messages, including: television, radio, movies, magazines, newspapers, video games, the Internet and billboards. Advertising is often placed by an advertising agency on behalf of a company. Advertisements can also be seen on the seats of grocery carts, on the walls of an airport walkway, on the sides of buses, heard in telephone hold messages and in-store public address systems. Advertisements are usually placed anywhere an audience can easily and/or frequently access visuals and/or audio and print Organizations which frequently spend large sums of money on advertising but do not strictly sell a product or service to the general public include: political parties, interest groups, religion-supporting organizations, and militaries looking for new recruits. Additionally, some non-profit organizations are not typical advertising clients and rely upon free channels, such as public service announcements.

Advertising spending has increased dramatically in recent years. In the United States alone in 2006, spending on advertising reached $155 billion, reported TNS Media Intelligence. That same year, according to a report titled Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2006-2010, issued by global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, worldwide advertising spending was $385 billion. The accounting firm's report projected worldwide advertisement spending to exceed half-a-trillion dollars by 2010. While advertising can be seen as necessary for economic growth, it is not without social costs. Unsolicited Commercial Email and other forms of spam have become so prevalent as to have become a major nuisance to users of these services, as well as being a financial burden on internet service providers. Advertising is increasingly invading public spaces, such as schools, which some critics argue is a form of child exploitation. Increasingly, other media are overtaking television because of a shift towards consumer's usage of the internet as well as devices such as TiVo. Advertising on the World Wide Web is a recent phenomenon. Prices of Web-based advertising space are dependent on the "relevance" of the surrounding web content and the traffic that the website receives. E-mail advertising is another recent phenomenon. Unsolicited bulk E-mail advertising is known as "spam". Some companies have proposed to place messages or corporate logos on the side of booster rockets and the International Space Station. Controversy exists on the effectiveness of subliminal advertising, and the pervasiveness of mass messages SMS (Short Message Service) text messages have taken Europe by storm and are breaking into the USA. The addition of a text-back number is gaining prevalence as a www address of yesterday. Used as part of your companies 'how to contact us' these can be very effective. These can be a (rented) keyword on a short-code or your own system on a standard number (like Mojio Messenger). The benefit of SMS text messages is people can respond where they are, right now, stuck in traffic, sitting on the metro. The use of SMS text messages can also be a great way to get a viral (word-of-mouth) campaign off the ground, is to build your own database of prospects see viral marketing. Interstitial advertisement is a form of advertisement which takes place while a page loads.

1.2.1 Online Advertising

Online advertising is a form of advertising that uses the Internet and World Wide Web in order to deliver marketing messages and attract customers. Examples of online advertising include contextual ads on search engine results pages, banner ads, advertising networks and e-mail marketing, including e-mail spam. A major result of online advertising is information and content that is not limited by geography or time. The emerging area of interactive advertising presents fresh challenges for advertisers who have hitherto adopted an interruptive strategy. Online video directories for brands are a good example of interactive advertising. These directories complement television advertising and allow the viewer to view the commercials of a number of brands. If the advertiser has opted for a response feature, the viewer may then choose to visit the brands website, or interact with the advertiser through other touch points such as email, chat or phone. Response to brand communication is instantaneous, and conversion to business is very high. This is because in contrast to conventional forms of interruptive advertising, the viewer has actually chosen to see the commercial. Purchasing variations The three most common ways in which online advertising is purchased are CPM, CPC, and CPA.

CPM (Cost Per Impression) is where advertisers pay for exposure of their message to a specific audience. CPM costs are priced per thousand impressions. The M in the acronym is the Roman numeral for one thousand.

CPV (Cost Per Visitor) is where advertisers pay for the delivery of a Targeted Visitor to the advertisers website. CPC (Cost Per Click) is also known as Pay per click (PPC). Advertisers pay every time a user clicks on their listing and is redirected to their website. They do not actually pay for the listing, but only when the listing is clicked on. This system allows advertising specialists to refine searches and gain information about their market. Under the Pay per click pricing system, advertisers pay for the right to be listed under a series of target rich words that direct relevant traffic to their website, and pay only when someone clicks

on their listing which links directly to their website. CPC differs from CPV in that each click is paid for regardless of whether the user makes it to the target site.

CPA (Cost Per Action) or (Cost Per Acquisition) advertising is performance based and is common in the affiliate marketing sector of the business. In this payment scheme, the publisher takes all the risk of running the ad, and the advertiser pays only for the amount of users who complete a transaction, such as a purchase or sign-up. This is the best type of rate to pay for banner advertisements and the worst type of rate to charge. Similarly, CPL (Cost Per Lead) advertising is identical to CPA advertising and is based on the user completing a form, registering for a newsletter or some other action that the merchant feels will lead to a sale. Also common, CPO (Cost Per Order) advertising is based on each time an order is transacted. Cost per conversion Describes the cost of acquiring a customer, typically calculated by dividing the total cost of an ad campaign by the number of conversions. The definition of "Conversion" varies depending on the situation: it is sometimes considered to be a lead, a sale, or a purchase. Though, as seen above, the large majority of online advertising has a cost that is brought about by usage or interaction of an ad, there are a few other methods of advertising online that only require a one time payment. The Million Dollar Homepage is a very successful example of this. Visitors were able to pay $1 per pixel of advertising space and their advert would remain on the homepage for as long as the website exists with no extra costs.

1.2.2 Rich Media Advertising

The display advertising portion of online advertising is increasingly dominated by rich media, generally using Adobe Flash. Rich media advertising techniques make overt use of color, imagery, page layout, and other elements in order to attract the reader's attention. Some users might consider these ads intrusive or obnoxious, because they can distract from the desired content of a webpage. Some examples of common rich media formats and the terms of art used within the industry to describe them:

Banner ad: An advertising graphic image or animation displayed on a website, in an application (such as Eudora), or in an HTML email. Banner ads come in numerous standard sizes defined by the IAB, but originally (in the mid to late 1990s) were only rectangular GIF images 468 pixels wide by 60 pixels high. Media types and sizes have since become much more varied.

Interstitial ad: The display of a page of ads before the requested content. Floating ad: An ad which moves across the user's screen or floats above the content. Expanding ad: An ad which changes size and which may alter the contents of the webpage. Polite ad: A method by which a large ad will be downloaded in smaller pieces to minimize the disruption of the content being viewed Wallpaper ad: An ad which changes the background of the page being viewed. Trick banner: A banner ad that looks like a dialog box with buttons. It simulates an error message or an alert. Pop-up: A new window which opens in front of the current one, displaying an advertisement, or entire webpage. Pop-under: Similar to a Pop-Up except that the window is loaded or sent behind the current window so that the user does not see it until they close one or more active windows. Video ad: similar to a banner ad, except that instead of a static or animated image, actual moving video clips are displayed. Map ad: text or graphics linked from, and appearing in or over, a location on an electronic map such as on Google Maps. Mobile ad: an SMS text or multi-media message sent to a cell phone. In addition, ads containing streaming video or streaming audio are becoming very popular with advertisers.

1.2.3 Email Advertising

Legitimate Email advertising or E-mail marketing is often known as "opt-in e-mail advertising" to distinguish it from spam.

1.2.4 Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is a form of online advertising where advertisers place campaigns with a potentially large number of small (and large) publishers, whom are only paid media fees when traffic to the advertiser is garnered, and usually upon a specific measurable campaign result (a form, a sale, a sign-up, etc). Today, this is usually accomplished through contracting with an affiliate network or CPA network, such as Performics, Hydra Network, Motive Interactive, Commission Junction/BeFree, LinkShare, Primeq or Azoogle. Affiliate marketing was an invention by CDNow.com in 1994 and was excelled by Amazon.com when it launched its Affiliate Program, called Associate Program in 1996. The online retailer used its program to generate low cost brand exposure and provided at the same time small websites a way to earn some supplemental income.

1.2.5 Contextual Advertising

Many advertising networks display graphical or text-only ads that correspond to the keywords of an Internet search or to the content of the page on which the ad is shown. These ads are believed to have a greater chance of attracting a user, because they tend to share a similar context as the user's search query. For example, a search query for "flowers" might return an advertisement for a florist's website. Another newer technique is embedding keyword hyperlinks in an article which are sponsored by an advertiser. When a user follows the link, they are sent to a sponsor's website.

Ads and Malware

There is also class of advertising methods which may be considered unethical and perhaps even illegal. These include external applications which alter system settings (such as a browser's home page), spawn pop-ups, and insert advertisements into non-affiliated web pages. Such applications are usually labeled as spyware or adware. They may mask their questionable activities by performing a simple service, such as displaying the weather or providing a search bar. Some programs are effectively trojans. These applications are commonly designed so as to be difficult to remove or uninstall. The ever-increasing audience of online users, many of whom are not computer-savvy, frequently lack the knowledge and technical ability to protect themselves from these programs.

How online advertisement Industry works

As we have discussed that the web represents the most innovative, exciting, disrupting and fastest growing advertisement media. Now we will discuss how online industry works and who all are the major parties. There are basically four parties in online advertisement industry--publishers, advertisement networks, advertisers and the internet users.

Figure 1: Diagrammatic Representation of the Online Ad Industry

Publishers can make money by showing advertisements on their sites. But it is difficult for publishers to maximize revenue they make from displaying ads all by themselves as publishers find themselves faced with the following questions like:

Which advertiser will value my visitors the most? How can I get in touch with those advertisers? How can I match particular visitors with specific ads/campaigns? Which advertisements will be of most interest to my visitors? And many others

Advertisers are the brands that are willing to advertise and promote their brand/products etc on the publishers website. They use publishers site to display advertisements of their products. Again it becomes difficult for advertisers alone to choose the publisher. This is where ads network like Tyroo Media etc come into the picture. They serve as a web space where publishers and advertisers can meet.

Tyroo as an ad network buys inventory from many publishers and represents the ad inventory to the advertisers. Ad is served with no effort required by the publisher or the advertiser. Publishers only need to sign up and insert tags in their websites to start making money. All the pain and the effort is taken by the Tyroo with the attempts made to maximize the ROI for the advertiser and revenue for publishers.

There are many different kinds of ads publishers can choose to show. Ads may differ in sizes and shapes. Ads may differ in formats: text, rich media, flash Ads may be banner ads, context ads, pop up ads etc Ads may differ in terms of the payment models: CPM, CPC, CPA Ads may vary in terms of their placement on a site

Having talked about how online advertisement industry works, it is high time we discuss the Social Network Channel. Despite the fact that the Indian online population is small, they have latched onto social media pretty early. So, when it comes to digital marketing in India, Indian marketers are warming up to the social media phenomenon. Let us discuss about the Social Networking sites in great detail now.

Social networking websites

We define social network sites as web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site.

While we use the term "social network site" to describe this phenomenon, the term "social networking sites" also appears in public discourse, and the two terms are often used interchangeably. We chose not to employ the term "networking" for two reasons: emphasis and scope. "Networking" emphasizes relationship initiation, often between strangers. While networking is possible on these sites, it is not the primary practice on many of them, nor is it what differentiates them from other forms of computer-mediated communication (CMC).

What makes social network sites unique is not that they allow individuals to meet strangers, but rather that they enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks. This can result in connections between individuals that would not otherwise be made, but that is often not the goal, and these meetings are frequently between "latent ties" (Haythornthwaite, 2005) who share some offline connection. On many of the large SNSs, participants are not necessarily "networking" or looking to meet new people; instead, they are primarily communicating with people who are already a part of their extended social network. To emphasize this articulated social network as a critical organizing feature of these sites, we label them "social network sites."

While SNSs have implemented a wide variety of technical features, their backbone consists of visible profiles that display an articulated list of Friends1 who are also users of the system. Profiles are unique pages where one can "type oneself into being" (Sundn, 2003, p. 3). After joining an SNS, an individual is asked to fill out forms containing a series of questions. The profile is generated using the answers to these questions, which typically include descriptors such as age, location, interests, and an "about me" section. Most sites also encourage users to upload a profile photo. Some sites allow users to enhance their profiles by adding multimedia content or modifying their profile's look and feel. Others, such as Facebook, allow users to add modules ("Applications") that enhance their profile.

The visibility of a profile varies by site and according to user discretion. By default, profiles on Friendster and Tribe.net are crawled by search engines, making them visible to anyone, regardless of whether or not the viewer has an account. Alternatively, LinkedIn controls what a viewer may see based on whether she or he has a paid account. Sites like MySpace allow users to choose whether they want their profile to be public or "Friends only." Facebook takes a different approach by default, users who are part of the same "network" can view each other's profiles, unless a profile owner has decided to deny permission to those in their network. Structural variations around visibility and access are one of the primary ways that SNSs differentiate themselves from each other.

After joining a social network site, users are prompted to identify others in the system with which they have a relationship. The label for these relationships differs depending on the site - popular terms include "Friends," "Contacts," and "Fans." Most SNSs require bi-directional confirmation for Friendship, but some do not. These one-directional ties are sometimes labeled as "Fans" or "Followers," but many sites call these Friends as well. The term "Friends" can be misleading, because the connection does not necessarily mean friendship in the everyday vernacular sense, and the reasons people connect are varied (Boyd, 2006). The public display of connections is a crucial component of SNSs. The Friends list contains links to each Friend's profile, enabling viewers to traverse the network graph by clicking through the Friends lists. On most sites, the list of Friends is visible to anyone who is permitted to view the profile, although there are exceptions. For instance, some MySpace users have hacked their profiles to hide the Friends display, and LinkedIn allows users to opt out of displaying their network.

Most SNSs also provide a mechanism for users to leave messages on their Friends' profiles. This feature typically involves leaving "comments," although sites employ various labels for this feature. In addition, SNSs often have a private messaging feature similar to webmail. While both private messages and comments are popular on most of the major SNSs, they are not universally available. Not all social network sites began as such. QQ started as a Chinese instant messaging service, LunarStorm as a community site, Cyworld as a Korean discussion forum tool, and Skyrock (formerly Skyblog) was a French blogging service before adding SNS features. Classmates.com, a directory of school affiliates launched in 1995, began supporting articulated lists of Friends after SNSs became popular. AsianAvenue, MiGente, and BlackPlanet were early popular ethnic community sites with limited Friends functionality before re-launching in 2005-2006 with SNS features and structure. Beyond profiles, Friends, comments, and private messaging, SNSs vary greatly in their features and user base. Some have photo-sharing or video-sharing capabilities; others have built-in blogging and instant messaging technology. There are mobile-specific SNSs (e.g., Dodgeball), but some web-based SNSs also support limited mobile interactions (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, and Cyworld). Many SNSs target people from specific geographical regions or linguistic groups, although this does not always determine the site's constituency. Orkut, for example, was launched in the United States with an English-only interface, but Portuguese-speaking Brazilians quickly became the dominant user group (Kopytoff, 2004). Some sites are designed with specific ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, political, or other identity-driven categories in mind. There are even SNSs for dogs (Dogster) and cats (Catster), although their owners must manage their profiles. While SNSs are often designed to be widely accessible, many attract homogeneous populations initially, so it is not uncommon to find groups using sites to segregate themselves by nationality, age, educational level, or other factors that typically segment society (Hargittai, this issue), even if that was not the intention of the designers.

Web sites dedicated to social networking include Friendster, Linkedin, Spoke, and Tribe Networks. IBM and Microsoft are among organizations said to be considering entering this market. Facebook.com: Was initially intended for college students -- it branched out, and now allows everyone membership. 150 million members.

MySpace.com: 191 million members. This site is massive, boasting the largest membership of any social networking site on the Internet.

Linkedin.com: 12.5 million members -- a powerful tool for business networking. Friendster.com: 29 million members. Friendster was considered the top online social networking service until around April 2004, when it was overtaken by MySpace. Demographic studies indicate users are from 17 to 30 years old.

Stumbleupon.com: Boasting 2.75 million users, StumbleUpon is a web browser plugin that allows its users to discover and rate webpages, photos, videos, and news articles. A great way to get website promotion. Bought by eBay for $75 million in May 2007.

Orkut.com: Orkut is an Internet social networking service run by Google and named after its creator, Google employee Orkut Bykkkten. It claims to be designed to help users meet new friends and maintain existing relationships. Now has a membership of 57 million.

Twitter.com: A free social networking service that allows users to send "updates" (text-based posts that are up to 140 characters long) via SMS, instant messaging, email, the Twitter website, or an application such as Twitterrific. The site has become very popular in only a few months -- a lot of people are watching it.

Classmates.com: 40 million members. One of the oldest social networking sites around, Classmates was kicked off in 1995, and has proven to be a great way for members to connect with old friends and acquaintances from throughout their lives.

Meetup.com: 2 million members. Meetup.com is an online social networking portal that facilitates offline group meetings in various localities around the world. Meetup allows members to find and join groups unified by a common interest, such as politics, books, games, movies, health, pets, careers or hobbies.

Yahoo! 360 (Yahoo! Days) is a personal communication portal similar to orkut and MySpace -it is currently in the beta-testing phase. It integrates features of social networking, blogging and photo sharing sites.

In all, there are over 100 social networking sites on the Internet.

Social networking

Social networking is the grouping of individuals into specific groups, like small rural communities or a neighborhood subdivision... if you will. Although social networking is possible in person, especially in schools or in the workplace, it is most popular online. This is because unlike most high schools, colleges, or workplaces, the internet is filled with millions of individuals who are looking to meet other internet users and develop friendships and business relationships, too. When it comes to online social networking, websites are commonly used. These websites are known as social sites. Social networking websites function like an online community of internet users. Depending on the website in question, many of these online community members share a common interest such as hobbies, religion, or politics. Once you are granted access to a social networking website you can begin to socialize. This socialization may include reading the profile pages of other members and possibly even contacting them.

Blogs

The definitions of what a blog truly is are many. If one would search the word, several explanations would appear. The eminent online search-engine, Google, displays the most common ones as: Slang for Weblog. An online journal or diary that is frequently updated. A specialized site that allows an individual or group of individuals to share a running log of events and personal insights with online audiences. A mixture of what is happening in a persons life and what is happening on the web or in the media. No matter the various definitions, blogs are places where readers go to receive experiences or information they do not have. In addition, they are strong mediums where people who read them expect to be engaged with the author of the blog or with other visitors (Drezner and Farrell, 2004). In turn, the string of blogs creates the blogosphere, a massive virtual community, based on blogs and bloggers, the authors of blogs (Gill, 2004).

Wright (2006) argues about the use of blogs from the company viewpoint as a new medium and a potential new source of marketing based on three things; information, relationships and knowledge management. With this medium, the business can provide the blog with information regarding their products or services while expecting feedback. Secondly, if the company provides the reader or customer with positive experiences from their business or their products, it will start a buzz among the readers or bloggers, creating a strong relationship towards the readers. Finally, it is vital to have large stores of knowledge within the company available to the right people at the right time in order to reflect a real image on the business (Wright, 2006).

Blogging

Blogging leads to authentic feedback from customers, relating to potential new marketing strategies, innovative product ideas or even new concepts (Wright, 2006). However one might wish to describe it, blogging most often has different meaning to various parts. While civilians might see it as their everyday diary where they discuss incidents or experiences with an audience, companies should see blogs as a communication tool, a marketing technique and a way to interact with customers on a global scale. According to Wright (2006), studying blogs can give businesses priceless information about what their customers and non-customers, competitors, partners and the media think of their business, their marketing process, their advertising and their products. This information can be used to determine what the customers want, how they want it and what they are willing to pay for it. This is the result of the post-blog era, whereas the business can have a two-way communication with the customers, compared to the pre-blog era where most of the corporate communication with customers was one-way as the company transmitted information to customers, with the aid of banners and popups (Wright, 2006). Horton (2003) writes about three ways of blogging for marketing purposes; writing a blog yourself, marketing through bloggers or advertising on blogs. Either way, no matter what approach the marketer decides to use, they must focus on targeting the right audience, the credibility of the offering and reader relevance (Horton, 2003). Whether the marketer writes its own blog or market through bloggers, finding the right audience is quite easy through the use of digital customer databases which can be found in-, or bought from various servers (Gilbert, 2008). This subject will be discussed further down in the thesis. Marketing through reader-trusted blogs regularly contributes to the rise of interest towards the company among existing or potential customers. This marketing strategy will eventually lead to blog readers thinking of them first, and a greater chance of them trying their new product or service (Horton, 2003). Furthermore, when marketing an offering in blogs, it is important to be credible. A reader chooses to visit a company blog, and it is therefore essential to be honest towards the customers about what the company is offering. Not all products can be finest and best. If there are better products on the market, the readers will know this and the blog will be known as an advertising copy with the result of becoming boycotted (Horton, 2003). Even though blogging and blogs have become vital tools for companies wanting to provide and receive information to existing and potential customers (Wright, 2006), not all blogs become successful. There are some important points to consider when marketing products or services in a

company blog, in order to gain or increase traffic to that blog. Primarily, targeting a community of interest is of outmost importance in order for an audience to gather around the blog (Horton, 2003). Horton further writes about two cases where a beverage company with a new soft-drink flavour and a cell-phone company with a new camera-phone, who marketed their products towards selected blogs in order to receive feedback from readers and other bloggers. The cell-phone company was discussed in various blogs at a faster rate and at a much larger scale than the beverage company. This was due to the reason that there is a larger interest for electronic devices than for new beverage flavours. As written earlier, blog readers and customers or potential customers choose to visit the company blog, compared to e-mail marketing where advertising copies drop in the mailbox. The reason a reader chooses to click its way to the company blog is based on relevant information. The blog provides the reader with information they need or want, while maintaining interest. Press releases, web links, real-time updates and new product information are some examples of reaching out to the reader in need, and it is on this level that the marketing efforts make the difference (Horton, 2003).

Communities

At the same time as companies and their marketers are focused with customized offerings and one-toone communications, they are in danger of overlooking the internet as a many-to-many communications tool where their customers also interact with one another (Maclaran and Catterall, 2002). This virtual meeting and the exchange of information taking place between an immense number of online users, creates a form of community.If one would define a community, the definition would state that a community is a set of interwoven relationships built upon shared interests, which satisfies members needs otherwise unattainable individually (Mohammed et al, 2002). Most of the online communities are specialized with focus on specific markets or market segments (Kozinets, 2000, quoted in Maclaran and Catterall, 2002).

Online communities can be built up in two fundamentally different forms and these are Real-time systems or Asynchronous systems. The difference is that real-time systems are based on Chats, such as Internet relay chat (IRC) or through web-based chat, where the users read and reply to messages from each other instantly. In an asynchronous system such as forums, newsgroups or a web-based message board, the messages are not always responded directly on and this is called delayed

communication (Mohammed et al, 2002). Asynchronous systems are advantageous in the way that these communities can flourish without consideration to geography and time zones (Szmigin et al, 2005). Pitta and Fowler (2005) write that asynchronicity also increases the number of participants in a community due to the ability of participating online during the full 24 hours of the day. Since forums are the prime definition of online communities, they are the main focus regarding communities in this thesis (Pitta and Fowler, 2005). The characteristics of a forum are the many topic areas that the user can find. Each area has its own thread, which is the current subject under discussion. Most forum-sites have an archive where these discussions and threads are saved for many years, while still being active for discussion. Although some topics may go on for several periods of time without anyone responding to them, most subjects are highly current with users replying almost instantly. Most forum users are online simultaneously due to their interest for the subject under discussion (Pitta and Fowler, 2005). Members in a community feel comfortable and understood in the forum environment. Furthermore, the community is a place of privacy, where the users can discuss any subject of choice between themselves and so creating their own culture, rules and certain sort of behaviour within it (Bohling and Twiefel, 2007). Szmigin et al (2005) present a table, displaying four different ways of organising an online community.