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Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal

Corporate impression formation in online communities: a qualitative study


Christine Hallier Willi Bang Nguyen T.C. Melewar Charles Dennis
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Christine Hallier Willi Bang Nguyen T.C. Melewar Charles Dennis , (2014),"Corporate impression
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formation in online communities: a qualitative study", Qualitative Market Research: An International


Journal, Vol. 17 Iss 4 pp. 410 - 440
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Q Qu
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10.110 Law, Zurich
8/QMR
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2013-
0049 Applied Sciences,
Wi
nte
rth
ur,
UKInter vant
Switzerlan to successful
activ corporate communication
d e in OCs, and further
Bang
onli
A ne
explore if and how online
community members
Nguyen
b platf (OCMs) expect companies
Depart P orm to communicate with them,
ment u s explaining how corporate
of suc impressions are formed.
h as Design/methodology/appr
Market OCs oach A qualitative
ing, are research method was
East gro chosen, consisting of two
wing stages. In stage one, 17
China
. expert interviews with
Univer Co academics and practitioners
sity of mpa were conducted, and in
Scienc nies stage two, 12 OCMs were
are
e and interviewed to clarify the
disc concepts and gain new
Technolo
over
gy,ing insights.
Findings The study gains
Shangha
their
new knowledge relating to
i, China
imp
corporate communication in
orta
T.C.
nceMelewar
OCs and image formation.
Specifically, the authors
Middlese and
identify and confirm important
x incr
key constructs in corporate
easi
University impression formation in OCs,
ngly
Business inclu namely, relevance of
School, de messages, communication
style, social context cues,
Middlese OCs
in affiliation, perceived similarity,
x source credibility and
their
University interpersonal communication.
com
, UK and mun Furthermore, a conceptual
model is proposed on the
Charles
icati
relationship between
on
Dennis
activ communication elements
Linc ities. relevant in online communities
The and their influence on
oln
pres corporate impression.
Busi ent Practical implications
ness stud The study helps to refine
Sch y existing concepts of
ool, iden corporate impression
tifies formation in OCs. It is
Univ the suggested that
ersit und understanding how
y of erlyi corporate impression is
ng
Linc formed in OCs helps
com companies to participate in
oln, pon virtual networks, improving
Linc ents their corporate impression.
oln, rele
Originality/value This
study extendsa n Online communities,
prior findings onm e Corporate
word-of-mouth K t communication,
on the Internete w Corporate image,
(word-of- o Computer-mediated
mouse) to r communication,
demonstrate k Virtual communities
that s Paper type Research
communication , paper
In
tr
o

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d
uc
ti
o
n
In
tra
diti
on
al
fa
ce
-
to-
fa
ce
co
m
m
un
ica
tio
n,
tw
o
or
m
or
e
in
div
id
ua
ls
for
m
im
pr
es
sio
n nces buyer attitude towards a ge
s companys salesperson ( ne
C rat
Cohen, 1967), product ( io
o
Brown, 1998) and new n
product evaluation ( Aaker of
and Keller, 1993); finally, it cu
provides a competitive st
advantage that cannot easily o
be imitated ( Brown, 1998). m
Researchers note that er
understanding how corporate s,
impression is formed in OCs for
leads to new online ex
communication strategies a
and improved management m
pl
of online communications ( e,
Stern et al., 2001). th
To date, studies focussing os
on corporate impression e
formation in OCs are in their wh
infancy. The present study o
suggest that more needs to gr
be conducted to determine ew
how individuals base their up
impressions on others when wit
meeting through the h
computer rather than face-to- int
face. The explosion of blogs, er
discussion forums and social ac
networking sites provides tiv
many opportunities for e
studying the process of di
impression formation. The git
study thus aims to explore al
how online community te
members (OCMs) form ch
impressions about a no
company that is using OCs lo
for corporate communication gy.
activities. It posits that In
corporate impression ad
formation in OCs has its diti
peculiarities, and companies on
need to better understand ,
this phenomenon to cu
positively influence their st
corporate image. This is o
particularly important, as m
companies today er
communicate with a new
s entity, corporate image and C
computer-mediated
or
T communication (CMC). It
h subsequently discusses the p
research design and or
methods. The paper then
compares at
conceptualisations from the e
literature with findings and im
outline concluding remarks,
which are fruitful to future pr
research. es
si
o
n
fo
r
m
ati
o
n

4
1
1
KARALIBHUTTOINSTOFSCI&TECHKARACHIAt23:5025November2016(PT)
Q T
h

C
4
o

T
h
T
h
B
u
1 F

2 S
legitimate to base the description of the immediate impression an individual fo
about a company during the online community interaction, thus extending on
corporate image construct ( Hallier, 2013).
As more and more people are using online communication platforms, there is a grow
importance in understanding the communication and subsequent impression forma
on OCs. Researchers identify four elements that influence the impression forma
process of an OCM:

ZULFIKARALIBHUTTOINSTOFSCI&TECHKARACHIAt23:5025November2016(PT)
(1) the company representative;
(2) other community members;
(3) the message itself; and
(4) the virtual platform.
To distinguish
the four
elements and
their attributes,
corporate
impression is
explained by
two
characteristics,
namely,
functional and
emotional (
Kennedy, 1977;
Martineau,
1958).
Functional
characteristics
are tangible and
easily
measured,
while emotional
characteristics
are based on
psychological
dimensions
such as attitude
or feelings
toward a
company. Thus,
in the context of
OCs, the study
classifies the
following
attributes into
the four
elements that
influence the
image formation
( Table I), as
corporate identity,
W corporate image
e and corporate
impression are
complex with many
antecedents and
consequences
depending on
varying research
contexts. The
present study
focusses on a
single dimension
of the corporate
identity concept,
namely, corporate
communication.
Due to the OC
context, the use of
CMC is
considered, which
includes new
communication
conditions. The
earliest CMC
studies used the
term cues filtered
out ( Short et al.,
1976), concluding
that people were
not able to form
any impressions
with the elimination
of nonverbal cues (
Culnan and
Markus, 1987).
Since then,
however, with the
increased
sophistication of
the Internet,
research has
demonstrated that
the individuals
interacting via
CMC form well-
developed
impressions based
on other criteria
than nonverbal
c
u Elements cor
por

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Company-representative ate
im
pre
ssi
on
Other community s
in
members
the
The message itself T co
a nte
b xt
l of
Virtual platform e O
I. Cs
Note: Developed Relevant
attributes of
DownloadedbySHAHEEDZULFIKARALIBHUTTOINSTOFSCI&TECHKARACHIAt23:5025November2016(PT)
Q i identity management. The
n resulting outcome is a
A conceptual model of corporate
c impression in OCs. To achieve
the studys research objective,
4 B
netnography methods and
a
expert interviews are used for
R the exploratory fieldwork.
e Netnography is a qualitative
A method that adapts the methods
of ethnography to study online
behaviour and cultures (
Kozinets, 1998). The use of
netnography is increasing (
Kozinets, 1997, 1998, 1999,
and 2002), and many scholars
are studying online communities
with the approach, including: the
Citron brand community ( Cova
and Carrre, 2002) or Napster (
Giesler and Pohlmann, 2003).
Kozinets (2001) suggests
several steps to rigorously apply
the netnography method.
Adopting these steps for the
current study, the protocol is
described in detail, next.
In the first stage of the
fieldwork, a non-participatory
method of netnography was
initially utilised to gain insights
into communication activities on
the Swissmom forum.
C
Construct Definition Author(s) Relation to or
current study
po
ra
te
im
pr
es
si
on
influences
v suggest di that it is
a e easier to bi
c communicatelit with
u s
communica
individualsy that are
tiono
f perceivedofto be
cues are Affiliati th
similar. Similarity
a
absent oron consists ofe
s
DownloadedbySHAHEEDZULFIKARALIBHUTTOINSTOFSCI&TECHKARACHIAt23:5025November2016(PT)

strongly Users congruency cr


i
attenuated
want a m regardinge
di
demographic
websit il
e to
Thus a certain a variables,bil
presen
paralanguage ri beliefs, values,
ity
t
such as the t preferences
e and
use transp lifestyle n
arent y d
S
c
information o or
of emoticons,
on whoo runsu
s
has been er
created and
m
the site, r
p
how to c ,
people have n
reach a e
n people, a
those m
learned to y
the sites el
verbalise w policy
privacy S y,
nonverbal and h other o th
cues o
factors u e
a
related tor c
site r c o
S e e m
o authorship
s p
and a
i c
idea that if sponsorshi
m r n
there is little p il y
e re
social Thea d
affiliation pr
presence, r ito e
the a company
t b s
can oprovideil e
the t i nt
communicat company- h at
t
ion is more e
representat iv
y
impersonal c
ive with the e
neededu r There are two
The lack of s
expertisee important
t dimensions of
social about thef
context cues o e source
subject
m
the
deprives the OCMs r credibility:
e are s whether the
interested
r source is
communicato in a t believable
rs of the Percei r o (expertise); and
sense of e w
actual ved moret influentialh
physical Studie thanh
s et
representatives
e
sugge h
who are
presence e
st that c
dissimilar
and r
repres r
The theory ofth
negatively e
entati homophily
e source has the I mitte t a a
publics best t d to h n t
interests the e y i
a M OCM v
t e , the m T e
h more o h ,
e favou r e
a T rable e t
r the
h g h
t imag f r e
( e a e
t
they v a m
r
have o t o
u
s of the u e r
t send r r e
w er a
o b
t f
r l
h a
t It is e
e v
h posite
o
i d that t
p u
n the h
e r
e highe e
s r a
r the
s i c b
percei
) m e l
ved
social a i e
prese g v
nce of e e t
the s d h
comp e
any c s
repre o i i
sentat m m m
ive, m i a
the u l g
more n a e
favou i r
rable t i t
the y t h
image - y e
OCM m y
s e o
have m f h
b
a
The e t v
study r
h e
sugge s
e
sts o
that h
c f
the a
o
better v
m t
a e
p h
comp
a a e
any-
b n
repre
o y c
sentat
ive u o
disclo t r m
ses t e p
his/ h p a
her e r n
affiliat e y
ion to c s
the o e
comp m n
any, p t
The study infers u a
that the higher c t
the company
t e
representatives
credibility, the Table
s II. i
more favourable K m
the images e i p
OCMs form of y n r
the company
e
c c s
o o s
n r i
s p o
t o n
r r
(continued) m atio n in
DownloadedbySHAHEEDZULFIKARALIBHUTTOINSTOFSCI&TECHKARACHIAt23:5025November2016(PT)
QMR Construct Definition Author(s) Re
17,4 Interactivity Consumers want to participate actively in the Ariely (2000), Th
Dellaert (2002),
conversation. These active consumers have Shih co
been named prosumers (1998), Tapscott fav
Interactivity is characterised by increased (1997), Toffler ha
involvement, control over the information (1984)
416 exchange and the sense of presence
Interpersonal Communication among the OC members will Ahonen and Moore It i
communication influence the image formation process (2005), wo
Studies have shown that customers support McAlexander et al. po

and influence each other while exchanging (2002), im


Stammerjohan et
information about a product al.
(2005)

Table II. Note: Developed for the present study

Then the participatory method was used by actively participa


( Bernard, 2004).
Subsequently, in the second stage, expert interviews with acade
experts were conducted to gain new insights into the phenom
communities and to test face validity of the proposed conceptual mode
interviewed 17 academics and practitioners, who are experts in the field
different fields and industries with strong connections to OCs. These
Conce
ptual
model
Figure 1.
RALIBHUTTOINSTOFSCI&TECHKARACHIAt23:5025November2016(PT)
w pression formation in as
e CMC; yn
I ch
2 to gain a more
n ro
comprehensive
1 t no
picture of CMCs
o us
impacts; and
on
r
3 to adopt CMC in the lin
specific context of the e
e
Swissmom Online int
f Community.
i er
n Thus, the study gained an vie
e understanding of the relative ws
importance of these concepts inc
e lu
in a relevant context. Table
x de
III shows the individual steps
i th
adopted for this research.
s e
Purposive sampling was
t us
applied where the
i e
interviewees were selected
n on the basis of their ability to
of
g contribute to our specific
e
m
c concepts ( Burns and Grove, ail
o 2001; Corbin and Strauss, for
n 1990). It was recognised that co
s the experts views were very nd
t important as they provided a uc
r broader perspective on OCs tin
u across varying research g
c contexts while the OCMs qu
t views were community- alit
s specific. In other words, the ati
experts provided an outside ve
o view, while an inside view re
f was provided by OCMs.
se
Experts will be hereafter
ar
c referred to as Expert-
ch
o Interviewees and OCMs as
. It
r Community-Interviewees.
is
p For this research,
a
o asynchronous online
m
r interviews were conducted,
et
a which is one of the methods
ho
t listed in the pool of
d
e netnography methods ( wit
Bernard, 2004). Meho h
i
(2006) suggest that se
m
v raphically dispersed; C
e
2 its electronic format or
1 i helps users avoid p
t transcription errors (
or
Meho, 2006);
c at
a 3 the anonymity
increases self- e
n
disclosure ( Tidwell im
r and Walther, 2002); pr
e
4 it facilitates a closer es
a
connection with si
c
interviewees
h o
personal feelings,
p beliefs and values ( n
e Mann and Stewart, fo
o 2000); and
r
p 5 it provides the m
l opportunity for
e thorough reflection ati
and editing of the o
w messages (
h n
Levinson, 1990).
o
A main reason for our
a approach is that experts 4
r and OCMs felt more 1
e comfortable being 7
interviewed online since
g the web is their business
e tool.
o
g
Steps Description Adoption to research
Q
M
R

1
7
,
4
:5025November2016(PT)

4
Cultural OCMs T feedback have
rts communit
entre to beh included were y
aske members
A
Develop Permission to quoted for for
specific n has to be their
postings interviews
research
aim/question advi
( Paccag
obtained
Search for ce ( nella,
appropriate Kozi
M
online forum nets, 1997;
e 200 Kozinets,
2).
with the members for 1999,
This
additional
rese
2002;
arch
insights, feedbackresul Bernard,
and information ted 2004)
in All
Observe the the intervie
exchange
forum to sele ws were
obtain conduct
ction
additional
of ed on
knowledge an
the
about the individu
Swis
forum and al basis
smo
its
m by
members
com intervie
muni wing
ty Swissm
Data
(add om
collection
ition member
and
al s
desc Triangul
For data riptio ation is
collection, n guarant
the see eed by
individual p. the
analysis
T 19) combin
a Non- ation
interview parti with the
has been cipat expert
chosen ory intervie
Providing and ws.
parti Further
cipat researc
Triangulatio
ory h will
n
obse investig
trustworthy
rvati ate the
interpretatio
on to phenom
n
gain enon by
onlin using
Long-term
e quantita
immersion
in com tive
community muni method
ty s
Research insig The
ethics hts authors
and have
to been
Research ident
presence has
followin
to be fully ify g
disclosed relev Swissm
Confidentiali ant om
ty and and since it
anonymity key was
has to onlin selecte
be ensured e d
T any
h messages
that were
F quoted in
u the thesis
The
W follo
h win
g
T
pro
h
ces
s
for
me
mb
er-
che
ck
is
rec
om
me
nde
d:
contact ten
OCMs who
post most
frequently
on the
forum for
feedback;
contact 2-3
posters of
each member
category; and
contact ten
randomly
selected

posters (

Kozinets,

1997, 1998,

2002;
Giesler and
Pohlmann,
2003).

The
member-
check
was
conducted
; however,
only three
Swissmo
m
members
could be
found to
comment
on the
findings
N S

Downloadedby
o :
e u Kozinet
r s
c (2002)
e

T h r e were
e
participants; s
however, eight
participants did not Stage
respond, while another two
seven participants did not com
fully complete the interview munit
and thus, could not be y
included in the study. Table mem
IV summarises the ber
sampling frame. intervi
DownloadedbySHAHEEDZULFIKARALIBHUTTOINSTOFSCI&TECHKARACHIAt23:5025November2016(PT)

During data collection, ews


an interview guide and a The
thorough description of the stage-
CMC constructs were two
included, as questions sent intervi
via email must be more ews
self-explanatory ( Meho, were
2006). The interviews condu
started with general cted
unstructured open-ended with
questions such as: OCMs
Could you please describe from
what is important for having the
a successful communication Swiss
in an online community: (i) mom
in general, and (ii) if a OC.
company would like to be This
accepted as an online OC
community member? was
This was followed by semi- launch
structured questions, based on ed in
the key communication summ
elements such as relevance of er
messages, informal 2003,
communication, social context and is,
to
cues, etc. ( Appendix 1). To date,
clarify responses, follow-up the
questions were sent by email. bigges
According to the participants t
feedback, it took about half an Intern
hour to complete our et
questionnaire, and depending portal
on the amount of follow-up focuss
questions, additional time was ing on
spent on the interviews. The babies
data were analysed using and
NVivo7. childre
n Corporate
.
impression
T
h formation

Nature of business
Academia
419
Consultancy online media, Social media, OCs
Public relations
Web agencies
Companies using OCs
Job title
Research associate/Research assistant/Lecturer
Senior lecturer/Professor
Online marketing and/or community manager/consultant
CEO and/or Partner
Senior manager/Director Tab
le
N IV.
o Nature
of
intervi
ewees
busine
ss and
job
titles
EEDZULFIKARALIBHUTTOINSTOFSCI&TECHKARACHIAt23:5025November2016(PT)
Q d ge of a moderator be
o (characteristics and
T communication behaviour) for
h you to get (i) a positive and (ii)
a negative impression?.
4
Finally, the researchers asked
questions relating to the key
constructs of corporate
impression formation in OCs (
Appendix 2). Two of the 16
interviewees did not respond;
another two did not fill in the
questionnaire properly nor did
they reply to the follow-up
questions. They were thus
excluded from the research.
According to the interviewees, it
took them about 45 minutes to
fill in the questionnaire.

Data analysis
The interview data were
analysed using NVivo7 software.
The data analysis was guided
by the key constructs found in
literature ( Table II) and
associated theories ( Miles and
Huberman, 1994). This included
the initial list of variables and
concepts. To be consistent with
prior work, the categories were
labelled in the same manner (
Strauss and Corbin, 1990). The
data were grouped according to
relevant codes and introduced a
coding hierarchy ( Table V),
including a principle category, a
sub-category and a value. Items
then were compared with those
gained from literature.
The content was coded
twice to establish stability,
followed by tests for inter-
coder reliability ( Weber,
1990). In the next section,
the findings are presented.
Where appropriate, the paper
p
r Findings
General questions about OCs
The researchers initially asked general questions to experts to gain new insig
regarding OCs. These included why people use them, whether they influence them a
whether companies are welcome in OCs. In addition, OCMs were also asked gene
questions regarding corporate impression formation.
Reasons why people use OCs. The findings in this section present reasons why peo

DownloadedbySHAHEEDZULFIKARALIBHUTTOINSTOFSCI&TECHKARACHIAt23:5025November2016(PT)
use OCs. It was found that people use OCs because they would like to find spe
interest communities and discover new friends. Results show that OC users enjoy
sensation of being linked and connected with others; they also liked having access t
network (Expert - 17). However, respondents also mentioned the need to tal
anonymously (Expert - 2). Expert - 4 believes that people use OCs as an informal way
communicate. He believes that it is highly interactive and promotes the possibility
discuss with experts. Moreover, people use OCs for the same reason they take part in r
communities such as networking in a private or business setting, communicat
entertainment, learning, contributing, promoting and, in general, interacting with ot
humans (Expert - 6). People also use OCs because they can find like-minded people
whom they can ask for help and advice (Expert - 10).
Influence of the discussion in OCs. In this section, it is clarified whether people
influenced by discussions taking place in OCs, as little influence would suggest t
companies should limit their use of OCs for communication purposes. T
researchers asked the experts questions relating to the influence that discussio
have on OC users. According to Expert - 2, people may or may not be influenced
the discussions in OCs, as it is a matter of the individuals character. Expert - 2 a
believes that younger people are easily influenced than older ones, and it depends
the kinds of OC they are in. Expert - 17, however, believes that people are ve
influenced by the discussions held or read in OCs. He notes that the community h
more source credibility for commercial communication than classic media. T
notion is shared by all expert interviewees. Stressing the importance of OCs,
Expert interviewee stated:
Yes, first of all,
because
senders of the
information are
more real and
tangible than
channels that
are perceived
to be more
official.
Secondly, the
informal style,
the rapidness
and the pull
accessibility
are the only
media
accepted by
certain
demographic
groups (Expert
- communication in
5 an OC. It was
) found that to
. create positive
images,
S addressing
u successful
communication is
important. To
describe
important
elements for
an
Relevance of contribution
Categories aly
Note: Developed for sis
Interactivity Table
the present study V.
Excerpt of coding
book for the
qualitative data
Q successful communication in an
OC, Expert - 2 stated that in the
communication between
community and company,
candidness is everything. Expert
4 - 3 asserted that for a company
to successfully communicate in
an OC, it must have good
editors, who follow-up on users
DownloadedbySHAHEEDZULFIKARALIBHUTTOINSTOFSCI&TECHKARACHIAt23:5025November2016(PT)

wishes and problems. One


interviewee emphasised that:
The recipe is more or less to
behave as they would in real life,
reaping the benefits of digital
communication. Openness is key to
success. The more open an
individual is, the more attention
they will normally receive. One
needs to understand that OC-
communication is person-driven
and not company-driven. It is
important that individuals
understand the need to learn how
the communication works and not
delegate their own representation
in an OC to a subordinate or
outsource it. Another key element
is to release the desire for control
of information (Expert - 6).

Next, in the following two


questions, the issue of
whether companies should
use OCs or not is addressed,
as existing opinions in both
literature and practice differ.
Companies use of OCs for
corporate communication
activities. Scholars note that
OCs are a means for companies
to communicate with their
audiences in ways that have not
been possible before ( Kozinets,
1999). Companies are able to
build relationships with
s participants since they perceive
t their voice to be heard. Also, the
If I communication among the
th n OCMs might be less, because
ey questions can be addressed to
M the company representative
w e
an (Expert - 4).
t An interviewee proposed
to that:
su
rvi
ve
,
ye
s
th
ey
sh
ou
ld.
Th
ey
sh
ou
ld
ac
t
as
th
ey
ar
e
po
siti
on
ed
an
d
as
th
e
co
rp
or
ati
on
-
str
at
eg
y
re
qu
ire
t discussions in
a OCs
concerning
themselves will
often be
perceived as
old fashioned,
unable to
provide
answers which
are resistant to
daylight or
just plain
arrogant
towards the
customer
(Expert - 6).
The researchers enquired als
three questions to the OCMs o
about their impression th
towards: e
(1) a senders O
message image; C
M
(2) the senders image; s
and op

DownloadedbySHAHEEDZULFIKARALIBHUTTOINSTOFSCI&TECHKARACHIAt23:5025November2016(PT)
(3) the companys ini
image. on
s
It was found that the of
majority of the interviewees an
stated that the impressions O
they form about the C
company-representative (in
were based on the sid
impressions from the e
message. All interviewees vie
believed that these form the ws
impression they had of the ).
organisation. In other Th
words, most interviewees e
base their impressions on fin
the company- di
representatives messages, ng
which, in turn, influence s
their impressions of both fro
the company-representative m
her/himself and company. bo
This is illustrated by one th
OCM who stated that the gr
company-representatives ou
messages influence my ps
impression of them. For ar
example, if the company- e
representative behaves in a co
fair way, it influences the m
way I see the organisation bi
ne
(Community Interviewee-
d
3).
Findings concerning be
communication elements. lo
Next, each of the conceptual w.
models key constructs is It
is
presented ( Table II). It is no
important to have both the te
experts opinions about the d
CMC elements from different th
fields (outside views), and at
b mmunity, it will have a wit
e positive impact (Expert- h
R 15). This is in line with the thi
e statement of an OCM who s
stated that if a vi
contribution is not relevant e
to me, it is not important w.
and it sheds a negative Ex
light on the author
pe
(Community Interviewee-
2). rt -
In discussing the relevance 2,
of messages, the CMC- for
literature highlights the lack of ex
social context cues. a
Researchers propose that m
conversations in computer- pl
mediated environments are e,
assumed to convey less social ar
context cues than face-to-face gu
ed
conversations ( Short et al.,
th
1976). The removal of at
nonverbal cues may actually th
increase attention to the e
message itself ( Burgoon et al., co
2002). Boyd and Ellison m
m
(2007) claim that contributions
un
in digital spaces are persistent
ic
and searchable, stressing the
ati
importance of providing
relevant messages, as
on
community members might
st
read and refer to earlier
yl
messages. These findings thus
e
support the idea that the
ne
relevance of a message is of
ed
high importance in computer-
ed
mediated environments. It is
for
proposed that:
an
O
P1. A message has to be C
relevant to be read and de
taken seriously by the pe
OCMs. nd
Communication style. s
Online contributions must on
speak the language of the th
target audience ( Zerfass, e
us
2005) and write in a
er.
conversational voice ( Weil, O
2006). Most experts agreed
Corporate impression 4
formation 2
3
Q target group. It was found
that only half of the
Community-Interviewees
believed that communication
style has an impact to image
4 formation. This view
contrasts the opinion of the
experts. This might be
because the experts took the
DownloadedbySHAHEEDZULFIKARALIBHUTTOINSTOFSCI&TECHKARACHIAt23:5025November2016(PT)

companies perspectives,
whereas the OCMs spoke as
private users.
Existing literature supports
communication style as an
important construct for image
formation. Adkins and
Brashers (1995) analyse the
effects of powerful and
powerless language on small
CMC groups. They propose
two conclusions:
(1) Language style
significantly impacts
impression formation in
CMC groups. Those who
use a powerful
language style are
thought to be more
credible, attractive and
persuasive than the
ones using powerless
language.
(2) Contrasting language
styles resulted in more
extreme perceptions
than if users shared a
common language
style ( Adkins and
Brashers, 1995).

Based on the above


discussion, it is suggested
that:
P2. e by being able to set-up member
M a pages or profiles. The more
es S transparency and credibility a
community offers, the more
sa o
influential it is (Expert - 15).
ge I
s n OCMs generally agreed on
on the importance of social
context cues; however, they
on
warned against an overflow
lin
of paralinguistics:
e
Personal information about a
co
moderator is very welcome,
m but I hate the use of too
m many paralinguistics. I mean
un it looks really silly if there are
ic smilies in nearly every
ati sentence (Community
Interviewee- 9).
on
pl Paralinguistics were only
atf considered to be relevant by
or a minority of the OCMs.
OCMs viewed additional
m
information about the
s company-representative as
sh an important factor.
ou These findings are
ld consistent with prior studies.
be Scholars suggest that the lack
wr of social context cues in CMC
can be overcome through
itt
various linguistic and
en
typographic manipulation,
in which may reveal social and
inf
relational information (
or Walther, 1995, p. 190).
m Paralinguistic cues, such as
al using capitals, are often
co context based. In emails, this
m is recognised as shouting (
m Adkins and Brashers, 1995).
un Reduced social cues in CMC
ic allow senders to present
ati themselves very selectively by
carefully constructing
on
messages. Receivers, in turn,
st tend to over attribute
yl perceived similarities and
e create an idealised image of
to the sender ( Walther, 1996).
cr
T l such as capital letters or
h emoticons are not liked
P3. by everyone.
S Affiliation. OCMs do not
oc always appreciate companies
ial participating in their
co community ( Hogenkamp,
nt 2007). This is one of the main
ex reasons why participants must
t disclose their affiliation to the
cu company. Interviewees
es emphasised that:
ar
e
se
en
as
im
po
rta
nt,
ho
w
ev
er,
ov
er
us
in
g
pa
ral
in
gu
ist
ic
fe
at
ur
es
su
ch
as
ca
pit
al
It depends how they M
behave. If they stick to the os
community rules it is ok, t
as long as they do not of
only want to sell th
something (Expert - 1). e
ex
Members in OC regard pe
such things as honesty rts

DownloadedbySHAHEEDZULFIKARALIBHUTTOINSTOFSCI&TECHKARACHIAt23:5025November2016(PT)
[] as a precondition for str
communication in OCs es
(Expert - 13). se
The evidence was d
consistent and based on th
the findings, it is at
concluded that: in
th
P4. Company members e
are welcome in co
communities with the nt
prerequisite that they ex
stick to the t
community rules and of
O
disclose their
C
affiliation to the
s,
company. th
Perceived similarity. Most e
interviewees agreed that fol
perceived similarity is an lo
important concept. Two wi
interviewees stated that: ng
cri
In virtual communities this
still holds in my opinion.
ter
However, because we ia
have less clues to derive rel
our image of a participant at
[], the notion of ed
similarity might be to
achieved easier [relative si
to dissimilarity] (Expert - mi
4). lar
ity
I mean, what does similar
mean? Yes, I prefer to speak ar
to someone I think has the e
same interests and values im
than I have. I kind of trust this po
person more (Community
rta
nt:
Interviewee - 7).
S he way of communication, i
a so yes, expressions, style, m
m maybe language ability p
e and slang. Same values, if r
they become salient in the e
i posts, maybe similar s
n behaviour on the internet s
t (including) links to pages i
e one likes or finds useful o
r as well or provides links n
e that appear to be useful
s (Expert - 4). a
t
The findings support b
s
previous studies, which o
,
suggest that perceived u
s
a similarity between t
m individuals is a key factor h
e affecting the i
m
persuasiveness of word-
v .
of-mouth information ( A
a
Brown and Reingen, n
l
u 1987; Price et al., 1989; d
e Gilly et al., 1998). The
s study, therefore, finds that: i
P5. Perceived similarity is f
( an important concept in h
E communication activities e
x in OCs.
p w
e Source credibility. Scholars o
r conceptualise source r
t credibility in two ways: k
- corporate credibility and s
1
) endorser credibility (
f
. Goldsmith et al., 2000;
o
Harris and Dennis, 2011).
r
S The interviews revealed that
i all experts and most a
m community interviewees
i stressed the importance of c
l credibility. For example, two o
a interviewees proposed that: m
r p
i Would you believe
a
t somebody not credible,
n
y without any expertise, or
y
someone you just dont
,
i like at all? (Expert - 15). I
n
a
Sure, if I do not trust the
l
t source, I have a negative
s
o out the company he works C
for (Community
h Interviewee - 1). or
a The relationship between p
v
perceived source credibility or
e
and corporate impression is at
a validated in numerous studies.
Fombrun (1996) posits that
e
n corporate credibility is the im
e extent to which consumers, pr
g investors and other
a es
constituents believe in a
t companys trustworthiness and si
i
v
expertise. This is in line with o
Lafferty et al. (2002) who
e n
suggest that
fo
i
m r
p m
r
e ati
s o
s
i
n
o
n
4
a
b
2
5
KARALIBHUTTOINSTOFSCI&TECHKARACHIAt23:5025November2016(PT)
Q c ny-representative.
r Overall, important and
P6. relevant elements in the
T CMC were consistently
4 I identified, as explained in the
n concluding section.

Conclusion
The increasing interest in
OCs heightens the need for a
T better understanding of
h people gathering in those
P7. communities. To date,
researchers have tended to
T focus on subjects such as:
1 motivation to participate
in communities;
2 types of communities;
and
3 communities influence
on customers
behaviours and
perceptions.
However, there has been little
discussion about corporate
communication targeting OCs.
Even less research addresses the
question of how corporate
communication, targeting OCs,
influences corporate impression
formation. This exploratory study
has attempted to fill this gap, by
evaluating the elements of
corporate communication in OCs
and their influence on corporate
impression formation. Important
elements, namely, relevance of
messages, communication style,
social context cues, affiliation,
perceived similarity,
KARACHIAt23:5025November2016(PT)
s exploration. First, there are eff
o more general questions that ect
I could be investigated, such s
n as how offline interactions on
and perceptions influence the co
T
image formation process in ns
h
the online world. Second, in u
M m
relation to the key constructs
o er
presented in Table II, future s
research avenues should be de
considered, such as a further cis
thorough investigation into ion
the constructs to define what m
makes a message relevant aki
and what communication ng
style is preferred. Finally, the an
proposed conceptual model d
should be refined and tested pr
quantitatively. ef
er
en
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ZULFIKARALIBHUTTOINSTOF
SCI&TECHKARACHIAt23:5025
November2016(PT)

No. Topic Literature


1 Argument quality Kiesler et al., 1984, Burgoon
Christodoulides and de Chernatony,
2004, Scoble and Israel, 2006
Ellison, 2007
2 Argument quality Norton, 1983, Hansford and Hattie,
1987, Rice and Torobin, 1992
2003, Zerfass, 2005, Scoble and Israel,
2006; Weil, 2006, Wright, 2006
3 Social context cues Mehrabian, 1969, Short
Sproull and Kiesler, 1986
et al., 1991, Walther, 1992
Walther et al., 1994, Lea and Spears,
1995 , Jacobson, 1999

4 Social presence Wiener and Mehrabian, 1968


et al. , 1976, Daft and
1984,
Argyle and Dean, 1965,
Weil, 2006, Wright, 2006

5 Affiliation Warnick, 2004 , Hogenkamp, 2007


Corporate
impressio
n
formatio
n
Appendix 1 435
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Table AI.
43
6

17,
4Q
200
6,
Dwy
er,
200
7
(continued)
No. Topic

7 Source credibility
6 Perceived similarity
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1
No. Topic Literature Question
10 Motives for participating Bagozzi and Dholakia, 2002 How do you think does the perception in terms of user-message interactivity
in an OC change if an OCM has mainly topic/brand related motives, compared to an
OCM that has mainly community related motives? Why?
How do you think does the perception in terms of user-user interactivity
change if an OCM has mainly topic/brand related motives, compared to an
OCM that has mainly community related motives? Why?
11 Motives for participating Dholakia et al., 2004 How important do you consider source credibility to be for an OCM
in an OC that has mainly topic/brand-related motives, compared to an OCM
that has mainly community-related motives? Is there any difference?
12 Motives for participating Simons et al., 1970, Walther, 1996, How important do you consider similarity to be for an OCM that has
in an OC DeShields and Kara, 2000 mainly topic/brand-related motives, compared to an OCM that has
mainly community-related motives? Is there any difference?
13 Motives for participating Short et al. , 1976, Bagozzi and How important do you consider social presence to be for an OCM that
in an OC Dholakia, 2002 has mainly topic/brand-related motives, compared to an OCM that
has mainly community-related motives? Is there any difference?
Walther, 1996, Walther et al. ,
14 Motives for participating 2001 How important do you consider social context cues to be for an OCM
in an OC that has mainly topic/brand-related motives, compared to an OCM
that has mainly community-related motives? Is there any difference?
15 Attitude towards the Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980 , Barich and How do you consider a positive image to influence the attitude to the
company Kotler, 1991 , Balmer, 1995 ; Brown, company of an OCM?
1998 , van Riel, 1995 ; Mykytyn et
al.,
2005 , Pina et al., 2008
Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980, Pina et
16 Attitude Intention to al., How do you consider a positive attitude to influence the intention to
buy/recommend a 2008 buy/recommend a companys products/services?
companys product
17 Image Intention to Pina et al., 2008 How do you consider a positive image to influence the intention to
buy/recommend a buy/recommend a companys products/services?
companys product
18 Image Influence on Godes and Mayzlin, 2004 How do you consider a positive image to influence word-of-mouth
word-of-mouth communication by OCMs?

Note: Developed for the present study


Table AI.
Corporate
impressio
n
formatio
n
437
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QuestionsInterview

CommunityOnline.AIITab
le
43
8

17,
4Q
in this company (e.g.
head of
communication,
marketing director,
CFO, CIO, CEO). If
No. Topic Literature
yes, why?
1 Relevance of Kiesler et al.
message (
2 Informal Rice et al.c
communication 2006
3 Social context Mehrabian, 1969
cues Sproull and Kiesler, 1986
et al., 1991
Walther et al.
1995, Jacobson,
4 Social presence Wiener and
et al., 1976
,
Argyle and
,
Weil, 2006

5 Affiliation Warnick, 2004

discussion it should clearly


disclose their affiliation to the
company and why they are
participating? Why?
Do you think a company
member should only disclose
their affiliation to the
company or also their status
Appendix 2
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2
No. Topic Literature Question
6 Perceived Lazarsfeld and Merton, 1954, Evans, How can the similarity of a company-representative influence the impression
similarity 1963, Brown and Reingen, 1987, Price you have about him?
et al., 1987, Dellande and Gilly, 1998, How would you define similarity?
Gilly et al., 1998, DeShields and Kara,
2000
7 Source credibility McGuire, 1969, Ohanian, 1990, Belch How does the credibility of a company-representative influence the image you
and Belch, 1994, Goldsmith et al., 2000, have of a company-representative?
Lafferty et al., 2002, Massey, 2003,
Clow and Baack, 2004
8 Interactivity Toffler, 1984 , Sproull and Kiesler, 1986, In the literature, we can find three kinds of interactivity: humanmachine,
Rafaeli, 1988 , Tapscott, 1997 , Shih, humanmessage and humanhuman interactivity. Which, if any, of this
1998 , Ariely, 2000 , Dellaert, 2002,
Liu interactivity do you consider to be important in online communities and why?
and Shrum, 2002 ; Christodoulides and
de Chernatony, 2004, Sicilia et al.,
2005,
Wright, 2006 , Bagozzi et al., 2007
9 Interpersonal Kozinets, 1999 , Bickard and Schindler, How can messages of other community members influence the impression you
communication 2001 , McAlexander et al. , 2002 , have about the company-representative?
Baumgarth, 2004 , Godes and Mayzlin,
2004 , Henning -Thurau et al. ,

2004 , Gruen et al. , 2006 ,

Stammerjohan et al., 2005 ,

Melewar and Karaosmanoglu, 2006 ,


Dwyer, 2007

Note: Developed for the present study


Table AII.
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440
QMR 17,4

439
n
formatio
A Brunel gy company providing an online trading platform) and Marketing Manager Europe at Ri3k Ltd. (technology
b University company providing an online trading platform). Currently she is working as lecturer and head of reputation
o , London, management group at the School of Management and Law of Zurich University of Applied Sciences,
ut and an Switzerland. Christines research interests include online marketing, online communities, corporate image
th MBA from and reputation. She teaches Marketing Management in undergraduate courses as well as Online Marketing
e New York in certificate of advanced science courses and master of advanced science courses. She is a jury member
a Institute of the Swiss Marketing Trophy.
of Bang Nguyen is an Associate Professor at ECUST School of Business in Shanghai, China. Previously, he
ut
Technolo held faculty positions at Oxford Brookes University and RMIT University, Vietnam. His research interests
h
gy. She include customer management, customer relationship management, services marketing, consumer
or
has behaviour, branding and issues of fairness and trust. Bang has extensive knowledge in service organisations
s previous (consumer products/services) and has published widely in journals such as Journal of Services Marketing,
Ch
professio Journal of Strategic Marketing, Journal of Consumer Marketing, Journal of General Management, and
ris
nal International Journal of Technology Management. He has presented at various national and international
tin
experienc conferences including EMAC and AM. Bang is an experienced consultant and advises on marketing and
e
es as brand development for SMEs and start-ups.
Ha
Customer T C Melewar (BSc, MBA, Ph.D.) is Professor of Marketing and Strategy at Middlesex University
llie
Relations Business School, London, UK. He has previous experience at Brunel, ZHAW School of Management
r
hip and Law, Switzerland; Warwick Business School; MARA Institute of Technology in Malaysia;
Wi
Manager Loughborough University, UK; and De Montfort University, UK. TC teaches Brand and Marketing
lli
at Management, and International Marketing on a range of undergraduate, MSc, MBA and executive
(B
Renault courses with companies such as Nestl, Safeway, Tata and Sony. He is a Visiting Professor at
Sc
Nissan University of Malaya, Malaysia. TCs research interests include branding, corporate identity and
,
Suisse international marketing strategy. He has published in the Journal of Marketing Management,
M
SA (car Management Decision, Journal of Brand Management and International Journal of Management
B
manufact Reviews among others. T.C. Melewar is the corresponding author can be contacted at:
A,
urer), t.c.melewar@mdx.ac.uk
Ph
Marketing Charles Dennis is a Professor of Marketing and Retailing at Lincoln Business School, University of
D)
Director Lincoln. His teaching and research area is (e-)retail and consumer behaviour the vital final link of the
ho
Switzerla Marketing process satisfying the end consumer. Charles is a Chartered Marketer and has been
lds
nd and elected as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing for work helping to modernise the teaching
a
Eastern of the discipline. Charles was awarded the Vice Chancellors Award for Teaching Excellence for
Ph
Europe at improving the interactive student learning experience. Charless publications include Marketing the e-
D
Inreon Business, (1st & 2nd editions) (joint-authored with Dr Lisa Harris), the research-based e-Retailing and
fro
Ltd. research monograph Objects of Desire: Consumer Behaviour in Shopping Centre Choice. His research
m
(technolo into shopping styles has received extensive coverage in the popular media.
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1. ChenChen-Chu Matilda Chen-Chu Matilda Chen NguyenBang Bang Nguyen MelewarT.C. T.C. Melewar The Wide
Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd, Taichung, Taiwan Department of Marketing, East China University of Science and
Technology, Shanghai, China Middlesex University, London, UK . 2016. An investigation of the uses of
corporate reputation. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal

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