Utilising virtual communities for innovative consumer identification

Terrell, Matthew (2018) Utilising virtual communities for innovative consumer identification. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Consumers can play a pivotal role in the development of new products and services. People are observed to independently create and modify existing products in order to meet their needs, unmet by current market offerings (Luthje 2004; Von Hippel & Urban 1988; Hienerth & Lettl 2011). Research into these innovative consumers has shown they can be differentiated from other consumers by a set of characteristics. This has enabled firms to identify and engage with these consumers, document their behaviour and integrate them into the process of developing new products and services. By doing so firms have experienced a range of benefits including an increase in product novelty, attractiveness and variety (Franke & Shah 2003; Schreier & Pruegl 2008; Franke et al. 2006). Today firms are utilising virtual communities to access consumer knowledge, discover their emerging needs and observe their own innovations. This has had a positive effect on a firm’s innovation output and performance (Ryzhkova 2015; Wadell et al. 2013; Carbonell et al. 2009). Many investigations have started to focus on virtual communities, and their utility for firms to identify consumers, but given the sheer size of virtual communities, and their heterogeneity, our understanding of how to exploit these resources are under-explored.

This thesis conducted a series of investigations, seeking to contribute a new perspective on consumer innovation research in a number of different areas. The core aim is to provide a new understanding of how organisations can use virtual communities to help them efficiently identify innovative consumers in the pursuit of new insights and innovation. The investigation focuses on how to approach the identification of innovative consumers in virtual communities. Firstly the consumer’s choice of the virtual community, which reveals innovative consumers, specifically those who are more willing to collaborate with organisations, are more likely to exist in forum style virtual communities. These are free from functionality that facilitates acts of selling and professional endeavours, such as shopping carts and file exchange mechanisms. This has never before been considered as an influencing factor in the process of identifying innovating consumers, and shows that organisations could positively influence the overall outcome of the collaboration process with consumers if a consumer’s choice of community was also included in the identification process. Ultimately this could have a positive knock-on effect to the type, and success of, the resulting innovation produced when collaborating with consumers for new product development (NPD). This study suggests that organisations need to take into consideration the following factors: community functionality, to reduce the number of consumers with professional interests; and the community social systems, to understand the values and ideologies of virtual communities when it comes to external collaboration. Additionally, this investigation expands on the existing knowledge about using weblog data for identification, by analysing the relationships between their self-reported data and web-log data. This is the first time the observation of weblog data and its potential to influence the wider use of weblog data has been taken into consideration. Almost all previous investigations appear to observe data that is isolated to a specific community (Füller et al. 2008), and do not consider how metrics could be transferable across communities to influence the overall approach to online consumer identifications, across communities.

Finally this study provides new knowledge on the application of the community manager in the process of identifying innovative consumers. The research concludes by highlighting novel insights gained from interviewing community managers. The significance, and arguably, the advantageous position held by the community managers, places them in a position to influence social systems that inform the perceptions of external collaboration; they understand the community dynamics and often individual characteristics of community members, and they act as a gatekeeper to the community. These findings show that, for organisations looking to collaborate with consumers of the community, they should approach the community managers first. They can provide organisations with insights about the community social system, their values and ideologies, which will indicate the effectiveness of the community for identification. Essentially, by collating the findings from the thesis, organisations can add timesaving steps in the process of identification.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Spence, Alexa
Kuk, George
Keywords: virtual communities, product development, consumer identification, consumers, marketing, consumer research, forums, internet
Subjects: H Social sciences > HF Commerce
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA 75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Science > School of Computer Science
Item ID: 51814
Depositing User: Terrell, Matthew
Date Deposited: 19 Jul 2018 04:40
Last Modified: 07 May 2020 18:17
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/51814

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