Date of Award

Summer 2008

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Business Administration-Marketing

Committee Director

Sylvia Hudgins

Committee Member

Yuping Liu

Committee Member

Edward Markowski


Since the ease of participation and the usefulness of information provided by online groups continue to proliferate in the World Wide Web, people increasingly participate in different forms of virtual community (i.e. online forums, bulletin boards, message boards, chat rooms) for their purposes, such as solving problems, building social relationships, sharing passions, developing professionals.

Accordingly, an increasing number of companies are now attempting to exploit this phenomenon by hosting and supporting their own online community for commercial and non-commercial purposes, such as building relationships with their customers, getting their feedback, strengthening the brand, and reducing customer service costs by enabling customer-to-customer problem solving (e.g. Wiertz and Ruyter, 2007). Typical examples of these firm-hosted online communities are Dell Community, Lego® Message Boards, Manhattan GMAT Forums, Ford Forums, iPod (Apple) Discussions, etc.

The purpose of this study is to examine factors such as consumers' feelings (sense of community, trust) and the host firm's supports that motivate consumers to exhibit their voluntary contributions and continue their membership in a firm-hosted online community.

This dissertation conceptualizes a relational social model in which sense of virtual community and virtual community loyalty are hypothesized to influence customer trust in the host firm and customer citizenship performance (loyalty intention to the host firm, voluntary participation, voluntary cooperation), respectively. Three components of the firm's support to the virtual community—support for member communication, content enhancement and recognition for contribution—are theorized to moderate the relationships between sense of virtual community and trust, and between virtual community loyalty and customer citizenship performance.

The overall finding that emerges from the dissertation is that customer citizenship performance is impacted by a customer's sense of virtual community, loyalty to the community, and customer trust in the host firm. Of the three firm support variables, only support for member communication moderates the relationship between virtual community loyalty and voluntary participation.

The dissertation makes four theoretical and managerial contributions. First, the paper presents an interdisciplinary review of extant literature on firm-hosted virtual communities and builds on it to develop a conceptualization of relationships between customer-customer social outcomes and customer-business relational outcomes. Second, while previous research has predominantly focused on firm support as an antecedent of trust in customer-business dyadic relationships (Porter, 2004), this research investigates the role of firm support as a moderator of social relational relationships. Third, the study extends the notion of relationship marketing to include customer-customer relationships which has been forgotten in the marketing literature (Clark & Martin, 1994). The implication is that the host firm can use customers themselves to build long-term customer relationships, and based on it to maintain and increase the firm's market share. Finally, from a managerial perspective, this study proposes a general framework that can enable companies to better understand some of the key aspects that define and drive loyalty in online communities. Since sense of community is unique to a specific community, this dissertation also illustrates that a virtual community is an inimitable asset which can be used as a strategic tool to build competitive advantage by a firm in an online environment.


In Copyright. URI: This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).