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Journal of Marketing Communications Vol. 14, No.

1, 1936, February 2008

Promoting Consumers Participation in Virtual Brand Communities: A New Paradigm in Branding Strategy
LUIS V. CASALO, CARLOS FLAVIAN & MIGUEL GUINALIU
Faculty of Economics and Business Studies, University of Zaragoza, Zaragoza, Spain

ABSTRACT Virtual brand communities have become a powerful tool for marketers since these communities may help to understand consumer needs and to promote brand loyalty and involvement. In this respect, this work analyses the effect of participation in a virtual community on consumer commitment and tries to explore how consumers can be motivated in order to take part of a virtual community. To be precise, we analyse the role of trust, satisfaction with previous interactions and communication in the members intentions to participate in a virtual community. The data (obtained through an online survey made to members of several virtual brand communities) show first that participation in a virtual community has a positive influence on consumer commitment to the brand around which the community is centred. Second, we found that trust in a virtual community had a positive and significant effect on members participation in the virtual community activities and, finally, satisfaction with previous interactions and the level of communication significantly increased the level of trust in a virtual community. KEY WORDS: Virtual brand communities, participation, commitment, trust, satisfaction, communication

Introduction The increasing competition and the high costs every company has to face in order to win new customers make it increasingly necessary to establish long-term oriented relationships with customers. Thus, relationship marketing has been proposed to be the leading marketing strategy in the future (Morgan and Hunt, 1994; Andersen, 2005). According to Andersen (2005), communication with consumers is one of the crucial aspects of relationship marketing. In this context, the Internet has come out as a new medium that favours the communication among consumers and organizations (Pitta and Fowler, 2005). Indeed, more and more firms are starting

Correspondence Address: Carlos Flavian Blanco, Faculty of Economics and Business Studies, University of Zaragoza, Gran Va 2, 50005 Zaragoza, Spain. Tel: +34 976762719; Fax: +34 976761667; Email: cflavian@unizar.es 1352-7266 Print/1466-4445 Online/08/01001918 # 2008 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/13527260701535236

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to use several online tools (e.g. chats, forums, etc.) to contact their consumers and to allow interaction among them. These online relationships have motivated the creation of social groups in the Internet that have been traditionally called virtual brand communities. Thus, it is clear that these communities represent a useful tool in order to involve consumers in a marketing dialogue, which is a key factor in order to achieve brand involvement and loyalty (Andersen, 2005). In addition, the importance of virtual communities for marketers is continuously increasing since they also allow the obtaining of valuable information. For instance, these online communities provide a great opportunity to understand the members likes, dislikes, needs, behaviours or concerns (Ridings et al., 2002; Pitta and Fowler, 2005). However, there is still a lack of studies that analyse empirically which are the major drivers of consumers participation in these virtual communities and which is the effect of this participation on consumer behaviour. In fact, although the concept of virtual community is almost as old as the concept of Internet (Flavian and Guinalu, 2005), little is known about what motivations induce people to participate in virtual communities (Ridings et al., 2002). Therefore, this study is designed to move on this topic by: (1) analysing the relationship between participation in a virtual community and consumer commitment to the brand around which the community is centred, and (2) identifying some of the factors that influence the members intentions to participate in a virtual community. More specifically, following the trust-commitment theory (Morgan and Hunt, 1994), we first consider that to participate actively in a virtual community, an individual will need to trust first in that virtual community and in its members. Second, we also consider that a general satisfaction in the previous interactions with the virtual community and a higher quality in the community communication may increase the level of trust placed in a virtual community. Taking into account the previous considerations, this work is structured as follows. First, we carry out an in-depth review of the relevant literature concerning the concept of virtual community and the variables included in the study. Second, we formalize the hypotheses. Third, we explain the process of data collection and the methodology employed. Fourth, the main conclusions of the work are discussed and the future research is presented. Literature Review The Virtual Community Many definitions on the concept of the virtual community have appeared in the literature but, traditionally, this concept has been defined from a social point of view (Li, 2004). In line with this perspective, the concept of virtual community is first defined by Rheingold (1993) as a social group that is originated in the Internet when people discuss in this communication channel. Similarly, Ridings et al. (2002) expose that a virtual community is a group of people with a common interest that interact regularly in an organized way over the Internet. Thus, one of the major qualities of virtual communities is that, due to the Internet, it is possible to overcome the space and time barriers to interaction that exist in traditional communities (Andersen, 2005). Indeed, the Internet provides the

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infrastructure for enhancing social interaction and, consequently, the development of these communities may be fostered. In addition, the justification to the exponential expansion of virtual communities is also found in the advantages generated by these communities. In this respect, Hagel and Armstrong (1997) point out that virtual communities can help to satisfy four types of consumer needs: sharing resources, establishing relationships, trading and living fantasies. Among all the typologies of virtual communities, this work focuses on virtual brand communities. To be precise, a brand community is a set of individuals who voluntarily relate to each other for their interest in some brand or product (Muniz and OGuinn, 2001). Furthermore, these authors point out that a brand community is characterized by three core components:

Consciousness of kind. It refers to the feeling that binds every individual to the other community members and the community brand (e.g. the passion for driving a Porsche) and it is determined by two factors: (1) legitimization, the process of establishing a difference between true and false members, that is, those who have opportunist behaviours and those who do not; and (2) opposition to other brands. Rituals and traditions. These are processes carried out by community members who help to reproduce and transmit the community meaning in and out of the community. Members relate to each other with the memory of major events in the history of the brand and they usually share a common set of values and certain behaviours, such as a specific language or way of dressing. Sense of moral responsibility. This reflects the feelings that create moral commitment among the community members. As a result of moral responsibility, there are two types of fundamental actions: (1) integration and retention of members, which guarantees the community survival, (e.g. by spreading bad experiences suffered by those individuals who chose a different brand); and (2) support in the correct use of the brand (e.g. by sharing information about product properties). Thus, these communities provide consumer support with the ongoing use of the brand products (Pitta and Fowler, 2005).

More specifically, we focus attention on virtual brand communities since these communities have a great relevance for marketers. The reason behind this interest is threefold. First, virtual brand communities can affect their members behaviour (Muniz and OGuinn, 2001) since individuals and organizations can use these communities to inform and influence fellow consumers about products and brands (Kozinets, 2002). Second, virtual brand communities may help to identify the needs and desires of particular individuals or groups of people (Kozinets, 2002). Third, active participation in virtual brand communities may favour higher levels of individuals loyalty to the brand around which the community is developed (Koh and Kim, 2004) since a key aspect of membership and participation in these communities is the ongoing purchase and use of the brand products (Algesheimer et al., 2005). Active Participation Members participation in a virtual community is a key factor in order to assure the success of the community. Furthermore, participation in a virtual community is a

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crucial element to guarantee the community survival (Koh and Kim, 2004). To be precise, the level of participation is a key factor to perpetuate the brand community (Algesheimer et al., 2005) since higher participation means a higher level of involvement with the community. Indeed, due to the participation in the activities carried out in the virtual community, members can share information and experiences, which are key aspects in order to develop the group cohesion. In addition, it is important to note that some authors (e.g. Algesheimer et al., 2005) state that participation in the virtual community activities also promotes the members identification with the community and, consequently, the value of the community is increased. MyCoke (http://www.mycoke.com) or Youtube (http:// youtube.com), where millions of people participate frequently, are clear instances of how virtual communities may be developed thanks to community participation, in terms of interactions among members and contributions to the community. Finally, it is important to note that participation in the virtual community activities may also influence their members behaviour (e.g. Andersen, 2005; Muniz and OGuinn, 2001). In this respect, some authors propose that consumers participation in a virtual community may increase their loyalty to the brand around which the community is centred (e.g. Andersen, 2005; Benyoussef et al., 2006). This is explained by the development of emotional ties with the brand around which the community is centred that appear because of the interactions with other community members, which are usually based on topics related to the brand products. In this work, according to the recommendations of Koh and Kim (2004), we consider the following factors to measure the individuals participation in a virtual community:

N N N

The effort to stimulate the virtual community; The value of the comments posted in order to help other community members; and The excitement and motivation with which an individual posts messages and responses in the community.

Consequences of Participation in a Virtual Community Affective Commitment Commitment may be defined as the enduring desire to maintain a relationship that is considered important and valuable (Moorman et al., 1992). Therefore, a party committed to a relationship is motivated to maintain it and will work for that purpose (Morgan and Hunt, 1994). More specifically, the importance of commitment relies in the fact that it may also influence buyer behaviour (Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Indeed, commitment may favour the development of brand loyalty (Morgan and Hunt, 1994), which is a major objective for most of the organizations (Andreassen, 1999). The concept of commitment is complex but it is possible to identify several typologies or dimensions involved (Gundlanch and Murphy, 1995). In general, we can distinguish between calculative and affective commitment (Geyskens et al., 1996; Gustafsson et al., 2005):

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Calculative commitment: is caused by the existence of sunk and switching costs (e.g. Anderson and Weitz, 1992). In this case, an individual will be committed to the relationship due to the fact that the value of the resources invested in the relationship would be substantially decreased if the individual chose to finish the relationship and start another one. Calculative commitment can also arise when there are no attractive alternatives to the established relationship (Gustafsson et al., 2005; Anderson and Weitz, 1992). Affective commitment: emerges because of the emotions and closeness between the parties (e.g. Meyer et al., 1993). More specifically, affective commitment assumes that both parties involved in a relationship will be interested in continuing it in the long-term (Anderson and Weitz, 1992). Indeed, some authors propose that affective commitment determines the consumers desire to continue with the relationship in the future (e.g. Roberts et al., 2003). According to Stern (1997), affective commitment is developed through time, because of the fact that consumers get used to positive emotional responses and consequently, more security is generated in the relationship.

Following Roberts et al. (2003), we only consider affective components in the definition of commitment since affective commitment is the factor that favours consumers identification with a company and the establishment of long-term relationships between them (Johnson et al., 2006). Antecedents of Participation in a Virtual Community Trust The concept of trust has often been associated with the achievement of long lasting and profitable relationships (e.g. Anderson and Narus, 1990; Dwyer et al., 1987). Indeed, this is the consequence of the role of trust in decreasing the uncertainty of a relationship. Thus, the importance of trust in the context of virtual communities is even greater since individuals perceived a higher risk in online relationships (Harris and Goode, 2004). In this respect, Ridings et al. (2002) state that trust may help to decrease the uncertainty of the relationships between the individual and the other community members. More specifically, the importance of trust in this context is based on some special characteristics of virtual communities (Ridings et al., 2002). For instance, the lack of face-to-face contact in virtual communities increases the perceived risk of the relationship between the individual and the community members. In addition, there is no guarantee that the other members will behave as they are expected to, (e.g. they can provide other members email addresses to external organizations without permission). Therefore, trust serves to decrease the perceived risk of relationships in a virtual community and its management must be a crucial aspect for the organization that creates the virtual community. Traditionally, trust has been analysed from two different perspectives (e.g. Kumar et al., 1995; Geyskens et al., 1996). On the one hand, trust has been considered as a behavioural component, which is associated with the willingness or desire to rely on the partner (e.g. Kumar et al., 1995; Geyskens et al., 1996). On the other hand, trust may be analysed as a cognitive component, which reflects the result of the assessment that one party makes of the credibility and goodwill of the other party, (e.g. Doney

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and Canon, 1997; Mayer et al., 1995). However, the literature reflects a more habitual use of the cognitive component. In fact, Morgan and Hunt (1994) note that the inclusion of the behavioural component may be redundant as it is a consequence of the cognitive component. Considering trust as a cognitive component, it has been usually suggested that trust may be defined by three types of beliefs, which refer to the levels of competence, honesty and benevolence, as perceived by the individual, (e.g. Mayer et al., 1995). In the context of virtual communities, which are always centred on a specific mutual concern, competence refers to the ability of the community members with respect to that mutual interest (Ridings et al., 2002). In turn, honesty is the belief that the second party (the other community members) will keep their word, fulfil their promises and be sincere (Gundlach and Murphy, 1993; Doney and Canon, 1997). Finally, benevolence reflects the belief that one of the parties is interested in the wellbeing of the other. Thus, in the context of virtual communities, benevolence refers to the expectation that community members will have the intention and the desire to help, support and care of the other members of the virtual community (Ridings et al., 2002). Taking into account the previous considerations, we propose that the concept of trust in a virtual community may be considered as a multidimensional construct formed by three different dimensions: honesty, benevolence and competence in the virtual community. Satisfaction Satisfaction can be defined as an affective condition that results from a global evaluation of all the aspects that make up a relationship (Severt, 2002). More specifically, satisfaction can be divided into two distinct perspectives (Geyskens et al., 1999). On the one hand, the first perspective considers satisfaction as an affective predisposition sustained by economic conditions. On the other hand, the second perspective, known as non-economic satisfaction, considers the concept using more psychological factors, such as a partner fulfilling promises or the ease of relationships with the aforementioned partner. In this project, we will concentrate on the psychological perspective of satisfaction (Shankar et al., 2003). From this point of view, satisfaction is considered as a global evaluation or attitude made by the individual about the behaviour of the other virtual community members resulting from the interactions produced by both parties in the relationship. Therefore, satisfaction is not the result of a specific interaction, but that of a global evaluation of the relationship history between the parties. With each new interaction, the individuals perception is fed by new information, which is the information that determines the level of satisfaction at any given time. Communication In general, communication can be defined as the formal and informal distribution of significant and updated information (Anderson and Narus, 1990). Furthermore, communication between the parties has been considered as a key element in the existence of a relationship (e.g. Bendapudi and Berry, 1997; Crosby and Stephens, 1987). Indeed, Duncan and Moriarty (1998) propose that communication is a human

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activity that joins people and generates relationships. In addition, several authors have noted that quality of communication is more important than quantity and, consequently, effective communication implies that both parties must be committed to the communication processes (Chiou et al., 2004). In the context of virtual communities, communication is especially relevant since the existence of a virtual community is directly based on postings and their responses made by the community members (Ridings et al., 2002). More specifically, according to these authors, the speed and frequency of response when an individual posts a message can be considered as key elements of the communication in the community since they allow the creation of conversation. However, communication must be also effective; that is, responses must be valuable for the individual that posts a message. If responses have no value, the individual will not be motivated to participate in that virtual community. Formulation of Hypotheses Although the relationship between satisfaction and trust in a virtual community has not been analysed yet, some authors have considered that satisfaction has a positive effect on trust in the context of business to consumer relationships through the Internet, (e.g. Bauer, 2002). In addition, as suggested by the Disconfirmation of Expectations Model, (e.g. Spreng and Chiou, 2000), satisfaction reflects the degree to which expectations generated on previous occasions have been met. If we focus attention on how satisfaction with a virtual community has been generated, we can see that the first phase consists of individuals having certain expectations with regard to the trustworthiness of the other virtual community members. Then, they perceive whether the expectations are met or not. If they are met, individuals will feel satisfied and more confident, since they will feel that the other community members are trustworthy and capable of meeting its commitments. Following the previous considerations, we propose our first hypothesis: Hypothesis 1: Greater user satisfaction is related directly and positively to greater trust in a virtual community. Traditionally, communication has been considered as a major antecedent of trust and proximity feelings between the parties in a relationship, (e.g. Morgan and Hunt, 1994; Anderson and Narus, 1990). Indeed, Morgan and Hunt (1994) state that communication helps to solve conflicts between the parties, which favours the development of affective reactions such as trust (Kumar et al., 1995). More specifically, communication promotes trust since it improves the environment by aligning perceptions and expectancies (e.g. Anderson and Weitz, 1992; Morgan and Hunt, 1994). In the online context, many researchers have proposed that a higher quality in the communication between the parties produces higher degrees of trust (McIvor et al., 2002). In a similar way, the perceived level of communication in a community, which is represented by the repeated interactions over time between the community members, may increase the levels of trust placed in that virtual community. In this way, trust in a virtual community is built thanks to these repeated interactions

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among the virtual community members. Therefore, if an individual posts several messages and there are no responses, trust in other community members will not arise and consequently, following the trust transfer process in the online context (Stewart, 2003), trust in the whole community will not be developed either. Therefore, we propose our second hypothesis: Hypothesis 2: A higher level of communication in a virtual community is related directly and positively to greater levels of trust placed in that community. Traditionally, several authors have considered that trust determines the nature of a relationship (e.g. Gefen, 2000). Indeed, following the trust-commitment theory (Morgan and Hunt, 1994), a relationship in which both parties trust each other generates enough value so that the parties will be committed to the relationship (e.g. Garbarino and Johnson, 1999). This greater value generated by trust is the consequence of the role of trust in decreasing the uncertainty of a relationship. In fact, trust means that one of the parties involved in a relationship will think that the other party will not exploit its vulnerabilities (Corritore et al., 2003). Therefore, the decrease of the perceived risk in either a transaction or a relationship is an important result derived from the process of trust building (Mitchell, 1999). In this way, individuals commitment and participation in a relationship will only be possible if they trust the other party. In addition, if we focus attention on virtual communities, trust may also help to favour integration of members and to increase interactions among them (Ridings et al., 2002). Indeed, trust is a crucial factor when individuals face relationships without having complete information regarding the other party (Hawes et al., 1989), as it may be the case of virtual communities since an individual does not usually have much information about all the other community members (Ridings et al., 2002). In these cases, trust serves to decrease the degree of information asymmetry that exists between partners (Batt, 2003). Thus, bearing in mind all these considerations, it is reasonable to think that trust in a virtual community and in its members may be a major precursor of the individuals intentions to participate in a virtual community. Thus, we propose our third hypothesis: Hypothesis 3: Greater levels of trust placed in a virtual community are related directly and positively to greater levels of participation in that virtual community. Traditionally, it has been considered that participation in a brand community helps to develop the relationship between the brand and its consumers (Andersen, 2005; McAlexander et al.; 2002). Indeed, some authors have also suggested that participation in these communities may foster consumer loyalty to the brand around which the community is developed (Muniz and OGuinn, 2001; Benyoussef et al., 2006), since a crucial outcome of participation in these communities is the intention to purchase and use the brand products in the future (e.g. Algesheimer et al., 2005). More specifically, once consumers participate actively in a brand community, their identification and emotional ties with the brand around which the virtual community

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is centred may increase (Algesheimer et al., 2005). These emotional ties emerge because of the interactions with other community members, which are usually based on topics related to that brand (e.g. discussions about the correct use of the brand products or their properties, etc.). Finally, all of these may favour higher levels of consumer affective commitment to the brand around which the virtual community is developed. Therefore, taking into account these considerations, we propose our last hypothesis: Hypothesis 4: Greater participation in a virtual community is related directly and positively to greater affective commitment to the brand around which the community is developed. Data Collection Data were collected thanks to a web survey using Spanish-speaking members of several virtual communities. To obtain the responses, several posts were included on heavy traffic websites, email distribution lists and well-known electronic forums. The selection of the websites to promote the research was founded on: (1) the level of awareness among the Spanish-speaking community, (2) traffic level and (3) availability. This method of collecting the data, which is consistent with the recent practice in the online context research, (e.g. Bagozzi and Dholakia, 2006; Steenkamp and Geyskens, 2006), generated 215 valid questionnaires (atypical cases, repeated responses and incomplete questionnaires were controlled). Besides, it is important to note that subjects were allowed to choose the virtual community to analyse, as the objective of this project was to understand the behaviour of the virtual community members, regardless the product around which the community was developed. However, it was a pre-requisite that the subject was registered as a member of that virtual community. More specifically, subjects had to respond to several questions about their levels of satisfaction, participation and trust in the virtual community they had selected, about the perceived level of communication that exists in that virtual community as well as about their affective commitment to the brand around which the community was developed. All questions were measured on a seven-point Likert scale. Finally, to guarantee that of our sample was representative, we compared the sociodemographical characteristics of the sample with other studies on virtual communities (Bagozzi and Dholakia, 2006) and results were very similar (see Table 1). Measures Validation The process of validation included the following stages: Content and Face Validity Scale development was based on the review of the most relevant literature on relationship marketing and the recent advances in e-marketing (see Table 2).

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Table 1. Representative nature of the data collected Bagozzi and Dholakia (2006) 402 31.1 1873 88.10% 4.62

Present research n Age Gender Average experience (years) 215 32.2 1670 89% 3.84

Mean Range Male

From the literature review, an initial set of items was proposed but, due to the lack of valid scales adapted to the context of virtual communities, it was necessary to adapt the initial scales. This adaptation had the objective of guaranteeing the face validity of the measurement instruments. Face validity is defined as the degree that respondents judge that the items are appropriate to the targeted construct and is habitually confused with content validity. Nevertheless, content validity is the degree to which items correctly represent the theoretical content of the construct and it is guaranteed by the in-depth literature review undertaken. Face validity was tested through a variation of the Zaichkowsky method (1985), whereby each item is qualified by a panel of experts as clearly representative, somewhat representative or not representative of the construct of interest. In line with Lichtenstein et al. (1990), an item was retained if a high level of consensus was observed among the experts. Exploratory Analysis of Reliability and Dimensionality The process of measuring validation started with an initial exploratory analysis of reliability and dimensionality (Churchill, 1979; Anderson and Gerbing, 1988). The Cronbach alpha indicator was used to assess the initial reliability of the scales, considering a minimum value of 0.7 (Cronbach, 1970; Nunnally, 1978). The itemtotal correlation was used to improve the levels of the Cronbach alpha, considering a minimum value of 0.3 (Nurosis, 1993). All items were adjusted to the required levels. We proceeded to evaluate the unidimensionality of the proposed scales by carrying out a principal components analysis. Factor extraction was based on the existence of eigenvalues higher than 1. In addition, it was required that factorial loadings were
Table 2. Content validity Variable Commitment Participation Trust Communication Satisfaction Adapted from Moorman et al. (1992); Anderson and Weitz (1992); Kumar et al. (1995) Koh and Kim (2004); Algesheimer et al. (2005) Kumar et al. (1995); Siguaw et al. (1998); Doney and Canon (1997); Verhoef et al. (2002); Roy et al. (2001) McMillan et al. (2005); Chiou et al. (2004) Brockman (1998); Severt (2002); Smith and Barclay (1997)

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higher than 0.5 points and a significant total explained variance. Only one factor was extracted from each scale: satisfaction, communication, benevolence, honesty, competence, participation and commitment. Confirmatory Analysis of Dimensionality With the aim of confirming the dimensional structure of the scales and to allow for a rigorous test of convergent and discriminatory validity, we used the Confirmatory Factor Analysis (Steenkamp and Geyskens, 2006). That is, we included all individual-level constructs in a single confirmatory factor model. More specifically, we employed the statistical software EQS version 6.1, and we chose Robust Maximum Likelihood as the estimation method, since it affords more security in samples which might not present multivariate normality. In addition, we followed the criteria proposed by Joreskog and Sorbom (1993):

N N N

The weak convergence criterion means eliminating indicators that do not show significant factor regression coefficients (t student.2.58; P50.01). The strong convergence criterion involves eliminating non-substantial indicators; that is, those indicators whose standardized coefficients are lower than 0.5. Finally, we also eliminated the indicators that least contribute to the explanation of the model, taking R2,0.3 as a cut-off point.

These recommendations allow us to obtain acceptable levels of convergence, R2 and model fit: Chi-square5384.894, 160 d.f., P,.001; Bentler-Bonett Normed Fit Index50.857; Bentler-Bonett Non-normed Fit Index50.914; Comparative Fit Index (CFI)50.927; Bollen (IFI) Fit Index50.929; Root Mean Sq. Error of App. (RMESA, Root Mean-Square Error of Approximation)50.063; 90% confidence interval of RMESA (0.052, 0.074). Finally, in order to confirm the existence of multidimensionality in trust, we developed a Rival Models Strategy (Hair et al., 1999; Anderson and Gerbing, 1988). In this strategy, we compared a second order model in which the construct is measured by various dimensions with a first order model in which all the items formed only one factor. Results showed that the second order model fits much better than the first. This implies that trust placed in a virtual community is a multidimensional construct formed by three dimensions: honesty, benevolence and competence. Composite Reliability Although the Cronbach alpha indicator is the most frequent test to assess reliability, some authors consider that it underestimates reliability (e.g. Smith, 1974). Consequently, the use of composite reliability has been suggested (Joreskog, 1971), using a cut-off value of 0.65 (Bagozzi and Yi, 1988; Steenkamp and Geyskens, 2006). The results were satisfactory. Construct Validity Construct validity was assessed by considering two types of criteria: convergent and discriminatory validity:

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L. V. Casalo et al. Convergent validity. This shows if the items that compose a determined scale converge on only one construct. This was tested by checking that the factor loadings of the confirmatory model were statistically significant (level of 0.01) and higher than 0.5 points (Sanzo et al., 2003). Results showed that all the indicators loaded significantly (P,0.001) and substantively (all factor loadings went beyond 0.5) on their proposed constructs, providing evidence of convergent validity of the measures (Steenkamp and Geyskens, 2006). Discriminatory validity. This verifies if a determined construct is significantly distinct from other constructs that are not theoretically related to it. We tested discriminatory validity in two ways: First, we checked that the correlations between the variables in the confirmatory model were not higher than 0.8 points (Bagozzi, 1994). Second, we checked that the value 1 did not appear in the confidence interval of the correlations between the different variables. Results showed an acceptable level of discrimination (see Table 3) since all pairs of constructs satisfied both criteria.

Results To test the hypotheses we develop a structural equation model. Fig. 1 shows the results corresponding to hypotheses 1 to 4. Results reveal the acceptance of these hypotheses to a level of 0.01. Similarly, the model fit also showed acceptable values (Chi-square5475.307, 163 d.f., P,0.001; Bentler-Bonett Normed Fit Index5.833;
Table 3. Discriminatory validity PAIR of constructs COMMU-SAT COMMU-HON COMMU-BENEV COMMU-COMP COMMU-PARTI COMMU-AFFCOMM SAT-HON SAT-BENEV SAT-COMP SAT-PARTI SAT-AFFCOMM HON-BENEV HON-COMP HON-PARTI HON-AFFCOMM BENEV-COMP BENEV-PARTI BENEV-AFFCOMM COMP-PARTI COMP-AFFCOMM PARTI-AFFCOMM Correlation 0.301* 0.285* 0.365* 0.589* 0.202* 0.144* 0.619* 0.499* 0.113 0.420* 0.442* 0.713* 0.338* 0.224* 0.632* 0.289* 0.271* 0.567* 0.172 0.104 0.436* 95% Confidence interval 0.164 0.136 0.218 0.450 0.055 0.007 0.476 0.340 0.048 0.285 0.289 0.617 0.193 0.065 0.520 0.146 0.112 0.430 0.014 0.033 0.314 0.438 0.434 0.512 0.728 0.349 0.281 0.762 0.658 0.274 0.555 0.595 0.809 0.483 0.383 0.744 0.432 0.430 0.704 0.358 0.241 0.558

*Expresses that coefficients are significant at the level of 0.01.

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Figure 1. The structural equation model. Note: *expresses that coefficients are significant at the level of 0.01

Bentler-Bonett Non-normed Fit Index50.886; Comparative Fit Index (CFI)50.902; Bollen (IFI) Fit Index50.904; Root Mean Sq. Error of App. (RMESA)50.073; 90% Confidence Interval of RMESA (0.062, 0.083); normed Chi-square52.9159). It was also notable that consumer trust in a virtual community could be explained at a very high level (R250.503) by the direct effects of only two variables: satisfaction with previous interactions and the level of communication in the community. In addition, this model also allow us to partially explain the members intentions to participate in a virtual community (R250.15) and their affective commitment to the brand around which the community is developed (R250.212). Conclusions and Managerial Implications From a marketing point of view, the importance of virtual brand communities is continuously increasing since these communities may help to understand the needs and desires of consumers (Ridings et al., 2002; Kozinets, 2002). Participation in a virtual brand community may foster consumer loyalty to the brand around which the community is developed (Andersen, 2005; Algesheimer et al., 2005; Muniz and OGuinn, 2001). Therefore, the analysis of these communities is especially relevant.

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However, most of the works on virtual communities have been conducted at the conceptual level (Koh and Kim, 2004) and, as a result; there is still a lack of studies that empirically analyse which are the drivers and outcomes of participation in a virtual community. Thus, with the aim of moving on this topic, this study investigates some of the antecedents of individuals participation in a virtual community and the effect of this participation on consumer commitment to the brand around which the community is developed. First, results have shown that trust placed in a virtual community may increase the levels of participation in that community. Therefore, trust may be a crucial aspect to guarantee the virtual community survival since it favours individuals participation and, consequently, both group cohesion and consciousness of kind can be enhanced. In addition, we have also found positive and significant effects of satisfaction in the previous interactions with the virtual community and the perceived level of communication in the community on the trust placed by a consumer in a virtual community. These results have allowed us to clearly explain the concept of trust placed in a virtual community (R250.503). Second, we have found a positive effect of consumers participation in a virtual community on their affective commitment to the brand around which it is developed. This result is especially relevant for managers since the high costs every company has to face in order to win new customers make it increasingly necessary to reinforce the ties established with current customers. Therefore, virtual communities emerge as a powerful tool to strengthen these ties. Indeed, this study offers some alternatives in order to increase consumers commitment by promoting their participation in a virtual brand community. More specifically, to foster consumers participation in virtual communities, firms should:

Promote communication and group cohesion in the community in order to encourage interactions among community members. To do that, firms that develop virtual communities should carry out actions that may increase the consumers commitment to the community. For instance, it would be a good idea to organize virtual meetings among the community members in order to ask them for possible suggestions and recommendations about the brand products. Satisfy in the virtual community some of the consumers needs, (e.g. making special offers to virtual community members, etc.). Indeed, the virtual brand community should be created according to its members needs, and not with those of the company, which promotes it (Flavian and Guinalu, 2005). Thus, individuals will perceive that they can satisfy their needs and demands in the virtual community and, consequently, they will be motivated to participate in the community. Guarantee the sustainability of the virtual community in the long-term. To do that, firms should constantly analyse the evolution of its members needs and interests (Wang et al., 2002).

Following these recommendations, trust between consumers and the virtual community will be built and therefore, it will be easier to turn community visitors into members, members into contributors, and contributors into evangelists of the community and the brand around which the community is developed. As a

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consequence, consumers will develop greater emotional feelings and commitment to that brand. Future research First, it is important to note that the survey was answered exclusively by Spanishspeaking members of virtual communities. Thus, to generalize the results of this research, we should repeat the study using a wider sample of consumers. Specifically, the sample should represent a greater diversity of nationalities. Second, an interesting route to extend this research would be to analyse other effects on consumer behaviour associated to the consumers participation in virtual communities, since most of the studies focused on the virtual communities outcomes have been carried out from a conceptual point of view. More specifically, it would be useful to carry out a quantitative assessment of the impact of virtual communities in consumer trust and loyalty to the brand around which the community is developed, due to the fact that loyalty is a key goal for many organizations (Andreassen, 1999) and trust is a key factor in order to establish successful long-term oriented relationships (Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Third, it would be also a good idea to analyse in more detail the precursors of participation in a virtual community in order to explain this variable to a greater extent. In fact, perceived control, privacy, familiarity or identification with the community may also influence the level of consumers participation in a virtual community. Acknowledgements The authors are grateful for the financial support received from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology (SEC2005-4972; PM34; AP2005-2823) and the Aragon Government (S-46). References
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Notes on Contributors Luis V. Casalo is Assistant Professor at the University of Zaragoza (Spain). His main research line is focused in the analysis of online consumer behaviour in the context of virtual communities. His work has been presented in national and international conferences, and has been published in several journals, such as Journal of Marketing Communications, and books, such as Mobile Government: An Emerging Direction in E-Government and Encyclopedia Of Networked And Virtual Organizations. Carlos Flavian holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and is Professor of Marketing in the Faculty of Economics and Business Studies at the University of Zaragoza (Spain). His research has been published in several academic journals, specialized in marketing (European Journal of Marketing, Journal of Consumer Marketing, Journal of Strategic Marketing, International Journal of Market Research, etc.) and new technologies (Information & Management, Industrial Management and Data Systems, Internet Research, etc.). Miguel Guinalu holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and is assistant professor in the Faculty of Economics and Business Studies (University of Zaragoza, Spain). Previously, he worked as an e-business consultant. His main research line is online consumer behaviour, particularly the analysis of online consumer trust and virtual communities. His work has been presented in national and international conferences, and it has been published in several journals, such as Journal of Marketing Communications, Information & Management, Industrial Management & Data Systems, Internet Research, Journal of Retailing & Consumer Services, International Journal of Bank Marketing or International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, and books, such as Advances in Electronic Marketing, Mobile Government: An Emerging Direction in E-Government, Encyclopedia Of Networked And Virtual Organizations and Encyclopedia of E-Commerce, E-Government and Mobile Commerce.