Communication co-create and join communities for almost anything.

Communication
has forever been embedded as a core foundation within society. Today,
boundaries that once denied unbound connection have dissipated through the
prominence of Social Media (SM) and SM applications within our daily lives
(social life, commercial life, business life) (Algharabat et al., 2017) (Zhu and Chen, 2015). According to Lang (2010), people now spend over one
third of their day consumed by social media; with Facebook alone reaching 800
million daily active users (Hanna et
al., 2011).

 

Kaplan and Haenlein, (2010)
define SM as a collection of internet based applications building on the
ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, allowing for the invention
and exchange of User-generated Content (UGC). However, for the purpose of this
research paper we adopt the definition theorized by Filo et al., (2015), which encapsulates SM as ”new media
technologies facilitating interactivity and co-creation, allowing for the
development and sharing of UGC among and between organisations and
individuals”. Nonetheless, Alawan et al’s.,
(2016b) state that although research surrounding the SM phenomenon has
grown exponentially during the last five-year period, literature is yet to
propose a widely accepted definition.

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Exposing
previously untapped benefits, SM has become a focal point for practitioners and
researchers alike (Mangold and Faulds,
2009). Tardini and Cantoni’s, (2005) empirical findings state that SM is
beneficial to all users, providing remarkable capabilities, that allows users
to contribute, co-create and join communities for almost anything. Furthermore,
SM and its distinctive functionalities have revolutionised societies perceptions of
what constitutes as ‘quality’ business practices. Industry leaders have
consequently been forced to modernised and recognise SM as a ‘must have’
communication channel if they intend to succeed in the integral online and
virtual business environment (Hanna et
al., 2011; Williams and Williams, 2008). Williams and Williams (2008) research
also found that more industries are utilising SM as platforms to boost revenue,
awareness and to develop strategies. This, in turn, provides strong evidence for
SM and its implementation to be at the forefront of both practitioners and
researchers attention Hu and Kettinger (2008).

 

Further
research from Saxena and Khanna, (2013)
captures SM as an effective
mechanism that contributes to the firms’ marketing aims and strategy; specifically,
when looking to understand and conceptualize concepts related to customers’ involvement,
customer relationship management and communication (Filo
et al., 2015). Therefore, many studies suggest that
social media and community are conceptual ideologies that should be explored
simultaneously (Algharabat et al.,
2017).

 

Bennett’s (2013) meta-analysis,
accounting for varying industries worldwide, found that numerous firms (~93%)
have adopted and utilised innovative SM platforms and tools that are at their
disposal. In doing so, businesses are able to facilitate information searches, interactivity
(branding co-creation), promotion and enhancement of consumers buying
behaviours (Zeng and Gerritsen, 2014). Ultimately,
connectivity between businesses and end-customers is becoming more direct,
efficient and cost effective (Kaplan and
Haenlein, 2010).

 

However, Filo et
al’s., (2015) SM literature analysis debated throughout, that irrespective of the number of
studies examining SM and the applications it offers over differing contexts,
there is still a need for a theoretical model to be proposed, incorporating
pivotal dimensions that could positively or negatively influence success when
implementing SM strategies and systems. Furthermore, according to Dwivedi
et al. (2015), the majority of SM studies are observed to
be within the marketing area, and although reporting the highest practical value
for SM in business, modern directors and researchers from differing areas of
interest, should give
further attention to understand better, SM within their context.

 

Finally, Bolton
et al. (2013), also implies that in-depth knowledge of
usage patterns throughout SM platforms, is absent in current literature.
However, they suggest that research could offer practical benefits, helping organisations
formulate fuller future trends of customers’ perception and behaviour towards
organisations and their branding.

 

1.3 The Value Co-Creation
Concept (753)

 

Challenging
vital pillars that uphold capitalist economies since the beginning of the 21st
century, the co-creation concept presents society with a fundamental paradigm
shift (Galvango and Dalli, 2014). Prior to theoretical and empirical analysis
undertaken in Prahalad and Ramaswamy’s (2000, 2004) and Vargo and Lusch’s
(2004) co-creation papers, determination of value was defined as an antecedent of
a market exchange (Prahalad and
Ramaswamy, 2000, 2004a, b; Vargo and Lusch, 2011; Norman and Rami?rez, 1993).
However, the co-creation context has established change within the market; validating
the concept of customers and companies acting in a collaborative fashion,
beyond the traditional price system, to co-create value through interaction
(Galvango and Dalli, 2014; Truong et al., 2012).

 

Initially
proposed as a joint initiative in which providers and beneficiaries create
value together, Prahalad and Ramaswamy (2004) conceived a foundational
definition for value co-creation, catalysing the concepts growth within literature. As the
value co-creation literature received engagement and diversified contextually, societies
understanding of the construct evolved, and so to its definition (Leclercq et al., 2016). To date,
Leclercq et al., (2017) provide the most encompassing definition, coming to
fruition after their analysis of the value co-creation literature; expressing value
co-creation as “a process whereby
value is reciprocally (jointly) created by each actor through facilitating interactions
with one another; communications occur on an engagement platform offline (e.g.
phone call) or online (e.g. social media), where each participant shares
individual resources and capabilities, integrate the resources provided by
others and can potentially develop unique resources throughout what the authors
describe as a ‘learning process'” (Ramaswamy and Gouillart, 2010; Gro?nroos,
2008).

 

Throughout their research, Prahalad and Ramaswamy
(2003, 2004a, b) comprehensively articulated the multitude of contexts in which
co-creation offers benefits for companies and their consumers. They suggest
improvements within consumption and usage experiences (Gentile et
al., 2007; Payne et al., 2008) and inspiring product/service innovation both
radical and incremental (Sawhney et al., 2005; Bitner et al., 2008). Furthermore,
due to the reconstruction of value creation through this participative process;
value co-creation is expressed by Saarija?rvi et al., (2013) as a significant
concept for both practitioners and researchers within the service marketing and
business management domain (Ind and Coates, 2013).

 

Due to its significance in altering the foundational
ground upon which business is conducted, co-creation of value has developed
into an extensively researched construct, which can be heavily accredited to Vargo
and Lusch’s (2004) observations that marketing is shifting towards a Service-Dominant
Logic (SDL) (Merz et al.,
2017).
Central to their SDL perception are the foundational propositions (FPs), which
principally suggest value as being purely created between a firm and its
stakeholders in all aspects of the value chain (FP6) (Vargo & Lusch, 2016).
The FPs incorporated within
the S-D logic cultivates a suitable framework for how value is created. It
resides on the premise that service is the fundamental basis of exchange (FP1)
and that goods are solely distribution mechanisms for service provision (FP3) (Vargo
& Lusch, 2016). Moreover, the S-D Logic stipulates the beneficiary as the
one who always uniquely determines value through value-in-use perceptions
(FP10) (Vargo & Lusch, 2008).

 

Therefore,
the co-creation concept
emphasizes value-in-use, which considers that value is created when the
customer uses the product and the firm can enhance the
creation of such value-in-use by providing resources and supporting the
customer to integrate these resources with other private and public resources (Simeoni and Cassia, 2017). As the S-D
logic is evolving, Vargo and Lusch (2006) discussed a shift in the thought of
S-D logic from FP6 (“The customer is always a co-producer”) to (“The customer
is always a co-creator of value”) (Vargo and Lusch, 2004, 2006; Vargo and
Lusch, 2016). Research conducted by Ranjan and Read (2016) further supports
these findings, stating that while value can be derived through interaction
with the firm, its brands, and its value propositions, it can also arise
through the process of consumption (value-in-use) rather than through the
specific sale price of a product/service (value-in-exchange) (Vargo and Lusch,
2006, 2008).

 

Throughout
their systematic literature analysis, Galvango and Dalli (2014) emphasized that regardless of
the quantity of practitioner and researcher attention given to the value
co-creation concept, theoretical and empirical gaps remain prominent within the
literature. As foreseen by Vargo and Lusch (2011), the
common theme of research involving co-creation throughout the service science
domain concentrates on business-to-business settings (Terho et al., 2012;
O’Cass and Ngo, 2012). Nonetheless, although thoroughly researched,
business-to-business co-creation is often characterized as vertical (between
providers-customers), while horizontal co-creation (between customers and/or
other stakeholders) could offer future benefits and thus should receive
consideration (Mustak et al., 2013).

 

Thus,
owing to such narrow research trends, traditional paradigms, including industrial
purchasing and networks, have suffered within the co-creation context, receiving
little, if any, attention. Furthermore, Leroy et al’s. (2013), research claims
many differentiated and under examined value co-creation research contexts could
offer benefits to broaden the literature. Alongside other academics, it is
suggested that future studies consider long-term co-creation relationships, and
contexts in which co-creation emerges with the help of a variety of stakeholders’,
rather than purely suppliers and consumers (Alves et al., 2016).

 

1.4 Customer Participation within
Social Media Based Brand Communities

 

Acting
as broader sub-set of virtual societies, Social Media based Brand Communities
(SMbBC) have harmonised the way in which actors (firms and customers) connect/participate,
through their provision of co-creation and collaboration (Laroche et al., 2012).
Initially established on the Web 1.0 platform, brand communities were often
labelled as “company portals”
(Jang et al., 2008). However, as SM gains prominence and popularity
amongst researchers and practitioners, many industry leading firms are
exploiting Social Networking Sites (SNSs) to support the fruition of customers
participation in the new-age, Web 2.0 brand communities (Kaplan and Haenlein,
2010; Laroche et al., 2012).

 

According to Muniz and O’Guinn (2001),
brand community can be defined as a specialized non-geographically bound
community built and based upon brand enthusiasts. However, throughout the brand community literature, recognition
of the technological enhancements experienced within modern society has been
prominent (Werry, 1999). Therefore, the brand community definition has become subject to
numerous deviations. Most prominent within the literature is the development of
the SMbBC research stream, defined by Laroche et al. (2012), as an online
networking platform whereby individuals move from consuming content passively,
to actively participating in communities through the production and interaction
with UGC (Bagozzi and Dholakia, 2002). Furthermore, Bagozzi and
Dholakia (2002), postulate that active participation in the generation of
content, from community members structures
the characteristics of SMBCs, as well as acting as a determinant for the
influential nature of such communities.

 

Habibi et al. (2014), also provides literature with a
fundamental framework that defines and differentiates SNSs’
brand communities from online brand communities; 1. Social Context – i.e. web 2.0 technologies with which members
can effortlessly acquire masses of information regarding fellow members. 2.
Structure – Habibi et al., (2014) states
that there is no implicit or explicit structure in SMBC. 3. Scale – there is no specific amount of users/active users’ necessary to be
classified as a SMbBC.
4. Storytelling
– users can seamlessly upload and
download photos or videos, often followed by text (UGC).4. Various affiliated brand communities –
there can, and often is, several
subgroups for a specific brand community.

 

Possessing
potential to be the fundamental platform upon which value is co-created,
practitioners and academics from varying domains are directing resources towards
the brand community literature, in particular the stream encompassing, customer
participation within SMbBC. Schau et al. (2009), describes how further
attention will ultimately allow for the appropriate facilitation and
organisation of SMBC, thus permitting business leaders to harness fuller, the
constructs advantages (Zhou et al.,2011). Furthermore, the benefits of the vast
reach, low cost, high communication efficiency (Muniz and Schau, 2005) and
collaboration opportunity maximisation (Jin et al., 2009) that social media and
SMBC generates, are tempting companies to participate in such spaces (Kaplan
& Haenlein, 2010; Franke and Shah, 2003; McAlexander et al., 2002).

 

Studies
undertaken by Kim and Ko (2012), offered literature with the first noteworthy
conceptualisation of participation within the SM domain. They describe the
construct as ‘participation steps’, that firms must adhere to if they wish to
maximise participation amongst their online brand communities. However, in
order to fully develop the concept, the authors articulate that customer
interactions on SM must be given equal attention. Developing the literature
further, Laroche et al., 2012 theorised that SMBCs and thus participation within them, will
continue to grow exponentially, as they become a necessary inclusion into
businesses marketing and customer communication/participation strategies.  

 

Subsequent
empirical research surrounding customer participation in SMbBC, suggested that
frequency of visits to a company’s SNSs (SMBCs) from customers, strengthened
the association between customer and company (Rishika et al., 2013).
Furthermore, data found through Algesheimer et al’s., (2005) work, led to
thought-provoking findings; stating that brand communities formed with the
central purpose of information sharing, rather than for purely commercial
reasons, prove far more influential when considering members’ opinions and
purchase/participation intentions. Rishika et al, (2013), follow on from
Algesheimer et al’s. (2005) research, hypothesising that SMBC will ultimately
follow an indistinguishable trend.

 

Kim
and Park (2013) later classified customer participation on SNSs into three
sub-categories; 1. Deliberate participation (generating content) 2.
Unintentional participation (browsing information) 3. Resultant participation
(WOM, eWOM). This categorisation provides researchers and practitioners with
participation typologies that offer the potential to further our understanding
of the antecedents of customer participation in SMbBC. Ultimately such
potential lends itself to enable further advantages to be established from this
construct (Kang et al., 2014). Finally, contemporary research looked to further
the literature through the provision of terminology, explaining customer
participation in SMbBC as Customer Social Participation (CSP) (Chae and Ko,
2016). CSP is defined by Chae and Ko (2016) as “an effort to achieve co-creation of
values through required but the voluntary interactive participation of the
customers in service production and delivery pro- cess in SM” (Kamboj et al.,
2018).

 

After
review, the literature unearths the fact that when conceptualising customer
participation within the SM domain, research remains embryonic. However,
obvious, is the fact that this is an emerging area of research, becoming
increasingly prominent as advances in technology enable customer participation
to become more fashionable and accessible (Casaló et al., 2008). However, Chae
et al. (2015), state that studies conducted in this area are mostly conceptual
in nature, and, like other researchers, express the need for further
theoretical and empirical validation of associations between customer
participation and related constructs to fill an extensive gap within the
literature (Gebauer et al., 2013; Kang et al., 2014; Tsai and Pai, 2012).

 

1.5 Branding Co-creation on Social
Networking Sites

 

As
we undergo the modern-day technological revolution, our understanding of
conceptual ideologies has, and continues to experience exponential progression
(Gensler, et al., 2013). Of most importance to this research paper, is the
influence on branding strategies and the holistic concept of branding
throughout literature (Ramaswamy and Gouillart, 2010; Lockwood, 2010).

 

In the present study, the term ‘branding’
is used instead of ‘brand’. To distinguish between these two concepts, is
pivotal to the validity of this research paper and the understanding of the
branding co-creation construct. Throughout literature, ‘brand’ has been
expressed by Kotler and Armstrong (2013) as a “name, symbol or sign” that
allows for identification of the associated business. Literature further
conceptualises the ‘brand’ as sets of viewpoints within the consumer’s mind
(Kitchen and Schultz, 2001). Differentiating itself wholly from the term ‘brand,
‘branding’ is widely understood as a process (Kietzmann et al., 2011; Aaker, 1§996).
Recently, as literature recognises
increases in usage of digitized SM platforms, branding and brand
communities have emerged as channels for brand community members to share,
co-create and modify content (Kietzmann et al., 2011; Park et al., 1996; Hajli
et al., 2017).

 

Primary
research into online communities demonstrated their fundamental functionality
when considering the enhancement of, brand loyalty, market penetration, positive word of mouth, and creating
interest in products/services (Armstrong & Hagel, 1996). Current
literature further emphasises the importance of such goals, as SM gains
prominence and integrity in both a social and business context (Kietzmann et
al., 2011), attention turns towards the interactive platforms that SM provides,
and its facilitation of change in the online branding process due to permitting
instantaneous global interactions amongst users and brands (user-user and
user-brand) (Park et al., 2007; Chordes, 2009).

 

Creating
unbound opportunities for businesses to develop or re-invent their brand
identities, digitised platforms catalyse the branding co-creation process, defined
by Hajli et al., (2017) as

 

“the process of branding with
customers in an online environment, as opposed to pairing two or more branded
products (constituent brands) to form a separate and unique product (composite
brand)” (Park, Jun, & Shocker, 1996).

 

Such
platforms permit connectivity at its highest level, allowing customers to
indulge in and share experiences/content (UGC) surrounding a brand. This
therefore, results in creating shared meanings for brands (Muniz and O’Guinn,
2000) and, in turn
fosters the overall branding co-creation process.

 

Experiencing
a societal shift towards a participatory culture, ‘branding’, once defined as a
firm-based activity, whereby products are provided to customers with little
feedback, has developed into a value co-creation activity, where businesses and
their stakeholders collaborate as one (Merz et al., 2009). Hajli et al’s. (2017),
research therefore highlights the importance of involvement and participation in
SM based online communities, as it embodies an incomparable source of diversity
and knowledge, thus, standing as an essential actor in branding co-creation.

 

As before mentioned, the fluctuations in ideologies throughout
the co-creation and S-D logic literature (Vargo and Lusch, 2008), has lent
itself to increase attention given to the field of branding in the co-creation
context from both practitioners and researchers. Current literature
intellectualises the concept as ‘service branding’, through which the firm and
customer co-create brand meanings and experiences (Brodie, 2009; Hajli et al.,
2017).

 

Empirical analysis of firm’s branding activities
undertaken by Ramaswamy (2009) highlights the gradual embeddedness of branding
co-creation within MNCs marketing strategies. ‘Being Girl’ was an online
forum established by P for preteen/teen girls. This forum connected
members anonymously, enabling them to share their views about feminine hygiene.
Through the brand community pages, P developed interaction with customers
and successfully demonstrated branding co-creation; customers became educated
whilst simultaneously increasing awareness around P programmes and products.
 Furthermore,
Parmentier (2015) posits that firms may participate within branding co-creation
activities in SMbBCs, so as to generate new information, ideas and content, as
well as understanding consumers’/users’ needs, wants and preferences about a
brand to benefit from their shared knowledge through posts shared by brand
community members (Adebanjo and Michealides, 2010).

 

As both society and SM demonstrate indications of
progression, significant increases in research surrounding brand communities
becomes warranted as customers are identified as ‘market intelligent’, exemplifying
their ability, with the internet at their disposal, to co-create products/services
(Füller and Matzler 2007). Of main importance within the branding co-creation
literature, are the findings from Hajli et al’s. (2017), paper, suggesting that
firms opt into developing SMbBCs to facilitate customers social interactions, thus
developing relationship quality and loyalty for branding co-creation purposes.
They further theorize that if managers enable seamless connectivity amongst
customers to share information not merely with the brand, but with each other,
this in turn fosters successful branding co-creation (Hajli et al., 2017).

 

Most recently, research undertaken by Kamboj et al.
(2018), set the foundational knowledge upon which the current paper is built,
developing a conceptual background for branding co-creation vis-à-vis SM
platforms, applying a Stimulus-Organism-Response framework outlook. Consequently,
they suggest that both brand loyalty and brand trust positively influence branding
co-creation on SNSs; however, they state that further empirical data conducted
on different samples and restricted SM platforms is necessary for ratification
of these hypotheses (Kamboj et al., 2018; Hajli et al., 2017).

 

Upon review,
although certain areas and domains of the co-creation literature are widely
researched, academics are yet to put serious
emphasis on the branding domain within the co-creation literature (Kamboj et al., 2018). Prominent gaps
within the literature existing regarding the analysis of factors and
motivations that foster a want to be a part of the branding co-creation process,
from both customers and businesses. Hajli et al. (2017), also suggests that
future research should develop a framework for firms to successfully apply and develop
branding co-creation using SNSs. Furthermore,
literature emphasises difficultly in measuring branding co-creation empirically,
thus leading many studies to focus research towards ‘actor engagement’ and resource
integration, which, are considered amongst practitioners as observable,
designable and manageable as proxies of branding co-creation (Storbacka et al.,
2016).

 

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