Conceiving and Marketing Products in the Networking Age
6. 6.1 Virtual communities INTRODUCTION In this chapter, we examine the emerging phenomenon of virtual communities, which is playing an increasingly important role in the distributed innovation process. The Internet has meaningfully and irreversibly changed the way relationships are created and promoted with and among consumers. Consequently, ﬁrms have no choice but to develop interactive channels of communication with communities of customers. The Internet lends itself very well as a forum for forming and growing communities, because, at its heart, the Internet is a social medium. It has a decentralized structure with no hierarchical organization, so it allows peer-to-peer conversations to develop without any centralized control. A hallmark of the Internet is its ability to aggregate specialized resources without regard to geography. Increasingly, knowledge diﬀused on the Web tends to regroup spontaneously around shared interests in the search for aﬃnities and reciprocal enrichment. Specialized knowledge within a speciﬁc cluster of people tends to combine with socially generated knowledge between diﬀerent clusters, permitting learning from very diﬀerent industries and domains to be synthesized. As such, the Internet has become fertile ground for the germination and growth of communities that combine creativity, knowledge and competences of individual contributors. We open the chapter with some observations on the meaning of the term ‘virtual community’, and we identify contexts within which the concept can be applied. Then, we focus on virtual communities of consumption. In particular, we point out how important it is for ﬁrms to strategically manage these...
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