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Abstract

Virtual communities provide an attractive place for organizations to mine information regarding customer perceptions, needs, and demographics; as well as to generate revenue through sales of products, services, information, and advertising. However, the community conversation provides information about only one type of community user, the poster. Information about the lurker, who never posts, is conspicuously absent from the obvious community data source, the postings. Lurkers may be a large portion of the user community and could provide key revenue sources and vital information, or they potentially could turn into posters. This research contrasts the differences in the underlying motivations of lurkers, infrequent posters, and posters in order to understand the resulting differences in their behavior. 518 users from 20 virtual communities were categorized into three groups based upon their posting behaviors: lurkers who never posted, infrequent posters who posted three or less times per month, and frequent posters. Results revealed that lurkers differed significantly from posters, especially in their willingness to give information and exchange social support. There was a gradual progression from lurker to poster regarding the desires to get knowledge and obtain shopping information. Implications about a possible psychological barrier regarding giving information and social support are discussed.

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