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Abstract

Virtual communities that feature avatars are an emerging social software business model on the Internet. Avatars are Internet users' graphical representations of themselves in virtual environments. This study investigates how virtual community members' satisfaction with avatars is formed. We test a research model that proposes that social factors influence virtual community members' satisfaction with avatars. We draw upon social presence theory, social comparison theory, and self-identity theory. Data from a field experiment (N=134) is analyzed using Structural Equation Modeling (SEM). Our results provide empirical support for our proposed model. We report that social factors affect virtual community members' satisfaction with the use of avatars in virtual communities. Our intended contribution is to help both managers and academics understand aspects of customer behavior and customer satisfaction when using avatars in virtual communities. This study also presents suggestions for future research regarding the use of social software in business.

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