Virtual communities are increasingly being viewed as important shopping reference groups and are being used as a new medium for affecting sales. In virtual communities, individuals generally exchange product information with others. This information guides members on the best products and where to buy them. We investigated the motivation behind virtual community members’ decision to use information when they inspire more individuals to join shopping reference groups and influence product sales. Most previous research on this subject has emphasized the influence of electronic word of mouth and the posters’ opinions regarding product choice. We further developed this idea by examining the various perspectives that are part of virtual communities’ nature vis-à-vis members’ activities of posting, viewing, and accepting information.
We also explored the comparative importance of motivating factors behind members’
intentions to use information for purchase-related decision making in different groups from three perspectives: the social exchange theory, gratifications theory, and the information adoption model. We collected data through an online survey and by examining respondents’ actual posting behaviors. We showed that the importance of economic, relational, and social factors differs among groups. “Information browsers” mostly browse through information, rarely post messages, and consider relational and social factors as the main contributors to using information for decision making. “Information consumers” expect effective information, rarely post messages,
and consider relational factors as a major determinant. “Information providers,” the primary posters, seldom accept others’ opinions and consider economic and social factors important for the intention of using information for decision making.