Communications of the Association for Information Systems


In this study, we study negative public affiliation, which we define as discomfort with being publicly linked to a potentially socially stigmatized group or interest. We investigate how users who feel negative public affiliation form feelings of belonging to a virtual community. We also consider the impact that brand congruity (how much a user identifies with an interest or brand) has on feelings of belonging. To investigate negative public affiliation, we drew a sample from members of Twilight-themed virtual communities and evaluated the interrelationship between negative public affiliation, brand congruity, and belongingness (how well users feel they fit in virtual communities). Our results indicate that high negative public affiliation and high brand congruity with Twilight positively impacted feelings of belonging: users who felt Twilight reflected their identity but felt uncomfortable publicly discussing their interest felt a stronger sense of belonging in relation to their virtual communities. Our study offers practical implications for firms seeking to design and maintain virtual communities that support the broadest possible group of users. Of equal importance, our study provides a new direction for information systems research on virtual communities and suggests a need to study users who participate in socially uncomfortable, stigmatized, or unacceptable communities.





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