A common problem that a virtual community fails to develop is that its members’ motivation to contribute valuable resources to the community, e.g., time, labour, money, information, or knowledge, will diminish over time. We believe that strong social relationships among members and those between members and their virtual community play an important role in motivating members to stay longer with the community and to continue contributing resources to the community. These strong social relationships in turn help virtual community to sustain its development. Adopting a life cycle approach, this research explores how a member builds up his/her social relationships within a virtual community through ongoing communication with other members in the community and the community as a whole. A four-stage social relationship development model, depicting how members initiate, negotiate, sustain, and detach relationships with their virtual community is proposed. An in-depth empirical case study of a virtual community was conducted to establish and verify the model. The identified communication needs and behaviours of virtual community members in each stage of the proposed online social relationship development model can give virtual community designers some helpful implications in providing stage based incentives and facilitation mechanisms to virtual community members.


Virtual Community, Social Relationships, Communication, Group Development


ISBN: [978-1-86435-644-1]; Full paper