Online communities have been becoming more and more important in our personal and professional life. According to a recent survey with 15000 Internet users across 15 countries, 77% of survey respondents have reported that the most important group they’re a part of now exists and operates in the digital sphere (The Governance Lab, 2020). With the increasing relevance of digital connectivity, online membership communities (OMCs) have emerged as a new form of online communities (Clark, 2019). The popularity of OMCs has been growing substantially with the emergence of online membership platforms such as Patreon and SubscribeStar, as well as with the addition of paid subscription options in social media platforms like YouTube, Redditt and Twitter. Similar with that of traditional virtual communities, the main purpose of OMCs is to bring people around the world to a digital environment to share their common interests and goals. Yet, participation in OMCs generally requires members to pay for a regular membership fee. Members in an OMC can have access to exclusive content, live community events, and invitation-only member forums. They can also augment their online community experiences through a broad range of perks and benefits. Given these unique properties, it is unclear the extent to which existing research on virtual communities is adequate to explain and predict individuals’ participation in OMCs. More importantly, little is known about how required monetary support to an OMC would influence members’ evaluations of and experiences with the OMC. In this research, we draw on the theory of communal (and exchange) relationships (Clark & Mills, 2012) to examine the role of relationship norms in guiding individuals’ participation in OMCs. We posit that members guided by exchange norms tend to perceive their monetary contribution to an OMC as a form of reciprocating the utilitarian benefits they can obtain from maintaining an OMC membership. In contrast, members guided by communal norms tend to perceive their monetary contribution as a way of responding to the needs of others in the OMC. When one of the two norms is made salient to an OMC member, it can shape the member’s appraisal of their participative decisions on the basis of what is right and appropriate thing to do in the OMC. We hypothesize that members guided by these different types of norms are likely to anticipate and seek different emotional and social experiences from their participation in OMCs. Thus, we postulate that an adherence of relationship norms can help to sustain members’ active participation in an OMC and facilitate the growth of the OMC, whereas a violation of relationship norms can deteriorate members’ valuation of their membership in an OMC and hinder the efforts of online community building. Survey-based research will be conducted to test the working hypotheses. This line of research inquiry can contribute to the extant literature on online communities in a number of meaningful ways. A theoretical explanation of communal- and exchange-based participation in OMCs can complement to the attitudinal and motivational explanations on online community participation. It can also provide unique insights into individual members’ emotional and social experiences as a result of participating in and contributing to OMCs. Second, as a type of relationship norms becomes instilled among members of an OMC, specific rules of online social etiquette would arise accordingly. A distinction of communal- and exchange-based online community participation can help to decode why different kinds of netiquette may emerge and evolve in an OMC. Lastly, a deeper understanding of the member-community relationships from the perspective of norm-based participation would help to make specific predictions about members’ reactions to the design and structure elements of an OMC that signify a certain type of relationship norms.
Zou, Yi (Zoe) and Hao, Hui, "Communal vs. Exchange-Based Participation in Online Membership Communities: When Giving is Feeling Right" (2022). AMCIS 2022 TREOs. 39.