Fröhlich, Romy & Schöller, Clarissa. (2012). Online brand communities: New public relations challenges through social media. In Sandra C. Duhe (ed.), New media and public relations (2nd ed., pp. 86-95). New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc.
With the advent of the social web, online brand communities (BCs) have spread rapidly. But, what exactly is a BC, as seen from a corporate point of view? And, why do companies spend their resources on a Web tool which has rarely been tested or evaluated? In this chapter, we first discuss the characteristics of BCs in general, based on existing interdisciplinary findings on BCs as instruments of strategic corporate communication. We then develop a communication model including a typology of users in (Web-based) BCs. In guided interviews with eleven representatives of different companies (including five international enterprises) who are in charge of company-initiated Web-based BCs, we explored the strategic use of Web-based BCs by companies and their handling of certain social media-specific symptoms such as anonymity and management of control. With these findings we developed four types of strategic attempts used with BCs in social web-surroundings.
Semi-structured in-depth interviews in June and July 2010 with 11 representatives of different companies (50% international organizations) who are were responsible for their companies’ social media-based brand community.
1) Company initiated and managed BCs are not only gathering places for fans, but also for everyday customers who might express their anger about shortcomings of products and services
2) Risks to the brand exist on the social web with or without the presence of company-sponsored BCs, but may offer a venue to channel, address, and counter harmful communication
3) BCs help to build genuine relationships through emancipated dialogues
Implications for Practice
Companies are best positioned when they engage and build relationships online through open dialogue with various stakeholders. In addition to offering a venue for fans of the product or service to gather online, BCs are a useful tool for communicating and addressing stakeholders’ needs or misunderstandings through a designated channel. Even though BCs are easier to monitor than other sites, companies must react quickly to any developments or issues.
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