Communication co-create and join communities for almost anything.

Communicationhas forever been embedded as a core foundation within society. Today,boundaries that once denied unbound connection have dissipated through theprominence of Social Media (SM) and SM applications within our daily lives(social life, commercial life, business life) (Algharabat et al.

, 2017) (Zhu and Chen, 2015). According to Lang (2010), people now spend over onethird of their day consumed by social media; with Facebook alone reaching 800million daily active users (Hanna etal., 2011).  Kaplan and Haenlein, (2010)define SM as a collection of internet based applications building on theideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, allowing for the inventionand exchange of User-generated Content (UGC). However, for the purpose of thisresearch paper we adopt the definition theorized by Filo et al.

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, (2015), which encapsulates SM as ”new mediatechnologies facilitating interactivity and co-creation, allowing for thedevelopment and sharing of UGC among and between organisations andindividuals”. Nonetheless, Alawan et al’s.,(2016b) state that although research surrounding the SM phenomenon hasgrown exponentially during the last five-year period, literature is yet topropose a widely accepted definition.

 Exposingpreviously untapped benefits, SM has become a focal point for practitioners andresearchers alike (Mangold and Faulds,2009). Tardini and Cantoni’s, (2005) empirical findings state that SM isbeneficial to all users, providing remarkable capabilities, that allows usersto contribute, co-create and join communities for almost anything. Furthermore,SM and its distinctive functionalities have revolutionised societies perceptions ofwhat constitutes as ‘quality’ business practices. Industry leaders haveconsequently been forced to modernised and recognise SM as a ‘must have’communication channel if they intend to succeed in the integral online andvirtual business environment (Hanna etal., 2011; Williams and Williams, 2008). Williams and Williams (2008) researchalso found that more industries are utilising SM as platforms to boost revenue,awareness and to develop strategies. This, in turn, provides strong evidence forSM and its implementation to be at the forefront of both practitioners andresearchers attention Hu and Kettinger (2008).

 Furtherresearch from Saxena and Khanna, (2013)captures SM as an effectivemechanism that contributes to the firms’ marketing aims and strategy; specifically,when looking to understand and conceptualize concepts related to customers’ involvement,customer relationship management and communication (Filoet al., 2015). Therefore, many studies suggest thatsocial media and community are conceptual ideologies that should be exploredsimultaneously (Algharabat et al.,2017).  Bennett’s (2013) meta-analysis,accounting for varying industries worldwide, found that numerous firms (~93%)have adopted and utilised innovative SM platforms and tools that are at theirdisposal. In doing so, businesses are able to facilitate information searches, interactivity(branding co-creation), promotion and enhancement of consumers buyingbehaviours (Zeng and Gerritsen, 2014). Ultimately,connectivity between businesses and end-customers is becoming more direct,efficient and cost effective (Kaplan andHaenlein, 2010). However, Filo etal’s.

, (2015) SM literature analysis debated throughout, that irrespective of the number ofstudies examining SM and the applications it offers over differing contexts,there is still a need for a theoretical model to be proposed, incorporatingpivotal dimensions that could positively or negatively influence success whenimplementing SM strategies and systems. Furthermore, according to Dwivediet al. (2015), the majority of SM studies are observed tobe within the marketing area, and although reporting the highest practical valuefor SM in business, modern directors and researchers from differing areas ofinterest, should givefurther attention to understand better, SM within their context.  Finally, Boltonet al. (2013), also implies that in-depth knowledge ofusage patterns throughout SM platforms, is absent in current literature.However, they suggest that research could offer practical benefits, helping organisationsformulate fuller future trends of customers’ perception and behaviour towardsorganisations and their branding. 1.3 The Value Co-CreationConcept (753) Challengingvital pillars that uphold capitalist economies since the beginning of the 21stcentury, the co-creation concept presents society with a fundamental paradigmshift (Galvango and Dalli, 2014).

Prior to theoretical and empirical analysisundertaken in Prahalad and Ramaswamy’s (2000, 2004) and Vargo and Lusch’s(2004) co-creation papers, determination of value was defined as an antecedent ofa market exchange (Prahalad andRamaswamy, 2000, 2004a, b; Vargo and Lusch, 2011; Norman and Rami?rez, 1993).However, the co-creation context has established change within the market; validatingthe concept of customers and companies acting in a collaborative fashion,beyond the traditional price system, to co-create value through interaction(Galvango and Dalli, 2014; Truong et al., 2012). Initiallyproposed as a joint initiative in which providers and beneficiaries createvalue together, Prahalad and Ramaswamy (2004) conceived a foundationaldefinition for value co-creation, catalysing the concepts growth within literature. As thevalue co-creation literature received engagement and diversified contextually, societiesunderstanding of the construct evolved, and so to its definition (Leclercq et al., 2016). To date,Leclercq et al., (2017) provide the most encompassing definition, coming tofruition after their analysis of the value co-creation literature; expressing valueco-creation as “a process wherebyvalue is reciprocally (jointly) created by each actor through facilitating interactionswith one another; communications occur on an engagement platform offline (e.

g.phone call) or online (e.g.

social media), where each participant sharesindividual resources and capabilities, integrate the resources provided byothers and can potentially develop unique resources throughout what the authorsdescribe as a ‘learning process'” (Ramaswamy and Gouillart, 2010; Gro?nroos,2008). Throughout their research, Prahalad and Ramaswamy(2003, 2004a, b) comprehensively articulated the multitude of contexts in whichco-creation offers benefits for companies and their consumers. They suggestimprovements within consumption and usage experiences (Gentile etal.

, 2007; Payne et al., 2008) and inspiring product/service innovation bothradical and incremental (Sawhney et al., 2005; Bitner et al., 2008). Furthermore,due to the reconstruction of value creation through this participative process;value co-creation is expressed by Saarija?rvi et al., (2013) as a significantconcept for both practitioners and researchers within the service marketing andbusiness management domain (Ind and Coates, 2013).  Due to its significance in altering the foundationalground upon which business is conducted, co-creation of value has developedinto an extensively researched construct, which can be heavily accredited to Vargoand Lusch’s (2004) observations that marketing is shifting towards a Service-DominantLogic (SDL) (Merz et al.,2017).

Central to their SDL perception are the foundational propositions (FPs), whichprincipally suggest value as being purely created between a firm and itsstakeholders in all aspects of the value chain (FP6) (Vargo & Lusch, 2016).The FPs incorporated withinthe S-D logic cultivates a suitable framework for how value is created. Itresides on the premise that service is the fundamental basis of exchange (FP1)and that goods are solely distribution mechanisms for service provision (FP3) (Vargo& Lusch, 2016). Moreover, the S-D Logic stipulates the beneficiary as theone who always uniquely determines value through value-in-use perceptions(FP10) (Vargo & Lusch, 2008).  Therefore,the co-creation conceptemphasizes value-in-use, which considers that value is created when thecustomer uses the product and the firm can enhance thecreation of such value-in-use by providing resources and supporting thecustomer to integrate these resources with other private and public resources (Simeoni and Cassia, 2017).

As the S-Dlogic is evolving, Vargo and Lusch (2006) discussed a shift in the thought ofS-D logic from FP6 (“The customer is always a co-producer”) to (“The customeris always a co-creator of value”) (Vargo and Lusch, 2004, 2006; Vargo andLusch, 2016). Research conducted by Ranjan and Read (2016) further supportsthese findings, stating that while value can be derived through interactionwith the firm, its brands, and its value propositions, it can also arisethrough the process of consumption (value-in-use) rather than through thespecific sale price of a product/service (value-in-exchange) (Vargo and Lusch,2006, 2008). Throughouttheir systematic literature analysis, Galvango and Dalli (2014) emphasized that regardless ofthe quantity of practitioner and researcher attention given to the valueco-creation concept, theoretical and empirical gaps remain prominent within theliterature. As foreseen by Vargo and Lusch (2011), thecommon theme of research involving co-creation throughout the service sciencedomain concentrates on business-to-business settings (Terho et al.

, 2012;O’Cass and Ngo, 2012). Nonetheless, although thoroughly researched,business-to-business co-creation is often characterized as vertical (betweenproviders-customers), while horizontal co-creation (between customers and/orother stakeholders) could offer future benefits and thus should receiveconsideration (Mustak et al., 2013).  Thus,owing to such narrow research trends, traditional paradigms, including industrialpurchasing and networks, have suffered within the co-creation context, receivinglittle, if any, attention. Furthermore, Leroy et al’s.

(2013), research claimsmany differentiated and under examined value co-creation research contexts couldoffer benefits to broaden the literature. Alongside other academics, it issuggested that future studies consider long-term co-creation relationships, andcontexts in which co-creation emerges with the help of a variety of stakeholders’,rather than purely suppliers and consumers (Alves et al., 2016). 1.4 Customer Participation withinSocial Media Based Brand Communities  Actingas broader sub-set of virtual societies, Social Media based Brand Communities(SMbBC) have harmonised the way in which actors (firms and customers) connect/participate,through their provision of co-creation and collaboration (Laroche et al., 2012).Initially established on the Web 1.

0 platform, brand communities were oftenlabelled as “company portals”(Jang et al., 2008). However, as SM gains prominence and popularityamongst researchers and practitioners, many industry leading firms areexploiting Social Networking Sites (SNSs) to support the fruition of customersparticipation in the new-age, Web 2.0 brand communities (Kaplan and Haenlein,2010; Laroche et al., 2012).

 According to Muniz and O’Guinn (2001),brand community can be defined as a specialized non-geographically boundcommunity built and based upon brand enthusiasts. However, throughout the brand community literature, recognitionof the technological enhancements experienced within modern society has beenprominent (Werry, 1999). Therefore, the brand community definition has become subject tonumerous deviations. Most prominent within the literature is the development ofthe SMbBC research stream, defined by Laroche et al. (2012), as an onlinenetworking platform whereby individuals move from consuming content passively,to actively participating in communities through the production and interactionwith UGC (Bagozzi and Dholakia, 2002). Furthermore, Bagozzi andDholakia (2002), postulate that active participation in the generation ofcontent, from community members structuresthe characteristics of SMBCs, as well as acting as a determinant for theinfluential nature of such communities. Habibi et al. (2014), also provides literature with afundamental framework that defines and differentiates SNSs’brand communities from online brand communities; 1.

Social Context – i.e. web 2.0 technologies with which memberscan effortlessly acquire masses of information regarding fellow members. 2.Structure – Habibi et al., (2014) statesthat there is no implicit or explicit structure in SMBC.

3. Scale – there is no specific amount of users/active users’ necessary to beclassified as a SMbBC.4. Storytelling- users can seamlessly upload anddownload photos or videos, often followed by text (UGC).4.

Various affiliated brand communities –there can, and often is, severalsubgroups for a specific brand community.  Possessingpotential to be the fundamental platform upon which value is co-created,practitioners and academics from varying domains are directing resources towardsthe brand community literature, in particular the stream encompassing, customerparticipation within SMbBC. Schau et al. (2009), describes how furtherattention will ultimately allow for the appropriate facilitation andorganisation of SMBC, thus permitting business leaders to harness fuller, theconstructs advantages (Zhou et al.,2011). Furthermore, the benefits of the vastreach, low cost, high communication efficiency (Muniz and Schau, 2005) andcollaboration opportunity maximisation (Jin et al., 2009) that social media andSMBC generates, are tempting companies to participate in such spaces (Kaplan& Haenlein, 2010; Franke and Shah, 2003; McAlexander et al.

, 2002).  Studiesundertaken by Kim and Ko (2012), offered literature with the first noteworthyconceptualisation of participation within the SM domain. They describe theconstruct as ‘participation steps’, that firms must adhere to if they wish tomaximise participation amongst their online brand communities. However, inorder to fully develop the concept, the authors articulate that customerinteractions on SM must be given equal attention. Developing the literaturefurther, Laroche et al.

, 2012 theorised that SMBCs and thus participation within them, willcontinue to grow exponentially, as they become a necessary inclusion intobusinesses marketing and customer communication/participation strategies.   Subsequentempirical research surrounding customer participation in SMbBC, suggested thatfrequency of visits to a company’s SNSs (SMBCs) from customers, strengthenedthe association between customer and company (Rishika et al., 2013).Furthermore, data found through Algesheimer et al’s.

, (2005) work, led tothought-provoking findings; stating that brand communities formed with thecentral purpose of information sharing, rather than for purely commercialreasons, prove far more influential when considering members’ opinions andpurchase/participation intentions. Rishika et al, (2013), follow on fromAlgesheimer et al’s. (2005) research, hypothesising that SMBC will ultimatelyfollow an indistinguishable trend.

 Kimand Park (2013) later classified customer participation on SNSs into threesub-categories; 1. Deliberate participation (generating content) 2.Unintentional participation (browsing information) 3.

Resultant participation(WOM, eWOM). This categorisation provides researchers and practitioners withparticipation typologies that offer the potential to further our understandingof the antecedents of customer participation in SMbBC. Ultimately suchpotential lends itself to enable further advantages to be established from thisconstruct (Kang et al., 2014). Finally, contemporary research looked to furtherthe literature through the provision of terminology, explaining customerparticipation in SMbBC as Customer Social Participation (CSP) (Chae and Ko,2016). CSP is defined by Chae and Ko (2016) as “an effort to achieve co-creation ofvalues through required but the voluntary interactive participation of thecustomers in service production and delivery pro- cess in SM” (Kamboj et al.,2018).

 Afterreview, the literature unearths the fact that when conceptualising customerparticipation within the SM domain, research remains embryonic. However,obvious, is the fact that this is an emerging area of research, becomingincreasingly prominent as advances in technology enable customer participationto become more fashionable and accessible (Casaló et al., 2008). However, Chaeet al. (2015), state that studies conducted in this area are mostly conceptualin nature, and, like other researchers, express the need for furthertheoretical and empirical validation of associations between customerparticipation and related constructs to fill an extensive gap within theliterature (Gebauer et al.

, 2013; Kang et al., 2014; Tsai and Pai, 2012). 1.

5 Branding Co-creation on SocialNetworking Sites Aswe undergo the modern-day technological revolution, our understanding ofconceptual ideologies has, and continues to experience exponential progression(Gensler, et al., 2013). Of most importance to this research paper, is theinfluence on branding strategies and the holistic concept of brandingthroughout literature (Ramaswamy and Gouillart, 2010; Lockwood, 2010). In the present study, the term ‘branding’is used instead of ‘brand’.

To distinguish between these two concepts, ispivotal to the validity of this research paper and the understanding of thebranding co-creation construct. Throughout literature, ‘brand’ has beenexpressed by Kotler and Armstrong (2013) as a “name, symbol or sign” thatallows for identification of the associated business. Literature furtherconceptualises the ‘brand’ as sets of viewpoints within the consumer’s mind(Kitchen and Schultz, 2001). Differentiating itself wholly from the term ‘brand,’branding’ is widely understood as a process (Kietzmann et al.

, 2011; Aaker, 1§996).Recently, as literature recognisesincreases in usage of digitized SM platforms, branding and brandcommunities have emerged as channels for brand community members to share,co-create and modify content (Kietzmann et al., 2011; Park et al., 1996; Hajliet al., 2017). Primaryresearch into online communities demonstrated their fundamental functionalitywhen considering the enhancement of, brand loyalty, market penetration, positive word of mouth, and creatinginterest in products/services (Armstrong & Hagel, 1996). Currentliterature further emphasises the importance of such goals, as SM gainsprominence and integrity in both a social and business context (Kietzmann etal.

, 2011), attention turns towards the interactive platforms that SM provides,and its facilitation of change in the online branding process due to permittinginstantaneous global interactions amongst users and brands (user-user anduser-brand) (Park et al., 2007; Chordes, 2009).  Creatingunbound opportunities for businesses to develop or re-invent their brandidentities, digitised platforms catalyse the branding co-creation process, definedby Hajli et al., (2017) as  “the process of branding withcustomers in an online environment, as opposed to pairing two or more brandedproducts (constituent brands) to form a separate and unique product (compositebrand)” (Park, Jun, & Shocker, 1996).

 Suchplatforms permit connectivity at its highest level, allowing customers toindulge in and share experiences/content (UGC) surrounding a brand. Thistherefore, results in creating shared meanings for brands (Muniz and O’Guinn,2000) and, in turnfosters the overall branding co-creation process. Experiencinga societal shift towards a participatory culture, ‘branding’, once defined as afirm-based activity, whereby products are provided to customers with littlefeedback, has developed into a value co-creation activity, where businesses andtheir stakeholders collaborate as one (Merz et al., 2009). Hajli et al’s. (2017),research therefore highlights the importance of involvement and participation inSM based online communities, as it embodies an incomparable source of diversityand knowledge, thus, standing as an essential actor in branding co-creation.  As before mentioned, the fluctuations in ideologies throughoutthe co-creation and S-D logic literature (Vargo and Lusch, 2008), has lentitself to increase attention given to the field of branding in the co-creationcontext from both practitioners and researchers.

Current literatureintellectualises the concept as ‘service branding’, through which the firm andcustomer co-create brand meanings and experiences (Brodie, 2009; Hajli et al.,2017).  Empirical analysis of firm’s branding activitiesundertaken by Ramaswamy (2009) highlights the gradual embeddedness of brandingco-creation within MNCs marketing strategies. ‘Being Girl’ was an onlineforum established by P for preteen/teen girls.

This forum connectedmembers anonymously, enabling them to share their views about feminine hygiene.Through the brand community pages, P developed interaction with customersand successfully demonstrated branding co-creation; customers became educatedwhilst simultaneously increasing awareness around P programmes and products. Furthermore,Parmentier (2015) posits that firms may participate within branding co-creationactivities in SMbBCs, so as to generate new information, ideas and content, aswell as understanding consumers’/users’ needs, wants and preferences about abrand to benefit from their shared knowledge through posts shared by brandcommunity members (Adebanjo and Michealides, 2010). As both society and SM demonstrate indications ofprogression, significant increases in research surrounding brand communitiesbecomes warranted as customers are identified as ‘market intelligent’, exemplifyingtheir ability, with the internet at their disposal, to co-create products/services(Füller and Matzler 2007).

Of main importance within the branding co-creationliterature, are the findings from Hajli et al’s. (2017), paper, suggesting thatfirms opt into developing SMbBCs to facilitate customers social interactions, thusdeveloping relationship quality and loyalty for branding co-creation purposes.They further theorize that if managers enable seamless connectivity amongstcustomers to share information not merely with the brand, but with each other,this in turn fosters successful branding co-creation (Hajli et al., 2017).  Most recently, research undertaken by Kamboj et al.(2018), set the foundational knowledge upon which the current paper is built,developing a conceptual background for branding co-creation vis-à-vis SMplatforms, applying a Stimulus-Organism-Response framework outlook. Consequently,they suggest that both brand loyalty and brand trust positively influence brandingco-creation on SNSs; however, they state that further empirical data conductedon different samples and restricted SM platforms is necessary for ratificationof these hypotheses (Kamboj et al.

, 2018; Hajli et al., 2017).  Upon review,although certain areas and domains of the co-creation literature are widelyresearched, academics are yet to put seriousemphasis on the branding domain within the co-creation literature (Kamboj et al., 2018). Prominent gapswithin the literature existing regarding the analysis of factors andmotivations that foster a want to be a part of the branding co-creation process,from both customers and businesses.

Hajli et al. (2017), also suggests thatfuture research should develop a framework for firms to successfully apply and developbranding co-creation using SNSs. Furthermore,literature emphasises difficultly in measuring branding co-creation empirically,thus leading many studies to focus research towards ‘actor engagement’ and resourceintegration, which, are considered amongst practitioners as observable,designable and manageable as proxies of branding co-creation (Storbacka et al.,2016). 

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