ARE CHAT ROOMS REPLACING CONVENTIONAL COMMUNITIES? pp. 117-128
Authors: Aviv Shoham, Graduate School of Management, Univ. of Haifa, Israel
Abstract: This paper reports the results of a study of Internet chat rooms in Israel. Chat rooms have grown tremendously over recent years and, as a phenomenon, could have important implications for marketing scholars and practitioners. The paper uses a structured qualitative methodology and is based on the author’s participative observations in Israeli chat rooms over a period of two years. The main findings emerging from the observations are that individuals spend time in such rooms because they provide numerous benefits that parallel those accorded by non-virtual communities. Following Muniz and O’Guinn (2001, p. 412), a chat room community is defined as a “specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relationships”. However, the emphasis in chat rooms shifts from the common use of a brand, as in Muniz and O’Guinn’s (2001) definition, to common users of the chat rooms in question. Specifically, this paper identifies chat rooms as modern communities and highlights their similarity to conventional communities. On-line chat rooms satisfy the conditions for communities’ existence (Jones 1997), namely virtual common-public-space, communicators’ variety, existence of a boundary for the virtual community, sustained members’ stability and interactivity, interactivity of verbal messages, message directing and targeting, interactivity in message content, action-simulating messages, and nickname stability (Liu 1997). Two major managerial implications are drawn. First, managers of Internet Service and Portal providers should account for chat rooms’ popularity. Sites that do not include chat room should incorporate them. Second, while McAlexander, Schouten, and Koenig (2002) and Muniz and O’Guinn (2001) have shown how brand communities are important to marketing managers, chat rooms can be used differently than brand-related chat rooms. Specifically, chat rooms can be used to launch a new product or service in line with the demographic composition of those in specific rooms. For example, a party in a nightclub can be described by, allegedly, an innocent chatter, in a chat room of people in their 20s.