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Caroline Wiertz

Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Cass Business School, City University London

Governance of Collective Action in a Virtual Peer-to-Peer Problem Solving Community

Virtual communities are increasingly used by firms not only for brand building, but to enhance peer-to-peer problem solving, exchange of advice and best practice, and even service delivery. This article explores the governance of such firm-sponsored online communities of consumer volunteers where contractual agreements or formal hierarchies to regulate member behavior to overcome free-riding cannot readily be applied. We investigate the interplay between two dominant approaches to community governance based on very different social mechanisms: (1) normative governance based on social norms and (2) meritocratic governance based on (firm facilitated) merit-based public recognition. Netnographic procedures and empirical tests of the proposed governance model are combined to examine the impact of both mechanisms on the contribution to the public knowledge resource in a firm-sponsored virtual peer-to-peer problemsolving (P3) community. We find that though both mechanisms promote consumer contributions, they interact in a complex manner which leads to a community divided by levels of symbolic capital and which undermines the observed effectiveness of the governance mechanisms.