In a 2003 Journal of Management article Borgatti and Foster note the dramatic increase in organizational research with a social network perspective. “The boom in network research is part of a general shift, beginning in the second half of the 20th century, away from individualistic, essentialistic and atomistic explanations, toward more relational, contextual, and systematic understandings” (Borgatti and Foster 2003). They identify major research streams such as social capital, embeddedness, board interlocks, joint ventures, knowledge management, and group processes.
Marketing academics are also beginning to recognize the value of social network analysis. The 2006 MSI Research Priorities highlight the emergence of the “connected customer”. “Member companies describe an environment in which rapid changes in communications technology as well as globalization of markets are creating communities of customers and prospects rather than a multitude of isolated customers.” In 2007 the MSI published, in their Relevant Knowledge Series, a book entitled Social Networks and Marketing.
Citing the eroding effectiveness of traditional marketing, networks relevance to branding efforts, and the need to connect brands to consumers as three current challenges faced by marketers, the authors note “much of marketing theory is still vested in a stimulus- response mode of thinking” and suggest marketing academics need to respond to â€œchanges in other areas of business academia â€œsuch as management where academics have simply learned social network theory and methods in their attempts to better understand power dynamics, the effective management of innovation, and the design of R&D alliances” (Van Der Bulte and Wuyts 2007).
The study of networks in organizations has created a theoretical foundation with which to examine the structure and interactions of brand communities. The knowledge management thread, in particular, focuses on communities of practice. (Borgatti and Cross 2003) “The basic idea is that new practices and concepts emerge from the interaction of individuals engaged in a joint enterprise” (Borgatti and Foster 2003).
Social cognition is “centered on the respondent’s model of the entire network in which they are embedded rather than their own ties” (Borgatti and Foster 2003) It is this perception that I will be examining through the netnographic analysis of online threaded discussions through which brand community members communicate.