The co-creation of consumer value within online health communities
thesisposted on 2022-03-29, 03:24 authored by Susan Stewart Loane
The past two decades have seen a rapid increase in consumer-generated content on the internet through social media. Health, traditionally seen as a private matter between doctor and patient, is no exception. Today's health consumers share these private matters with a global network of other health consumers, co-creating a level of health and treatment expertise in the process. Marketing scholarship reveals the utilitarian and social value of consumer-led communities built up around brands, topics of interest and professional practice, but surprisingly little scholarship investigates such communities in a health context. This thesis is a study of the different types of value co-created and experienced by consumers who participate in online health communities, exchanging health information and sharing support with strangers they are never likely to meet. Paper 1 is a review of literature pertaining to consumer value. This paper considers typologies of consumer value and argues that none adequately recognises value consumers perceive from social engagement within collective consumption experiences. The term “network value” is introduced to describe value perceived by consumers specific to consumption experiences embedded within a social context. Paper 2 presents a qualitative study of an online health community, identifying practices employed by participants to create and maintain social capital. This netnographic study includes analysis of posts to an online community for sufferers of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) as well as online interviews with participants, and reveals types of consumer value experienced through creating social capital. Using social network analysis techniques, Paper 3 explores the structure of consumer value exchange between participants in the IBD community. Value is exchanged between both experienced and newer participants, and a stewardship role is identified both structurally and through participant profiling. Paper 4 draws widely from cross-disciplinary literature to develop and clarify the concepts of spiritual value and communitas. Both concepts are operationalised through a qualitative study of the same IBD community used for Papers 2 and 3. Additionally, a panel study involving participants in a variety of health communities identifies positive relationships between communitas, spiritual value and quality of life. Together these four papers identify online health communities as important spaces for the co-creation of value between health consumers.