The case of Behance
The evolution of marketing has shifted from a transaction orientation to a relational approach and towards a community-oriented approach. Consumers act and interact via social media networks and online brand communities, collectively generating brand culture. As well, consumer interests such as specific possessions, places, and brands, enable consumers to construct a particular sense of identity.
In the virtual world of cyberspace, online action and interaction enables consumers to display meaning, tell stories, create a digital self, and at the collective level generate an aggregate extended digital self.
While branding research has recognised storytelling as a powerful strategy, the emergence of social media has shifted the consumers’ role in storytelling from passive listener to active participant in the construction and co-construction of brand meaning. Consumers as active online participants share these symbolically rich stories about consumption experiences and consequently engage others, facilitate social cohesion, and build brand community in a cultural manner. In this way, consumers are cultural curators, but the question is how? How do consumers collectively generate online brand culture?
In the interactive context of the World Wide Web, organisations have the opportunity to develop a cultural following. Using active and overt netnography with full disclosure, we investigated the specific context of the Behance Network, a business unit within the Adobe organisation with the stated mission to empower creatives and aid the shift of control from bureaucracy into the hands of creative industry professionals.
Regardless of the evident cultural diversity of members within Behance, there is a distinct and apparent culture within the Behance Network community. With more than 63 million views in an average month, members interact and share their creative work with fellow professionals, potential employers and clients, top creative companies, and editors. The textual and visual evidence within Behance was analysed with respect to the question of how online brand culture is generated, from which four distinct themes emerged:
- construction of self,
- emotional relationships,
- storytelling, and
Construction of self
In the context of the Behance Network, the (digital) self is constructed by members in a variety of ways including the public display of awards, achievements, and client portfolio. The self is also constructed through the sharing of biographies and personal narratives. The public display of awards and achievements act as a means through which members deliberately construct and present a certain credible self. As well as listing awards and exhibitions, artists name past clients and brands they have created work for.
Different forms of emotional relationships were also found between individual members and Behance (member-brand relationships), as well as emotional relationships between community members (member-member relationships). Much evidence of artists and creatives freely expressing their love for Behance along with deep and detailed expressions of how Behance has indeed enhanced their professional identities is reported. Online presence within Behance is even recognised as a benchmark in the industry!
As well as member-brand relationships, emotional relationships were also evident between members of the Behance Network community. Member-member relationships exhibit both supportive and encouraging qualities, as well as expressed negative emotions ranging between a respectful envy and sarcastic hatred. Examination of the nature of the emotional member-member relationships revealed an inherent conflict between community members; a struggle between needs of self-promotion and collective belonging. The degree of support and encouragement between Behance Network members is evidence of the Behance cultural orientation, and members commonly express support and encouragement towards one another.
Another means of expressing emotions is evident in the stories shared by members about being part of the Behance community. Member stories are reported as covering three experiential areas: creating a project, viewing a project, and receiving project feedback. The experience of creating a project for the Behance Network is shared through stories in both narrative and visual form. In sharing a story about the project creation process, members provide an insight on the journey involved in arriving at a completed project. Storytelling that adds depth and insight is also evident in the way members create side projects. Side projects are designed to accompany and inform a final project by detailing behind the scene production detail and provide insight on the experiential process of project creation. This action and interaction of member storytelling collectively generates the Behance culture, where that storytelling is strongly ingrained in the community ethos and described as ritualistic.
Ritualistic behaviour observed within the Behance community included the recurrent and frequent posting of context specific acronyms and language vernaculars. These actions and interactions included offering congratulations, scoring of projects, and identifying favorite images. In addition to the ritual of offering congratulations, members ritualistically scored other member projects. While there is no official community scoring system in place, members engage in informal scoring by way of acronyms including stars, plus signs, numbers, and other sign notations. The ritual of daily visitation further embodies the experiential meaning of the virtual space for members.
Human behaviour is greatly altered with the dynamic, ubiquitous, and often real-time interaction enabled by social media. Technological evolution is changing the landscape of opportunities for consumption, marketing, and marketing research. Through detailed attention and analysis of the member perspective, brand managers and marketers are provided a depth of insight on how online brand culture is generated in the particular context of Behance. This work shows the investigative process that effectively uncovers insight on how brand culture is constructed and co-constructed within a particular brand context. This demonstrated process is the practical value that can be applied across contexts and different brands, any brand!
Read the original research article: Schembri, S. & Latimer, L. (2016). Online brand communities: constructing and co-constructing brand culture. Journal of Marketing Management, 32. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0267257X.2015.1117518
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