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CYBERPSYCHOLOGY & BEHAVIOR Volume 9, Number 5, 2006 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

Understanding Behavioral Intention to Participate in Virtual Communities


HSIU-FEN LIN, Ph.D.

ABSTRACT Virtual communities are formed on the Internet and are expected to serve the needs of members for communication, information, and entertainment. Online businesses should consider virtual communities as a new market place since their members are current or future customers. Thus, there is a need to understand the determinants of member intentions to participate in virtual communities. Based on the extended theory of planned behavior (TPB), this study develop a research model to identify the attitudinal, social, and perceived behavioral control factors that would influence members intentions to participate in virtual communities. Specifically, the research model decomposes the attitude component into perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use and perceived trust, and the perceived behavioral control component into Internet self-efficacy and facilitating conditions. Based on a survey of 165 community members, this study uses structural equation modeling (SEM) approach to investigate the research model. The results indicate that attitude and perceived behavioral control significantly influence member behavioral intentions, while subjective norms do not. Finally, this study discusses the implications of these findings and offer directions for future research.

INTRODUCTION

number of Internet users, an increasing number of online businesses and Internet service providers are forming the virtual community as a method of developing new social relationships through Internet-based technology.13 Virtual communities are having a major impact on enhancing Internet user online experiences. For example, activities conducted in virtual communities range from chatting, making friends, exchanging ideas, and sharing knowledge on particular subjects. All these computer-mediated communications have led individuals to change their communication and collaboration methods. On the other hand, Igbaria et al.4 suggested that sustaining the virtual community does not only motivate knowledge
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sharing, it also has significant impact on online business activity.5 Moreover, online businesses and community providers are under increasing pressure to identify the antecedents of member loyalty in virtual communities. Therefore, the factors essential to members participating in virtual communities must be thoroughly understood. Theory of planned behavior (TPB) has received attention from many researchers,6,7 and is extensively adopted in improving understanding of the determinants of information technology (IT) usage.8,9 Previous studies have increased the explanatory power of TPB by considering the multidimensionality of its components.10,11 Furthermore, the extended TPB has been successfully used in predicting IT usage from decomposing attitudinal, normative and control beliefs.1214 Virtual commu-

Department of Shipping and Transportation Management, National Taiwan Ocean University, Keelung, Taiwan.

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nities are similar to general Internet-based information systems that have a significant impact on individual decision-making behaviors and Internet marketing strategies.15 Hence, this study suggests that the extended TPB is an appropriate model for explaining the determinants of member intentions to participate in virtual communities. Theory and hypotheses This study extends the TPB to develop a research model to identify the determinants of member intentions to participate in virtual communities (Fig. 1). First, the research model derives predictions regarding member intentions to participate in virtual communities based on the TPB. Second, using the literature on virtual communities and extended TPB,14,16,17 the research model decomposes the attitude component into perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use and perceived trust, and decomposes the perceived behavioral control into components of into Internet self-efficacy and facilitating conditions. Each of the constructs in the research model and hypotheses is detailed below. TPB and member participate in virtual communities. In the TPB, Ajzen6 hypothesized that attitudes toward behavior, subjective norms and perceptions of behavioral control generally can accurately predict individual behavioral intentions. Recently, most applications of TPB in contexts related to Internet service acceptance or adoption have recog-

nized that attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control are important for understanding and predicting behavioral intentions.1820 Applying the TPB to the virtual community context, this study hypothesizes that member intentions will be determined by individual attitudes towards participation in virtual communities, individual perceived opinions of other groups that are important to an individual, and perceived control over the act of participation in virtual communities. The following hypotheses thus are formulated: Hypothesis 1: Attitude of members towards participation in virtual communities positively affects behavioral intentions. Hypothesis 2: Subjective norms of members in relation to participation in virtual communities positively affect behavioral intentions. Hypothesis 3: Perceived behavioral control of members in relation to participation in virtual communities positively affects behavioral intentions. Decomposition of attitude. The TAM asserts that attitude toward the system are determined by perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use.21,22 Additionally, perceived ease of use of the system is positively related to perceived usefulness of the system. Previous research has also suggested that the TAMs fundamental salient beliefs, such as perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use, may not fully reflect the user attitude towards behav-

Perceived usefulness H4c Perceived ease of use

H4a H4b H4d Attitude H1

Perceived trust Subjective norms Internet self-efficacy Facilitating conditions H5a Perceived behavior control H5b H2 Behavioral intention

H3

FIG. 1.

Research model.

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ioral intention, necessitating a search for additional factors that has better explanatory power for system usage intentions.23 Recent studies have included the construct of perceived trust in the extended TAM to explore consumer acceptance of Internet services.24 Moreover, Ridings et al.16 also proposed that trust is crucial in virtual communities where the absence of workable rules creates reliance on others behaving in a socially acceptable manner, that is trust, essential for community continuity. Consequently, this study proposes to decompose attitude into three components: perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, and perceived trust. Applying, the TAM to the virtual community context, this study proposes the following hypotheses predicting member attitudes towards participation in virtual communities. Hypothesis 4a: Perceived usefulness positively affect attitudes towards participation in virtual communities. Hypothesis 4b: Perceived ease of use positively affect attitudes towards participation in virtual communities. Hypothesis 4c: Perceived ease of use positively affect perceived usefulness of virtual communities. Hypothesis 4d: Perceived trust positively affect attitudes towards participation in virtual communities. Decomposition of perceived behavioral control. According to the TPB, perceived behavioral control is defined as individual perceptions of the ease or difficultly of performing a specific behavior.6,7 Perceived behavioral control thus reflects individual perceptions towards internal and external behavioral constraints.7 Regarding internal constraints, increased Internet self-efficacy required to successfully execute a given behavior will better represent perceptions of behavioral control. In the context of virtual community, Internet self-efficacy describes member self-assessments of their capabilities to participate in virtual communities. Moreover, Hung et al.13 found that Internet self-efficacy could predict user perceptions of behavioral control towards Internet services. On the other hand, user perceptions of external behavioral constraints influenced perceived behavioral control. For instance, an empirical study on IT adoption by Taylor and Todd14 found that resource-facilitating conditions are an important predictor of perceptions of behavioral control. Moreover, Bhattacherjee25 found that Internet resource availability influence user perceptions of behavioral control toward e-

commerce services. Hence, this study expects Internet self-efficacy and facilitating conditions to positively affect member perceptions of behavioral control of virtual communities. Hypothesis 5a: Internet self-efficacy of participation in virtual communities positively affects perceived behavioral control. Hypothesis 5b: Facilitating conditions of participation in virtual communities positively affect perceived behavioral control.

METHODS
Sample and data collection This study utilized virtual community literature and interviews with leaders of diverse virtual communities. Pre-testing focused on questionnaire clarity, question wording and question applicability. During the pre-testing, 15 members from different communities taken as subjects were invited to comment on the questions and their wording. Comments of these 15 subjects then provided a basis for questionnaire revisions. Leaders of 20 virtual communities willing to participate in this study were selected from a group of very successful virtual communities (e.g., http://tw.club.yahoo.com, http://club.yam.com, and http://club.pchome. com.tw), which were the three highest-ranking virtual communities in Taiwan by Alexa.com in July 2005. The community leaders were requested to randomly distribute the paper-based questionnaires to ten community members and to collect the questionnaires when completed. Of the 200 questionnaires distributed, 165 completed and usable questionnaires were received, representing a response rate of 82.5%. Measures In this study, items used to operationalize the constructs were mainly adapted from previous studies and modified for use in the virtual community context. All constructs were measured using multiple items. All items were measured using a seven-point Likert-type scale (1 = strongly disagree; 7 = strongly agree). Table 1 lists all of the survey items used to measure each construct. This study measured perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use of virtual communities using scales modified from Davies et al.22 Moreover, perceived trust was measured by two-item measures adapted from Jarvenpaa et al.26, representing mem-

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TABLE 1.

MEASUREMENT MODEL LOADINGS Factor loading 0.83 0.75 0.74 0.65 0.78 0.79 0.81 0.65 0.69 0.81 0.77 0.78 0.86 0.86 0.80 0.78 0.70 0.83 0.86 0.72 0.90 0.84 0.82 0.81 0.85 0.85 0.82 0.86 0.87 0.87 0.83 0.86 0.84 0.80 0.83 Composite reliabilitya 0.82

Construct/item Perceived usefulness PU1: Participation in virtual communities enhances my ability to get information from community members. PU2: Participation in virtual communities enables me to share knowledge with community members. PU3: Participation in virtual communities helps satisfy my social needs. PU4: Overall, participation in virtual communities meets my needs. Perceived ease of use PEU1: Learning to operate virtual communities is easy for me. PEU2: My interaction with virtual communities is clear and understandable. PEU3: It is easy for me be become skillful at participation in virtual communities. PEU4: Overall, participation in virtual communities is easy for me. Perceived trust PT1: I feel more confident about discussion skills that the other members of virtual communities. PT2: The members of virtual communities will do everything within their capacity to help others. Internet self-efficacy ISE1: I feel confident finding information through participation in virtual communities. ISE2: I feel confident exchanging information with other members of virtual communities. ISE3: I feel confident chatting on the virtual community. ISE4: I feel confident downloading files from the virtual community. ISE5: I feel confident uploading files to the virtual community. Facilitating conditions FC1: I have the Internet equipment (modems, ADSL, etc.) required to use the virtual community. FC2: I have convenient access to virtual community resources. Attitude A1: Participation in virtual communities is a good idea. A2: I like the idea of participation in virtual communities. A3: Participation in virtual communities is a pleasant experience. A4: Participation in virtual communities is a foolish idea. (Reverse coded.) Subjective norms SN1: People who influence my behavior would encourage me to participate in virtual communities. SN2: People who are important to me would encourage me to participate in virtual communities. Perceived behavioral control PBC1: I would be able to participate in virtual communities. PBC2: I am control my participation in virtual communities. Behavioral intention BI1: I plan to participate in the virtual community in the future. BI2: I intend to participate in the virtual community in the future. BI3: I expect to participate in virtual communities in the future.
aComposite

reliability: (square of the summation of the factor loadings)/{(square of the summation of the factor loadings) + (summation of error variances)}.

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ber trust in the ability and benevolence of other members of virtual communities. A five-item scale measuring Internet self-efficacy of participation in virtual communities was adapted from a measure developed by Compeau and Higgins.27 Internet self-efficacy assesses member judgments of their capability to participate in virtual communities. Facilitating conditions were measured using a twoitem measure derived from Taylor and Todd14 that assessed the extent to which a member had readily available technical resources and easy access to the virtual community. Finally, attitude, subjective norms, perceived behavior control, and behavioral intention were measured using a total of 11 items, derived from those proposed by Taylor and Todd.14 Statistical analysis The measurement model represents a confirmatory factor analysis of all scales used in the study. Values that exceed 0.90 for goodness-of-fit index (GFI), normed comparative fit index (NFI), and comparative fit index (CFI) are generally considered to indicate acceptable fit.28

Structural model The structural model shows a good fit with 2 = 416.56, GFI of 0.90, NFI of 0.92, CFI of 0.94, RMSEA of 0.061, and a 2/df = 2.27 (p < 0.001). All fit indices indicate good fit of the structural model.30 Properties of the casual paths, including standardized path coefficients and p-values for each casual path in the hypothesized model are presented in Figure 2. All the hypothesized paths, with the exception of the paths (1) from subjective norms to behavioral intention (Hypothesis 2) and (2) from Internet self-efficacy to perceived behavioral control (Hypothesis 5a), were significant. The influence of behavioral intention was found to be strongly positively associated with attitude and perceived behavioral control of members in relation to participation in virtual communities. Three belief variables (perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, and perceived trust) were significantly positively related to perceived usefulness of virtual communities. Further, perceived ease of use was significantly positively related to perceived usefulness of virtual communities. As expected, facilitating conditions of participation in virtual communities are significant determinants of perceived behavioral control.

RESULTS
Measurement model The measurement model had an initial 2 = 479.32 and showed a good fit with a GFI of 0.91, NFI of 0.92 and CFI of 0.95. The root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) for the model was 0.051, which is below the cut-off level of 0.08 recommended by Browne and Cudeck.29 Also, the 2/df = 2.04 (p < 0.001), which is well below the suggested 3.0 value, indicating a good fit.30 Overall, the measurement model indicated good fit with the data. The measurement model was further assessed for construct reliability and validity. Computing composite reliability assessed construct reliability. The composite reliability for each construct of this study is presented in Table 1. The values range from 0.78 (for perceived ease of use) to 0.90 (for attitude). The composite reliability of all latent constructs exceeded the benchmark of 0.7 recommended by Nunnally and Bernstein.31 Moreover, convergent validity is the degree to which multiple attempts to measure the same concept in agreement. Table 1 also presented the factor loadings of the measurement items. The factor loading for all items exceeds the recommended level of 0.6.32 In summary, the measurement model demonstrated adequate reliability and convergent validity.

DISCUSSION
Based on the empirical findings, this study has reached several conclusions. First, findings of this study reveal that member attitudes toward the virtual community were important in predicting behavioral intention. To attract the participation in the virtual community, online businesses and community providers need to devise strategies for cultivating positive attitudes towards using virtual communities. In this regard, favorable perceptions of the virtual communitys usefulness and ease of use, as well as the trust concept, are important in increasing usability in virtual community environments. The results indicated that establishing mutual trust among community members (such as trust in ability, benevolence and integrity of other members) and providing userfriendly website systems was important for manipulating favorable member attitudes and online communication behavior. Second, the insignificant effects of subjective norms on intention suggest that members of virtual communities might make their own decisions rather than being influenced by the opinions and

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Perceived usefulness 0.26* Perceived ease of use

0.34* 0.30* 0.47* * Subjective norms Attitude 0.51*

Perceived trust

0.12 0.28*

Behavioral intention

Internet self-efficacy Facilitating conditions

0.11 Perceived behavior control 0.17*

Note: * p <0.05; ** p <0.01


FIG. 2. Results of structural model.

suggestions of others. This result can be explained by the fact that virtual community characteristics such as anonymity, addictive behavior, and voluntary behavior may imply the state of flow and consequently may place less emphasis on the opinions of others.33,34 Also, a possible explanation for this finding may be that in the present study, around 43% of respondents spent over 5 h using the virtual community every week, and may have exhibited Internet symptoms, such as heavy preoccupation with the Internet, excessive time spent online, compulsive behavior, and time-management problems. As suggested by Leung,35 problematic Internet use was associated with reduced participant communication with family members or colleagues, reduced social circle, and increased depression and loneliness. This finding thus indicates the need of online businesses and virtual community providers to promote awareness of over involvement with the virtual community through being in a position to both assess the needs of members, and formulate preventive policies to reduce excessive use of virtual communities. Finally, the small but significant effect of perceived behavioral control on intention, though weaker than that of attitude, indicates that perceived behavioral control remains an important determinant of member intention to participate in virtual communities. However, this study found that Internet self-efficacy did not significantly influence perceived behavioral control of members in relation to participation in virtual communities. A possible explanation may lie in the fact that

more than 80% of respondents had at least 3 years of experience of using the Internet. That is, Internet knowledge and skills may be an obstacle they have already overcome and, hence, may no longer be crucial to such individuals. Furthermore, this study found that facilitating conditions significantly influenced perceived behavioral control of members in relation to participation in virtual communities. This finding correlates with that reported by Lederer et al.,36 in which an individual had readily available technical resources and easy access to a new system, and thus is more inclined to use that new system. Therefore, to be successful a virtual community must meet member expectations regarding easy access to virtual community resources. Several limitations should be considered in this study: First, the sample used in this study targeted the virtual community chosen for convenient sampling. Analytical results presented may therefore have limited generalizability. Second, since this study only considered non-profit virtual communities, it is unclear whether these analytical results can be generalized to other virtual communities. Further research can apply this research model to examine profit-oriented virtual communities, such as eBay.com.tw or brand communities.37 Third, the sample may have been biased since all the sample communities voluntarily participated in the survey. A more sophisticated sample collection method is needed to eliminate this potential shortcoming. Finally, since the sample was collected in Taiwan, generalizability to other countries might be limited

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Address reprint requests to: Dr. Hsiu-Fen Lin Department of Shipping and Transportation Management National Taiwan Ocean University No. 2, Beining Road Keelung 202-24, Taiwan R.O.C. E-mail: hflin@mail.ntou.edu.tw

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