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Virtual communities come of age: Parallel service, value, and propositions offered in communal online space

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The Internet has opened up new virtual communal spaces for consumers to congregate and address issues of mutual interest. Such virtual communities of interest offer consumers the opportunity to exchange experiential and technical information relating to their shared field of interest. Of the sectors in which virtual communities of interest have emerged, health care has witnessed a proliferation of condition-related communities. Providing health care consumers with the opportunity to share experience and expertise, these communities provide a range of new value propositions offering health care consumers opportunities to undertake self-service activities independent of health care professionals. Utilising the concept of the service encounter as a framework, this paper explores patterns of consumer participation in and utilisation of virtual communities in supporting service consumption. It examines the way in which these permissible spaces act as a virtual parallel service influencing consumer practice in the formal service encounter. For health care consumers and professionals, the utilisation of such space has significant implications for the shape of the service encounter in the information society.
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Keywords: services; value propositions; virtual communities

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Loughborough University, UK 2: University of Manchester, UK

Publication date: 01 March 2011

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