A test of the habit hypothesis in online community participation
Understanding participation behavior in online communities has become increasingly of interest to IS scholars. A central puzzle related to the existence and development of virtual communities is why community members are willing to share their valuable knowledge with other members for free. In other words, what are the factors influencing members’ decisions to participate in discussions? This dissertation theoretically articulates how habit will affect individuals’ participation behavior in online communities. In addition, it proposes that a threshold of behavioral repetitions is required for individuals to develop a participation habit. A methodology of estimating the threshold is also developed. The proposed habit hypothesis is tested empirically using panel data reflecting 130,882 postings by 22,457 members over a 6-month time period. The empirical context is a firm-hosted online community, Dell Community. It includes 115 discussion boards. The results show that a threshold does exist for the formation of a participation habit. Once the habit is formed, it has significantly positive impacts on community members’ participation behavior. In larger and more active online communities, community members demonstrate a stronger habit effect. The effects of habit are also stronger among highly-ranked community members than among low-ranked community members. In addition, the results show that posting behavior in the more distant past has less impact on current posting decisions. This research extends the existing literature on online communities by considering the effects of a new factor, habit. It also deepens the current understanding of habit formation by articulating the role of a threshold on habit formation.