Avatar Profile Design: Evaluating the Impacts of Avatar Design on Source Credibility and Community Engagement



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Consumer communication is increasingly moving to online digital spaces. Online consumption communities have become pivotal areas for consumer to consumer and consumer to business dialogues that influence strategic decision making for the organization and behavioral decision making for the consumer. With the increasing influence of online communities in the consumer marketplace, it is important to promote sustainable, healthy, and active communities. Despite the importance of these communities on decision making and other beneficial outcomes such as loyalty, advocacy, and innovation, neither researchers nor practitioners fully understand how the groups function and how to influence active engagement within the community. This research investigated the influence of avatar profile design on non-member community engagement through a series of experiments. In examining non-members, results provide insights into community norming behaviors in design. Avatar profile decisions for handle choice and profile picture do not negatively impact the credibility perceptions of non-members. Similarly, additional information categories added to profiles by the community do not have a negative impact. These results provide evidence that the focus of avatar profile design norms should be internally adjusted without the concern of alienating new potential members. Furthermore, the study shows differences in community engagement intentions as a result of risk perceptions and inquiry type. Online communities serve to reduce uncertainty for functional performance but do not mitigate perceptions of financial risk. Also, hedonic interactions are more likely to promote active community engagement than utilitarian exchanges. Based on these results, communities should promote open-ended hedonic exchanges between members in order to increase engagement behaviors.



Community engagement, Avatar profile, Source credibility, Online community, Information processing, Heuristic systemic model, Risk perception, Functional risk, Financial risk, Anthropomorphism