The Social Scaffolding of Online Communities: A Review and Research Agenda



Online communities have become cornerstones of how work gets done in the 21st century. They are considered as a way to access a global workforce and their knowledge, skills, and resources. While online communities are closely linked to outcomes such as open innovation, there is not much consensus on how online communities actually ‘work’. In this paper, we propose to disentangle the ‘social scaffolding’ of online communities based on a review of online community literature. In particular, we ask which social mechanisms drive online community participation. We specify three distinct shades of reciprocity, which is a fundamental social exchange mechanism in online communities. Furthermore, we present a framework where we speculate about dynamic, anarchic, isolate and inertial dispositions of online communities, depending on their use of reciprocity. Organisations will be able to use our framework in order to develop a strategic fit with and more effective use of online communities