Labeling as a social practice in online consumption communities
The present research explores how consumers use labeling in online consumption communities as a social practice. Through the analysis of conversations in an online consumption community of vegetarians, this paper presents a typology of strategies for using labels to serve specific functions. (1) Construction strategy: Consumers invent new practices under one label to account for the variety of practices associated with a label while benefiting from the awareness surrounding it. Its purpose is to accommodate and promote emerging practices. (2) Reconstruction strategy: Consumers use static definitions of a label that selectively exclude community members they do not perceive to be 'true' to the label for policing and demarcating community boundaries. (3) Conversion strategy: Consumers maintain use of a label despite conflicts to promote group cohesion and unity. (4) Invalidation strategy: Consumers abandon a label, because it has lost meaning for the practice to which they adhere. This paper presents a theoretical framework for when, how, and why online consumption community members use labels to describe themselves, their consumption activity, and the community to which they belong. This also provides marketers with insights into when and how to use such community-based labels to communicate with consumers.