Existing research highlights the characteristics of brand communities, their benefits, but yet has neglected to study online community events as a tool to create and maintain communities. However, through collaborative marketing approaches such as community events hosted on social networking sites, firms can invite consumers to engage within the online brand community they have created actively. Companies commonly do this to foster co-creation, recruit new community members and engage with existing ones. This thesis addresses the key question: how do sportswear brands create and maintain their online brand communities on Instagram through community events such as #Gymshark66 and #ShreddytoRumble? A comparative study was conducted to answer this question. This study applies a semi-directed content analysis on 479 Instagram posts (feed and stories). Data were analysed using thematic analysis, multimodal critical discourse analysis and intertextuality. Results show four overlapping themes between both brands: inclusivity, performative identities, the impact of COVID-19 and the importance of nutrition. Sales emerged as a theme only in one of the firms, suggesting a more commercial approach. Two discourses emerged from the data: (1) community as the new online family or club and (2) fitness as a driver of positive change. While the discourse on the community was similar in both brands, their approaches to fitness were different: Gymshark leaned toward pushing people to try things and have holistic goals, and Shreddy was closely related to body composition goals or weight loss. This study concluded that sportswear brands use athletes to foster parasocial relationships with their followers by exploiting feelings of empathy, friendship, and simulated direct contact. By engaging an inclusive team of fitness influencers, the brand foster identification. With is increased by trans-mediated parasocial relationships: consumers’ associations with one influencer are translated to the brand. Additionally, performative identities lead to participants becoming actors and taking a minor influencer role within the community. Furthermore, the community contributes to the brand’s image by becoming a clear example of what the firm stands for (e.g., fitness, motivation, support) and exploits the family or club discourse to present the community itself as a benefit and positive influence for existing members and future adepts. In conclusion, by creating online community events, firms can recruit more customers and participants. Through the challenge, firms aim to interact with participants to foster the community feeling, creating loyal customers. Parasocial relationships are created through the use of ambassadors, and firms share the reputation built by their ambassadors due to trans-mediated parasocial relationships.

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Vanwesenbeeck, I.
Media & Business
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

Mantilla Vargas, Laura. (2021, November). Challenge yourself to change A thematic and multimodal critical discourse analysis of community building in fitness online brand communities. Media & Business. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2105/61324