Previous research suggests that online leaders play an important role in sustaining community activities. Although the research has contributed to our understanding of how leaders develop effective ways to operate a community, most only provide a snapshot view of online leadership, thus paying little attention to changes in leaders in a communal context. In this study, we adopt the theory of networked influence to investigate the dynamics of online leadership using a longitudinal analysis. Data were collected from an online community in operation for 10 years. By conducting social network analysis using qualitative methods, we identified several types of emerging and coexisting online leadership, i.e., responsive expert leader, multiboard connectors, and social bond leader. The community’s sustainability did not rely on the same leaders throughout its temporal development but rather a “relay event” involving passing on the baton among different leaders with their specific leadership styles, which had a significant positive impact on the sustainability of user participation.
Information & Management, Vol.56, No.2, pp.306-316