Word of mouth (WOM) communication is a major part of online consumer interactions, particularly within the environment of online communities. Nevertheless, existing (offline) theory may be inappropriate to describe online WOM and its influence on evaluation and purchase.The authors report the results of a two-stage study aimed at investigating online WOM: a set of in-depth qualitative interviews followed by a social network analysis of a single online community. Combined, the results provide strong evidence that individuals behave as if Web sites themselves are primary "actors" in online social networks and that online communities can act as a social proxy for individual identification. The authors offer a conceptualization of online social networks which takes the Web site into account as an actor, an initial exploration of the concept of a consumer-Web site relationship, and a conceptual model of the online interaction and information evaluation process. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. and Direct Marketing Educational Foundation, Inc.