Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to analyze the underlying characteristics that enable the acquisition and appropriation of external knowledge, paying special attention to the relationship between external and internal networks to support this process. Design/methodology/approach: A case study methodology is followed, using not only semi-structured interviews but also secondary data to triangulate the obtained information. For the interviews, the authors have considered not only employees in different strategic positions, from middle management to top management, but also participants in the main supplier, to obtain a holistic perspective of the knowledge acquisition and appropriation in the innovation process. Findings: For the improvements of the process of knowledge acquisition and appropriation, organizations should configure internal and external networks to support this process reorganizing their classical structures. Moreover, this process is enhanced by the support of top managers and innovation champions, which act as sponsors and facilitators of the project respectively, to ensure that the whole process runs smoothly. At the end, to deal with new kinds of projects that are completely different to previous ones, it is recommended to be open to new ways of organizing and structuring participants; hence, coordination and socialization mechanisms are important to reach not only potential absorptive capacity (associated with knowledge acquisition) but also realized absorptive capacity (associated with knowledge exploitation). This situation is even more relevant in Web 2.0 environments, where each participant has autonomy to participate actively, be just a passive participant, or cease to belong to the community. Practical implications: The paper's findings could be useful to identify the determinants of knowledge acquisition and appropriation because they could guide organizations in the development of external and internal networks to support this process, which would be used to promote innovation within the organization; and with this identification, organizations could take actions based on their organizational requirements and goals. It is important to note that organizational boundaries are shifting from being closed to be permeable, enabling a better interaction with key partners and facilitating the knowledge exchange. However, this situation offers new challenges for organizations that want to be leaders in the near future because traditional organizations should shift their old paradigms, having an organizational culture more aligned with Web 2.0 philosophy (e.g. collaboration and sharing), which is the paradigm of the new digital economy. Originality/value: This study is a step forward to understand the relationship between external and internal networks that act as enablers of knowledge acquisition and appropriation. The authors extend the knowledge-based view by applying it in a Web 2.0 context, highlighting coordination and socialization mechanisms as critical success factors to integrate internal and external knowledge. Finally, the inclusion of interviews of employees from the main supplier of BBVA in these kinds of projects provides a holistic perspective of the process of knowledge acquisition and appropriation. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.