The Web 2.0 world that we live in has made it popular and fashionable to create communities online. The onset of social networking platforms like MySpace, YouTube and Facebook have made connecting people online easier than ever. And now, companies that sell products, either online or off, have found that it may make sense to create their own communities of people online.
Now, the process can be done in multiple ways. You can create a group within a larger, established community. You can create your own community using a platform like Ning.com. Or you can build something from scratch and put it right on your own website. There are positives and negatives that come with all of these options, but they will all lead you down the right path.
The question then becomes how to use them, and whether or not to control them. Seth Godin points out that many times, when companies try to have “the best of both worlds”, most often they end up with nothing. It is important that you have a clear focus for what this community will be all about. Will it be a place for your customers to discuss products? Will you use a Facebook group to promote new products? Will you host online services through this network? What is the goal, and what value is it adding for your customers? Sometimes too much control can take away from the value that a community will have for both you and your users.
In my opinion, any company can make use of Web 2.0 technologies to add value to your brand. The most popular companies have used them to generate feedback through direct and indirect conversations with customers. Blogs, wikis, even discussion boards (though ancient) have all given users a voice. And social networks make their voices even louder, as they interact with each other and the company at the same time.
This is a real strategy that can help your company grow and develop. But don’t take it lightly. Put in the time and effort (and money) to do it right. A well executed networking strategy will help you create better products, deliver a clear message to the public, generate online buzz and word of mouth marketing, and so on and so forth.
More on this to come…