The Business Benefits of Online Communities

 

Online communities are a popular, effective means of organizing people around interests, issues, tasks, projects or causes. They enable groups to connect and collaborate for purposes of exchanging ideas and accomplishing goals. People can interact based upon shared activities, mutual interests, work, advocacy for the promotion of issues or ideas, and many other common causes.

One of the earliest online communities was effectively responsible for open-source software development. Online newsgroups and wikis such as Wikipedia have become well-established. With the advent of social networking and the blogosphere, online communities are now part of the mainstream.

Online communities of members, users and/or customers engender a sense of belonging to an organization, brand, website or product. By engaging customers and other stakeholders, an online community can help you build brand awareness, legitimize your brand, elicit useful interaction, and gain competitive and strategic advantages. A community can also be instrumental in disseminating information rapidly or stimulating product purchase and use through word of mouth.

Because online communities create personal relationships through interactive dialogue, they serve to stimulate interest in your website or blog as a destination and generate increased repeat visits. Community members often contribute rich, varied content and provide real-time feedback about out how your products are working, how your brand is being perceived and how your offerings are meeting customers’ needs.

Designing and maintaining an effective community require a good sense of how communities function, as well as clear goals and dedicated resources. Whether you set up a community that is managed and maintained internally or establish a user-driven community that evolves and takes shape according to the needs and input of users directly, a community involves a significant commitment of time and energy.

Following are a few points to remember:

  • Make sure you are offering something worth building a community around.
  • Proactively identify and recruit mavens, thought leaders and evangelists.
  • Create rich, fresh content, including articles, product information and news.
  • Select communication channels that invite user participation, including forums, newsgroups and email.
  • Expect to receive criticism. Know that accepting and acknowledging criticism build credibility and strengthen bonds to your community.
  • Foster discourse. Plan to participate regularly in the exchange of ideas and opinions within your community
  • Publicize your community. Make it an integral part of your sales and marketing efforts.
  • Develop relationships with community members. See your community as part of a long-term relationship.