Why Companies Should Have Online Communities

As a community manager, I frequently take online communities for granted. Are you a business? Do you have or want to have customers? Then yes, of course you should have an online community (is that really a question?)

I’m here at Innotech this week, and this question came up on my panel about Online Communities. I wanted to share and elaborate on my answer to the question of “Why build an online community in the first place?”

I have a few reasons:

  • People: Communities first & foremost are about the people. Having a community gives people a place to engage with your company. These people will talk about you and your products in blogs and other online forums whether you choose to participate or not, so giving people a place to talk about you can help you keep engaged with the conversations.
  • Product Innovation: Communities provide a great forum for getting product feedback. It gives you a central place to ask questions about how people use your products. You also get to see first-hand what they complain about, what issues they have, and where they have questions about you or your products.
  • Evangelism: Communities also help you grow evangelists for your products from outside of your company. These are the customers or users of your products that are passionate and deeply engaged with you. Interestingly enough, these people frequently come to your defense within the community when people say negative things about your company. They can also have exceptional feedback for you, so it is important to identify these people early and encourage them to get deeply engaged (often with some special community permissions). For Jivespace, I created a special “Friends of Jivespace” blog with top community members as authors.
  • Brand Loyalty: Having a community can also help drive brand loyalty for your products. Giving people a place to engage with you can drive a tremendous amount of loyalty for your products.

These were my top four reasons, but I’m sure there are many more reasons to build an online community. I would love to hear your suggestions in the comments!

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5 Responses to “Why Companies Should Have Online Communities”

  • Great post. It inspired this thought/thesis:

    Today, your company is going to have an online community, period. Regardless of whether you create or participate in it. It will happen, if it hasn’t already.

    Kinda scary, but good motivation to figure how to participate in this whole newfangled social web stuff. :-)

  • Josh – you are absolutely right. The communities already exist, and people are already holding conversations about companies and products. Companies can’t control what people say about them online, but they can at least participate in the discussions.

  • I wish I could have been in town for Innotech, so appreciate your expanded discussion here. As much as the outbound traffic from a company, I love the conversations that occurs when readers/users are allowed to participate in the discussion and have a hand in shaping the content/functionality/product roadmap.

  • Thanks for a terrific post, Dawn. You would think this would be a no-brainer for businesses. It isn’t, not even for a communications business like mine (The Oregonian). I’m just a lowly reporter, but it seems obvious to me that we need to engage in a vigorous, open and never-ending conversation with our customers/readers (and non-readers). Every business needs a Dawn Foster.

  • I’m working on a social media plan for my organization, which will include all social media platforms. Thanks for the helpful information.

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