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Whether and How to Build a Branded Customer Community

by Kimberly Smith  |  
March 31, 2009

Social communities are all the rage, but at what point does it become more beneficial to build one vs. use one that's already there? Online-community gurus Peter Kim and Aaron Strout weigh in on whether and how to create your own social portal for customers.

First, there were blogs, then mass-market social-networking sites... now some companies are bringing it all under one roof and hosting their own interactive online customer communities. Should yours be doing the same?

Social-marketing strategist Peter Kim says it depends on your intent.

If the priority involves listening to what's being said about a brand, communicating with consumers, or achieving broader reach, it's more effective (and cheaper) to take advantage of the critical mass that the existing networks have already established.

A company-sponsored community may be the way to go, however, if the goal is to...

  • Connect with a very specific group: Users who join specialized corporate-sponsored groups on Facebook, for example, are often more interested in expressing their connections to the brand than actually interacting with the company. By hosting a private community, you can increase the likelihood that users are there to engage with you and your purpose, while simultaneously providing them with an exclusive place to mingle and liaise.
  • Conduct market research: This is one of the most advantageous occasions for sponsoring a community, Kim explains, because it allows you to do the prompting, monitor behavior, and garner highly targeted feedback from users who understand they're participating under the sponsorship of a brand for specific purposes.
  • Motivate influencers: Running the show also allows you to focus on, and reward, your star supporters. "If you're hosting the conversation, you can energize your best customers and get them out evangelizing your brand," explains Aaron Strout, VP of Marketing at social marketing firm Powered, Inc.
  • Provide a safe zone: Smart users know that personal postings on public forums such as Twitter and Facebook can quickly come back to haunt them. Offering them a secure environment where they feel more comfortable sharing those inner thoughts may help pave the way for deeper customer interactions and relationships than may be viable on existing networks.

If any or some of those are your goals, then building your own community might make sense. Here are a few steps for ensuring your investment thrives.

1. Build a destination with purpose

In the planning stages, it is pertinent to come up with a value proposition that serves both customer and company, Kim explains.

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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via

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  • by Sean McDonald (Dell) Tue Mar 31, 2009 via web

    A key consideration that a lot of companies overlook is the sustaining plan of a community site. Launching a community site is easy and quick to accomplish. Sustaining is like adopting a puppy - you own that puppy for life, can't abandon once it stops being cute and grows up.

    If you don't have the resources and stomach for sustaining, still start engaging with your customers by listening and contributing across the web per Peter's suggesstion.

  • by Kathleen Gambale Wed Apr 1, 2009 via web

    A great example of a successful branded community is Reebok's It was a Cannes Lions Silver Media Lions winner last year. Check out the case study on it.

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