Your customers are your company. For every one interaction your company knows about today, there are hundreds and thousands more that are already happening among customers, influencers, and prospects.

With the revolution in social technologies, customers are now in control of the conversation. That may seem like a daunting proposition, but there are key steps you can take to engage with that customer network—and therein lies the opportunity.

Despite having spent a great deal of time and effort building, managing, and analyzing your corporate website, customers and prospects demand ever greater levels of interactivity. And they want not only more interactivity with you but also more access and engagement with one another.

That means managing your brand has become increasingly difficult. Though we've all been very cognizant of key areas such as search results, customer experience, and Web leads, 2010 is clearly highlighting a new imperative: We need to engage with our customers and prospects—or risk losing them.

One of the most powerful, proven ways to build your brand and customer network is through online communities. Enterprises (global B2C and B2B brands) are identifying and engaging customers who willingly share insights, help solve support issues, and drive word-of-mouth marketing on their behalf.

A good example is the AT&T Wireless community. On a daily basis, thousands of people sign onto AT&T's forum to discuss details about the AT&T Wireless network, opportunities for improvement, rate plans and features, and how to maximize the capabilities of their mobile devices. 

Companies such as AT&T recognize that if they do not create an environment for such discussions, they just happen elsewhere and so can't be moderated and will not help with search-engine optimization (SEO).

By developing its online community, AT&T has seen significant returns in the areas of ideation—ways to improve products and services, and promotion—increased sales, higher customer-retention rates, and lower customer-support costs.

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image of Dan Ziman

Dan Ziman is CMO of LeanData, a provider of lead management software for account-based sales and marketing strategies.

LinkedIn: Dan Ziman

Twitter: @lostintheflog