Considering a trip to the magical town of social media? The land where online communities self-organize and prosper from the passions of its residents—where voluntary user-contributed creativity helps communities grow and flourish?

Well, before you buy your ticket, you might want to double-check your travel itinerary and make sure you're up for it.

Online communities are no Shangri-La of free marketing and customer support. And just because you build them doesn't mean anyone will come.

Though online communities can deliver outstanding return on investment (ROI), they rarely produce value without significant investment, professional management... and consistent, intelligent, and engaging hullabaloo.

Hello, is anybody out there?

Marketers can have many good reasons for building and supporting an online community: solving customer service issues, sharing tips, driving positive word-of-mouth, influencing brand reputation and awareness, improving search engine rankings, and staying current with customers' demands and desires.

But if the benefits are so obvious, why do so many communities fail?

Online communities almost always fail because their creators forgot to ask themselves some very important question before they began: What benefits will the community offer its members? What unmet needs will it fulfill?

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Ronald Ladouceur is executive vice-president and executive creative director for Media Logic. With the agency since its founding, Ladouceur has been instrumental in guiding Media Logic to a leadership position in marketing for a social world. Reach him via
Melissa Fiorenza is a conversation manager for Media Logic, where she oversees social media for clients in the entertainment, retail, and healthcare industries. Reach her via