Community .... the cultivated group of loyal users that you've built your platform around and equally, have helped you get your site to where it is today. Many of them have been through the same ups and downs that you have gone through; the outages, feature releases, server/database issues, and the big media press mentions. They're as big a part of the company as the actual employees are. But is your company willing to take that sentiment to the point of considering that community as your respected customers?
Perfect example, for any situation it seems nowadays, is Twitter's lack of listening skills and subsequent bout with their community. Now after reading the back-story of that fiasco, I ask you .... Would the situation been treated differently had the Twitter community been paying customers of the platform?
By way of common thought, most would think that a company would pay extra mind to keep their paying customers happy and in the loop with any site or feature changes. It's true that they deserve to know what changes are being made to their paid service, but I believe that's to no higher degree than what a community of a free site should also know.
Your community has just as big a stake in your free platform as a customer would to that of a paid one. Not only do they help your company thrive day in and day out but also, they've become the voice of your site and in reality, an organic business development team for you. The evangelists of your site are willing to go to bat for you, blog about their experiences, tweet how cool you are, and help promote your service to their network; so long you keep them happy with a smooth-functioning site.
Now some may think otherwise and say that since it's a free platform the company has the ability to do as they wish. That may be true, but for a second let's forget about the words community and customers .... people are at the center here and free or pay, these sites have a responsibility to uphold to them. How long would a company survive if their attitude towards their people were .... we're not listening. Probably not long. As Mack Collier smartly stated:
"Don't take your community for granted, or they might just stop being your community."
That may sound extreme but it's closer to the truth than Twitter and other sites may lead themselves to believe. Communities don't ask for much other than wanting to be listened to and thought of as an actual person (and maybe the occasional feature request). In exchange comes their passion and desire to see your site succeed and grow.
Shouldn't companies take advantage of this opportunity and leverage the strength of the people? Or are we, the free nation, just asking for too much?
Sonny Gill is an online marketing professional with a focus in social media. His career has always revolved around marketing but at times, a 'jack of all trades,' until his passion grew for the social media world.
He now is fully engulfed in further understanding and growing this booming medium with hands-on experience, by helping companies connect with their customers and build community through social media strategies, and by teaching them how to integrate these new tools & strategies into their current marketing/business plan.
Sonny has always been an advocate of community and can be seen writing his opinions & thoughts about community building and social media at his self-titled blog, SonnyGill.com. His hopes are to help people better understand social media and the benefit of building and nurturing a community around your brand.