Online communities. Trodden paths and undercurrents

Several years ago when my best friend was getting married I had a chance to experience the full extent of community marketing and the influence it produces on emotionally engaged audience. I was the bridesmaid and we both had plenty of things to take care of. We were students at that time and all our free time we dedicated to the wedding preparations. It was an exciting period in the life of my friend as it is for the majority of young girls that are getting married. All those sweet cares: wedding dress, rings, bouquet, party organization, invitations, play list selection, ufff! In search for valuable information and support she joined a forum dedicated to wedding ceremony preparations. Later she made me join this community as well - dozens of excited brides and grooms to be; endless flows of advice; photos of dresses, shoes, restaurants and their most scrupulous discussion; happy exclamations, tears of despair and so on. In other words a crowd of excited prospects looking for services and ready to pay good money for “the main day in my life”. Such a promising environment for service providers! I’m not being sarcastic, in fact I’m all for romanticism and the magic of the moment. But unfortunately businessmen that take part in such communities in search for new customers often go too far in using the emotional condition of the prospects in their purpose.

It happens very often so that in such situations when people get overwhelmed by their emotions and strive for perfection they forget about common sense and quirky marketers use the situation to foist something that the customers do not really need. Such marketers however are rather short-sighted, as they forget that later, when emotions subside the customers will understand they were used. And it is highly unlikely that they will be positive in their reviews of the services or products they were forced to pay for.

Such forums and communities are powerful tools of internet marketing. It is typical for people to communicate and exchange experience, whether positive or negative. Daily interaction with other users on forums, blogs and social networks builds trust and confidence. Let’s take an abstract bride to be who enjoys considerable authority among her peers for being a trendy and sophisticated girl. By posting a review of the amazing wedding dress tailor-made for her by the workers some wedding salon (unknown until now for others), the discount they made for her bridesmaid and the free accessories they provided for the dresses the girl can give rise to a whole stream of new clients for the salon. On the contrary, she can considerably damage the reputation of a popular hairdresser who was not polite enough in a telephone conversation or who put flowers of the wrong colour in her wedding hairdo. This example illustrates the power of word-of-mouth marketing and the fact that you should never stop building brand awareness and customer loyalty at all levels.

A company that uses social media marketing in their purposes should bear in mind that every interaction with a customer or a prospect may have significant response. In fact even if internet marketing is not yet reflected in your strategy, you can never charge off the fact that people may discuss your company online creating positive or negative image for you.

Do you actually know what part of your customers and prospects are active users of social networks? How many of them provide feedback on products and services they use? Or even how many of your employees are influential bloggers and possess good writing skills? It’s never too late to start building your online community to provide all these people with a dedicated place to share their thoughts and ideas. With well-established community management you’re likely to increase your online traffic, to convert your prospects into customers and drive innovations. Definitely managing an online community is no rocket science, however there are some peculiarities to remember and I will try to dwell on this topic in the next post.

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