Developing Online Communities

Companies looking to learn more about their customers, drive more return visits to their sites, capture a greater share of consumers’ time online or elevate their brands through word-of-Web have determined that social media deserves development.

“Two thousand eight is going to be a year that sees exponential growth from the market” in branded social networks, said Dan Neely, founder and CEO of Networked Insights, located in Madison, Wis.

Among the common features to branded social networks launched by enterprises for external audiences are customer-generated content, games, blogs, image downloads, polls, viral videos and small group discussions in a larger bulletin board community.

The technology behind this dynamism pulls data into CRM applications, CAD software and vendor relationships. The interface developed and designed for the community requires insight into current product and service influencers and buyers.

“Companies are ultimately trying to get customers in an environment where the stimulus is all other customers,” Neely said.

Important to building a context in which customers can have conversations is including features that lend fame to customers by giving them “a soapbox and a microphone,” he said. Neely added that it’s also important such environments “have a stickiness element,” a quality that leads a visitor to stay when they visit and return on subsequent occasions.

Social media also need to enable personal choice, such as the communication platform through which customers will receive and present information to the company or one another. These include bulletin boards with company-initiated discussion threads, community-selected chat rooms,…



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