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Why Community, Why Forums

April 16, 2007

cheers_intro_logo.jpg  On-line communities create a perpetuating relationship amongst customers and the companies that host them.   People want to belong, be known, and interact in a meaningful way.   Consider the long running TV show “Cheers” which featured a Boston bar, full of regulars who all had various personality quirks, and all fit together in their own unique way.  While fictional, it is a fair representation of basic human behavior.  Why did these customers come to the same bar day after day?  Was the beer that good?  No.  It was because they were known, had a rapport with one another, and the with bartenders and owners.   It was a community.

Many businesses operate with a  “supplier” mentality.   They see themselves as a provider of goods and services for fee, and while that is certainly the case, if that is the full extent of the relationship they form with clients, then likely they will be stuck in “Commodity Mode”.     As a customer, if the purchase experience around a brand is sterile – the product is described and offered up for a price, we are likely to commoditize the product, reducing it to a list of features and ultimately a price with which to compare to other would be suppliers.   Our heads are involved solely in the decision making.   Where’s the cheapest place to buy the beer?

Forums can be used to create a virtual “Cheers” experience for your customers.   Forums create a special place where customers can come together on-line to share their experiences around a particular product, and while so doing, develop personal relationships amongst themselves, and perhaps even representatives of the sponsoring company.  In time, they begin to develop attachments, and become emotionally connected with the products.  As such, they are likely to take pride in solving problems for each other, defend the products against criticism (after all they bought them) , and are apt to be more forgiving of any shortcomings.   As new products come out, they are also more likely to purchase, to periodically renew their positions in the community as the mass of membership moves from one generation of product to the next.   People don’t want to be left behind as the group moves on.  

The sponsoring company also benefits from involvement in the community by sitting on the virtual barstool next to it’s customers and hearing what they like and don’t like about the products.   This provides an inside track on what can be done to make the next round of products even more attractive.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2007 10:31 pm

    Excellent post, Mark, I couldn’t agree more with what you state. Back in the day I posted about the advantages of using support forums as base for support and knowledge base:

    I do believe that communities work wonders for companies, be those based on Blogs, Forums, Chats and Wikis. It is something companies need to explore deeper. The wonderful things is that if companies don’t provide them, users create their own, I, for instance can name about 20 forums and usergroups for thinkpads alone…

  2. April 16, 2007 11:06 pm

    > I, for instance can name about 20 forums and usergroups for thinkpads alone…

    We like to think there’s only one… 😉


  3. April 17, 2007 3:18 am

    Surely the greatest, Nonny 😛

  4. April 19, 2007 5:45 am

    All great points Mark.

    What it comes down to is this: companies need to interact with their customers in today’s world, and badly. Forums and blogs are the two best ways to do it. Why are they the best?

    Because they are cheap? No.
    Because they are easy? No.
    Because lots of people can access them? Yes, but not the point I’m getting at.
    Because they’re transparent (or should be anyway). On a forum or a blog, as long as you don’t play gestapo with the posts/comments, people can say what they want about your company or product and you are in the public eye to react. Good companies don’t need to hide from this transparency, good companies take the challenges head on and address them for all to see. Those who want to avoid such a direct interaction with their customers should just fold up shop & stop now.

    Your business is about your customer – without them you don’t exist. If you can’t stomach them punching you in the gut because you made a stupid mistake, it’s game over.

  5. April 19, 2007 3:43 pm

    Amen, Tim, Amen


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