Community on the Internet is All-Important! Community is to the Internet what the Golden Rule is to life in general: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. This is an unstated physical law on the Internet. Bottom line, if you support your industry, your industry will support you! If you don’t… well, you work it out.
At this point I must draw upon the history of the Internet to make the point. A quick review of the premises upon which the Internet was developed will quickly demonstrate that the Internet is “all-about” community.
At its inception the Internet was essentially a communications tool for scientists working on government funded advanced research projects. It quickly became a means by which the scientists working on these projects could store and exchange valuable project related information, using this network of computer connections. For the first time ever these scientists were able to collaborate on their projects remotely, in real-time, without delays.
Scientists using the Internet (ARPANET at the time) realized that assisting human communication was the most fundamental advancement their project made possible. In very short order, community on the Internet came to be defined by the ability to communicate information electronically in real-time. Equally important was the ability to access this information remotely and to carry on a dialogue online without a time delay.
Merriam Webster defines community as an: “…interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location.” It is this sense of community that defines the Internet today. The simple fact is, we as humans are social beings that cannot exist without the assistance of or interaction with others. We tend to develop groups, or associate ourselves with existing groups that we identify with and which ultimately define who we are. The fact that we have this desire, more accurately this need, is proof enough of the power of the Internet to support it.
Everywhere we look we see this need for socialization manifested and fostered on the web. Communities online take many forms. There are both moderated (or managed) and un-moderated communities. They include newsletters, list-serves, forums, discussion groups, newsgroups, bulletin boards, chat-rooms and instant messaging, to name a few.
Community, Marketing And Customer Loyalty
Community by definition connotes a sense of belonging. Providing your audience with the opportunity to associate themselves with others who have similar interests or needs, using your presence on the Internet as a means to this end, promotes web site stickiness. At the same time it addresses this most basic human need of your prospects and customers. Do you recognize the value connection here?
In many respects this association with others offers you the ideal opportunity to establish a personal and individual relationship with your target audience as well. Furthermore, it allows individual members of your community to establish a “network” of contacts, within this network of computer connections. This is where the whole concept of “web” comes from… A series of interconnected connections…(Tim Berners-Lee came up with the term WEB for what the Internet is and does.)
From a pure marketing standpoint establishing a community also offers you an unprecedented opportunity to get feedback on your products or services. The information that you get back from your audience in this forum will generally be unbiased. This is because people feel less threatened in a community setting and will be more willing to share information openly, knowing that they are surrounded by their “friends.” This opportunity also allows you to act immediately and incorporate the remarks and feedback into your product development or customer service functions.
Information – The Currency of Communication
Information is the currency of communication on the Internet. The knowledge that your audience derives from information is the glue that will hold your community together and guarantee your success online. As a clear testament to the power of this information and the resulting knowledge, I offer the following quote from noted author and business strategist, Tom Peters: “Success in the marketplace today is directly proportional to the knowledge that an organization can bring to bear, how fast it can bring the knowledge to bear, and the rate at which it accumulates that knowledge.”
By giving your customers and prospects the opportunity to interact (in real-time), you are establishing Trust! You are demonstrating, in effect, that you have nothing to hide and that you truly have their best interests in mind. This perception goes a long way towards establishing value that will result in the kind of customer loyalty you are looking for from your online customers.
A Lasting Impression
When you effectively communicate your support of the industry you serve to your community, you leave a lasting impression on several levels. First, you care about more than just your own company. Second, you have a broader knowledge about your industry segment, not just your products and services (this equals innovation potential). Third, you are interested in your customer’s ultimate success, not just your own. Zig Zigler put it best when he said, “If you want success, go out and help as many people as you can to succeed!” Words to live by!