One of the coolest things about today’s consumer is their want to love. If you’re a marketer, just think about that for a second. Your audience wants to love you.

As it turns out, given real voice and influence (thanks, social media platforms) people become less angry. And while they certainly have a greater ability than ever before to “stick it to the man,” they’re more interested in finding and advocating the content, services and products they truly believe in. It’s a two-way street dynamic we saw in the mom and pop shop era, but with an explosive twist on word-of-mouth. Now, branded messaging is just as much about influence as it is about management.

Accordingly, popular platforms like Facebook and Twitter are excellent access points. They enable consumers to add brands as “friends” and this keeps messaging on the forefront; however, primary websites remain the number one go-to spot for product or service information. Now, the question becomes: how does one align the two?

Customer Communities — the Holy Grail?

Get Satisfaction and the Incyte Group put their heads together in order to come up with the clever answer featured in their recent white paper. Conveniently, it’s all in the title: To Monetize Open Social Networks, Invite Customers to Be More Than Just “Friends”. In other words, brands have to take the digital friendship and connection lessons they’ve learned from social media platforms and create a similar experience on their homepage.

Enter the power of branded customer communities. “Because a customer community is owned and managed by a company and contains valuable social knowledge that has been vetted by advocates and employees, marketers have more flexibility to address customer needs based on their stage in the customer life cycle,” reads the report.

It goes on to note a number of things such a community can be used for, including:

  • Introducing new customers to a brand
  • Influencing new customers as they evaluate or trial products
  • Creating better product usage experiences
  • Gathering feedback and ideas for improving product/service experiences
  • Providing self-serve, peer-guided service and support
  • Building customer loyalty
  • Identifying and activating brand and product advocates

The Second Coming of Reciprocity

Because they’re still in their infancy, whether or not consumer communities really are the missing link remains to be seen. But I will say that they play on a very important component of modern commerce, which is nothing more than good ol’ reciprocity. Mutual benefit and real relationships between buyers and sellers had the spotlight before the voices of companies were given the soapbox, but now that customers are equally loud — if not louder — and definitely more influential, I think we’ll continue to see a resurgence in fair exchange. And a digital community is definitely a nice way to go about it.