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Response from Jake's 5 Minute Question on Community

Jake at CommunityGuy.com asked a group of folks who do work in the online community world to respond to a simple question recently:

If you had 5 minutes with an inquisitive marketing manager, what would you want to make sure they learned about working with fans/community?

He received 7 great responses that all speak from different angles. One of my favorite responses was from Spike Jones from Brains on Fire because it sums up one of the biggest obstacles that businesses often have to overcome - a belief that "community" is like a marketing or PR campaign.

If they do it right – they are in for one of the toughest but rewarding experiences of their professional career. It’s that whole "campaign vs. movement" thing. This isn’t some 3-month campaign that they can abandon and move on. This is literally rolling up your sleeves and digging in to people's lives. It’s hard freakin’ work. But it’s so very meaningful, too.

This was my response to Jake's question:

  • Your customers are going to talk about you online. The question you have to ask yourself is: Do you want to be a part of that discussion? You might be surprised, but your customers want you to speak up, as long as you do it as a person and not a press release.
  • What has changed in the last 5 years, thanks to blogs and other online resources, is that an individual customer now has the power to have more influence than your whole marketing dept. This is a risk and an opportunity. By choosing community, you are working to reduce the risk and increase the opportunities that come out of this power shift.
  • The first question I would ask is about the company - what are you trying to do right now? What are the biggest problems that need solving? Look for opportunities to connect an active community of customers to a company goal. Do your customers know your goals?
  • Getting customers to interact is not the ultimate goal - the goal is mobilization. A motivated and rewarded community, properly mobilized, can produce real and measurable results.
  • Do your homework. Before diving in, find out what is being said about the company. Identify the influencers (positive and negative) and try to understand their perspective. Start reading blogs. Send a personal email to the influentials.
    Embrace transparency. Admit imperfection. Accept responsibility. Be real.