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In today’s fast-paced world, people enjoy finding time to connect with one another. Whether it’s to write a book or share recipes, communities provide spaces where similarly inclined people can connect. Socializing with people who share your enthusiasm for a subject validates your interest and lends a sense of purpose and meaning.

This feeling of bonding is exactly what has made online communities so successful. People from all stripes – loud, quiet, inexperienced and veteran – can share their thoughts on a topic with people as invested as they are. While this is good for consumers, it’s even better for companies.

Why Customers Find Communities Valuable

Our society is consumed with group work and networking. We bring people together for the purpose of brainstorming or completing a task, but more often than not, all we take from these encounters is an enhanced sense of belonging.

But communities aren’t simply emotional outlets. Consumers today know that literally any knowledge, service, or product is available at their fingertips. They want to find exactly what they’re looking for, and communities offer them specific information. They also provide recommendations and feedback on what’s worked – and what hasn’t. By exposing people to new ideas and opinions, communities educate other members. Communities that are deemed great places to learn attract and feed member growth automatically.

Why Companies Find Communities Valuable

This learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Online communities have introduced something companies of the ‘50s and ‘60s would have deemed impossible: two-way communication between the brand and its customers. Old-school models simply enabled businesses to talk to their clients, not with them. Now, companies can gather feedback from customers and influence their perspectives on the brand.

This influence is extremely beneficial. By being able to share real-time comments, brands can address concerns and answer questions. Case studies about real customers – and testimonials directly from real customers – reduce preliminary concerns people may have. This touches new members, as well as prospects and advertisers. That’s real money coming in the door.

And here’s the biggest advantage of collective thinking and discussion: the group dynamics of communities bring subtle momentum and positive energy to a brand. This promotes trust and confidence, vital factors in selling products or services. When community members are confident you’re addressing their needs, your word-of-mouth marketing begins fueling itself amongst the audience you seek.

How Companies Can Boost Their Success With Communities

Jeep, one of the largest car retailers in the world, benefits from a community called Jeep Club International. Local dealers encourage this group to discuss their needs, likes and dislikes with Jeep vehicles. This enables Jeep to tweak their models and plans to enhance their bottom line. It’s a win-win. Get Satisfaction creates “self-service” communities within a brand, enabling members to assist each other. This reduces the amount of support businesses must provide, while ensuring customers get what they need.

Then there’s Zappos, which utilizes Facebook to communicate with its community, creating better sales and improved customer service. That’s why I incorporated social into Foboko, our new social publishing platform that brings members together to create eBooks. Together, peers, experts, and prospective readers can assist new authors in writing their books. Authors are able to get two vital things they absolutely want: exposure and feedback. The whole community builds confidence in its ability to craft eBooks.

Community members tend to be involved in several groups, enabling the word to spread exponentially faster as they share in additional circles. It’s more natural to offer incentives, promotions, and bonuses to an existing member group because they’re loyal participants within the community itself. This simple investment reduces suspicion and sales avoidance.

Once you’ve overcome those hurdles, you can request referrals, create contests to reward your unofficial spokespeople, and even establish special offline events, like eBay University and Facebook’s Developers Conferences. These actions don’t just reinforce a community – they create a brand personality all its own.

Some companies may fear communities, believing they’ll require additional time and resources. The truth is that well-developed communities actually reduce marketing costs, customer service needs, and reputation management (or salvation, as the case may be). Establish a community to see renewed growth today – both in your company’s revenue and in your customers’ interest.