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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Real (virtual) communities

Within the Internet, I belong to a few real (virtual) communities.

The contradiction is ironic. The communities are virtual in that they are online and geographically diverse. They are real in that the relationships and networking effects are as strong if not stronger than conventional communities and association networks.

Many of the communities, of course, are related directly to this blog. Some are relevant to outside interests. Their common denominator is specialized focus.

Many have a degree of genuine exclusivity -- you can't get in unless you are invited, and in at least one or two cases, their websites are totally secret from the general public or even the average person interested in the topic.

From a marketing perspective, these online communities reflect the communities you find in the conventional world and have both strengths and limitations.

The numbers are (relatively) small
You won't find real communities with tens of thousands of members. You can't "buy reach" through conventional advertising and marketing, at least effectively.

You can build real relationships
In some cases, these reach the level of true friendship. You can understand and appreciate the individuality of each member.

They are enduring
While sometimes communities form through special circumstances and crises, they tend to last, even after the catalyst and justification for the community has long passed.

You can't barge in (but sometimes you can be accepted quickly)
Remember high school. Sometimes an out-of-town kid joins the class and is instantly accepted into the "in group", while another flounders, friendless. If you relate to the community's framework, and contribute rather than sell, you will often be welcomed quickly, but you generally can't gain acceptance if you are selfishly or insensitively pushy.

The biggest problem with these communities is your challenge of measuring time and effectiveness -- it can seem you are spending energy, effort, and resources without any return. The answer, of course, is to both participate in communities you genuinely enjoy, and are relevant to your market interests.

Then you can turn otherwise seemingly unproductive fun time into genuine business development opportunities. But you can't get there unless you want to be in the place.

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