Do you need to own your community?

Community for the 21st Century

A little while back I was catching up with my friend Jim Storer of the Community Roundtable before we shared a panel about social customer support. In our prep, Jim and I continued our on-going disagreement on whether a company needs to own the platform that they are keeping a community on.

He is of the mindset that owned is the way to go with community.  In this model, companies can tie members of their community to their database and know which of their customers or members are participating and what they are talking about. This is also a great way to streamline customer support and get a prompt resolution for customers as these types of communities have repositories of knowledge that you can refer back to should another customer have a similar issue. Companies like Constant Contact and Aetna do a great job with their own “owned “communities.

While I agree with the use of these types of platforms and see the value of them, I also don’t think it is the end all be all or a must have for companies looking to have, or build, a community around their brand.

I define community as a place where people with a shared interest or common goal corrugate and discuss it. So to me, community can happen anywhere from a corner sandlot to a Facebook group or weekly Twitter chat or Subreddit on kittens. Humans are a curious species that will find places to connect. Companies and brands should embrace these conversations when they can.

While there are inherent risks in building a community on a rented piece of grass (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), the barrier of entry is also far lower than that of a company-hosted community. Aside from the cost of a Jive or Lithium, creating your own community comes with the task of recruiting users to the platform and keeping them coming back. Sure a Facebook fan page will have the same issues in terms of getting people to come back, but at the same time over 50% of Facebook’s users log in daily so the friction level for users is much lower and allows companies the ability to be top of mind via their ad platform and EdgeRank algorithm.

When you think about it in the big picture, companies like LinkedIn, Facebook and Google all have skin in the community game. The easier that they make it for companies to test the community waters on their platforms, the more that these same companies (and their customers) will spend on their platform.

As community becomes more and more of a business buzzword, I think that the lower barrier of entry and evolutions of offerings from LI, FB and Google will help usher in a change in mindset of community overall.

Sure there are risks to this shift, but at the end of the day it’s up to each company to evaluate the risk of rented vs. owned real estate for their community. What say you? Is community something that needs to be owned or can companies be successful leveraging the major social networks?

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