Sponsor your own social network
Examples of customer-centric communities include pet lovers sharing anecdotes, concerns, and pet photos with each other, diabetics sharing recipes they love, hobbyists trading ideas and material, and fashion lovers talking about the latest styles, cosmetics and articles from their favorite magazines.
The company sponsoring each community and providing the tools for subscribers to build and/or participate in the community adds value to the overall community by leading or participating in forums and message boards, where its deep understanding of the subject — whether pets, diabetes or fashion — adds valuable content to the discussions, spurs ideas for additional exchanges and provides access to products and services specific to the needs of each group.
Because these customer-centric communities are much quieter than the big social networks, such as Facebook and Myspace, they aren't cluttered with advertising. The community portal is merely wrapped in the sponsor's branding.
When building a community, it's important to start with your value proposition. What do your customers really want to discuss with you? What do they want to discuss with each other? What do they want to learn to help them make good decisions about buying and/or using your products or services?
How can you help them do all that?
Next, convert that value proposition to a promise, make that promise to your customers and be sure to deliver on that promise every day. Provide the tools and content that will enable subscribers to get as much as possible out of the community. Remember: if you build it, they will not only come, but they will show their appreciation by making your company their provider of choice for the products and services you offer.