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  A Marketing Tool?
Do you see community as a tool for marketing rather than just community as a PR-tool?

Absolutely!! A successful community is a marketing tool in both direct and indirect ways.

In a direct sense community provides a very powerful means to outreach to consumers or participants. Their very involvement in a community brings “buy-in” and “interest” and the means to promote services to them. In addition, the fact that community participants tend to spend a greater duration of time on a site means that opportunities for marketing are greatly enhanced, be that in the form of banner advertising or targeted marketing in the form of site-led messages. Even more predisposed to this kind of approach are web sites that utilize community profiles for members since it is possible to use community users own expressed interests to form marketing campaigns.

More indirectly, community sites tend to create strong word of mouth recommendations, which are a significant form of viral marketing. Community users are more vocal to others about their participation, and there is little as compelling in terms of marketing as hearing directly from a friend or associate just how great a service or product is. Community sites, with their intrinsic added value and involvement at an individual level, epitomize viral marketing opportunity.

In addition, having a strong community user base provides a key means to market your own services. A good example of this is a community newsletter sent out to users, since you are able to promote site offerings, new products and provide parallel marketing campaigns directly to them in a very complementary manner.

By providing community you are encouraging consumers to share their experiences and praise of that product or service. However, it is crucial that regardless of how great your product or service is, that your community is just as outstanding. A poorly managed community cannot only detract from the product, but breed lack of trust for the company and the services being provided. Marketing via community should be done sensitively or else your community users may become wary or suspicious or simply will not respond to your marketing attempts. Take into account your audience and their understanding of what your community is about and you should find a balance.

Do feel free to check out the following answers to prior questions for some further community development suggestions;

Community for B2C e-commerce site; This answer provides information on the different community tools available.

Can Community Generate Revenue; Here we explore the different facets to encouraging revenue with community components.

I think you will find that using community is a rather efficient and cost effective way to reach hundreds if not thousands of potential consumers. We do hope this helps!! Best of luck to you.

- Jon Nix and Pam Thomas
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