Are you ready for a brand community?

In the April Harvard Business Review, Susan Fournier and Lara Lee contributed an insightful piece “Getting Brand Communities Right” .  They make some great points that are useful for companies thinking about engaging their customers through brand communities and building deeper relationships that ultimately drive loyalty and growth.

At one point, they talk about how it can be a mistake to focus exclusively on opinion leaders when building communities – I couldn’t agree more!  Opinion leaders are great for buzz campaigns and other types of selling activities, but a community should value all points of view from the whisper to the yell. In fact, in communities that we build and manage, we believe so strongly that all points of view are equal that we don’t use features to encourage members to rate and review one another’s posts or make stars out of the most frequent posters.  It’s important that a community encourages everyone to contribute and play a role.

I also like the emphasis the authors place on the idea that a brand community is a business strategy not a marketing strategy.  Amen! We have seen the greatest successes with our clients when their learning agenda for the community touches a broad range of stakeholders in the organization and is tied to their most important strategic initiatives.  Eventually, companies that achieve success with their communities are regularly asking themselves: “have we bounced this off our community yet?” They already know that they have a group of totally engaged customers (sometimes even prospects) ready and willing to help.

Finally, I thought the Community Readiness Audit the authors provide through the web version of the story was quite cool.  It is a quick, interactive tool for you to answer some questions about your organization to help you decide whether you’re ready for the challenge (and work, dedication, elation, and and and…) of having a brand community.  Please check it out and then let me know what you think.  Are YOU ready??