Conversation Agent - Valeria Maltoni - The Case for Customer Communities

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I couldn’t agree more that communities are an important form of social networks. At Communispace ( we define community as “any group of people who share common interests, interact with one another and form ongoing, reciprocal relationships over time.” Companies wishing to utilize communities need to interact with people, not necessarily as suppliers of goods or services, but as relationship partners—authentic, transparent, and “real”.

In our research we have explored why people engage in various types of networks and communities and believe that different SM approaches deliver against specific social needs—some networking sites (like clearly provide a means for identity expression (as well as a way to maintain strong—or weak—ties); others, such as provide ways to elevate our status (e.g., becoming “moderators” if we are influential enough within the network). Communities are special, because more than other forms of SM, they can ground people in reciprocal relationships and can provide a sense of continuity and connection that is pretty rare today.

Why should companies care about all this? Being more human with people (or interacting with them more "humanly", if you will, through SM) builds relationships, uncovers insights, and reveals the "whys" behind people's attitudes and behavior.

Communities and social networks are two very different things. Mainly because many different communities can exist on the same social network. I look at social networks as the place where communities interesting to me, a company that I work for, or for other interests can exist.

Therefore, I advocate community building above all else when it comes to exploring/utilizing SM as a company. Why would you build the framework of a social network into your site when many free (and already populated)options exist?

Figure out where your customers are and go form a community to tie them together. It doesn't matter if they aren't directly under control within your own social network. Just utilize the community.

The problem with social media research is the lack of clear definitions & a way to categorize the tools.

To define an online community, I believe the one of Iriberri & Leroy (based on 9 of the most used definitions) is a great help.
They define it as: ... "cyberspaces supported by computer-based information technology, centered upon communication and interaction of participants to generate member-driven content, resulting in a relationship being built."

You could say communities and social networks are synonyms, but I think communities are more linked to 'participation' & co-creation, unlike social networks which I consider more as a collection of individuals with a mutual interest.

Much research has yet to be done, though, to paint a clear picture of the social media landscape.

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