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@Alexandra - use the tools to automate the planning and process parts so you can have more time to participate with customers. For example, plan an editorial calendar to keep you on track and not scramble to find topics to write about, know when you post, who joins in from the organization, etc. That also creates accountability in the organization while it sets expectations. Also, has a process to find people who are more "social" inside the business. Hope the distinction helps.

@Lisa - relevance is a major point indeed. Thank you for providing such a great example of what that means vis-a-vis the community.

@Patrick - and that effort will be rewarded with ongoing insights you don't get in focus groups. A blog can be a community, or develop one with potential to grow as part of a customer extranet. It doesn't need to be very complicated. Re Groupon and offers - you would be hard pressed to buy a 2-liter soda at full retail price again. However, when you go to a bar or restaurant, you probably pay twice the retail price on your soda order. The key with any channel deal is to figure out how the company makes money and think through implications of running offers. Marketers and business owners need to be well versed in business strategy and not be seduced by the fast numbers.

Robert Cialdini's work has made a big impact on me; particularly around the concept of reciprocity. It's powerful.

Your post highlights how much effort is required to build a successful community and that's why it's tough for companies to grasp. It requires focused time - not just a quick campaign, and move on, but just as we want customers to engage with us, we have to do the hard work of engaging with them.

I also read this weekend about the downside of Groupon - how it could be fostering poor consumer behavior in terms of setting expectations that 50% should be the norm plus multiple uses of same coupon. I know has forced a couple of local restaurants out of business. While it may be great for building burst of traffic, it may be tough way to build longer term engagement. Perhaps there's an opportunity here that's not being tapped.

Great post and you've provided some other great links I'll have to read as well. One point you didn't bring up specifically is relevancy. I think it's inherent in "context" but often administrators bring the community together based on shared interest and then drift off into other subjects that render them irrelevant. It's like the women's book club that starts as a way to stretch the intellect but digresses into a gossip session. The group may all be close friends who've known each other for a long time, but eventually those who came for the literature will stop coming. I don't think we can talk about relevancy too much.

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