I read a very interesting book about these issues, "Marketing to the social web", written by Larry Weber, which has a very interesting subtitle: How digital customer communities build your business.
This book has lots of ideas to build, strength and evaluate these communities, but above all, I liked the process he defines to create a community. This process is based on 7 steps:
Step 1. Observe and create a customer map
Marketing is about observation, listening to customers, so...Let´s do it. Which communities are around your business?. What they are talking about?. "No matter what your size, there are digital conversations about you". Create a customer map. Even employees can be customers. Customer communities are not limited to the the folks who buy from you.
2. Recruit community members
Identify those guys who will want (desire?) to talk with you and what about: About your products?. Your brand?. Experiences?. Of course, consider the product or service you have. Low-involvement products make harder the recruitment than if you have a high-involvement product or service (look at Obama´s example). So everything is about "recruiting people to the site in the first place and keeping them engaged once you get them there".
3. Evaluate Online conduit strategies
Which is your plan to reach your target audiences?. Check your marketing notes, and put it in practice. Afterwards, choose among the big four conduit strategies: Reputation aggregators, blogging, e-communities and social networks.
4. Engage communities in conversation
"Approach this step as if you were writing a marketing plan with the target audience of customers and potential customers in mind". Social marketing (and branding) is about the dialogue the company has with its customers and potential customers and it includes BOTH the conversations you have with your customers AND (this is important) the exchanges your customers have with one another.
"...Today, however, because of the Internet, you have to think of customers as transmitters of your brand conversation. They´re already having conversations with one another about your products, anyway (...). It´s up to you to ensure that your organization participates in that conversation...".
5. Measure the community involvement
Yes, community marketing is, also, about measuring. But, first, establish your marketing goals and, afterwards, define the metrics you´ll use (mainly, qualitative metrics). For example, share of voice.
6. Promote your community to the world
The author propose a real example with Gap, and focuses on the use of search enginees.
7. Improve the community benefits
Listen, talk and improve. Above all, "listen to your users and respond to them" and "be alert to new innovationsand test them againstthe value you want to provide".
You can find more ideas in the book, like how to use the four conduit strategies I mentioned or different examples on the steps I referred.
And I wonder, what about customers communities in btob marketing?. It seems that these ideas are being applied only (or mainly) in consumer marketing, with high-involvement products. Is that true?. What can we do?.