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  1. About This Series
  2. Community: A Powerful Force on the Net
  3. Building Your Community
  4. A Checklist
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Community: A Powerful Force on the Net

Community participation goes back to the very beginnings of the Internet. Bulletin boards evolved into discussion forums and eventually into USENET. Over the years, the opportunities for Net user interaction have increased dramatically, now including such tools as discussion boards, live chat, real-time polls, moderated discussion lists, personalized reviews (like those first produced by Amazon.com and then imitated by others), instant messaging, and a new kid on the community block: the weblog, or simply blog.

The Internet has the ability to bring together like-minded individuals for discussion on a wide assortment of eclectic subjects offering a broad range of views in a variety of ways. No other medium up to now has allowed this scope of communication. These "community waterholes" provide a platform for expressing intense passions and loyalties. Let's face it—people love to talk, and love even more to express their opinions. Understanding this fact is important to any organization wanting to take the pulse of its users: Just give an audience a forum to talk about a topic, a way to find you, and a relatively painless user interface, and you'll watch a community grow.

Offering a community experience on your web site is not just altruistic. Adding community elements to your e-business strategy can be a key driver in users making a purchasing decision or taking an action that results in meeting your organization's objectives. What is this key driver? Word of mouth: hearing from other users—not from your organization—why a new user should buy from you or join your organization.

Of course, word of mouth is nothing new. Businesses have tried to use this strategy since the dawn of marketing. What's new is the opportunity of generating word of mouth—both good and bad—using the Internet. As interactivity on the Net has matured, opportunities for word-of-mouth marketing have grown. It's the responsibility of your IT department to be aware of the different interactive community tools and to make them available to your marketing department.

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