Online Communities; Getting Customers to Talk. Better Products & More…

Do you know the feeling of going to a trade show and being able to spend time with a group of customers and hear their good and bad thoughts about your product. To hear how they’ve used it in ways you didn’t think of. Or hear how they bought it and returned it the next day. Imagine doing this online?
Building an online community is a way to help you and your customers connect around a common theme. It’s a way not just for your customers to chat online but to build an intellectually productive discussion – for them to talk, you to listen and for you to talk and them to listen.
Business Week writes By teaming up with Communispace Corp., a startup that hosts private online communities, a growing group of companies such as Glaxo, Kraft (KFT ), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ ), and Coty is learning how to use the Web to harness customer input. “When you can get customers to bond around a common set of issues, the quality of the information they give you is so much more accurate and authentic,” says Patricia B. Seybold, chief executive officer of market researcher Patricia Seybold Group Inc., who studied the Communispace groups for an upcoming book.
The key is to create real bonds among community members through individual and group activities. Communispace recruits members of select groups through e-mail ads, whether it’s 18- to 24-year- olds for Coty Inc. or photo fans for Hewlett-Packard Co. Members are asked to spend about half an hour each week on five activities, such as uploading pictures of their pantries. In return, they get $10 gift certificates, sample products, and a chance to have their opinions heard. Communispace moderates the communities, but company marketers and researchers can monitor the activities and jump into discussions.