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How Online Communities and Commerce Can Coexist

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Online communities don't always have to focus around age demographics, personality traits, or hobbies. Companies can also harness the power of online communities to increase their reputation as well as bottom line.

The web has created an unprecedented opportunity for consumers to openly discuss the products that fill their lives. From email to web sites to Usenet, there are millions of conversations on anything and everything you can buy, rent, or do. If you want to know what people have to say about that DVD player you're considering, or what movie to see this Friday night, or even where to get the best burrito in your home town, you can find it. Fast.

No wonder companies are scared.

But some companies have embraced the wild world of the web, and, in doing so, have created amazing communities. Informed consumers may be picky, but they can also be devoted customers, and sometimes all it takes is owning a product to bring a community together.

A Commercial Web Begets Commercial Communities

The notion of a community formed around commerce is heresy to community purists. Some believe that introducing commercialism into a community setting is like putting bleach in a tide pool. And, for some communities, they're right. A community founded around personal stories or intimate exchanges won't take kindly to an ad for your lemonade stand.

But what if your lemonade stand spawns a group of people who love your lemonade? Isn't it possible that they might have other things in common, too? And, if they're given the opportunity to communicate, your users may create a community themselves. In the end, it's not you who creates a community, it's your users.

Like it or not, the days of the anti-commercial web ended long ago. The web is now a part of everything, and communities form around people with like interests. Sometimes, those communities form around local organizations (like a church). Sometimes they form around an interest (say, golf) or a demographic (parents, teenagers, elderly). And sometimes they form around a product.

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