Remember that all relationships have a set of common factors. First, all relationships require listening. Listening has become core to everything. Second, in the best relationships, there is a lot of active communication and dialogue. This dialogue is essential to growth in the relationship.

A lot of listening can be added to your marketing plan by adding communities from your social media toolbox.

What is a Community?
A community is a group of people that have a shared interest. Communities can be 2-3 people or thousands, in person, electronic or both. Wikipedia, a community in and of itself, define community marketing as a strategy to engage an audience in an active, non-intrusive prospect and customer conversation. Communities are a big mega trend. Everyone wants to be part of a group. Development of online communities has afforded us an opportunity to observe people interacting with one another, expressing their own opinion, forming relationships, breaking relationships, be they with other consumers or with just friends or with companies themselves or with products or logos, people form relationships with everything

A couple of case studies:
1) Nintendo: Building Market Share through Customer Collaboration and Relationship. In the early 1990s, Nintendo’s share of the game console market was 61 percent, but by the mid-2000s, it had fallen to 22 percent.[i] To regain its leadership position, Nintendo needed to find new ways to delight gamers – and to bring gaming to new audiences.

To do that, Nintendo went straight to the source – gamers themselves. The company established an online community by offering incentives in return for customer information. The company also selected a group of experienced gamers based on the value and frequency of their community contributions. These “Sages” as they were named were given exclusive rewards, like previews of new games, in exchange for helping new users and providing community support.[ii]

Through this community, Nintendo has gained valuable insights into market needs and preferences. This has influenced everything from game offeringslike an online library of “nostalgic” games that appeal to older gamers—to new product design—for example, the intuitive controls of the popular Nintendo Wii system, which have helped attract new, casual gamers.[iii]

By leveraging the loyalty and expertise of its core customer segment, Nintendo has successfully connected with two new ones—women and older men. This collaboration seems to have paid off: Nintendo is once again ahead of its competitors, with 44 percent market share

[i] IBM analysis.[ii] “Nintendo Rewards Its Customers with New Loyalty Program.” Xbox Solution. December 11, 2003. [iii] “Casual Gamers Help Nintendo Wii Take Lead in 2008, says iSuppli.” Tekrati. February 14, 2008. [iv] “Worldwide Hardware Shipments.”, accessed March 27, 2008.

2) Harley DavidsonThe Harley community is a fascinating one to me. Harley has had a viral social community for 25 years since 1983. The Harley Owners Group was started by the company as a way for riders to share the bonds between them and with the brand. While beginning in the US, their first international group started in England in 1991 and that globalness has only grown and improved over time. They are both online and in person with a focus on in person meetings facilitated through events and the joy and passion of riding together and doing things together. All of the groups exist around surrounding brick and mortar dealerships. All HOG chapters are sponsored by a dealership. Not all dealers sponsor HOG chapters, but a HOG chapter can only exist if a dealer sponsors

Harley Davidson – An Amazing CommunityHarley’s focus and philosophy for the groups is about interactions and obsession. In contrast to some of the other communities I investigated where they were about media plans and creative plans to sell things, but not about the aspect of the effect on people. The result is an increase in sales, but it comes secondarily. Their groups foster rich and deep social interactions. The Harley Owner’s Group is probably the strongest social network of any company anywhere. We’ve got more than a million members across the world. The Harley Owner’s Group is probably the strongest first-hand social network of any company anywhere.

Let’s look at an example of a HOG member, Dan Powers. He joined the HOG community in 2003 when he got his new Harley 2003 Road King. When you buy a bike from Harley, they give you free membership to HOG for 1 year. Dan comments, “After that timeframe, it is apparent this is a community you want to be in every year and you sign up for your yearly membership.” You can also pay one price for a “Lifetime Membership!” A famous tag-line from American Express is membership has its privileges, in Harley’s case once you have experienced this community and you know membership is fun and you can’t imagine not being part of HOG going forward.

Many times at motorcycle rallies you see members proudly displaying their HOG patches on their jackets going back many, many years. Some have chosen to be Lifetime Members. This is a badge of honor and branding all in one! Along with patches and membership pins, HOG sends a travel guide and map that includes the location of all the dealers in the world. And one of the reasons many HOG members renew or become life members is the free towing to the nearest Harley-Davidson Dealer should a member get stranded somewhere. This service is similar to AAA for motorcycles. HOG also has a terrific member magazine – HOG Tales – complete with user submitted content and pictures of their journeys. Many Dealers also provide discounts for members of the local HOG chapters. While all of these rational benefits are powerful, it is arguably the social and emotional benefit of being in the community that provides the most value.

The online web site is amazing. They focus on what riders want and need like mapping of routes, sharing of those maps with other riders going on those routes. They also have a list of all riding events coming up for the year, including links to help ship your bike to the event, hotel arrangements you can make on line, and links to others organizing the events for more information

On the Harley Davidson main web site, it is hard to find a link to the HOG website. For one thing most Harley riders have already bookmarked it separately, or they click on “Riders” and find the site in addition to many other great Harley happenings. Also the HOG website is tightly integrated into the entire Harley Davidson website to associate Harley from a look/feel and experience perspective with the community. You are part of Harley, you are part of HOG, it is a seamless experience and a seamless community.

The HOG community is a great example of not getting caught up in the buzz word of a community. But combining the power of in person meetings with the web creates a powerful community.