Online social networking is making an impact. Is it just social or can it be used as an effective business tool? Can it be used to inform customers, improve a brand, or build loyalty? For years now, MySpace and Facebook have popularized social networking with it’s simple purpose of socializing; connecting with friends, chatting, keeping up-to-date, sharing pictures, and other typical social activities. As we start to experience its wide use, we can see that these networks are not only about simply socializing but more about building communities. We all know what it means to be part of a community, to be a part of a church, temple, PTA club, bridge club, etc. These are all examples of communities that bring people together with a common interest, a common purpose.

An online community is no different, with one major exception – there is no limit on its size, reach, and speed with which it can grow. Maybe you want to build a small online community, e.g. ‘How can we keep our street clean and safe?’, inviting only those people that live on your street. Or maybe you want to build a community that goes beyond your street and includes other streets, communities, and cities, ‘How can we keep our streets clean and safe?’. The choice is up to you. Barak Obama built a social network that reached out to every community, city, and state across the United States and other parts of the world, not just his normal democratic-centric districts. And how did he accomplish this? Largely through the campaign’s creative use of online social networking (see the following articles - http://tinyurl.com/656z48 and http://tinyurl.com/5r3exw). Do you think Barak’s use of social networking had an impact?

Building an online community gives you the opportunity to share your cause or interest with others – quickly and virally. Two weeks ago, snowed-in on Saturday night with nothing much to do, a simple twitter message mobilized a large group of people to go out the next day to distribute warm clothes and food to the homeless of downtown Vancouver. The “tweeters” now have a common cause they call TweetupHeatup and will spread the movement to other cities. “We didn’t expect this turnout at all. The power of Twitter and social media is so impressive — you can reach out to people you don’t even know and do amazing things.” (http://tinyurl.com/7w2y7f)

A social network or an online community can have a similar impact on your business. Retailers are already starting to understand its potential impact. We can see retailers creating specialized groups and content on Facebook, attracting thousands of fans and followers. Notable recent examples include JC Penney’s “Beware of the Dog House” interactive video campaign where women nominated men who could only get out by clicking on the site’s jewelry store. The concept was clearly entertaining having been viewed on YouTube over a million times. Victoria’s Secret is instilling team spirit within its’ college student followers by having them compete against other colleges in donating their used sweats to the needy. The prize will be having their college’s logo printed on a line of clothing which the students can then buy to replace what they’ve given away…. Genius! http://tinyurl.com/464vlt

Remember that online social networking is a community that it is designed as a two way street. You can provide information, share new ideas, designs, and promotions but the key is that your fans have to feel that they are part of your community. They need to have a voice and you must be prepared to react to what they are saying. Start an online community today. Share your raison d’être, your passion, and a community with similar interests and passions will respond.