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Community building — branding, networked media and open sourcing

Famed social ecologist and the “father of modern management,” Peter Drucker once advised that the only purpose of a business is to create customers. That type of thinking lead companies to conduct marketing research, determine who their customers are and what their customer want to hear. They created positioning platforms, messaging, advertising— the whole nine yards— in an effort to create customers. For the second half of the 20th century, that model kicked ass. At least for the advertising and marketing firms who did it well. Or could convince their clients they did it well.Today’s world is different. Duh. Customers are in control. They don’t believe authoritative voices. They don’t trust their messages. They no longer trust the media such companies employ. They don’t have to; they now connect to more authentic voices that they trust via the internet and other social media. It’s second nature.

The broad and rapidly growing consumer preference for networked media means that traditional advertising is now suspect.  The media of advertising comes with an underlying meaning— an agreed upon contract that the advertiser may bullshit you if that helps them make a sale.  That’s the meaning. We all know it. The medium is the message.

So what’s a company to do? Branding is about building credibility. About establishing and scaling your reputation. So, why use social or networked media— such trendy media— to build brand?

Networked media isn’t important because it’s trendy. It’s important because it creates customer-driven innovation. It creates brand evangelists. It can help build a collaborative internal culture and engaged work force. It demands authenticity— especially in the form of customer experience.

So can Twitter really save brands that don’t provide good experiences? That’s the question asked by Fast Company blogger Rupa Chaturvedi, who cautions companies against relying on social media to influence customer behavior when the brand doesn’t live up to the hype they’re trying to create.

These networks can be a highly effective way to build your brand externally. But there’s a catch. It only works when the messages are true. You know they’re true when they’re open. And transparent. And valuable. You know they’re successful when the network grows organically.

But Twitter, Facebook, etc. are the media. They are not the strategy. The strategy is community building. Community building is the ‘new’ marketing.

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