For the first time since I started my analyst role at Forrester in 2011, community conversations have surpassed social media conversations during my client meetings. Online communities and social networks have been around for many years, so why are communities such a "hot" topic among marketers? These days it is rare to find a company who has not either launched their own customer community, published a fan page on Facebook, or created a business profile on LinkedIn. These tactics are not new, so why the increased interest? I believe that marketers are finally beginning to absorb the fact that their perpetually connected customers frequently tap into online communities. Their customers frequent communities at each stage of their customer life cycle to gather information and connect with others. Today, marketers know that they can use online communities to reach, deepen engagement, and establish relationships with customers. In addition, marketers have a stronger case to increase investment in their community strategies since there is growing evidence that deploying a customer community can lead to positive ROI through support call deflection, increased leads, and stronger engagement with brand advocates. 

Unfortunately, marketers tend to get a case of irrational exuberance when they find an effective social marketing tactic. Just deploy your own branded community and in no time, you will have thousands of enthusiastic, energized, and interactive members! Publish a fan page on a public social network and before you know it,  you will have happily engaged customers who will be your greatest brand advocates! As writer Samuel Johnson once said, "what is easy is seldom excellent." I find that one of the top reasons communities fail is because the company underestimates the headcount and resources required to maintain community health over the long term. In some cases, and especially with brand pages on social networks, the company launches it and walks away. There is an expectation that customers and fans will be self-motivated to post comments and carry on discussions with minimal company interaction. In the case of communities, you will only get out of it what you put into it. To build a successful community, you need the right mix of people, processes, and technology. You need dedicated employees whose No. 1 job is to sustain member interactions and maintain the community's health. These are the true community "heroes" every organization needs for community success.

I look forward to speaking in more detail on how you can organize for community success at Forrester's Marketing Leadership Forum in LA, April 18-19. Or join my colleagues in London at theMarketing Leadership Forum EMEA, May 21-22 to learn more about creating brand advantage with perpetually connected customers.