For a Retailer, embracing communities can help build better services and boost customer loyalty. Through online communities, customers can participate in defining new features and services. They can also be the source of real-time feedback to help change the way the business works. Customers are a bigger source of innovative ideas than R&D and can help organizations become more competitive and customer-centric. I love the way that Starbucks and Dell jumped into building online communities to tap into the collective wisdom of their customers.
Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server 2007 provides a lot of the functionality required for building Online Communities:
- My Sites: My Site serves as a point of contact for other users to find information about you and your skills and interests: its your personal profile page akin to your facebook profile. Users can discover other users with similar interests through their My Site metadata. They can also create and display their networks and groups.
- Communication and Collaboration: Sharepoint provides discussion groups for enabling communication among its members and also allows for enabling team collaboration using workspaces. Built in survey templates enable users to quickly create surveys and collect information from other members. Wikis enable members to collaboratively create content.
- Knowledge capture and sharing: Blogs and wikis provide ways to quickly share information on a site, without requiring advanced tools or expertise. They are often easier for people to update than a formal document or traditional Web site. Blogs can be created on a Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 site by using simple formatting tools that are available in Web browsers that support ActiveX controls, such as Windows Internet Explorer. You can also use some common authoring tools, such as Microsoft Office Word 2007. The Wiki feature in Sharepoint enables users to collect team knowledge, plan events, or work on projects together. People can easily add new content or edit existing content.
- RSS Feeds: Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a way for you to publish and receive news, blogs, and other information from a site easily. Sharepoint supports RSS 2.0 so you can share and receive information about content on a SharePoint site.
Retailers can also create Social Sites where fans of a product or service can get together (these could be fan sites that are highlight specific products/services like in the case of Harley Davidson Ride Planner. Other Examples: IKEA. Another approach that a lot of retailers are taking is to set up a Fan site on Facebook.
Newsgator has some power extensions to Sharepoint for setting up external communities. See details of the Newsgator solution here: http://www.newsgatoronline.com/solutions/external-communities.aspx