In this social media age, everyone in your company should become a marketer. Like many companies before you, you should empower all your employees to interact with friends, customers, prospects and detractors. Going above and beyond that, let them set up communities within and outside your company’s firewall, about any topic and with whomever they want to hang out with. Many very large (and successful) companies like IBM, Best Buy and Cisco have done it before you – with real success and with very little downside.
Now, as you are harnessing the power of communities, realize that you may have a new asset on your hands – one that some companies have become pretty successful at harnessing, and one which is similar to that of media companies. You now have an audience that others might want to have access to – and that is worth something. Think of Virgin America, which was able to fund the launch of a new hub city through a paid media partnership with HBO. Or think of American Express, with its Open Forum, a community for small businesses, where they are now selling sponsorships on specific sections of their community to partners.
It goes without saying that you should first and foremost think about the value that you will provide to your community members through a partnership. Break the trust they have in you by spamming them and they will leave in droves – leaving you with no asset nor the value that the community was bringing you in the first place.