Which came first, the customer or the community?

Sounds like a simple chicken versus egg problem, isn’t it?  But in fact, this is a very deep question.  How you answer reveals the “soul” of your business.  Consider:

I Want to Build a Community for My Customers

If you think this way, you’re a traditionalist.  You think of your business/organization as the center or hub of activities.  You like the idea of the community and have probably read (seen?) how some brands have strong communities around them.  You’d like to do the same and build a community for those customers so they can interact with each other, give you feedback, and (hopefully) promote your brand.

99% of organizations probably think and act like this.  But there is another way…

I and My Customers are Part of a Larger Community

Most successful organizations serve existing market needs, not invent new ones.  People with those needs already form communities.  The new online social world has merely brought them out into the open.  These people are also highly vocal about what their needs.

The successful organizations of the future are the ones that tap into existing communities to meet their needs.  To do so, they must let go of themselves, be part of the larger community, and listen.

This second approach is exactly how Open Source Strategies came into being, by the way.  But enough about us.  What about you — what kind of a business are you?