It is a fact that online communities are here to stay. Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, Orkut ...these have become more than what yahoo groups had aspired to be a decade ago. They have become windows into various aspects of everyone's life. The real issue for firms is how can they manage the evolution of such communities to their advantage. Can they leverage the formation of such communities to strengthen their brands? Speed up product adoption? Better advertise?
One essential step that many firms have taken to better understand such communities is the creation of a new role, "Community Evangelist". Read an interesting post by Mario Sundar here. Mario Sundar of Linkedin, Lionel Menchaca of Dell are examples of a few famous bloggers who have become the icons of a new age of blogging. Community evangelism aims to inform and perhaps shepherd the communities towards a state of positive predisposition towards the brand. I also see a much bigger role in the technology sector wherein such individuals can have a bigger impact on product adoption and creation of expectations for the future.
The real satisfaction for me as a researcher watching such initiatives by firms is the legitimacy of this emerging phenomenon. My interest lies in unearthing the mechanics of social communities and what that implies to businesses.