Giving Customers A Voice And Sense Of Community

In my previous post about, I mentioned how Craig Newmark’s dedication to giving people a voice and sense of community is a huge factor in the success of his company. I’ve really been digging (Does anyone use this word anymore?) this philosophy ever since, and just recently reacquainted myself with and who have been finding similar success through customer empowerment.

Say It With A Thong

CafepressCafepress has been enjoying its success through the sale of personalized merchandise since 1999. The cool thing about Cafepress is that you can setup shop with no actual investment of your own. In a few minutes you can have your own retail store without having to rent a building, buy products, stock merchandise, hire employees, et cetera; and you even have the ability to adjust profit margins. Imagine that, you can create and own a business while watching vintage Black Adder episodes from the comfort of your own home! Of course creating and selling your merchandise is up to you, and reporting your income to the IRS might be a good idea (supposedly, some Cafepress shop owners earn six figure incomes from all the stuff they sell).

There are a few drawbacks, one of the biggest being the fact that you’re outsourcing all your ideas for Cafepress to implement and produce, so quality control is no longer in your hands. From my understanding, the quality of the end product is okay but nothing to rave about (they had an issue with printing on black t-shirts, but that seems to have been corrected). And if you’re really serious about making high quality t-shirts, you can forget about having any custom features like sewn in woven labels, vendor tags cutout, special silk-screening, et cetera. In the end, if high quality is of concern, you’re better off paying a little more and going with an exclusive manufacturer. Still, Cafepress is free and just a few mouse clicks away from creating your own custom apparel, stamps, CD’s, and even books.

I Need MySpace

MySpaceI was first introduced to MySpace last summer and I must say that it completely blew out of the water. Of course, I was too lazy to setup another profile so I never actually joined MySpace. Yet I’m pretty sure that with 180,000 new members each day, they’re not missing me. And so far, they’ve outpaced Friendster with 2 x times the traffic of Google and 54 million registered users compared to Friendster’s 24 million.

So how did they do it? Basically, they’ve offered every feature under the sun from fully customizable profiles to blogs and forums (banner ads are not customizable). And they have even managed to integrate not so new services like online invitations, classmate searches, online games, professor reviews, ‘hotness’ ratings, music fan sites, et cetera. In the end, you’re left with a self-sustaining web community where the sky is pretty much the limit when it comes to showing off your style and individuality. Again, there are drawbacks since banner ads are customary, you will always get your share of perverts and idiots on the site and you never quite know what the new owners (News Corp) have in store.

So how do you give your customers a voice and sense of community?

Well, I’m not completely sure that it is always possible to take the Craigslist, Cafepress, or MySpace approach, yet I think it’s worth the time to try and figure something out. At the very least, you’ve thought about your customer’s wants and needs. I jokingly asked the love of my life and her sister how they would empower their customers if they were taco vendors. They responded by stating that they would create a taco of the month in honor of a loyal customer according to his/her specifications. We had a good laugh, but it wasn’t a bad idea.

The Closet Entrepreneur

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