Virtual communities offer lots of exciting opportunities not only for companies with products to sell but also for charitable, voluntary and government sites who are looking to enthuse and excite people about their goals and vision. Since virtual communities are a multi-disciplinary concept, their benefits can also be viewed from various perspectives, which are not mutually exclusive. The benefits from the various perspectives are as follows.
a) Technology perspective: Virtual communities enhance communication by providing ubiquitous cheap (mostly free) and fast communication. Virtual communities provide file sharing, public access services, voice chat facilities, audio/video conferencing and virtual reality experiences (e.g. Activeworlds' chat).
b) Business perspective: Virtual community can help establish a leading brand, increase barriers to entry by developing critical mass, raise interest among customers for available products and services help business benefit from word-of-mouth experiences and become advertising, sales & distribution vehicle thus allowing the organizations to develop a more responsive CRM strategy.
c) E-commerce perspective: Trust is an important factor for e-commerce to take place.
Virtual communities have trust building capabilities and hence can be a good tool for e-commerce. Members engender trust through ongoing interactions in the virtual community.
d) Marketing perspective: Virtual communities offer member-customers reduced search costs, access to a broad range of information from fellow customers, economic benefits like special price, customized offers and better services. A sponsor benefits from reduced search costs, access to target group with known preferences and a global reach. Marketers can understand each member-customer as an individual in addressing promotional messages, provide all related services at a single point and make virtual community a new marketing channel for the consumers. Consumer-goods companies can enhance their brand through virtual communities. Virtual communities can extend customer relationships, support a virtual workforce, aid information management and act as an engine for thought...