Web 2.0 represents a cultural shift towards communities and transparency, towards openness and collaboration. Our own business opened its doors only earlier this month, and while we’ve been working hard to build a great community, we have very little to say (yet) about how to best build one. So, rather than give you a lot of theoretical BS – I thought I’d talk instead about another company I’ve long admired that has build a truly outstanding community over the past five years. They started building a community long before Web 2.0 was a phrase, and long before the word “community” became a buzzword.
AV123 (www.av123.com) is an internet company that produces and sells unique products that help redefine how much one needs to spend in order to own great performing audio equipment (audio speakers, subwoofers, electronics, cables, furniture and accessories). AV123 was founded by Mark L. Schifter, a veteran of the consumer electronics industry, (he was one of the principals at Genesis and an important contributor to the legendary APM-1 speaker). Mark also founded Audio Alchemy and Perpetual Technologies, two very successful companies. I am a very happy owner of multiple products made and sold by AV123. They are outstanding, affordable products.
When Mark formed AV123, he was entering a market where the direct-to-consumer sales model was heavily criticized by the bigger audio companies. In breaking through all of the noise (including huge dollars spent on advertising by the market leaders), Mark established aforum for his customers – and for anyone else who wanted to participate in the discussions, to learn, and to meet people. I’ve been a member of that forum (and community) since 2002, and I’ve personally seen it grow into an outstanding community of people who share a common love for audio.
It’s not the largest forum in the world for audio – that title is left to others (such as avsforum, for example). However, the AV123 forum has 7,500 loyal members, half a million posts, and a very active user base. More importantly, because Mark was firmly committed to transparency, openness and collaboration, it has something very few forums on the internet have – a REAL community. Real people, real voices, real collaboration. Because Mark has been transparent with how he runs his company (example: he regularly posts product sketches for products that are being designed), the community has been very transparent in interactions among users. Members of the community have become friends. And from time to time, in a way that defies the faceless Internet culture – that community even comes together to meet (I’ve hosted a few such meets – a nice challenge when 100+ friends visit your house).
So why has AV123 succeeded in building an outstanding community while many others have failed? It started with Mark and his vision for openness and transparency. He not only talked about this privately, he posted about this publicly and made sure that every employee he hired shared that vision. Users quickly learned that they were part of something special, and a common bond around music quickly grew into common interests in other areas. It was fueled by the common respect users had for one another. I’ve always found it remarkable that a user could post a thread on the av123 forum asking for a fair comparison between an av123 product and a product made by a competitor, and receive an honest, thorough response. I’ve been a member on many forums, and can tell you that this is rare. Very rare.
The av123 forum is a very special place. It’s a great example for anyone is looking to build an online community, and I encourage you to take a look.
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