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“Social media marketing” is one of those catchphrases that sets off every right-thinking person’s jargon alarm, but the concept of engaging customers directly and interactively is becoming increasingly important to brand survival. Dave Carter, founder and chief technology officer of a marketing company called Awareness, says the strategy may even benefit from the economic downturn, since it’s faster, cheaper and more engaging than a traditional ad campaign. Now, Awareness wants to make social media campaigns more flexible and faster to deploy with templates called “Best Practice Communities.”

Basically, rather than offering a standard social networking website, or building a site from scratch, Waltham, Mass.-based Awareness has created eight templates that reflect the varying goals of community sites. I like the way these templates cover a real gamut of options. You’ve probably seen sites that offer some combination of these features, but the point is to standardize them, and to create out-of-the-box products that need only slight tweaking and branding before they’re ready to launch. The templates include:

Corporate Voice Community: Facilitate a dialog with your audience in a personal, “humanized” voice that builds trust through ongoing conversation.

User-Generated Content/Microsite Campaign: Build demand for your products and services through a contest or other viral marketing program and encourage interaction among users through content submission and voting on the submissions of others.

Enthusiasts Community: Increase brand awareness by stimulating a common passion in your audience while encouraging members to share thoughts and ideas.

Associations/Subscribers Community: Increase customer satisfaction through an exclusive, “velvet-rope” community for customers, association members or subscribers.

Loyalty Community: Enhance customer loyalty by communicating with and rewarding your top customers.

Innovation Community: Generate new product ideas by encouraging customers to share ideas and knowledge. Provide a forum to rate customer ideas for product and service enhancements in order to confirm or modify current product plans, and turn potentially negative feedback into constructive criticism.

Peer Support Community: Reduce customer service and support costs by providing a vehicle for community members to solve others’ problems.

Event Community: Build and maintain buzz leading up to and following an event.

Awareness has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Greylock Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners, and its customers include McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, Kodak, Hershey’s and Sony. (You can see Sony’s “corporate voice’ page below.) Competitors include Jive Software, Get Satisfaction, and Salesforce.com.

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