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A Community of One's Own Why social CRM may make more sense than Facebook

By Mikal E. Belicove

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

While the herd mentality drives many entrepreneurs to stake their claims in the Facebook community, it is important to consider whether it makes sense to build your own customer community--independent of Facebook and integrated with your company's website and customer relationship management system.

Online community software and services

Building your own customer community is not cost prohibitive, and plenty of tools and services are available to help companies large and small get started. Check out the following platforms:

. Lithium
. Ning
. Jive SBS
. BuddyPress
. Liveworld
. Leverage Software
. KickApps
. Pluck
. BlueKiwi

Yes, Facebook represents a huge potential market and offers several free community-building features, including Groups, Fan Pages, Targeted Advertising and Facebook Connect. But relying solely on Facebook or other third-party social networking platforms for community building and word-of-mouth could be a mistake. After all, you don't own Facebook. What's free today may not be free tomorrow. And everything you build on Facebook stays on Facebook, drawing traffic there instead of to your website.

Launching your own online community initiative offers several potential advantages that may help you attain your customer-engagement goals more efficiently while providing you with more control over the community you build, as well as a better way of establishing and tracking ROI:

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