Recently, GovDataDownload, an online community focusing on data management solutions for public sector organizations, spoke with Amy Lewis, Director of Influence Marketing at NetApp, about the often underestimated role of community building in marketing.  Amy brings a fresh perspective to marketing that shifts the focus from ‘the sell’ to relationship building. She also speaks to the importance of tailoring communities to their audience – there is no one-size-fits-all.  Read the whole conversation between GovDataDownload and Amy here:

GovDataDownload (GDD): Amy, thanks for chatting with us, can you tell us about your role at NetApp?

Amy Lewis: (AL): I’m Director of Influence Marketing at NetApp.  Contrary to what many people think I’m not in charge of the Twitter account, although social media presence is part of influence marketing. What I do is draw all the different threads of influence together to build a community of advocates.

GDD: You’ve worked at some very large companies and in the startup world, what are some of the differences in building customer communities?

AL: I’ve been fortunate to work for both established companies and startups. The thing that remains the same is that people are people are people no matter what the size of the company. While the scale and resources might be different, the goal of creating a customer community is the same.  If you attempt to build a community just by talking about your company, or yourself, all the time there’s little possibility that you’ll be successful.

GDD: Why is community building such an important part of marketing?

AL: Communities are such an important part of a company today. Technology companies have moved away from advertising-driven marketing to focus on community building. If you think about how we act as consumers, we never buy anything in isolation; we rely on our communities to make recommendations. That type of interaction has become part of the decision making process for businesses. Successful organizations are the ones that listen to their customers and build authentic communities.

GDD: What are some of your favorite tools or events for building authentic community?

AL: There’s a standard set of tools that are part of marketing in the era of social but when vendors come en masse with social messages it can be overwhelming and lacks authenticity.

To be successful, you have to know why you’re building a community. At Cisco I was looking to give a huge company a human face; at SolidFire I was building a community of advocates to help us punch above our weight, and at NetApp I’m inviting customers to be part of a major transformation.   Being aware of your motivation makes it easier to identify the tools and platforms that will best communicate the message.

However, my favorite thing is to bring the quirky.  Sharing a bit of yourself gets people talking.  I’ve done bacon-based events, which, even if you don’t eat bacon, gets people talking quickly and ‘Whiteboard-Offs,’ which are like dance-offs, but for engineers.  Whatever the tactics the guiding principles are the same: know your why, be genuine, and listen to your customers.

GDD: Tell us something about yourself that we can’t learn from your social media presence? 

AL: As your basic introvert, I feel over-exposed on social media!  From my Twitter profile write-up you’ll see that I’m a podcast host for The Geek Whisperers and Speaking in Tech as well as the creator of Popup Tech Talks.  If you read my Twitter profile you’ll see I like futbol. It’s a recent addition to my life and I’ve embraced it whole-heartedly.  I’m not just watching matches but I’m the coach of my eldest daughter’s team. True to my geek roots, you’ll find me watching matches and sketching out plays for next week’s practice.

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