By Jennifer James

First rule of marketing: In order to communicate with your audience you have to know where they are. Where are they? The Internet. Where exactly on the Internet? In communities.

Things have changed and the Internet is responsible. Companies can no longer control a story in the media from beginning to end. Internet communities can create their own messages (or give legs to information) and those messages – both good and bad – can spread faster than smooth peanut butter on warm toast.

First rule of marketing on the Internet: Companies must acknowledge the strength of Internet communities and then get involved in those communities – just ask Barbra Streisand.

In 2003 Barbra Streisand sued a photographer from The California Coastline Records Project for US$50 million in an attempt to get photos of her home removed from the public web site. As a result of the lawsuit, the photos, which probably would have been virtually ignored, became a must-see on the Internet and were passed from inbox to inbox and from blogger to blogger.

The result: The Streisand Effect – a term used when an attempt to control (through censorship) a message backfires and the information ends up becoming wildly popular on the Internet.

Last month’s leak of a Church of Scientology recruitment video featuring Tom Cruise is a great example of the Streisand Effect and further proves the power of Internet communities. The video was posted on several high profile web sites to the (public) dismay of The Church of Scientology. The sites were asked to take the video down. Some obeyed. Some didn’t and generated a huge amount of media buzz! A classic ‘Slay the dragon and two heads grow back’ situation.

Ignoring the power of Internet communities is risky business. Ask Tom and Barbra. What should have Tom and Babs done? They should have known where their audiences were on the Internet. Fan clubs. Forums. Social networking sites. They should have reached out to their champions. They could have used the viral power of the web to get their message out there. They would have rallied their Internet communities. Should have. Could have. Would have.

Want to learn more about where your audience is on the web? Let us help! Contact market2world today.

(Jennifer James is a Communications Strategist with market2world communications inc., Canada's Web 2.0 tech PR and product launch agency.)