Companies today work in a highly competitive environment and getting an edge over the competitors is vital for its success. Traditionally, the tools used for doing that included marketing gimmicks like advertising, street shows, posters, T.V and radio commercials etc. Other things that could directly affect repeat customers are after sales support, warranty coverage period etc but if one of the most important factors that influence sales and repeat sales is word of mouth of the customers. This is one thing that is available free of cost for the company as an advertising medium that is so effective that it can even surpass the effectiveness of traditional advertising. Companies have realized this long ago and have always leveraged it for their profit. There are even some business models that have become successful and rely solely on this medium, for example the Direct Selling industry.

Now with the changing times, as more and more people have started going online for most of their day to day tasks and as online shopping is gaining popularity among general users, word of mouth marketing has found a new avatar for itself and all this takes place inside online communities and forums. Online communities are places where people come to share their idea and experiences with other users around the globe that have same areas of interests as them. Also, online communities are the places where people look out for support before going anywhere else. These online communities serve as a hub that connects people around the globe and help them immerse into deep discussions that sometimes results in exploration of great new things.

Now, since the experience is so engaging, there is obviously a chance for companies to leverage this for their own profit as well as for the benefit of their customers. First of all, setting up a community around a product or service provides the company cost benefits as it empowers word of mouth advertising scenarios over the internet, but apart from that, reduces the number of support calls for the company as most of the issues are resolved by the community experts. A company can support this process by organizing contests, centered on their products lines and/or giving out their products as prizes. Plus creating a panel of experts for the forum out of the users selected from it also provides a great boost to support system of the company, at negligible or no cost.

Apart from all this, traditional modes of advertising such as banner ads and link exchange programs can also be used on forums to leverage the direct monetary benefits out of it.

Internet offers a broad range of possibilities for individuals to express themselves to the world. These range from websites, web logs to online graffiti and of course, online forums and communities. All these together form the synergies of the new world of communications over the internet with innovative, new forms of interactivity, across the globe.

Online forums have played an important part in making the web's collaborative features popular as these provide people with common interests a platform to take part in discussions and share their ideas with the world. Online forums sometimes act like a discussion board, then on the other can also act as a support zone for a company’s website where customers can gather and get their problems solved by experts from companies as well as other users like them. Communities on the other hand, give people a way to get together in a different way, which looks like passive in nature but remains quiet active due to always happening user activities. Communities exist in many different shapes and sizes including social networking websites to presence services and online gaming communities etc.

Some of the most common online forums and communities on the internet as of now include YouTube, Dailymotion.com, Metacafe.com, Facebook, Orkut, Linked In, Twitter, ArsTechnica.com, Neowin.net, MSDN Forums, Thinkdigit.com forums, Microsoft TechNet forums, XDA Forums, Demanoid.com, Xbox Live community etc, to name a few. The fact is, these services account for at least 60% of the total internet bandwidth usage, and that is saying something. Broadly these services can be categorized into video sharing sites, gaming communities, social networking sites, mobile forums, file sharing communities, presence services, technology forums and blogs etc. But the underlying concept of all these is same, to let users of matching interest interact with each other in the way they want, anonymously if they like, from any part of the world.

Online gaming has also made popular another form of communities that work quiet differently from these but serve the same purpose. The advent of MMORPG games (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) has brought forward this change. Games such as Second Life and Warcraft have become so much popular due to their collaborative nature and the element of global collaborating community based efforts that it becomes impossible for one to get out of it once they are in. Users of these games collaborate using the forums, chat and social networking communities forming a type of virtual global colony.