I’m in love…with the social networking platform I’ve been a member of online communities built on this platform (like SWOM), but now I appreciate how easy this platform really is to use. And it’s cheap. (Free, actually, if you are willing to let it include ads.)

Yesterday I created an online network for a local school–for parents and teachers–in 15-20 minutes. Really! You pick which modules you want: forums, event calendar, videos, photo gallery, and other content, and pick their location on the page. Next, choose a color and font, and presto you have a cool online community. Yes, you then have to get folks to the site, but that is always the case. I even thought of blowing up my own consulting website and just using a Ning site. I love it that much.

Plus, I love Ning because of the customer communities you can build on it. Why not create a place to listen to and engage with customers? It works for Starbucks (the customer community element).

Here’s an idea: invite your top customers to join an online community you’ve built. You can then interact with them, pose questions in the forum area for discussion and get all kinds of feedback. Plus, you can encourage them to connect with each other. There is often value in that–customers connecting with each other.

Check out and have fun building and talking to your customers.