Starbucks has a community Web site that looks a lot like the future direction of all corporate (and legal) Web sites. Though it gets criticism for being too unfocused, “a slush pile for customer generated ideas,” they are definitely taking the best that Web 2.0 has to offer seriously and trying to build buzz around their offerings.

But, the real news is that there is an unofficial Starbucks site, Starbucks V2, which is a networking site that promotes volunteerism with customers and employees. It can only be accessed by invitation, so you can’t see what’s going on, but you can get an idea from their landing page. According to John Moore, Brand Autopsy Blog, on Starbucks V2 participants have profile pages, which makes the V2 more personal than the official Starbucks community site, and on V2 you can post a cause, event or activity and have others join you. It’s very community focused and very international. It actually began in Brazil. Starbucks also has an alumni site on the drawing board. And it will probably be successful as they have evidence that their constituency is already active in online communities. And that is the rub when considering 2.0 for your law firm. Law firms and their constituencies may not be the most forward thinking when jumping into new technology, (e.g. Web 2.0) but perhaps they should not be too quick to write it off either.

I have found a number of corporate sponsored philanthropic communities online in recent months. (Yokohama (the tire company) sponsors a site that is an environmentally focused site.) Typically law firms are very generous with their contributions and non-profit involvement as it is viewed as marketing and public relations tactics in many cases. So, this “for a cause” approach to Web 2.0 may be a valid entry point for law firms to experiment, draw in new friends and maybe drive some new business. The cost of entry is not all that expensive, but there are a few things that need to be in place to make it successful. You need to ascertain that your audience (or some of it) is participating in the social web to some degree. You need to set realistic expectations and invest accordingly. You need to care for it and nurture it. Online communities are not just build it and they will come sort of tools.

What do you think? I think an online community with a cause could differentiate your firm, build search engine attention, and oh, yes, build a community of support around your favorite cause or non-profit causing it to raise its profile and funding.

Have you or your law firm considered an online community in your charitable program? Do you know of any? Do you participate in an online community that has a charitable focus?