Nevertheless, we now realize that no whole, be it a family, a business, a community, or a nation, can be managed without looking inward to the lesser wholes that combine to form it, and outward to the greater wholes of which it is a member.”
Allan Savory, from “Holistic Management”
Need a Community? You Have (at least) One
After 15 years of designing and activating online communities, I’m still surprised when I hear from a potential client that they “need to create” an online community. Wether you realize it or not, you have and belong to many communities. Further, you intentionally or unintentionally play many roles within those communities – host, member, participant, advocate, creator, and at times, possibly even destroyer. You may be asking yourself “so, what is a community? How do I know where my community is? How do I define community?” Though typical, those are the wrong questions to start with.
Context is King
The word “community” is problematic. It can have as many meanings as there are people in an organization to make meaning, ranging from the local geographical community, to a peer to peer technical support community, a social media page or a working group focused on solving a specific problem. I’ve held conferences where the question of a canonical definition of community was debated by some of the smartest people I know in the industry, and the question was left unanswered. Why? Two reasons: 1.) a helpful answer must be developed in the strategic context of the host organization and their extended network and 2.) community as a metaphor is often too specific and limiting – why we often see communities as a solution looking for a problem.
To expand on the Savory quote at the beginning of this post, to fully understand the potential for communities in your organization, you have to understand the actual smaller and discrete communities that make up your organization (employees, partners, alumni) , and the larger communities that your organization is a part of (industries, markets, causes, etc.). The “whole”, if you will, is really a network. Increasingly, I find starting a strategy conversation with “community” can be burdensome, and that “network” is a more helpful (and neutral) place to start.
Network as a Rubric
Why “Network”? Network, defined as “a group or system of interconnected people or things” describes a set of connected entities but does not imply or assign activities, relationships or outcomes the way “community” seems to. Using network as a blank canvas allows you to create strategy from drawing from the largest possible pool of value. Thinking “Network” means you are considering the full set of relationships among stakeholders, assets, and increasingly, artificial intelligence actors that could potentially be developed. From the baseline of network, a more holistic strategy can be created that is inclusive of community, social, and digital innovation.
As an example of Network Thinking, I developed the graph below as part of an exercises to inventory and explore opportunities for stakeholder groups allowing access to assets in an online marketplace.
The Future of Networks
“What is true for the machines all around us now is true for us too: We are what we are connected to. And mastery of that connection turns out to be the modern version of Napoleon’s coup d’oeil, the essential skill of the age.”
Joshua Cooper Ramo, The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks
One of the best books I’ve read recently is The Seventh Sense” by Joshua Cooper Ramos. In the book, Ramos describes the role of networks in the age of massive disruption that we are beginning to live through – on par with the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment. Ramos goes on to evangelize the need to develop a “Seventh Sense”, the ability “to look at any object and see the way in which it is changed by connection” in order to survive and thrive amidst the change. Ramos, along with recent books by Reid Hoffman and great thinking by the team at a16z represent some of the most helpful and cogent thinking on networks and network effects.
I believe we need a new and more holistic approach to develop modern communities – communities that are a significant evolution of the current support and Q&A-based silos. In my own practice I’ve begun to refer to the skills and methodologies for designing modern social networks and communities as “Network Thinking”, and I’ve begun to tag related research and writing as #FoN, or “Future of Networks”. To stay up to date, subscribe to my newsletter here.
I’m currently working with a select list of clients to build modern community and network strategies. If you would like to schedule some time to talk about how I can help, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many organizations are struggling to understand and respond to the changes being driven by the Collaborative (some say On Demand or Sharing) Economy. A simple way to get started is to think about 1) what assets you have to offer and 2) how digital networks enable distribution, usage of and collaboration with those assets. This process is another element of a concept I am calling “Network Thinking”.
I’ve developed a short exercise to help organizations think through ideas, threats and opportunities, and develop a simple plan to start pilot programs. When I facilitate this exercise at workshops and events it is designed to take 45 minutes. using time as a constraint and forcing function. I typically do a quick briefing on communities and the collaborative economy before running the exercise. If you need inspiration, I’ve added a video of a recent talk at the end of this post.
Page 1: Synthesis, Threats, Opportunities & Inventory
Synthesis – 5 min
Quickly list ideas about the Collaborative / On Demand / Sharing Economy that resonate, inspire and challenge you.
Disruptive Threats – 5 min
Think through and list the disruptive threats to your business. Startups that are emerging and offering your product or service at a discount, a privileged position in a market that is eroding, etc.
Transformational Opportunities – 5 min
Explore and list the transformational opportunities at hand, as you currently understand them. This could be a new line of business enabled by digital technologies, replacing your current distribution channel with one that is based on customers or online.
Inventory – 10 min
Explore and list all assets available to you. Consider any tangible asset, including office space, IP, product archives, talent, supply chain, customer talent, etc.
The first page of the worksheet, with the sections described above:
Page 2: Ideation & Action Plan
Ideation Canvas – 10 min
Take the list of assets from page one and list them across the x axis on the bottom of the diagram. Going up the y axis for each stakeholder group, think about how that asset might be used by or with the stakeholder group to create new business value. A simple example is shown on the second image below. The asset “office space” could be used by Partners as a sublet or on-demand office space, or the space could be used by customers or the crowd as a makerspace.
Action Plan – 10 min
Taking inputs from page 1, and reviewing all of the ideas generated on the Ideation Canvas, list your 3 best ideas, develop a short pitch, and answer 3 key questions about getting started.
The second page of the worksheet, with the sections described above:
The second page of the worksheet, with the ideation canvas partially completed:
In less than an hour you have a solid draft of a possible Collaborative Economy initiative. You can use this output as a tool to start conversations in your organization about a pilot program, or use the Worksheet as part of an internal workshop or planning meeting.
I use this tool in many of my workshops. If you are interested in discussing my workshop offerings, or hosting a facilitated version of this exercise at your company or during a retreat, please reach out to my assistant to schedule some time to connect.
My recent session at the Online Community Tribe Meetup in SF gives an overview of the Collaborative Economy and introduces the concept of Network Thinking as a tool to help organizations explore future business models in the Collaborative Economy.
Honestly, I wasn’t going to do this. I’m already rolling eyes at all the “prediction” posts. And there are way too many 2015 retrospectives to look back on… but I’m feeling optimistic and inspired! You are taking the time to read this – THANK YOU! I have had an incredible amount of support for my first year of Structure3C. Thank you for being part of it.
This is a long-ish post – the short version is a list of personal highlights from 2015, and a look ahead to 3 big ideas and aspirations for 2016.
A Look back at the first year of Structure3C
Thank you for letting me take a moment to reflect on a few key accomplishments from this year.
- Launching Structure3C on February 4, 2015 to help brands create successful customer communities and crowdsourcing initiatives
- Chairing the inaugural Collaborative Economy conference in San Francisco in March
- Conducting the first research study on Brands & The Collaborative Economy – exploring a range of organizations level of knowledge, interest, priority and current activities in the Collaborative Economy
- Having a number of prominent speaking engagements, including SxSWi, Social Business Forum 2015 (Milan), The Silicon Valley Boomer Business Summit and Crowdsourcing Week Europe (Brussels)
- Helping a growing portfolio of brand and startup clients with briefings, crowdsourcing strategy, online community development and product design
- Being interviewed by Virgin Entrepreneur on Crowdsourcing
- Holding the closing workshop at the Crowd Companies 2015 Main Event in SF – (you can download my custom workbook from the event)
- Being honored as one of the inaugural A. Barry Rand Fellows for the Life Reimagined Institute
- And on a personal note: I made a commitment to my family to be present more throughout the year – one lagging indicator of success is the number of pancakes and pieces of french toast made in 2015 numbers just shy of 1,000! (disclaimer: back of the napkin calculation)
3 Big Ideas for 2016:
1.) Beyond “Digital Transformation”
In 2015, it seemed like Digital Transformation ate the business world. Almost overnight, the big consultancies dropped “Social Business” and began to sell Digital Transformation strategies. Thought leaders and former champions of social published articles and books about establishing, then disrupting “Digital Business”. Former Social Centers of Excellence were abandoned or repurposed for the “new” digital business journey.
In some ways, this is completely logical. Big consultancies need to keep clients anxious and their armies of consultants employed. Thought leaders need a constant stream of new terms, concepts and frames to stay relevant and top of mind. Executives need to frame annual objectives in ways that are novel and show progress year over year.
And, let’s face it: Social, Community, Customer Collaboration are all hard. Really hard.
Obviously, technology plays a critical role in modern business. The problem with many Digital Transformation efforts is a hyperfocus on the technology at the cost strategy and customer relationships.
Further, the definition of “Social Business” was always somewhat nebulous, and the internal culture shift and alignment needed to be successful was an arduous task. Pursuing a primarily technology-driven agenda likely seems more attainable, and “Digital” is an easier sell – both the perceived value and anticipated results.
What is lost in the shift from social to digital is the opportunity to fully realize the business value of connected customer relationships at scale. Realized specifically through strategies based on networks, communities and deep collaboration. Sound nebulous? I’ve shaped and seen first hand the value of social and community in the form of increased direct revenue, increased loyalty, crowd driven products and early market dominance based on building communities in parallel with products. Examples: The quantified value of Dell’s IdeaStorm was in the hundred’s of millions of dollars, Dell’s TechCenter community had billions of dollars in impact on Large Enterprise sales, Autodesk’s support community saves the company millions of dollars a year… I could go on.
2.) Digital / Social Business reframed as Business, Networked
Based on my experience building online communities and collaborative experiences, as well as research I’ve conducted, I’m convinced that a new and comprehensive approach to online communities is the way forward.
An approach where:
- What we thought of as “social” is really the networked marketplace
- Your market is synonymous with your crowd
- Online communities build lasting relationships amongst your customers, prospects, employees and partners and
- Collaboration looks like a true partnership with customers, not an internal social network no one really uses.
In order to begin exploring business opportunities in the networked economy, businesses need to shift their mindset to think about markets as networks. Their total addressable market(s), connected via platforms & social networks.
There are three important contexts to think about in the Network Marketplace:
- Crowd: A group within a Market Network that has:
- A shared interest or goal
- The ability and assets to participate in a shared marketplace, task or activity via common platforms
- Community A connected & hosted group within a Market Network that has:
- 1 or more shared interests or goals, leading to shared identity & purpose
- The ability, motivation and assets to work towards a common purpose over time
- A host with intention to support & manage community over time
- Collaborative Organization Collaboration amongst organizations, partners and customers essentially functioning as one organization:
- Shared IP & Common resources
- Shared vision of activities and outcomes
- Shared risks and equitable outcomes
3.) Radical New Leadership
To truly make progress in the evolving online community strategy we need new leadership, and evolved (not incremental) vision. This requires a shift from quarterly-driven decision making by businesses and a “sell what we have” mentality from our collective social vendors. Specifically:
- A new function that owns customer experience across every touchpoint – and further – owns developing the 1:Many relationships in the market network, not just 1:1
- A new Executive to lead this function
- Integration of platforms, systems and customer data that create internal efficiencies, better customer experiences, and put the customer in control of their experience, relationships and data
- A new point of view on value, and specifically, the value of customer engagement and participation. The days of customers supporting other customers without compensation are coming to an end.
- We need a bolder vision for online community platforms and social media & network tools. Platforms now are: 1) optimized around specific functions, like peer to peer support 2) are incredibly hard to customize and 3) are incredibly hard to integrate. We need better from you.
- Reign in sales-driven organizations that over-promise and under-deliver on community quality and outcomes.
- We need vendors to come together on feature & data standards and interoperability. Just to pick a specific example: The current disconnect between CRM, Marketing Automation and Community Platforms (even from the SAME vendor) is unbelievable. Invest in fixing it.
- You need something new to talk about and sell. I get it. I humbly ask:
- Connect the dots between your concepts, especially when retiring an old concept for a new one.
- Talk to your peers in the industry when selling new ideas so clients aren’t dealing with 10 flavors of the same burning platform concept.
- Show your source data when you have it.
- Attribution is appreciated. Especially for concepts you are essentially recycling.
- Show you really care about the future of the industry by cooperating on standard definitions, benchmarks and training
- Try to coordinate conference data and overarching themes
- When collecting practice data you intend to use for consulting or products, please provide a disclaimer at point of collection.
Do you agree? What would you add to this list?
With that said, 2016 is shaping up to be even more fun.
A preview includes:
- An upcoming announcement for a series of Crowd Economy “Rapid Orientation Workshops”
- Select speaking engagements focused on describing a Modern Approach to Online Community Building by developing Market Networks
- Ongoing research into how Brands continue to evolve their Crowd and Community business strategies
- An expanded set of consulting offerings, including modules for leadership & team development, value / ROI analysis and scorecard development.
Should we talk? I’m offering a limited number of free introductory consultations (via phone). I’d love to learn more about your community & crowd plans for 2016, and I promise your will take away new ideas from our call.
In the spirit of the New Year, I wish you a peaceful and epic 2016. Thank you for helping make Structure3C ‘s first year a success!
As the United States prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, the team at Structure3C is thankful for another great week of growth and development in the #CollaborativeEconomy. We also have some exciting news to share: Bill Johnston (Founder of Structure3C) was nominated in the first cohort of Fellows for the Life Reimagined Institute. Read the full news release here.
1. “Uber Is Not the Future of Work” via The Atlantic – “The rise of Uber has convinced many pundits, economists, and policymakers that freelancing via digital platforms is becoming increasingly important to Americans’ livelihood.” – http://goo.gl/jfnDJH
2. “How Segment Models Growth for Two-Sided Marketplaces” via Segment – “Marketplaces are awesome because, without them, buyers and sellers face complex, risky, and time-consuming transactions.” – https://goo.gl/1vfyjF
3. “Airbnb Banishes NY Superhosts” via rented. – “Airbnb “superhosts” awoke on November 12th to news that their listings had been removed and all of their future reservations had been cancelled.” – http://goo.gl/vGQ23p
4. “How to Start Using the Sharing Economy for Your Events” via Successful Meetings – “Because they’re convenient and affordable, service like Airbnb and Uber are growing more popular by the day.” – http://goo.gl/q98Iy3
5. “How to Market Collaborative Consumption Businesses” via Business 2 Community – “Collaborative consumption gives people the temporary benefits of ownership while reducing personal burden and, in many cases, lowering environmental impact. – http://goo.gl/jeEV4L
6. “A sharing economy for governance? 3 ingredients for sustainable cities” via GreenBiz – “When governments consult cities in the development of national policies and openly work with them to localize legislation, it creates a sharing economy for governance.” – https://goo.gl/fuQOgv
7. “There’s a simple step Airbnb and Uber can take to make the sharing economy safer” via Quartz – “A regulatory system developed over decades oversees hotel companies, taxi services and retailers, attempting to protect the health, safety and security of the people who use those services. But these rules and regulations largely do not apply in the sharing economy.” – http://goo.gl/P2c0ug
8. “Is the Gig Economy Good for Workers?” via Triple Pundit – “The growth of freelance, contract, consulting and gig workers in recent years has caused policy makers to re-evaluate how workers and wages are counted in state and national employment figures.” – http://goo.gl/TaMikA
9. “Why Digital Marketing Should Join the Sharing Economy” via Marketing Land – “At its core, the sharing economy is about fostering collaboration to turn underutilized resources into new revenue streams.” – http://goo.gl/I6uiLV
10. “Uber’s chief adviser on benefits of the sharing economy” via CNBC – “Part of our challenge is to sit down with the government and explain what’s on the other side of this.” – http://goo.gl/whTKCR
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With the horrible events of last week in Paris, Beirut, Israel and Kenya on my mind as we start the work week, I want to encourage everyone to think of ways to use connected technologies to bring us together instead of pulling us apart (as the extreme elements want). I wish you all a peaceful and productive week.
See something we missed? Email us, we’d love to hear from you.
3 Reads To Start Your Week
- The Blurring of Public & Private Markets – Fred Wilson
- Where Do Good Ideas Go to Die?: The Problem with Your Old Idea Program – Rob Hoehn
- Technology Is the Great Amplifier of Our Humanity – Interview w/Emilia Lahti
The Best of Last Week
1. “Is the Sharing Economy a Retail Disruptor?” via eMarketer – “The sharing economy has emerged over the past decade to revolutionize travel and transportation. Is a similar disruption coming to retail?” – http://goo.gl/yrmGl0
2. “Zipcar’s Co-Founder Weighs In on the Sharing Economy” via Bloomberg Business- “I think it’s one sub set of a much larger movement of platforms and people that are really reinventing the way we build businesses.” – http://goo.gl/q4lJZ6
3. “Future of the Global Workplace: The Growth of the Sharing Economy” via Radius – “Simple in concept, the sharing economy is also disruptive and has the potential to change the nature of work and careers.” – http://goo.gl/XZNt43
4. “We Need a Social Economy, Not a Hyper-Financialized Plantation Economy” via Charles Hugh Smith – “What we need is a social economy, an economy that recognizes purposes and values beyond maximizing private gains by any means necessary, which is the sole goal of hyper-financialized economies.” – http://goo.gl/8H0G4z
5. “Be Your Own Boss” via Industry Leaders – “This economy isn’t a trend; it’s a new way of working.” – http://goo.gl/soUVsZ
6. “Airbnb is trying to resuscitate its image as the ‘nice guys’ of the sharing economy” via Fusion – “Airbnb, the company pledged, would share anonymized data on hosts and guests with cities, take steps to prevent illegal hotels from existing on the platform, and pay its ‘fair share’ of hotel and tourist taxes in cities that require it to.” – http://goo.gl/MtFZHU
7. “The sharing economy is people fueled and cloud powered” via Dell – “While many companies within the sharing economy—also called the collaborative economy—are just coming into their own, they’re actually not new.” – https://goo.gl/qrwxan
8. “Why I’m All For The Sharing Economy” via Odyssey – “The most profoundly positive aspect that the sharing economy has is its benefits for consumers.” – http://goo.gl/RNDpdS
9. “How the Sharing Economy Can Create Value from Waste” via The World Post – “We as a global society are beginning to pause and question before discarding something that might be of value to someone, no matter how remote or disconnected.” – http://goo.gl/NA62cd
10. “Secrets of the Sharing Economy” via BusinessMatters – “New research suggests that far from being the preserve of the millennial, the Sharing Economy is being more readily embraced by older consumers, with 35-44 year-olds emerging as its most vocal supporters.” – http://goo.gl/C44UM3
Don’t forget to register for our Collaborative Economy Kickstart Workshop. Space is limited, so get your tickets today: https://goo.gl/js28NG
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