The last few years have seen big brands make extraordinary investments in developing massive “digital transformation” and social media programs. On one hand, these programs have yielded moments of customer connection, advocacy and insight. Unfortunately, for the majority of programs reliant on mass social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, organic reach has dropped effectively to 0 and companies are now forced to pay to engage sporadically with the “audiences” they worked so hard to build. Companies now realize they have been renting their customer communities on social platforms.
The alternative to social media campaigns and digital transformation theatrics? Developing Customer communities. Specifically, online Customer communities that companies build, host and manage. Customer communities hold the key to Customer acquisition, retention and growth. Further, communities can be a catalyst for development and innovation, and will be critical to future business models. Below I explore the opportunity for Customer community in three key Corporate areas: Brand, Product and Innovation.
Community is the Fabric of Brand
What is the nature and value of brand in a hyper-connected world? A recent HBR article asserts that the collective value of Customer relationships is outstripping the value of “brand. The authors of the article nail the point that Customer relationships are incredibly valuable, but may have missed an opportunity to explore the effect of the customer community as a brand asset & catalyst — the line between brand and relationship isn’t as crisp as the authors imply. Further, I would assert that the “network” of relationships represented by the collective customer base of a company is a manifestation of brand, every bit as important and as valuable as the components of brand identity. My primary research and experience has shown connected customers (via community and social) are more valuable than those that aren’t. Third party research by Deloitte has shown that Networked companies (“Network Operators”) perform better, live longer, and are more valuable. All of these points are are vectoring towards a new opportunity and a new frontier in business: Community-Centric Customer Experience — an approach to customer experience design and business strategy that not only strengthens the Company to Customer relationship (1:1), but also strengthens and develops the Customer to Customers & Company relationship (1:Many, a.k.a. the “Community”). and considers development of the Community the primary .
Communities Will Infuse & Enhance Product Experience
Customer communities are an essential part of most technology products now. At the very least, online support forums are expected as part of the offering (more on that in a bit). Many companies are experimenting with customer communities as a means to raise product awareness, convert trial customers and retain existing customers. A radical new business opportunity is emerging where the community (both the people and the platform) are the actual product. Purchases are artifacts or a gateway into the community experience, and the real “product” is the collective experience, knowledge, content and means of collaboration with the community. There are many early examples in the gaming world, from MMOG’s like World of Warcraft to the new “build and explore” virtual worlds like Roblox. Software companies are attempting to build communities that address the “whole customer”, and focus on experiences well outside of product support. Adobe (Behance), Autodesk (Instructables, Fusion360, AREA), Salesforce (Trailblazer Community), and Sephora (Beauty Talk) are actively investing in the community space.
Communities Drive Innovation & Long-Term Value
There is an unfortunate tendency to view Customer communities as “cost saving” vs “value producing”. This thinking leads to strategies and outcomes that fail to realize the full value of customer communities, and is rooted in a long standing dependence by some companies on customer support communities. In extreme examples, this sort of strategy breeds resentment with valuable customers and leads to a dangerous dependence on an unsustainable resource. When the Corporate mindset shifts to “value producing”, the aperture of community strategy widens to a rich set of possibilities: community advocacy programs, open innovation, peer to peer mentoring, complex content sharing, customer co-design and much more.
Moving forward, Customer communities will be the medium by which value is co-created and exchanged between Companies and customers. To have any chance of long term success with Customer communities, mindsets have to evolve beyond a fixation on cost savings to a more enlightened view of communities as a valuable catalyst for innovation and growth.
The Bottom Line:
Customer communities are the “fabric of brand”, the medium in which the network of customer & company relationships develops and thrives. Companies that create modern communities with their customers will be more innovative, realize more value and have more resilient businesses than their competitors who don’t.
The C3/A3 Project
C3: Community, Crowd, Collaboration
A3: AI, Agents and Automation
Humans instinctively seek meaning, connection and resources through community. Driven by near ubiquitous access to broadband and the rapid adoption of smartphones, our new and ever-expanding digital world offers instant access to a rich tapestry of social experiences, fundamentally changing the way we seek, find and participate in community.
Currently, individuals and organizations are struggling to adapt to our evolving digital world, particularly the social technologies we use to connect and communicate with each other. Complex human networks are springing up on and across myriad social media, social network and topic-based communities, forming community ecosystems that transcend technological, geographical and organizational boundaries.
Looking forward, it seems things are about to get even more complicated. A new set of technologies is emerging to augment human cognition (AI), enhance human agency (Agents) and shape digital experiences and outcomes by taking advantage of a rich set of tools and APIs (Automation). We see these three technological forces (AI, Agents and Automation) as the next immediate wave of disruption in digital experience, and we see Community, Crowd and Collaboration as the social contexts in which technology and humanity will interact for the betterment (or detriment) of humankind.
The C3/A3 Project Overview
Our hypothesis is that this combination of social technologies with human augmentation technologies will usher in a new age of digital community experiences. These new experiences will present unprecedented opportunities and challenges for organizations and individuals, and complex policy issues for society. The C3/A3 project will explore the technological, business and societal implications of this next wave of change and offer a helpful path forward.
- Technology: The current and emerging technology landscape
- Business: Corporate strategy, competence, needs and level of readiness
- Individuals: Customer (a.k.a. Community member) needs, expectations and likely challenges
Key Components of the Project:
- Community Executive survey – February 26th
- Technology landscape analysis
- Community platforms
- AI technologies ( ex: Watson, Einstein)
- Agent interfaces (ex: Cortana, Alexa, Obindo)
- Automation platforms
- Executive interviews with select technology providers, early adopters and startups
- Mass practitioner survey
- Customer (Community End-user) survey
Reports and Mastermind
The output of the project will be a series of reports throughout 2018 that publish key findings. An executive mastermind group for brands and select startups will be formed to deeply explore relevant topics.
The first wave of research launches on Monday, February 26th with an invitation-based survey to Executives who own community and social media experiences for their respective companies. Detailed results will be shared privately amongst this group, and summary data will be shared publicly.
If you would like to participate in the research survey and subsequent Mastermind discussion, please send me a note: email@example.com.
Reminder: This phase of the research is open to Executives at large organizations (5000+). No agencies or consultancies please.
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.
“…people’s identification of, and intention to pursue, particular highly valued, overarching life goals.” (Steger & Dik, 2010).
a.k.a. “Your reason for getting up in the morning.”
Bryan Dik PhD – Professor of Psychology at Colorado State & Cofounder of Jobzology
The Fine Line Between Engagement & Manipulation
Growthhacking, gamification, content snacks and personalization. Your feed is overflowing with tricks, hacks and best practices to “drive engagement”. The best of these techniques tap into a member’s intrinsic motivation to trigger participation, the worst rely on psychological tricks and negative emotional responses.
What if there was a way to create sustained engagement in communities and collaborative experiences that harnessed genuine motivation and strove for positive outcomes for participants? Through my work as a Fellow with Life Reimagined, I have (with my team of Fellows) developed an approach that taps into the power of purpose to drive community engagement.
As Community Architects (and Builders, Managers, Hosts, etc), we’ve always known that we needed to define a community’s purpose as part of strategic development, but we generally haven’t paid much attention to the role of purpose for community participants. Tactical goals in the context of a community experience, yes. Thinking about the community member as a “whole person” with a life beyond your community? Let’s be honest – rarely.
Our community experiences today are largely designed around the limitations of the platform we choose to grow our communities on. Content (posts and messages) is typically the most dynamic element, followed by algorithmically-driven “streams”. Reputation elements develop over time and are helpful to make judgements about the value of content and contributors, but it is hard to say any given community experience truly evolves. On the whole, the Community experiences are surprisingly static.
There is opportunity for improvement here. Looking at Communities through the lens of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you can make a case that online communities support many of the needs that Abraham Maslow describes in his model, especially 1.) Belonging (through social connections), and 2.) Esteem (through participation and the advancement through reputation system). The missing ingredient has been the proverbial top of the pyramid: Self-Actualization.
What might happen if the community and collaborative experiences we designed supported the discovery, refinement and actualization of a person’s purpose?
Next, think about what a community might look like if the host organization was actively refining and expressing its purpose through community interactions. As an example: If a software company’s purpose is to empower the world through digital design software, you could imagine community activities going well beyond break/ fix support forums and into eduction, skills mentoring and specific efforts to reach people in the developing world and the associated technological challenges. The host organization evolves from an authoritarian role to become a responsive partner in co-development.
Early Development of the Purpose Model – In Flight Now
In November of 2015, I was honored to be chosen as part of the inaugural Rand Fellows with the Life Reimagined Institute. I was asked to be team leader and had the opportunity to work with Bryan Dik, Brooke Erol and Roberta Taylor on my team. Our team was mentored by an amazing group of thought leaders, including Richard Leider, Alan Weber (co-founder of Fast Company) and Dr. Janet Taylor. The goal of my team was to create community-based programs that help people discover, refine and express their purpose. My team of fellows is in the middle of a pilot and research project that lasts through the end of July to study the best ways to help our community of participants discover, refine and express purpose through their work. Our team took the Life Reimagined process (shown in the graphic below) and mapped community activities to each stage to come up with the needed content and features for our pilot community program.
Meaningful Results Beyond Engagement
One of the most incredible outcomes of our pilot program was that we saw significant improvement in 12 of 20 psychosocial variables that we measured in our participants. Specifically, we saw large gains in feelings of Happiness, Resilience, Presence of Meaning, and Career Decision Self-Efficacy. We also saw reductions in feelings of Loneliness and Depression in participants.
We are in the early days of developing a model for Purpose-Driven Communities but we are already seeing impactful results from our studies. The Purpose-based model I’ve described doesn’t exist in the wild (yet), but the time to consider the implications and possibilities is now if you want your organization’s community to evolve beyond static growth, low engagement and specious results & impact . There are many positive and disruptive implications of the model – I’ve highlighted a few below.
- Shared Purpose of Community
- Hosts will have to clearly state the purpose of their community, as well as help individual community members define, refine and express their purpose in the community experience. The development of a “Purpose Model” is required.
- Purpose Expressed in Community Leadership and Actions (Member)
- Once the “Purpose Model” is created, more effective Member journeys, reputation and roles can be developed that align near term activities with longer-term accomplishments.
- Evolving Role of Community Manager
- Once the language of Purpose is understood in a community, and once members and hosts can share their purpose (via statements / profile), the Community Manager can play a critical role of connecting members with the content, people and activities they need to actualize the member’s purpose.
- A New System of Context & Feedback Loops (Platform)
- New tools will need to be developed to facilitate purpose discovery, and to drive the community experience through context (activity streams, member matching & networking, journey models) and feedback loops (based on activity).
- Federated Communities
- The expression of an individual’s purpose is a large and complex topic. It is unlikely that any one community or organization can fully support the breadth of an individual’s need. Complimentary communities have an opportunity to partner around customer types and segments to offer experiences that support purpose. We will begin to see examples of Federated Communities as an alternative to mass social networks in the next 12-24. Powering these Community Federations with Purpose will be a game changer.
Creating a Purpose-driven model for communities will be a break through in performance, engagement and impact for many organizations. This new model will create the canvas for life-long relationships that are based on mutually beneficial outcomes for the host and member. Community platforms, programs and roles will need to evolve to realize the full value of the model.
I will continue to research and write about the Purpose-driven Community Model as part of my ongoing #NetworkThinking series. To stay up to date, subscribe to my newsletter here.
I’m currently working a select list of clients to build amazing communities. If you would like to schedule some time to talk about how I can help, email@example.com.
A recent benchmarking report from Demand Metric on Customer Lifecycle Marketing illustrates the impact of aligning marketing efforts around a customer journey model. The report also illustrates a number of blindspots that are derailing Customer Lifecycle Marketing efforts.
The missing ingredient? Community Management.
First, highlights from the report (direct quote):
The analysis of this study’s data provides these key findings:
- The study found that less than 20% of organizations are currently marketing across the entire customer lifecycle.
- Participants spend twice as much of their marketing budgets on acquiring new customers as on retaining existing ones. (Yet most of their revenue comes from existing customers!)
- Almost 90% of the study participants indicate that marketing currently owns the understanding and management of the customer lifecycle.
- Of the lifecycle stages – Awareness, Consideration, Purchase, Retention and Advocacy – Awareness enjoys the greatest clarity of ownership, with marketing owning the stage 88% of the time. Retention is most fragmented, with few organizations defining clear ownership of this stage.
- The Awareness and Consideration stages enjoy “adequate” or “ample” levels of investment for over 70% of study participants. Retention and Advocacy both fall at the “minimal” to “none” level of funding for 55% of study participants.
- The greatest benefit to executing a customer lifecycle marketing strategy is greater customer engagement.
- The greatest challenge to marketing across the customer lifecycle is understanding customer content needs.
- 72% of strategy adherents are experiencing a revenue lift from customer lifecycle marketing.
- Over three-fourths of participants plan to increase their commitment to and investment in customer lifecycle marketing.
Clearly Customer Lifecycle Marketing is incredibly valuable when all stages of the lifecycle are addressed. So what is the problem? Based on my direct experience and years of studying the intersection of marketing and online community, I would assert that building meaningful relationships at scale is still an undeveloped function in the majority of most organizations. Further, as the data from the report shows, the “ownership” for customer retention is scattered among many departments. Add to the mix the eternal debate about “who owns social / community” and things get even more messy.
So what is a modern marketing organization to do? Consider three things:
- Community Drives Customer Lifecycle
A modern definition of online communities expands the location of “community” to be any on or offline touchpoint where customers can meet and form relationships. A modern definition also expands the concept of community management to include any form of relationship building and nurturing. Modern online communities produce a range of value for customers and businesses. Peer to peer support is the classic example, yet modern approaches include a range of deep collaboration on new product development to expansive crowdfunding campaigns – and everything in between. Community can play a valuable role in every stage of the customer lifecycle, and can often be the connective tissue to hold the entire experience together.
- Treat Engagement & Retention as a Community Management Opportunity
The practice of building and nurturing customer relationships is a job modern community managers understand very well. In particular, Community Managers can be very effective as resources in Customer Nurture campaigns during the consideration phase. I had my community management team at Autodesk reboot a nurture campaign that supported a 30 day product trial, and the results were amazing.
Further, Customer Advocacy programs grew (at least partially) out of Community Advocate / MVP programs. It is a relatively straightforward process to scale current Advocacy programs to include different customer types. There is also a massive opportunity to harmonize Influencer programs (which typically look outside of existing communities) with Advocacy programs. These are essentially two sides of the same coin – Advocates have typically been nurtured through a hosted community and Influencers have established their own communities and networks. A modern Community Manager treats these contexts as part of the larger community ecosystem.
Treating engagement and retention as a community management opportunity allows the staff with the skills to manage relationships at scale do what they do best. This is a huge missed opportunity in marketing.
- Get Real About Digital Transformation & Social Business
A modern approach to online community takes into account the entire digital ecosystem, not just single online touchpoints. A modern approach to community management nurtures engagement across the digital ecosystem. So if Community Managers know how to address the key gaps illustrated in the Demand Metric report, what’s the problem? Why isn’t it happening? There are many answers, but one factor that has had a huge negative impact is the trend of Digital Transformation initiatives absorbing (or in some cases, abandoning) Social Business efforts. I expand on (and in some ways, rant about) this in my 2015 recap post. Most Digital Transformation initiatives have focused on technology at the cost of customer engagement. Many Social Leadership teams and organizations have been disbanded or fractured and embedded to the point of being ineffective. Customer Experience initiatives often focus on superficial and in the moment customer engagements at the cost of growing the life long relationship.Bottom Line: We need a new Leadership model that addresses not only the Company : Customer relationship but also the complex network of Customer : Customers : Company relationships.
Netting it out:
- To create successful Customer Lifecycle Marketing initiatives, modern marketers must include online community and community managers.
- Community Managers can help address the current engagement and retention gaps in Customer Lifecycle Marketing programs.
- Organizations need to renew focus and investment in Online Community Leadership to drive growth via Customer Lifecycle Marketing
I am working with a portfolio of clients on evolving their community and marketing programs (lifecycle, influencer & advocacy, community management). I am also kicking off the year by offering a complimentary consultation session (for a limited time & very limited slots). If you would like to get feedback and guidance on your 2016 plans, feel free to register for a consultation here.
In March I embarked on a series of qualitative research projects to help organizations prepare for the disruption and opportunity emerging from the Collaborative Economy, and understand what resources they need to be successful. Wave 1 responses are in and the analysis is almost finished. I wanted to share a preview of the results to date. The full set of results will be published in June.
The pool of organizations that completed the survey ranged from Fortune 500 software, media and retail companies to small startups in the sharing economy space. A handful of non-profits also participated.
- A shared understanding of the Collaborative Economy is still forming.
- The Collaborative Economy is relevant to organizations, but the level of urgency isn’t high (yet).
- The most interesting sectors are Learning, Services and Corporate (“Sectors” as described by Crowd Companies Honeycomb model).
- Many organizations see online communities, social networks and collaboration platforms as “enablers” and areas to begin experimentation.
Getting to a crisp definition and shared understanding of the Collaborative Economy is challenging because the concept describes the interplay of a number of other large trends and movements, including (but not limited to) the Sharing Economy, Sustainable Development, Digital Transformation, the Maker Movement, Internet of Things, Future of Making Things and more. In the context of this research project, when asked to describe their understanding of the Collaborative Economy, respondents mainly spoke to 3 key themes of the Collaborative Economy as:An economic model…
“A model in which the creation and exchange of value (of goods, services, knowledge, etc) occurs through human interactions versus (solely) financial transactions. Asset allocation is optimized such that resources are jointly consumed and assets rarely stand idle.”
A social movement…
“Where brands and people start thinking more cooperatively for the greater good…instead of competitively & businesses go back to being more sociable and people-focused.”
A technical platform…
“Coordination of mobile devices, cashless payment systems, reliable rating mechanisms to get value from each other as opposed to centralized corporation of assets.”
- Don’t understand how to formulate a strategy
- Don’t have the necessary vision, leadership and resources to engage
- Don’t see a burning platform of missed opportunity or competitive threat
- Aren’t willing (yet) to make the investments in platforms, partnerships, open collaboration and the making corporate assets available.
The respondents who did indicate a high level of urgency, and had active pilots, were engaging in activities ranging from: investment in or partnership with complimentary startups, development of platforms and marketplaces, evolving existing social business programs, and re-developing the value exchanges of their online communities. These pilot programs will be covered in more detail in the final report.
3. Emerging Sectors
Research participants were asked to rank certain sectors of the Collaborative Economy by level of interest. The sector categories were sourced from the Crowd Companies Honeycomb model.
Survey participants were asked to rank the following systems, technologies and engagements based upon their perceived value in enabling an organization to engage in the Collaborative Economy.
The full Brands and the Collaborative Economy report will be released in June, going in to further detail on the topics above, as well as:
- An overview of current pilot programs being conducted by the respondents;
- Key sources of information and data about the Collaborative Economy;
- An overview of missing or underdeveloped resources and services needed by organizations for their Collaborative Economy initiatives.
Wave 2 Research begins June 1st.
Wave 2 research will begin the week of June 1st, and will cover:
- Lessons learned from early successes and failures
- Organizational resources needed to develop and sustain pilot programs
- Development of a simple framework for Collaborative Economy pilot programs
If you are interested in participating in the research (via survey), being interviewed or profiled for the report, or sponsoring a future report, please send me an note.
Private Briefings & Advisory Sessions
I am also doing a limited number of private briefings on the Collaborative Economy research and how a modern approach to online communities can support innovation, customer acquisition and retention.
I’m available for online session booking via Popexpert, or feel free to drop me a note.
Back in 2008, when I was producing events and conducting research focused on Online Communities for Forum One, the word “social media” hit broad adoption. I had countless debates with my colleagues about what we should title events and new research initiatives to stay true to the intention and tradition of online community building, while including the emergent activity happening on the mass social networks that were experiencing explosive growth globally. Two years later at Dell, our centralized “Social Business” team was called “SMaC” – Social Media and Community. Many labels in play trying to describe a spectrum of concepts and activities.
On the one hand, each new term that has been introduced introduced to describe a major shift (virtual community, online community, social media, social business…) signaled a major evolution or change in culture, driven by the twin forces of technology and culture. On the other hand, each change contained so many attributes of the last wave that it was easy to be cynical that it was change in name only, driven by consultants, analysts and authors ready to make a label stick to own a market or concept. What really happened? Honestly, I think a bit of both – as market and cultural forces gained energy, a handful of folks were able to step forward and help make meaning of what was going on and describe what possible future scenarios might come in to play. I created a simple diagram to describe what I personally saw in my career to date:
(click for a larger version)
Something’s Happening Here
Which brings us more or less up to date. When I first heard the terms “Sharing Economy” and “Collaborative Economy” hitting mainstream last summer, my immediate reaction was a cynical “here we go again”. But then I started doing research, and listening to some of the smart voices in the field signaling the change. In particular, I found Rachel Botsman’s work very helpful and insightful. Her “The Sharing Economy Lacks a Shared Definition” is an especially good overview. Jeremiah Owyang has done a lot of research and writing in the field as well, and it was his energy and insight that helped me decide to make Autodesk a founding member of his Crowd Companies brand council.
I’m convinced we are entering a new era – one that draws on the collective learning, social technology and cultural evolution to set the stage for the next act in a very long play that the Cluetrain Manifesto described in 1999:
A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.
I keep coming back to a handful of questions to help frame how the Collaborative Economy will affect my day to day practice:
- How might this next phase of “social” enable (or force) sustainable and thriving businesses?
- How can Brand’s fully design and engage an extended community ecosystem – inclusive of all stakeholders (customer, partners & employees), built on shared value?
- How will reputation play a role as the marketplace becomes a mesh? How can we make data, content and associated reputation all portable across meaningful contexts?
- How will participation and contribution will be valued, exchanged and incentivized in the near future?
- What does the future of crowdsroucing and co-innovation really look like?IMHO, early examples, like Dell’s IdeaStorm (I designed the current incarnation) and marketplace’s like Quirky and kickstarter are all part of an interesting but humble beginning.
The net-net: for me, the time for lable-gazing is done. It’s time to learn, experiment and evolve my practice.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Updated 3/3/14 @ 11:55am
This morning, Jeremiah Owyang released a new report: Sharing is the New Buying, Winning in the Collaborative Economy – this is the largest study of the Collaborative Economy to date, and an informative read.
File under: slightly off topic but personally meaningful.
Disclosure: I’m not a massive U2 fan. With that said, Achtung Baby is one of my all time favorite albums. It is a transformative recording from a band that had, to date, been cast as a folksy and righteous rock and roll band from Ireland. Achtung Baby is a product of the band intentionally losing its established identity, giving themselves time and room to explore (albeit contentiously), and birthing an almost unclassifiable masterpiece and subsequent co-opting of mass, and particularly, electronic media as part of the album experience.
In 2011, From the Sky Down was released to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the album. The film takes the band members back to Berlin to talk about the creative process of recording Achtung Baby, and in the act of creation, remaking the band.
One of the most insightful moments in the film is at the end, when Bono sums up the intention behind the Berlin sessions and the album. It is at once terrifying and inspirational:
“You have to reject one expression of the band, first, before you get to the next expression,” says Bono, “and in between you have nothing, you have to risk it all“
I LOVE this. Applied personally, it is a call to action to grow, explore and transform. Faith in your instincts, talents and abilities bridge the gap between what you are and what you can become, and help hedge the risk.
It occurs to me that most organizations are in a similar state today – business models, culture, internal structure – basically most everything needs some level of transformation to thrive in the new increasingly connected and empowered market that is emerging globally.
How many will have the will to reject the “current expression” of the org?
How many will invest in the work needed for exploration and transformation?
Most importantly – how many will find the will and purpose to risk it all?
We will find out in the very near future.
ps: I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Berlin in 2011. I have to admit that I was not looking forward to the trip, but I wound up falling in love with the city and its energy- including the vibrant startup scene. I posted some of my pics from the trip here:
There seems to be a wave of bad advice and misguided thinking regarding where and how brands should engage with their communities. Examples include pundits advising brands to prioritize social efforts “off domain”, being passive observers in their communities instead of active hosts, and a general sentiment that hosting a brand-based online community is high effort and low return.
This is really unfortunate, as I’m convinced many organizations are missing key opportunities to realize value from online communities. The reasons for the bad advice and thinking are myriad and may include legitimate causes like: steady pressure from a slowly recovering economy, increased demands for customer attention online and competition for prioritization amongst a growing list of places to play in social media. Unfortunately, the lack of direct experience and ego play a role as well.
So, what’s at stake? Your network of customer relationships. Said another way: you can rent this network on Facebook (along with other tenants), or you can make the investment in hosting, growing and managing the network yourself. Renting is cheaper in the short term. Building and hosting the network creates a business asset that is generative in value if managed properly.
The Role of Host
When I say “host”, I am specifically talking about on-domain, brand-hosted communities that are built on a community platform (like Lithium or Jive) and housed under the brand’s domain. Examples include Autodesk’s AREA, SAP’s Community Network , Dell’s TechCenter and Lego’s CUUSO . The value of these communities is multi-dimensional, but hosted brand communities are generally a “clean, well-lit place” for a company to:
- offer customers peer to peer support, lowering support costs and increasing customer satisfaction;
- co-develop product and service ideas with customers, lowering research costs and creating products with a built in market;
- give special access to and content from insiders (like product developers) in the company, increasing the value of the community for members;
- share special content to enhance the use of (or use in) the products;
- discuss improvements or extensions to products and services;
- facilitate niche communities of practice around specializations;
to name just a few in the long list of possible activities that produce value for both the brand and community members.
Being a Good Host
The web is littered with failed attempts by brands trying to kickstart communities. Many remind me of the famous Bette Midler quote “but enough about me… what do YOU think about me”. Many early failures hit the wall simply because they made the simple mistake of being selfish. Brands need to be able to come up with a simple value equation as part of the strategic development process for community that accounts for both their business needs as well as that of the community member. If both parties can’t win, there is really no sense in playing. I offer the examples I gave earlier as proof that this can be done – Lego, Autodesk, Dell and others have been and are successful in their efforts. A few reminders on etiquette for being a good host (and there are many others):
- Be present and attentive
Ensure that staff are available to participate, answer questions and respond to feedback.
- Be engaged
Actively manage the community, ensuring basic moderation is happening and that there is a regular cadence of content and activity.
- Be respectful
Ensure that communications, content and activities are geared towards shared value, vs one-sided discussions about the host organization. Being respectful goes beyond generally being civil and includes the expectation that the community hosts will form relationships with members and support the community over the lang haul.
Brands as Networks
One definition of brand is “the collectively held perceptions about an organization shared amongst its stakeholders”. I find this fascinating because the statement implies that a brand can’t manifest unless it is in a networked environment. Brands need networks in order to exist. Online (and offline) Communities are a living, breathing expression of a brand.
- Online Communities should be a focal point of brands social strategy, and a “center of gravity” for social presence;
- Brands should not shy away from the role of active community host – it’s not an option, it’s a responsibility
- To be a good Community host, approach the task with the attitude that *everybody can win* instead of a zero sum game of Brand vs Customers
Let’s face it – the vendors you rely on for social media & community platforms, services and advice have you outnumbered and surrounded. Between account reps, sales reps, relationship managers, executive success partners and the rest of the cast, most vendors have a veritable army of skilled professionals whose primary purpose is to maximize revenue derived from their relationship with you. I’m not saying that this is all bad (profitable vendors = sustainable vendors, after all) and that these relationships can’t be mutually beneficial. What I am saying is that the sides of the social vendor relationship game aren’t evenly matched. For social executives, it’s time to step up our game and more proactively manage these vendor relationships.
What’s at stake? Ultimately, the long term success of your social programs. Have you ever been through an Online Community platform migration? It sucks – from a technical perspective, let alone a community management perspective. Ever had to buy an additional social listening package because your primary did a bad job of influencer identification? Ever had analysts completely contradict each other on best practices for rolling out a Reputation Management system in back to back briefings? Issues with vendors as isolated incidents are painful and expensive. Issues with some or all of your vendors simultaneously can kill social programs.
The opportunities at hand are to gain the most value from your vendor relationships ideally by:
- Gaining access to and influencing product roadmap
- Guiding the vendor into partnership & integration discussions with other vendors that you use
- Staying abreast of best practice and useful case studies from other customers of the vendor
- Understanding if you and the vendor are on paralell or divergent paths long term
SWGD? (So Watcha Gonna Do?)
I offer the following tactics and suggestions in the spirit of SWGD :
1. Host an Annual Social Vendor Summit
Ask your vendors to come onsite for an annual Social Vendor Summit. I hosted one of these at Dell in January of this year, and had all of our community, social media, listening, social CRM, social marketing, analytics and touchpoint partners in for a day of shared briefings. The briefing format was dead-simple- each vendor had 30 minuts to share 3 slides: 1) An overview of current state and feature usage, 2) Suggestions on how we could improve use and effectiveness of their offering and 3) Anything else they wanted to tell us. They sessions were a great way to get the internal team on the same page and also to spur brainstorming and collaboration amongst the vendor partners.
2. Conduct Quarterly Business Reviews
These reviews are likely common as an internal practice in your organization, so why not expect them of your vendors? Reviewing product roadmap updates, strategy updates, progress on key programs and any interesting new customer examples or case studies is a few hours well spent in the quarter. This is a much deeper and more exclusive dive than the Summit mentioned above, and is really intended to be a frank feedback sharing and strategy session. Are some of your vendors not willing to spend the time to do this? Great segway to my next suggestion…
3. Stay in Touch With Competitive Vendors
Competitive social vendors are likely calling you anyway – make the best of it! I was generally willing to take a call or briefing with a competitive vendor at Dell if I was sure about our internal position on the incumbent vendor (favorable or not) and I would always let the competitive vendor know if there was any chance of them winning the business prior to the briefing.
4. Understand & Influence Product Roadmap
Your social vendors with product roadmaps should be more than willing to share fairly long-term (at least 18 mos) roadmaps with you. They will be caveated to the Nth degree and be bookended by safe harbor statements… but they should be shareable. You should feel empowered to have a discussion about the planned features and you should generally feel like your priorities are taken into account. If not, this should be a huge red flag (and see previous point re: Competitors).
5. Build Your Peer Network
It is critical to have a network of peers in similar positions to compare notes with and to seek advice from. Analysts are great for general snapshots of the social landscape and directional advice, but being able to have a conversation with a peer sitting in *your* seat in another organization is invaluable. Your social vendors will likely have conferences and events that will offer great networking opportunities. Vendors can also make intros for you. There are also many great networking organizations like The Community Roundtable and SocialMedia.org. To put a fine point on it: build your network before you need it.
6. Get Personal
Along the lines of building a peer network, get to know the key players working for your vendors as well. Invest the time in building one to one relationships outside of the conference room. Personal relationships often make the difference in getting a heads up on a feature change, getting a feature request into a release or getting a little extra help with a configuration.
The Net-net: a little extra effort put into elevating your relationships with your key social vendors to a *true* partnership will likely pay back valuable dividends in the form of better platforms, more effective social programs and higher return on your social investments.
Do you agree that spending more time managing your social vendor relationships could create value? Do you have additional suggestions on why and how to manage these relationships? I’d love to hear your thoughts and any stories or suggestions you could share.