Tagged: social media

The Cohere Podcast – Season 2 Update

The Cohere podcast is in its second season. In season 1 covered a range of important topics related to communities and networks, including creating connection during the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of the next 3 billion people coming online and how to create a collaborative online future with AI.

We’re well underway with Season 2, and I say “we”, because I’m joined this season by Dr. Lauren Vargas (also a Season 1 guest). Together, we are exploring the role networks play in our lives, and the range of disciplines studying networks, and the most important research focused on the emerging field of network science.

The reason for the focus on networks? Complex networks are springing up everywhere, driven in large part by increasingly ubiquitous internet access. Imagine what will happen when three billion more people come online in the next five years! For organizations, a planet-wide network of logged-on human beings brings both limitless opportunities and unprecedented threats. 

As we increasingly use networked technologies to augment human experiences, the Cohere podcast asks, what’s the best path forward? What do we need to learn and understand? How might science and existing research guide us towards optimal norms and conditions? How should we navigate, evaluate, and administrate a complex technological landscape so we can protect, promote, and empower our human networks? How will we ensure that digital communities deliver on the promise of enhancing our lives, both individually and collectively? And what steps must we take to ensure our approach to community development is sustainable, equitable, and morally sound? 

The first four episodes of The Cohere Podcast – Season 2 are out now.

Ep. 1 – Why Community Leaders Need to Understand Networks – With Bill Johnston and Dr Lauren Vargas

Ep. 2 – The Golden Age of Online Communities & the WELL with Gail Ann Williams

Ep. 3 – Building Communities with Purpose and Integrity with Carrie Melissa Jones

Ep. 4 – The “Great Connecting” Continues with Jim Cashel

Look for new episodes coming in August.

You can find additional episodes of the podcast and also subscribe here:
Apple Podcasts | Spotify Podcasts

2020 AI & Communities Research Project – Survey Now Open

I’m excited to announce the second round of Structure3C’s AI & Communities research. This research builds on our foundational project in 2018 (more on this below) and comes at a critical time when global internet connectivity races towards 100% coverage, and algorithms and non-human actors play an increasingly central role in this global human network.

If your role involves developing communities or networks for your organization, I’d like to invite you to participate (if you haven’t) in a short survey focused on the intersection of AI and Community. 

You can take the survey here:
https://structure3c.typeform.com/to/j3pgTB

Your ideas and expert opinions are critically important in shaping a human response to the impact of exponential technologies. The survey will take approximately 15 minutes, will only involve participants on the enterprise & brand side (no agencies or consultants), and all participants will get a copy of the final report and receive an invite to one of our mastermind-style debrief sessions in early 2020.

We ask that you complete the survey on, or before January 10.

Results From Wave 1 – 2018
Our 2020 project builds on the first round of research we conducted on AI, Automation and Agents in 2018. The respondents from the first wave generally considered the value of AI is threefold for Community Professionals:

  • AI will allow for the automation of routine community tasks and processes so that focus can be put on more valuable activities;
  • AI will provide real-time analytics, insight, and specific and contextual suggestions;
  • AI will shape the community experience for all stakeholders, including members (onsite), prospective members (externally), Community Managers and Executive Stakeholders.

You can find a recap of the 2018 project here:
https://billjohnston.io/2018/07/26/ai-use-cases-for-communities-networks/

You can find the summary deck with findings from the 2018 research here:

Why AI & Communities is a critically important topic for 2020
When we (Structure3C) did the first primary research on AI and Communities, it was clear that AI, as a topic, had was being discussed but there weren’t many practice examples in the field beyond rudimentary personalization and early experiments with RPA (robotic process automation). We expect the results from this wave of research to yield a broad swath of new ideas and case examples of actual programs and technology deployments.

We hope to wrap up the online survey by the second week of January and then begin interviews with technology providers (including community platform companies) and practitioners that have deployed AI, Automation and Agent technologies in their communities.

Again, please participate as soon as you can:
https://structure3c.typeform.com/to/j3pgTB

I would also appreciate any recommendations for additional people to include in the survey and platform providers to interview.

As always, feel free to reach out with feedback, questions or ideas!

Influencer Apocalypse? No, But There Is a Community Opportunity

To say current conversations about influencer marketing are heated would be an understatement. With estimates of influencer marketing industry size ranging well into the billions of dollars, “influencers” certainly seem to be on the minds (and in the budgets) of marketers.

Let’s be honest – influencer marketing currently seems to be a bit of a mess. Issues with performance, lack of disclosure, authenticity, analytics, ethics, and even debate on what constitutes an “influencer”.

I’ll admit I’ve personally struggled with the concept of influencer marketing programs. I’ve focused on developing customer communities throughout my career, and it was always galling to see budgets dedicated to what I perceived as shallow and short term investments with influencers and opinion leaders competing for budget with community programs.

Now I see an opportunity to align influencer marketing programs with community development – or, said another way, I see an opportunity to identify and develop an evolved form of “influencer” from your community ecosystem. Specifically, I see an opportunity for many brands to see “influencer” development through the lens of community ecosystem development, and to align influencer investment with community-based champion and mvp programs.

To take advantage of this opportunity, three key transformations are needed:

  • Community Ecosystem Development: A shift from community development, slio’d by business function and digital touchpoint, to a comprehensive approach that includes all customer-facing programs, (on and offline) brand-hosted communities, social media touchpoints and partner / industry communities.
  • Community Advocacy Programs: Evolving community advocacy (MVP) programs (rooted in the dated Microsoft MVP model) to a model that identifies, celebrates and enables exceptional community stakeholders of all types (customers, prospects, fans, experts, employees and partners). This evolution would also involve an equitable value exchange between the community hosts and advocates.
  • Community Leadership Models: Evolve community leadership models to: 1) involve (enlist) more brand-side participants, 2) account for a broader range of community & ecosystem leadership activities (on and offline), and 3) ground community activity in purposeful transformation for all community members (a.k.a. ongoing personal improvement)

In short: most current “influencer” strategies are essentially paid media masquerading as social media. Grow influence through, and for, your customer community.

Customer Communities Are Critical For Business Transformation

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.

Photo by Kipras Štreimikis

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

markables_relatoinship

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 value exchange between organizations & individuals via community.

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.

Announcing the C3/A3 Project: The Connected Future of Communities, AI & Automation

Sci-fi fractal background - abstract digitally generated image

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.

Focal areas:

  1. Technology: The current and emerging technology landscape
  2. Business: Corporate strategy, competence, needs and level of readiness
  3. Individuals: Customer (a.k.a. Community member) needs, expectations and likely challenges

Key Components of the Project:

  1. Community Executive survey – February 26th
  2. Technology landscape analysis
    1. Community platforms
    2. AI technologies ( ex: Watson, Einstein)
    3. Agent interfaces (ex: Cortana, Alexa, Obindo)
    4. Automation platforms
  3. Executive interviews with select technology providers, early adopters and startups
  4. Mass practitioner survey
  5. 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.

Getting Involved

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: bill@structure3c.com.

Reminder: This phase of the research is open to Executives at large organizations (5000+). No agencies or consultancies please.

The Customer Community

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 10.32.39 AM
Image © Leigh Prather

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 Strategy.

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. markables_relatoinship 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 Product

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), Intuit (OWN It) and Sephora (Beauty Talk) are actively investing in the community space.

Opening the Aperture on Strategy

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.

Purpose Will Power Future Online Communities

IMG_0097

Purpose
“…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.

Purpose-Driven Communities

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?

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 3.32.29 PMNext, 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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 6.58.16 AM

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.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-8-57-32-am

Implications

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.

In Summary

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.

About Structure3C
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, bill@structure3c.com.

 

 

Develop Your Networked Business Pilot in Less Than an Hour: Worksheet

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”.levis

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.

You can download the worksheet here.

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:
Networked Assets Worksheet @Structure3c

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:Networked Assets Worksheet @Structure3c
The second page of the worksheet, with the ideation canvas partially completed:Networked Assets Worksheet @Structure3c

In Summary:

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.

Want to Know What Community Members (a.k.a. Customers) Need? Just Ask.

Are you “Member Shy”?

In its most basic form, a community strategy is a balance of an organization’s goals and its member’s (a.k.a customer’s) needs. Organizations have methodologies for developing goals and objectives, yet I continue to be surprised at how many organizations are missing research as a core part ofthoughtballoon their online community development process. Even for organizations that are highlighted as examples of “getting it”, there are still cases where the community wasn’t engaged in research about a major platform change, feature enhancement or policy shift (the historical / hysterical facebook privacy anyone?). In many cases there seems to be a real fear (or at least discomfort) in connecting 1 to 1 with customers. That fear could be rooted in the inability to have meaningful interaction at scale, the overhead associated with regular contact, or the lack of an evolved organizational culture that encourages this type of interaction. Any community development (or refinement) initiative *requires* the input and direction of the members.

Note: I will be using the terms “member” and “customer” interchangeably in this post. I will also use the term “member” as a placeholder for current and potential members of a community.

Why Conduct Member Research?

Conducting member needs research as part of the strategy development process brings the voice of customer to the center of the strategy, and helps create a lens through which to focus your community building activities. As I mentioned in my kickoff post to “Network Thinking“, there are really five core questions to frame your community strategy:

  1. WHO are your customers?
  2. WHY are they motivated to build relationships with each other? 
  3. WHERE do they want to build relationships with each other? 
  4. HOW do they want to build relationships with each other? 
  5. WHAT value can you provide as a HOST to strengthen and deepen these relationships over time? 

Member research can also help answer more tactical questions like:

  • What role should you play as host, and what community activities should you facilitate?
  • What types of content and features should be present in the community?
  • Should the community be an “on domain” destination, or should the community presence extend on to other sites, like Facebook?
  • What types of members does the community want to include?
  • What type of culture does the community need to thrive?
  • What activities are members prepared to participate in that will directly or indirectly benefit the host?
  • What types of marketing and advertising would members find acceptable?

Techniques for Conducting Member Research

The process for conducting member research is straightforward: decide on the appropriate techniques given your budget, recruit subjects, conduct the research and analyze the results. Great places to recruit research subjects:

  • Your existing community
  • Your blog
  • Your corporate web site
  • Partners
  • Newsletter mailing lists
  • Customer Conferences
  • Independent communities about your product or in your market or topic area
  • Facebook or Linkedin groups about your product or in your market or topic area
  • Using social network analysis tools like LittleBird or NodeXL to analyze open networks like Twitter.

One on One Interviews
One on one interviews can be conducted either in-person or over the phone. The key ingredients are a customer, an interviewer, a notetaker and a simple interview script (a sample can be found below). Interviews can be as short as 30 minutes, and generally should last no more than an hour. In my experience, a minimum of 5-6 interviews will yield useful themes and give good data for strategy direction. If your community will serve many different products, market segments, or customer types a good rule of thumb is to try and do interviews with at least 3 people from each segment. One on One interviews can also be augmented nicely by a follow up online survey to a larger group, in order to drill down further on issues uncovered in the initial round of interviews. Interviews can be conducted in person, via a hangout (or other video chat service), or over the phone.

Group Sessions
Another great way to get feedback, and to get a lot of feedback at once is to conduct a group feedback session. This is similar to the one on one interviews, except you are guiding a group of members through the script, as opposed to just one. Involving multiple subjects at once increases the complexity of the process, so be sure to have someone skilled at facilitation leading the session to keep the conversation on track (per the script), as well as to ensure that all participants have equal air time to give their opinions and feedback.

Online Surveys
The fastest, and often lowest overhead way to get member feedback is to create a short online survey to send to research participants. Online surveys are really great at getting quick quantitative feedback, and the results (depending on the tool) are fairly easily to analyze and study. A few issues with online surveys are that the quality of the results depends on the quality of the questions, and in particular, thinking through appropriate choices for multiple choice questions, and also creating effect write in questions that will yield helpful qualitative feedback.

In most cases for the community and social media strategy work I do at Structure3C, I will generally start with an online survey to at least 100 community members,and follow up by conducting a set of 7-10 one on one interviews with community members.

Questions to Ask During Research

There are essentially 5 overarching questions for your community strategy, 4 of which you want to answer as an output of member research:

  1. Why do community members want to build relationships with each other? What do community members need from each other? Explore what community members might desire from interactions with other community members, and try to understand why they are motivated to sustain this activity over time. Answers could range from knowledge sharing, to providing mentoring, to ongoing professional or personal support.
  2. Where do you customers want to build relationships with each other? This question is particularly important to avoid duplicating community features and value that exist elsewhere. The key insight to uncover in this line of questioning is what unique value you can provide in your hosted community AND which external communities and social media sites you need to participate in in order to create a holistic community presence. Increasingly, mobile presents a unique opportunity to host your customer network in fundamentally new ways.
  3. How do members want to build relationships with each other? What value can community members contribute / exchange? It is important to understand what ways community members are capable of, prepared to and willing to participate. Participation could include sharing domain expertise, offering content samples, answering support questions, or even just participating in casual online conversation.
  4. What do community members need from you as the host? Ask questions that explore member expectations of your organization in the role of host. What are the member expectations around your level of participation, your effort in developing content, in fostering participation and your commitment to hosting the community long-term?

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 6.06.10 AM

Example of a Social Presence Map to illustrate a dynamic community ecosystem, from my portfolio of work at Dell.

In order to answer the key questions, you will need to ask a series of baseline demographics questions (for context), as well as exploring each of the four key questions in a more granular way. A sampling of questions that can be used to create a script or facilitation guide are included below.

A simple list of survey or interview questions might include:

  • Name, organization, title, a brief role description
  • Browser and mobile preferences: Chrome vs Safari, iOS vs Andriod, etc.
  • What information sources do you rely on (relating to the topic of the community)?
  • What groups (on/offline) are you a member of (relating to the topic of the community)?
  • What products / services do you use (relating to the topic of the community)?
  • What is the biggest challenge you face in your day to day work (assuming this relates to the topic of the community)?
  • How satisfied are you with the level and type of communication you have with organization x?
  • Do you currently participate in any of the following social media activities: blogging, discussion forums, facebook, twitter, youtube etc (shape the list based on your market)
  • What information, insight or content do you want to share with other customers?
  • What kinds of information would be helpful for other customers to share with you?
  • If organization x were to offer the following content or features, please rate how useful each would be to you: discussion forums, expert Q&A, tutorials & tips, video previews, customer blogs, etc.
  • Would you be interested in connecting with other members at local, in-person events?
  • Exploring usability issues around current experiences and apps

In Summary:

I’ve seen investment in member research pay off consistently, just as I’ve seen the severe cost of not conducting member research hamper or sink many community initiatives. In short: Want to know what your members want from their online community? Just ask.

Customer & member research is a core part of my community development practice at Structure3C. If you are starting a new community or crowd initiative, my team can plan and deliver community research to build a strong foundation for your program. You can book time with my through my assistant Karelyn.

Speaking: #OCTribe Meetup | SF Jan27th

 

octribeHi Folks – a quick post to let you know that I am leading a discussion at the #OCTribe Online Community Meetup in SF this Wednesday night.

I’ve been involved with this meetup for many years, and it is an honor to be asked to speak!

Description and registration information follow. I hope we can meet Wednesday night!

Online Communities are Your Organization’s Future

I will present and then lead a discussion on:

  • Why 20th century businesses aren’t adapting to 21st century realities, including mobile
  • Why we need a fundamentally new and more expansive approach to building online communities in our evolving global economy (hint: mobile)
  • How to manage one of the most important (and misunderstood / undervalued) organizational functions
  • Why the roles of “Community Manager” and the Community Team need to evolve
  • Emerging opportunities for businesses to create and exchange new forms of value with their communities and, in the process, become more sustainable. 

This meetup and group is always high signal / low noise.

Online Communities are Your Organization’s Future with Bill Johnston

Wednesday, Jan 27, 2016, 7:00 PM

Location details are available to members only.

39 Online Community Managers & Fans Went

In January, join us for a talk from community pioneer Bill Johnston that will set your communities on the right track for 2016.Online Communities are Your Organization’s FutureBill will lead a discussion on:• Why 20th century businesses aren’t adapting to 21st century realities, including mobile• Why we need a fundamentally new and more expansi…

Check out this Meetup →