Note: This is cross-posted from the Online Community Report.
I’m pleased to be kicking off the 2nd topic in the #octribe discussion, following the kickoff topic of “Influencers” by Gail Williams two weeks ago.
How OCTribe works
Write something tomorrow (Tuesday, July 28), tag it #octribe or tweet it as #octribe, and your post will be linked from the recap page. Moving forward, each 2nd Tuesday and 4th Tuesday of the month, the call and the recap will be hosted on the site of another one of the bloggers in the loosely defined OCTribe group. This conversational project is just starting, so please join in!
The Topic: Valuing Member Participation and Contribution in Online Communities
Admittedly, this topic is a bit of a double edged sword: Assigning financial value to online community member participation and contribution.
On one hand, a community manager could can paint a compelling portrait of value for internal stakeholders by determining a financial value to member participation (assistant moderate, guiding discussions, welcoming new members, etc.) and assigning value to member contributions (support forum posts, tutorials, reviews, feedback and ideas).
On the other hand, if an organization were to make the valuations of member participation and contribution public, it would likely set off a firestorm of debate about member compensation, legal boundaries around “volunteer opportunities”, and ultimately, force the host organization to account for true cost and true value of the activities and content created in their online community.
It seems clear that it would be useful for organizations to have at least notional values for member contributions and participation. What is less clear is how (if at all) to talk about this value with the community, and how (if at all) social capital is exchanged for financial capital in online communities.
The questions I would like to explore in this #octribe series are (feel free to pick one, all or explore your own!):
• Do you currently assign an internal financial value to member contributions and participation?
• Do you use an assumed value as part of your communities ROI reporting?
• Do you account for social capital in your system of accounting for online communities?
Reading the following article from forbes (2001) spawned the “participation value” question for me. In the article, staff writers sketched the value of the cost savings AOL benefited from via their volunteer program.
“How much has AOL saved by using volunteer labor during the past nine years? That’s not an easy question, and with AOL involved in litigation, the company is not eager to furnish the answer. But even with the most conservative numbers available, we estimate that by using volunteers AOL escaped nearly $973 million in expenses since going public in 1992. That poses the question: Would AOL have thrived-or even survived-on Wall Street without free help from volunteers during its first seven years as a public company? Not likely.
The many jobs that volunteers have performed for AOL would be compensated at a wide range of hourly rates in the labor market (see story). To be safe, we used a conservative figure of $15 per hour-about equal to that of a security guard-as the median salary for today’s AOL volunteers. We adjusted the hourly rate backward using an annual rate of inflation of 4% (historical note: Inflation hasn’t been as high as 4% since mid-1991). For the purpose of the model, each volunteer is assumed to have worked 10 hours per week, 50 weeks a year.”
Please note that I am including the article because it is one example of valuing member participation.
So, to wrap up:
• Please post your thoughts on valuing member participation on Tuesday, July 28th
• Tag the posts and any related tweets as #octribe
• I’ll compile a wrap up post that includes all tagged posts by the end of the week
If you have any questions, please email me.
The next Online Community Roundtable will be held Thursday, January 8 at SolutionSet in San Francisco.
The Roundtable is intended for seasoned community managers and strategists. We have room for 20 folks, and seats are going fast. The event is free.
To RSVP for the Roundtable, please go here:
About the Roundtables…
The Roundtables have been a regular, but intentionally “under the radar” gathering I’ve organized since July of 2005. The purpose of the Roundtable is to provide an open and safe environment for community practitioners to share experiences and best practices. It’s also an excellent excuse meet other interesting folks practicing in the online community and social media space.
* No sponsorships. Host organization provides space, food and beverages
* No pitches. Presentations should be about sharing experiences, having a discussion about a problem or issue you are facing, or reviewing a project or site you are working on.
* The guest list is up to Bill
* Bill sets final agenda based on topic appropriateness and time available
* “Soft” NDA: Blogging / Tweeting etc sessions is ok, unless presenter asks you not to.
Format for the 1/8 meeting:
5:00 – 6:00 Networking hour.
Drinks and food will be available.
6:00 – 7:30 Presentations.
After the networking hour, we’ll share thoughts on community. We request that you bring a 1-2 slide deck to talk to. Topics can range from:
* A report back from a conference
* A new community that you have recently launched
* A feature that you are developing, or are interested in discussing
* Challenges that you are facing in developing, growing or managing your community
* Or any other topic that you feel would be appropriate and enlightening to this audience.
Please email me if you have any questions: email@example.com
We still have a few seats available for the Mobile Communities Unconference, this Thursday, March 20th in Palo Alto.
Want to join the conversation? Register here:
Groups coming include:
3jam, Active Path Solutions, AdMob, AOL, Cisco,Digital Chocolate, FunMobility, Google, HP, Intel, Lithium, LiveWorld, Microsoft, Mixer Labs, MobiHand, MobileLife Inc., NextNow, Nokia, Omega Mobile, Inc., Quest Software, Ribbit, SAP, VMWare, Yahoo!, You Tube
Questions? Call me @ 415.299.9638
Steve Rubel had an interesting post this morning, titled “Historically, Most Online Communities Haven’t Stuck”
Only a handful of community sites over the last dozen years have had staying power. If you study them you’ll find moats to protect them from competitors and fickle users. These barriers to entry include peer-to-peer commerce (in the case of Edelman client eBay), robust user reviews (Amazon.com) and deep entrenchment in vertical markets (BlackPlanet.com).
I think the spirit of Rubel’s post rings true, and I think that in general he was trying to make the statement “don’t bet the farm on Facebook”, but I think the post misses the mark on a couple of points.
First, (as commenters like David Binkowski state) there is a difference between an online community destination and an online community. Many communities of practice, interest and support travel from destination to destination over time.
Second, I’m not convinced that most marketing and PR firms are best suited to mediate long-term relationship building between companies and online communities. I say this with the utmost respect to both Steve (whose blog and twitter feed I read daily) and his firm Edelman. I think that if the “center of gravity” for community building and engagement isn’t internal to an organization, that organization’s efforts are likely in a lot of trouble.
I think John Hagel did a great job in his Community 2.0 post of assessing the community-related carnage of the bubble, and setting expectations for the period we are currently in online:
I am deeply encouraged about the commercial prospects for virtual community. When I published Net Gain ten years ago, it unleashed a huge wave of investment – there was a period in 1998 when virtually every business plan submitted to VCs in Silicon Valley claimed to be establishing a virtual community.
Of course, few of these ventures were actually virtual communities and even fewer had any real understanding of what was required to build sustainable virtual communities. As a result, much of this investment was wasted, consistent with the broader pattern of the dot com bubble. An inevitable backlash set in – virtual community became a suspect term. Lots of interesting initiatives continued to be pursued under the radar screen without much publicity or visibility, but helping to build skill sets, experience and performance results.
The net? Communities that don’t provide value, don’t stick. Those that do will grow and evolve. And there will be a lot more than a few.
Hot on the heels of the Unconference East, we have the Mobile Communities Unconference coming up March 20th in Palo Alto.
The intention of the Mobile Communities Unconference is to explore the opportunities with building community via mobile devices. If you are developing social networking applications for mobile, or creating a strategy for extending your communities presence on to mobile devices you will likely find this event valuable.
Several factors are driving the importance and relevance of this topic, most notably the fact that the number of mobile handsets in use globally dwarfs the number of personal computers.
The shear number of mobile devices, combined with the increasing sophistication of mobile devices, increasing speed of data flowing on mobile networks, the increasingly robust web experiences available via mobiles, and the explosion in interest around social networking begs the questions:
– what impact will mobile have on pc-bound online community experiences?
– what are the unique opportunities for mobile-only experiences that transcend voice and leverage text and mobile internet access?
– when will the US catch up to the technology leaders in the mobile space, like Korea?
Mobile is such a juicy topic right now. Combine that with an Unconference format, and you have a very interesting day of discussion.
We have a great group of folks coming already. A sample of the partcipating organizations include:
– VMWARE, INC.
– Gatheringpoint Digital LLC
– Omega Mobile, Inc.
– Yahoo! Inc
– Digital Chocolate
– itsmylife Labs
– Alta Partners
– MobileLife Inc.
Again, we just extended early bird pricing of $145 until the end of day on Friday, 2/29.
To register, go here: http://mcu2008.eventbrite.com/