Category Archives: Online Community

A New Kind of Community Management #CMAD 2015

Community Manager Appreciation Day, for me, is an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been as a practice and as a formative industry, and where we are going.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 12.48.56 PMThere are vibrant & global conversations happening today and that makes me very happy. As someone who has invested most of their career building online (and offline) communities, it is encouraging to see the “tribe” come together for the day.

On the other hand, it occurs to me that the practice of building and managing online communities is in a critical place. With all the progress, we still have miles to go.

Consider other professions of practice: Imagine if Doctors didn’t agree on foundational concepts and definitions? Imagine if Architects didn’t agree on measurements and scales? Imagine if Musicians allowed themselves to be constrained by the theory they learned at university. I could go on – you get the idea.

Further, online communities as we know them are in a state of evolution: the needs and desires of the typical online “member” are changing; hosted platforms, social networks, mobile apps and in person gatherings are pushing the experience and identity of a community to the point of being ethereal and organizations that host communities are scrambling to make sense.

In short: What got us here won’t (fully) get us where we need to go.

Next year, what advances should we strive for in the industry and the practice of building online communities? I would love to hear your thoughts.

It’s Time to Flip the Social Media & Community ROI Equation on its Head

It’s no secret that many Brands realize tremendous value from their social media and online community efforts. Value in the form of cost-reduction for support and service, ideas for and feedback on products, product and brand advocacy… the list goes on and on. Most organizations have analytics in place and some form of dashboard that tracks performance, and in many cases, actual financial impact of social and community efforts.

Unfortunately, there is also a problem with the current approach Brands take: it’s unsustainable – unsustainable because it is predicated on Customers doing valuable work for free. 

We need a new social and online community value equation.  Stay with me here. In the early days of community, all brands really had to do was show up. Hosting a discussion forum met pent-up need for customers to connect, share and help each other. The motivation for participation was generally either purely altruistic and/or driven by the desire for enhanced reputation and recognition.

More recently Community Advocacy programs, elaborate reputation systems and game mechanics were introduced to drive contribution to communities. On the one hand, these programs and technologies enhance the Brand community experience. On the other (and more cynical) hand, they could be perceived as an inequitable attempt to squeeze more value from community members.

Further, there is currently an explosion of expertise and talent marketplaces like Maven, PopExpert, Odesk, Google Helpouts and 100s of others, Community experts now have myriad marketplace options and some are starting to charge for their talent and expertise.

To net it out:
1. Brands generally view Communities as cost-saving vs. value producing, and consequently:
2. Brands haven’t truly considered what an equitable value exchange might look like between the organization and the community;
3. Compensation to the community contributors comes in the form of either reputation and / or fulfilling on an altruistic need, with a very small percentage of member getting “MVP” benefits;
4. There is an explosion of knowledge and service marketplaces that allow experts to place financial value for knowledge and expertise.

In short: Brands have to rethink their social and community strategies from an exchanged-value perspective, or risk losing community their community.

What to do?
The most critical thing is to rethink the Social & Community value equation, and to move beyond the myopic view of Customer Communities as solely a means to reduce cost. Instead of asking what the benefit is to the organization, real research and critical thinking needs to be applied to the needs, expectations and values of customers who might participate in a community. The range of value received from the the community by participants needs to be broadened – access to communal knowledge and connections are an expected part of the digital experience now. Compensation for Community participation and contribution must evolve beyond reputation and become more tangible, possibly in the form of products, services or even financial compensation.

A few key questions to explore:

  • What if community members knew the explicit value of their attention and contribution to a community? 

  • What impact would this knowledge of value have on the current community?
  • How might we enhance the community experience by surfacing and rewarding contribution beyond rank and reputation?

  • What are the emerging knowledge and service marketplaces that might attract our current key contributors?

  • How might our competition attract our customers with a more valuable community experience?

I’d love to hear other’s perspective on the issue of sustainable participation. Please chime in via the comments below.

The Collaborative Economy Honeycomb v2: 6 Industries Added

The latest version of the Collaborative Economy Honeycomb – visualizing the industries showing meaningful growth and / or activity – has been released on Jeremiah Owyang’s blog.

The new version adds 6 new industries:

  • Health & Wellness
  • Logistics
  • Corporate (Platforms)
  • Utilities
  • Municipal
  • Learning



You can get multiple versions of the Honeycomb file, a directory of all the businesses in the Honeycomb, and a deeper overview on Jeremiah’s blog post.

Digital Content & Tools?
One cell that I was hoping to see added this time around was Digital Content – maybe “Digital Things”. There are a growing number of  communities and networks of people exchanging the digital files, knowledge and expertise needed to make physical goods. Expect these networks and communities of makers, tinkerers, hackers and artists go more mainstream as more people become inspired by the Maker movement and the ease of use for the software and hardware tools becomes better.

Some examples include:
Dremel’s IdeaBuilder Community
Fusion360 Community  (disclosure: I work for Autodesk and my team builds and runs this community)

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I do think the Collaborative Economy is a real and emerging force, poised to disrupt existing brands and create many new ones. Tools like the Honeycomb help capture a snapshot of the current state of a complex system – Thanks to Jeremiah for continuing to analyze, capture and help make meaning from all the activity in the space.

The Collaborative Economy – A Comprehensive Overview from the P2P Foundation

propsI stumbled on the following report from the P2P Foundation, and it was too good (and comprehensive) not to share. The main caveat with the doc is that it was published in 2012 and not 100% current with trends… but with that said, the content is generally helpful, and the editors / researchers were very prescient.

By way of a short overview (warranted, as this doc weighs in at 346 pages), the report gives a fantastic foundational overview and frame of what is now generally referred to as the “Collaborative Economy”, drawing from the best sources in the social business, online community, social media, innovation and collaboration spaces in the last 10+ years – Benkler, Tapscott, Chesbrough Botsman, and many more.

In short: these are the essential cliff notes you wish you had been taking over the last 15 years, but probably weren’t, coupled with thoughtful analysis. It is an excellent preamble to the work Jeremiah Owyang and Crowd Companies (and others) are extending and putting in to practice.

Dr. Strangeshare or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the “Collaborative Economy”

dr_strangeloveI have a confession to make: I can become really obsessed with labels.

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.

Ch-ch-ch Changes
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:

A Snapshot of the Evolution of Online Communties
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.

Culture, Change and Faith: Achtung Baby & Social Business Transformation

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:
shots from Berlin

Attributes of Thriving Online Communities

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 11.19.39 AMI got my start building online communities in 1999 with the launch of We grew from a cold start of 0 to 2 Million members in less than 2 years before being acquired by Gartner – it was an insane ride.

I was first asked the question of (more or less) “What makes a thriving community” during the first few months of our growth, and frankly, I didn’t have a good answer at the time. I was primarily focused on designing the site, rolling out new features (like one of the first peer networks in the space), and tweaking architecture. One night when we were working on what was essentially a Social Q&A feature, I checked into our forums to look for inspiration and ideas around how people typically ask technical questions. What I stumbled into was an exchange in the forums about configuring Windows NT for a very specific enterprise environment. Probably 100 in the entire world were capable of having a meaningful conversation about this topic, and we had attracted 10 of this. For TechRepublic at that time, a thriving community meant attracting the most knowledgeable IT Pros in the world, and incentivizing them to share and participate.

I’ve asked myself the “what makes a thriving community” a lot over the years, especially when my practice takes me into a new domain. What worked at TechRepublic in ’99 and Autodesk in 2001 wasn’t necessarily the same criteria for the large NPO communities and collaboration spaces we did at Forum One, or even the range of communities we built and nurtured at Dell.

I was asked to think about the question again last week, and I put together the following list. Given where brands generally are with their social and community efforts, I feel like this is a good and succinct list – by no means comprehensive – but directionally correct.

Attributes of Thriving Communities

Attribute What it looks like to host: What it looks like to member:
Shared Value Business value in the form of answers, content, connection, expertise, & advocacy. Value in the form of answers, content, connection, expertise & access.
Shared Identity Members rally around, inhabit, and shape community brand. Helps birth and shape community brand.
Vibrant Participation Visible, regular and quality member participation and contribution. Regular Host presence, contribution and facilitation.
Community Leadership Defined rank and reputation model; extending management to members. Meaningful ranks and status; clear paths to achievement and privileges.
Quality Content Content base growing and evolving to most valuable state. Contribution, curation and feedback to evolve content quality.
Expertise Community attracts and develops SMEs. SMEs from host are regular community participants; opportunity to learn & develop.
Culture of Trust Culture of openness and civility. Members air grievances respectfully. Feel connected to host, part of governance & free to provide critical feedback.
Elegant Experience Mature community & social tools, fantastic UX, committed roadmap. Easy to participate and contribute, needs-driven features.
Growth & Responsiveness Base follows growth curve of brand / product. Base guides features & policy. Steady influx of new & quality members, participation in community governance.


What would you add?