Beyond Ideas: Building Open Innovation Communities

img_0571Open Innovation Communities – where companies and customers collaborate on ideas for new products and services – can be one of the most valuable ways to invest in community engagement. Unfortunately, this type of community is also one of the most difficult to get right. Many companies have experimented with this type of  Open Innovation – Lego Ideas, Dell’s IdeaStorm, Starbucks’ My Starbucks Idea – and each of these companies have seen value from the communities. The bad news is that most companies fail because they lack the vision and commitment to see beyond the initial tactic of soliciting customer ideas.

In my community practice, I’ve seen 4 stages that are typical in the maturation of an Open Innovation Community.

  1. The Social Suggestion Box – Launch an open space for customers to give feedback or make suggestions
  2. Overwhelming Backlog – Period where the company can no longer process the backlog and may abandon the community
  3. Managed Sprints – Develop a strategy to shape feedback and ideas by introducing a more formal process and constraining topics & time
  4. Collaborative Innovation – A significant evolution of programs and platforms that layer ongoing ideation into all design and decision making
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4 Stages of “Ideas” Communities

The Four Stages of Open Innovation Communities

Stage 1. The Social Suggestion Box
Most companies start their Open Innovation Community with an open-ended call for ideas and feedback. Community members are welcome to submit any idea, and the broader community (hopefully) comments on the idea and rates the idea using a simple scale or upvote. Community managers take the most highly rated ideas to the product team for discussion, and eventually some ideas are chosen for production.

The Social Suggestion Box phase is valuable in the short term, as customers will likely have suggestions they have been holding on to since they began their relationship with the company – essentially a communal backlog, if you will. Companies become stuck in this phase when they are unable to process the backlog of ideas, manage the growing community and deliver quality ideas to internal teams (typically product) in a format and within a timeline that aligns with product roadmaps. This break between the promise of a constant stream of new ideas, and the lack of a process and the ability to shape ideas into a usable format is the key challenge.

Stage 2. Overwhelming Backlog
The equivalent of the “trough of disillusionment” from the Gartner Hype Cycle, companies in the Overwhelming Backlog phase can often find themselves with a large pile of unread ideas, a community platform in need of a serious overhaul, an innovation program that no one really values and a community in revolt.

This situation may sound extreme, but it was exactly the one I walked in to when I joined Dell in 2010. IdeaStorm, Dell’s Open Innovation Community, had launched in 2007. After enjoying 2 years of valuable idea contributions, positive PR and internal support, year 3 found IdeaStorm as a “ghost ship” community, with no leadership, vision or community management. Things became so bad that a community member posted the idea that Dell should shut IdeaStorm down. The community quickly upvoted that idea, it caught the attention of Michael Dell and my team was given the task of “making it better, fast”. I eventually hired the community member who posted the “take it down” idea to become the new community manager for IdeaStorm.

To navigate out of the mess we were in, the team immediately began research to inform our new strategy. I wanted to know the financial impact of IdeaStorm to date, understand why ideas weren’t being responded to, and to understand what the barriers were in getting ideas from the Community into the the product teams at Dell. We found that the financial impact from IdeaStorm was really high ($100s of Millions), that we lacked an agreed upon internal process for scoring and prioritizing ideas, and that we needed to create a new type of community management role to help facilitate the new process – an Idea partner that lived on the product team. The final piece of the puzzle was implementing an archiving policy for ideas that didn’t score well in the community. Within a few months we had processed the ideas backlog, started design on a new platform (with the community), and had reengaged most internal product teams.

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Stage 3. Managed Sprints
Companies come out of the Overwhelming Backlog phase with the key insight that shaping the topic, type and form of ideas they would like to receive is critical to realizing value and long term success. Many companies will implement a sprint-like approach to ideation, using phased ideation and design sessions to focus on a single topic or product.

This approach involves developing a clear business or design problem, and then breaking solution development in to smaller ideation projects that are facilitated, in sequence, over a number of weeks. The output of each sub-project helps shape the proceeding sub-project. Ideas and design concepts are generally of higher quality because the problem definition is clear, product teams participate, and community members get real-time feedback from the product team.

Dell did this successfully on IdeaStorm with Project Sputnik, co-creating a Linux-based laptop with and for developers. Other examples of the Managed Sprint stage include Unilever and General Mills. Jovoto (client), an “On Demand Creative Community”, has on of the best Managed Sprint approaches I have seen – you can find more information on their site, and in the book their CEO Bastian Unterberg coauthored, “Crowdstorm“.

Stage 4. Collaborative Innovation
In many ways, moving through Stages 1-3 are a necessary process for companies to undertake in order to develop the strategy, process, alignment, platforms and business models to move beyond what are essentially sporadic innovation campaigns.

Collaborative Innovation is an ideal state where an organization and its community of customer, partners and employees are engaged in an ongoing process to perfect existing products & services and to bring new products and services to market. We’ve talked for years about the boundaries between companies and customers disappearing – in the Collaborative Innovation stage, the boundary is permeable – customers create new products & services with the companies assets, and receive value in return (use, compensation, reputation, etc.).

There are examples of large companies partially engaged in the Collaborative Innovation stage, but none that have extended this to every part of their business.

Some examples include:

Opportunity While Other Stall

The truth is, most companies never make it beyond stage 2, “Overwhelming Backlog”. Dell, an early pioneer in the space (and my former employer) has been regressing back from Stage 3 for a few years (unfortunately). The other notable pioneer, Starbucks, has optimized My Starbucks Idea to be a very well run & designed Stage 1 community. While Communities at each stage offers some dimension of value, companies progressing through to Stages 3 & 4 will discover the most value and innovation.

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The potential opportunity for the next wave of Open Innovation Communities is incredible. Why?

  • Customers have shown they are willing to collaborate & create
  • Customers are willing to buy products still in the conceptual phase (millions of examples of crowdfunding)
  • The tools to create & share complex designs are free and relatively easy to use – see Fusion 360 & OnShape
  • Innovation platform companies have an opportunity to move beyond text / pictures / video into immersive & real-time 2d & 3d collaboration. PS – Platform companies – I would LOVE to work on this and have a ton of ideas.

Summary

Many companies could realize tremendous value from Open Innovation Communities. Most don’t because they don’t experiment, or do a poor job of planning their initiatives. Companies that commit, support and evolve their Communities see value. Beyond the current practice examples of Open Innovation Communities, the next wave will feature immersive and real-time design as a key feature. Those who wish to innovate need to be evolving their platform, programs and internal process now.

Learning More
I’m offering a session on Jolt that expands on the concepts in this post, and goes in to more strategic detail about how to build the best Open Innovation Community for your business. Feel free to book a session and chat with me about tailoring to your organization’s needs.

To Develop a Community, Think Network First

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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 RamoThe 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, bill@structure3c.com.

Purpose Will Power Future Online Communities

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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.  The goal of my cohort is 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.

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The team is currently processing our early results from the pilot, and the initial data look very promising.

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.

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.

 

 

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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?
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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 →

Introducing Network Thinking: A Mobile Approach to Customer Communities

IMG_3777.pngCustomer Communities Don’t Have To Be Complicated

We know companies that invest in creating networks of relationships perform better than those that don’t. We also know that customers connected to a company’s “network of relationships” are more valuable. One of the best ways to create a customer network is to develop online communities. There are myriad vendors, platforms, consultants and thought leaders helping develop the space. We seem to have all the pieces on the table for success.

So, why is it still so damned complicated to develop customer communities? I see 5 reasons:

1. Indulgence of Complexity

Vendors, analysts and (i hate to say it) some community “experts”make community technology and programs unnecessarily complex in order to position themselves as a solution. Lean, customer-focused approaches aren’t as opaque or profitable as slow, heavyweight and complex technology and approaches.

2. The Inertia of the Support Community Model

Most online communities in the enterprise side evolved out of support forums, and so did most of the platforms on the market. Many first wave community managers cut their teeth in support and / or forums-based experiences. Most Community Advocate programs were based on the Microsoft MVP model, which was optimized around support use cases. We learned a lot in the industry from the Support Community model, no question. The problem is that Support Communities aren’t sustainable in the long term, and many (including me) are predicting their demise in the next 3-5 years. Support Communities are based on customers doing support work for free. With the rise of knowledge marketplaces and microconsulting services, any intrinsic motivation to volunteer for tech companies is going to quickly wain. If your overarching community strategy is predicated on massive quantities of free labor from your customers, I’m sorry to say the free ride is over. 

3. Ignoring Ubiquity of the Mobile Ecosystem

mavssnThe Mobile Ecosystem is driving massive market change, yet most community vendors are completely ignoring mobile-first strategies. As an example of market change: Business Insider just released a report on mobile messaging apps that shows monthly active users of messaging apps has eclipsed social networks. Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz has a ton of amazing content on framing the mobile ecosystem, and the implications for business. 

4. Organizational Silos

Disconnected organizations and teams lead to disconnected customer experiences. A modern community that delivers a connected customer experience requires a level of cross-functional collaboration most organizations don’t understand.

5. Fractured Understanding of the Customer

A fractured approach to customer experience inevitably leads to a fractured understanding of the customer and multiple silos of valuable customer data. An understanding customer needs and behaviors is key to designing the optimum customer community experience and improving performance of Customer Lifecycle Marketing performance.  

The net: The current model for developing online communities is overcomplicated and entirely misses the mobile opportunity. Let’s fix it.

A new way to work: Network Thinking

Over the coming weeks I will be expanding on an idea that can help you develop an optimum customer community & community-based marketing strategy. The concept is Network Thinking.

Starting your own Network Thinking is simple. There are five questions at the core of Network Thinking:

  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?

Answering these five simple questions forms a succinct and cogent foundation for your next strategic steps. I would encourage you to spend 15 minutes answering the questions as completely as you can, and also noting what barriers prevent you from forming any answers.

The Value of Network Thinking:

Network Thinking will bring a new approach to building relationships between customers, at scale. You will gain immediate clarity around objectives and approach. You will create long-term value in the form of sustained customer relationships, lower customer acquisition costs and expanding your community into the mobile ecosystem. 

I am deeply excited by this new apporach and look forward to sharing the concepts, possibilities and customer case examples with you over the coming weeks.

If your would like to discuss how Network Thinking can improve your Online Community initiatives, or would like to get feedback and guidance on your 2016 plans, book a complimentary phone consultation here.