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. 


  1. Pingback: Network Thinking - @andymci
  2. Marny Sumrall

    I appreciate the clear descriptions about the challenges with creating meaningful customer communities. Completely agree that mobile is critical to success – we need to get away from web first mentality and that a mobile responsive website is adequate. Looking forward to hearing more!

  3. Pingback: Want to Know What Community Members (a.k.a. Customers) Need? Just Ask. – Structure3C | Blog

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