I was honored to be asked to keynote the SWARM Community Managers Conference in Sydney this week, hosted by conference Co-Founders Alison Michalk and Venessa Paech. The conference featured a range of topics and an impressive group of expert practitioners sharing their views on Community building.
My keynote focused on the need for a modern approach to community building in response to the accelerating change and disruption driven by exponential technologies. I’ve summarized the talk below and included the full deck at the bottom of the post.
Exponential Technologies and the Missing Human Dimension
Exponential Technologies are defined as technologies that are on a growth curve of power and speed are doubling annually, or the cost is dropping in half annually. Further, these technologies interact in a combinatorial way to create disruptive change and opportunity. Futurists Frank Diana and Gerd Leonhard do an amazing job of unpacking this concept on this recent podcast.
Online Communities are poised to have a break through moment if we, as community builders, can blaze the trail.
There are several trends converging to support this approach:
- Many organizations are experiencing a social media hangover and are actively exploring the possibilities of hosting their networks and communities;
- Research is showing that network-building and platform building activities are a path for organizations towards resilience and growth;
- We know online communities can generate significant and varied forms of value, and that connected customers are typically more valuable.
A New Approach to Community Building
A new and comprehensive approach to online communities can create a path forward through the change being driven by exponential technologies. The key factors, as I see them:
- Leadership that prioritizes learning over labor;
- Community experiences that are powered by purpose;
- A move beyond destinations to community ecosystems;
- Community presence across contextual interfaces;
1. Shifting Leadership Mindsets
To create the environment for Communities to be successful, leaders within organizations have to shift from a primary focus on Scalable Efficiency (Fixed Mindset) to a focus on Scalable Learning (Growth Mindset). Scalable efficiency is all about defined roles, repeatable processes and limited experimentation. This works well in a static environment but works poorly in a dynamic one. A focus on experimentation, learning and evolution creates the opportunity to adapt to changing conditions and shifts the role of community from one of cost-savings to one of value-creation.
2. Purpose-powered Communities
As Community Builders, 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. Further, an emerging body of research (including my own primary research) has shown that helping community members discover, refine and actualize their purpose can create truly extraordinary outcomes and high levels of engagement.
3. Developing Community Ecosystems
Developing a community ecosystem, to date, has typically involved bolting on a handful of social channels to a hosted community strategy. A number of new opportunities have emerged to explore in-person experiences, community partnerships and mastermind-style engagements (to name a few).
4. Interfaces into Community
Perhaps one of the most interesting opportunities is to think about the expression of your community across a range of interfaces. In-product experiences are going to be particularly valuable. As an example, Aatif Awan, VP of Growth at LinkedIn stated that “Product integrations with Microsoft are the biggest growth opportunity” for LinkedIn.
Community Builders as Architects of the Exponential Experience
Full slide deck here:
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. 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.
The concept of engaging “the Crowd” through digital platforms has been around for some time. Howard Rheingold coined the term “Smart Mob” in 2002 to describe the phenomenon of people acting in concert “because they carry devices that possess both communication and computing capabilities”. The concept was carried forward in 2005 by the editors of Wired to coin the term “Crowdsourcing” (crowd + outsourcing) to describe production with the a digitally connected marketplace. In the 15 years since the concept of Crowdsourcing was introduced, we have seen a wide range of crowd-based business models emerge: Wikipedia (collective knowledge), Lego Ideas (design your own kit), Kickstarter (crowd funding), Local Motors (crowdsourced vehicles), and Dell’s Ideastorm (the original social suggestion box).
With the wide range of crowdsourcing experimentation, we’ve also seen the limits of what the current platforms and practices can produce, and it isn’t pretty. Consider:
- On average, less than 30% of Crowdfunding campaigns reach their goals. On some platforms it can be closer to 10%.
- Quirky, once the darling of crowdsourced consumer goods, filed for bankruptcy in 2015.
- Dell, an early pioneer in crowdsourcing, has been able to implement only 2% of the ideas submitted on IdeaStorm.
- Independent crowdsourcing research, including a recent study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, discovered that social influence can cause “herding towards a relatively arbitrary position.”
What are the key challenges?
The most common limiting factors to Crowdsourcing initiatives are one, or a combination, of the following:
- Engaging the right crowd: Perhaps the most critical challenge in crowdsourcing is finding, and then engaging, the members of the crowd with the knowledge, skill and motivation to participate. Without domain knowledge and skill crowdsourcing produces only low quality results. Without motivation, you have unrealized potential.
- Creating an iterative development process: One of the early corporate adopters of crowdsourcing, Dell’s Ideastorm, learned early on that creating an experience that solicits ideas without giving the community the ability to refine and evolve the ideas is a waste of time. After collecting over 10,000 ideas in the first 2 years of IdeaStorm, Dell was left with 9,750 that couldn’t be implemented, causing frustration for the company and their crowd. By introducing multi-staged challenges dubbed “Storm Sessions”, Dell was able to source and develop products with their crowd, most notably Project Sputnik, the first Linux-based laptop for developers.
- Developing short and long-term feedback loops: The process and infrastructure required to support short-term feedback loops is difficult and labor intensive, requiring personal interactions and manual data management. Longer term feedback loops that include market data are currently next to impossible.
- Creating intelligence from crowd data: The amount of data a typical crowdsourcing initiative produces is overwhelming, and managing this data to create knowledge and insight, even moreso. Consider the amount of manual processing and scoring overhead associated with the 25,000+ ideas in the previously mentioned Dell IdeaStorm example.
How A New Take on Collective Intelligence Can Help
Collective Intelligence, a disciplined approach to the “wisdom of the crowd”, is defined as the “science of scaling insight from multiple knowledgeable perspectives and experiences into predictions”. We’ve traditionally thought of “The Crowd” as exclusively human, but what if we expanded the collective “we” to include the rapidly evolving domain of Artificial Intelligence? The combination of expert communities and artificial intelligence is the core of a new approach to Collective Intelligence being developed by a new startup named CrowdSmart. Specifically, CrowdSmart technology creates a means to predict startup success factors by engaging an expert community of investors to score and provide critical feedback to early stage startups. Investors save time on research and improve the quality of their deal flow, and Startups get critical and timely feedback to help increase their odds for successful outcomes.
What is uniquely valuable about the CrowdSmart approach is leveraging Artificial Intelligence to detect the statistically significant ranked comments behind any given score. These ranked comments are the “drivers” that produce a specific score. The qualitative “wisdom of the crowd” becomes quantitative intelligence that grows in value over time.
According to Tom Kehler, Chief Data Scientist at CrowdSmart, “Collective Intelligence significantly outperforms individual expert intelligence at predicting the success of a new products, services and startups.” If Tom is correct, the application of Collective Intelligence will have far-reaching effects on the future of Crowdsourcing, paving the way for a more disciplined approach and more successful outcomes.
Disclosure: CrowdSmart is a Structure3C client.
Bastian Unterberg is the founder and CEO of Jovoto, a Berlin-based platform that enables global brands and enterprise businesses to solve design and innovation challenges – ranging from new product design to sustainable architecture – with a community of over 60,000 creative professionals. In 2013, Wiley published Bastian’s book, “Crowdstorm – The Future of Innovation, Ideas and Problem Solving”. Crowdstorm delves deep into the methodology Jovoto uses, and is an insightful read for anyone working with creative communities and crowdsourcing initiatives.
I met Bastian at Crowdsourcing Week 2015 in Brussels and was impressed with Jovoto on multiple fronts: the quality of brands that were sponsoring projects (Starbucks, Adidas, Coke), the commitment by Jovoto to engage and compensate their community, and the way that Jovoto encourages the community of creatives to lead crowdstorm projects – including solution selection and distribution of award funds.
This interview is the culmination of ongoing conversations I’ve had with Bastian since meeting him last fall in Brussels.
Q: What motivated you to start jovoto?
BU: “Towards the end of my studies at the University of Arts in Berlin I was asking myself “What’s next, how do I want to work?” Looking at various verticals across creative industries, I realized that most work environments available to me did not match my DNA and understanding about how I want to work. So much amazing talent leaves university to face a world that simply does not nurture them or help them reach their full creative potential.
Hierarchy, politics, poor feedback culture – these are some of the factors in traditional creative work environments that suppress rather than nurture creativity. And this is something that I wanted to change for myself, for my graduating classmates, and for others around the world who were looking to break free from the traditional agency model.”
Q: The concept of community is core to jovoto’s business. Can you talk about the type of people who make up the community and what motivates them to participate?
BU: “We know that by embracing the concept of community, the majority of our creatives prefer to work on jovoto rather than elsewhere. To my knowledge, there are no other open innovation platforms that listens, supports, and nurtures their community to the extent that we do.
The jovoto community consists of creatives from all over the world who value their freedom to work from wherever they are, whenever they want and with whom they find interesting. They are highly independent and rely on feedback to develop and improve. They are open to collaboration and are not afraid of working with others when they see they lack certain skills to make their ideas as good as possible. They don’t rely on one skill but are rather interdisciplinary and great problem solvers in general.
What motivates them? Our community is motivated to participate on jovoto by many factors, but what might come surprising to many, is that earning money isn’t at the top of the list for most of them. For some it is the chance to work with great global brands on interesting tasks, for others it is the learning they get through collaboration and feedback, and then of course there are always those motivated by prize money.”
Q: There is an unusually high level of collaboration amongst community members. How did you go about building a strong community culture that values quality and contribution?
BU: “Open innovation naturally attracts a certain type of creative who are more likely to engage in collaboration in a different way. To nurture this even more, we reward certain behaviours that creates the culture which we want. Creatives who collaborate with and give great feedback to others, have opportunities to win special awards. We also have a team of creative guides who know the client and the community who also give feedback on ideas, as well as support and encourage the creatives. All of this contributes to the unique and supportive culture within our community.”
Q: Why is social impact important to you? Can you describe some of the global projects jovoto has hosted that have made a positive impact in the world?
BU: “One of the things you can observe on jovoto, is how creativity and mass-collaboration is an powerful tool to affect positive change.
I’m pretty proud of our track record in hosting important projects that will help make the world a better place. From the $300 House challenge, crowdstorming low-cost irrigation solutions for farmers in India, and the universal logo for human rights.
Last year, our most successful campaign was with Greenpeace, to put come up with campaign material to help put pressure on McDonald’s to stop their use of GM feed in poultry. The campaign was a success; McDonald’s in Germany announced in 2015 that they would stop using GM!
Corruption is another issue on the top of everyone’s list right now with the recent news about the Panama Papers. One of the ways we are engaging in the global fight to end corruption is by collaborating with Transparency International, and supporting the work that they do by helping to spread the word against grand corruption.
One of the reasons crowdstorming works in all of these cases, is that not only do projects promoting positive-impact projects tend to have a high engagement rate on the jovoto platform, but creatives participating also tend to spread the word off the platform, gaining even more visibility for important projects. It is a win-win-win situation for everyone. The creatives participating who can contribute their time and creativity to important projects, the organizations we work with who get great ideas, and for social and environmental impact.”
Q: You’ve said that you want to grow jovoto to the point that creatives could actually make a living solely from the platform. How close are you to achieving this vision and what will it take?
BU: “We aren’t far off, actually. Just this month, our top-earner took home €11,000 EUR (over $12,000 USD).
As more and more young people are looking to alternative forms of work, and more and more global business are looking to the future and to open innovation, the chances happening are already helping establish this new reality.
For jovoto, it is about supporting the best talent working on our platform, to reach new levels of greatness. We give creatives the chance to grow and learn and reward outstanding creative work. If you’re really good on jovoto, you can climb the creative ladder, with more invites to even more projects, some with guaranteed payment for participation. The more great clients we have, the more opportunities we can provide to creatives, and the securities we can offer scale.”
Q: What is your advice for those seeking to pursue a path of self employment through platforms like jovoto?
BU: “The first step is simply to participate! Submit ideas, give others feedback, and find other creatives to collaborate with.
The creatives that succeed on jovoto are usually creatives that give and listen to feedback, are genuinely helpful and supportive and engage with others. It’s an open innovation process so the more open you are, the more successful you are.”
Jovoto is a client of Structure3C.
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 Ramo, The 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, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi 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.
A recent benchmarking report from Demand Metric on Customer Lifecycle Marketing illustrates the impact of aligning marketing efforts around a customer journey model. The report also illustrates a number of blindspots that are derailing Customer Lifecycle Marketing efforts.
The missing ingredient? Community Management.
First, highlights from the report (direct quote):
The analysis of this study’s data provides these key findings:
- The study found that less than 20% of organizations are currently marketing across the entire customer lifecycle.
- Participants spend twice as much of their marketing budgets on acquiring new customers as on retaining existing ones. (Yet most of their revenue comes from existing customers!)
- Almost 90% of the study participants indicate that marketing currently owns the understanding and management of the customer lifecycle.
- Of the lifecycle stages – Awareness, Consideration, Purchase, Retention and Advocacy – Awareness enjoys the greatest clarity of ownership, with marketing owning the stage 88% of the time. Retention is most fragmented, with few organizations defining clear ownership of this stage.
- The Awareness and Consideration stages enjoy “adequate” or “ample” levels of investment for over 70% of study participants. Retention and Advocacy both fall at the “minimal” to “none” level of funding for 55% of study participants.
- The greatest benefit to executing a customer lifecycle marketing strategy is greater customer engagement.
- The greatest challenge to marketing across the customer lifecycle is understanding customer content needs.
- 72% of strategy adherents are experiencing a revenue lift from customer lifecycle marketing.
- Over three-fourths of participants plan to increase their commitment to and investment in customer lifecycle marketing.
Clearly Customer Lifecycle Marketing is incredibly valuable when all stages of the lifecycle are addressed. So what is the problem? Based on my direct experience and years of studying the intersection of marketing and online community, I would assert that building meaningful relationships at scale is still an undeveloped function in the majority of most organizations. Further, as the data from the report shows, the “ownership” for customer retention is scattered among many departments. Add to the mix the eternal debate about “who owns social / community” and things get even more messy.
So what is a modern marketing organization to do? Consider three things:
- Community Drives Customer Lifecycle
A modern definition of online communities expands the location of “community” to be any on or offline touchpoint where customers can meet and form relationships. A modern definition also expands the concept of community management to include any form of relationship building and nurturing. Modern online communities produce a range of value for customers and businesses. Peer to peer support is the classic example, yet modern approaches include a range of deep collaboration on new product development to expansive crowdfunding campaigns – and everything in between. Community can play a valuable role in every stage of the customer lifecycle, and can often be the connective tissue to hold the entire experience together.
- Treat Engagement & Retention as a Community Management Opportunity
The practice of building and nurturing customer relationships is a job modern community managers understand very well. In particular, Community Managers can be very effective as resources in Customer Nurture campaigns during the consideration phase. I had my community management team at Autodesk reboot a nurture campaign that supported a 30 day product trial, and the results were amazing.
Further, Customer Advocacy programs grew (at least partially) out of Community Advocate / MVP programs. It is a relatively straightforward process to scale current Advocacy programs to include different customer types. There is also a massive opportunity to harmonize Influencer programs (which typically look outside of existing communities) with Advocacy programs. These are essentially two sides of the same coin – Advocates have typically been nurtured through a hosted community and Influencers have established their own communities and networks. A modern Community Manager treats these contexts as part of the larger community ecosystem.
Treating engagement and retention as a community management opportunity allows the staff with the skills to manage relationships at scale do what they do best. This is a huge missed opportunity in marketing.
- Get Real About Digital Transformation & Social Business
A modern approach to online community takes into account the entire digital ecosystem, not just single online touchpoints. A modern approach to community management nurtures engagement across the digital ecosystem. So if Community Managers know how to address the key gaps illustrated in the Demand Metric report, what’s the problem? Why isn’t it happening? There are many answers, but one factor that has had a huge negative impact is the trend of Digital Transformation initiatives absorbing (or in some cases, abandoning) Social Business efforts. I expand on (and in some ways, rant about) this in my 2015 recap post. Most Digital Transformation initiatives have focused on technology at the cost of customer engagement. Many Social Leadership teams and organizations have been disbanded or fractured and embedded to the point of being ineffective. Customer Experience initiatives often focus on superficial and in the moment customer engagements at the cost of growing the life long relationship.Bottom Line: We need a new Leadership model that addresses not only the Company : Customer relationship but also the complex network of Customer : Customers : Company relationships.
Netting it out:
- To create successful Customer Lifecycle Marketing initiatives, modern marketers must include online community and community managers.
- Community Managers can help address the current engagement and retention gaps in Customer Lifecycle Marketing programs.
- Organizations need to renew focus and investment in Online Community Leadership to drive growth via Customer Lifecycle Marketing
I am working with a portfolio of clients on evolving their community and marketing programs (lifecycle, influencer & advocacy, community management). I am also kicking off the year by offering a complimentary consultation session (for a limited time & very limited slots). If you would like to get feedback and guidance on your 2016 plans, feel free to register for a consultation here.