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.
Honestly, I wasn’t going to do this. I’m already rolling eyes at all the “prediction” posts. And there are way too many 2015 retrospectives to look back on… but I’m feeling optimistic and inspired! You are taking the time to read this – THANK YOU! I have had an incredible amount of support for my first year of Structure3C. Thank you for being part of it.
This is a long-ish post – the short version is a list of personal highlights from 2015, and a look ahead to 3 big ideas and aspirations for 2016.
A Look back at the first year of Structure3C
Thank you for letting me take a moment to reflect on a few key accomplishments from this year.
- Launching Structure3C on February 4, 2015 to help brands create successful customer communities and crowdsourcing initiatives
- Chairing the inaugural Collaborative Economy conference in San Francisco in March
- Conducting the first research study on Brands & The Collaborative Economy – exploring a range of organizations level of knowledge, interest, priority and current activities in the Collaborative Economy
- Having a number of prominent speaking engagements, including SxSWi, Social Business Forum 2015 (Milan), The Silicon Valley Boomer Business Summit and Crowdsourcing Week Europe (Brussels)
- Helping a growing portfolio of brand and startup clients with briefings, crowdsourcing strategy, online community development and product design
- Being interviewed by Virgin Entrepreneur on Crowdsourcing
- Holding the closing workshop at the Crowd Companies 2015 Main Event in SF – (you can download my custom workbook from the event)
- Being honored as one of the inaugural A. Barry Rand Fellows for the Life Reimagined Institute
- And on a personal note: I made a commitment to my family to be present more throughout the year – one lagging indicator of success is the number of pancakes and pieces of french toast made in 2015 numbers just shy of 1,000! (disclaimer: back of the napkin calculation)
3 Big Ideas for 2016:
1.) Beyond “Digital Transformation”
In 2015, it seemed like Digital Transformation ate the business world. Almost overnight, the big consultancies dropped “Social Business” and began to sell Digital Transformation strategies. Thought leaders and former champions of social published articles and books about establishing, then disrupting “Digital Business”. Former Social Centers of Excellence were abandoned or repurposed for the “new” digital business journey.
In some ways, this is completely logical. Big consultancies need to keep clients anxious and their armies of consultants employed. Thought leaders need a constant stream of new terms, concepts and frames to stay relevant and top of mind. Executives need to frame annual objectives in ways that are novel and show progress year over year.
And, let’s face it: Social, Community, Customer Collaboration are all hard. Really hard.
Obviously, technology plays a critical role in modern business. The problem with many Digital Transformation efforts is a hyperfocus on the technology at the cost strategy and customer relationships.
Further, the definition of “Social Business” was always somewhat nebulous, and the internal culture shift and alignment needed to be successful was an arduous task. Pursuing a primarily technology-driven agenda likely seems more attainable, and “Digital” is an easier sell – both the perceived value and anticipated results.
What is lost in the shift from social to digital is the opportunity to fully realize the business value of connected customer relationships at scale. Realized specifically through strategies based on networks, communities and deep collaboration. Sound nebulous? I’ve shaped and seen first hand the value of social and community in the form of increased direct revenue, increased loyalty, crowd driven products and early market dominance based on building communities in parallel with products. Examples: The quantified value of Dell’s IdeaStorm was in the hundred’s of millions of dollars, Dell’s TechCenter community had billions of dollars in impact on Large Enterprise sales, Autodesk’s support community saves the company millions of dollars a year… I could go on.
2.) Digital / Social Business reframed as Business, Networked
Based on my experience building online communities and collaborative experiences, as well as research I’ve conducted, I’m convinced that a new and comprehensive approach to online communities is the way forward.
An approach where:
- What we thought of as “social” is really the networked marketplace
- Your market is synonymous with your crowd
- Online communities build lasting relationships amongst your customers, prospects, employees and partners and
- Collaboration looks like a true partnership with customers, not an internal social network no one really uses.
In order to begin exploring business opportunities in the networked economy, businesses need to shift their mindset to think about markets as networks. Their total addressable market(s), connected via platforms & social networks.
There are three important contexts to think about in the Network Marketplace:
- Crowd: A group within a Market Network that has:
- A shared interest or goal
- The ability and assets to participate in a shared marketplace, task or activity via common platforms
- Community A connected & hosted group within a Market Network that has:
- 1 or more shared interests or goals, leading to shared identity & purpose
- The ability, motivation and assets to work towards a common purpose over time
- A host with intention to support & manage community over time
- Collaborative Organization Collaboration amongst organizations, partners and customers essentially functioning as one organization:
- Shared IP & Common resources
- Shared vision of activities and outcomes
- Shared risks and equitable outcomes
3.) Radical New Leadership
To truly make progress in the evolving online community strategy we need new leadership, and evolved (not incremental) vision. This requires a shift from quarterly-driven decision making by businesses and a “sell what we have” mentality from our collective social vendors. Specifically:
- A new function that owns customer experience across every touchpoint – and further – owns developing the 1:Many relationships in the market network, not just 1:1
- A new Executive to lead this function
- Integration of platforms, systems and customer data that create internal efficiencies, better customer experiences, and put the customer in control of their experience, relationships and data
- A new point of view on value, and specifically, the value of customer engagement and participation. The days of customers supporting other customers without compensation are coming to an end.
- We need a bolder vision for online community platforms and social media & network tools. Platforms now are: 1) optimized around specific functions, like peer to peer support 2) are incredibly hard to customize and 3) are incredibly hard to integrate. We need better from you.
- Reign in sales-driven organizations that over-promise and under-deliver on community quality and outcomes.
- We need vendors to come together on feature & data standards and interoperability. Just to pick a specific example: The current disconnect between CRM, Marketing Automation and Community Platforms (even from the SAME vendor) is unbelievable. Invest in fixing it.
- You need something new to talk about and sell. I get it. I humbly ask:
- Connect the dots between your concepts, especially when retiring an old concept for a new one.
- Talk to your peers in the industry when selling new ideas so clients aren’t dealing with 10 flavors of the same burning platform concept.
- Show your source data when you have it.
- Attribution is appreciated. Especially for concepts you are essentially recycling.
- Show you really care about the future of the industry by cooperating on standard definitions, benchmarks and training
- Try to coordinate conference data and overarching themes
- When collecting practice data you intend to use for consulting or products, please provide a disclaimer at point of collection.
Do you agree? What would you add to this list?
With that said, 2016 is shaping up to be even more fun.
A preview includes:
- An upcoming announcement for a series of Crowd Economy “Rapid Orientation Workshops”
- Select speaking engagements focused on describing a Modern Approach to Online Community Building by developing Market Networks
- Ongoing research into how Brands continue to evolve their Crowd and Community business strategies
- An expanded set of consulting offerings, including modules for leadership & team development, value / ROI analysis and scorecard development.
Should we talk? I’m offering a limited number of free introductory consultations (via phone). I’d love to learn more about your community & crowd plans for 2016, and I promise your will take away new ideas from our call.
In the spirit of the New Year, I wish you a peaceful and epic 2016. Thank you for helping make Structure3C ‘s first year a success!
In March I embarked on a series of qualitative research projects to help organizations prepare for the disruption and opportunity emerging from the Collaborative Economy, and understand what resources they need to be successful. Wave 1 responses are in and the analysis is almost finished. I wanted to share a preview of the results to date. The full set of results will be published in June.
The pool of organizations that completed the survey ranged from Fortune 500 software, media and retail companies to small startups in the sharing economy space. A handful of non-profits also participated.
- A shared understanding of the Collaborative Economy is still forming.
- The Collaborative Economy is relevant to organizations, but the level of urgency isn’t high (yet).
- The most interesting sectors are Learning, Services and Corporate (“Sectors” as described by Crowd Companies Honeycomb model).
- Many organizations see online communities, social networks and collaboration platforms as “enablers” and areas to begin experimentation.
Getting to a crisp definition and shared understanding of the Collaborative Economy is challenging because the concept describes the interplay of a number of other large trends and movements, including (but not limited to) the Sharing Economy, Sustainable Development, Digital Transformation, the Maker Movement, Internet of Things, Future of Making Things and more. In the context of this research project, when asked to describe their understanding of the Collaborative Economy, respondents mainly spoke to 3 key themes of the Collaborative Economy as:An economic model…
“A model in which the creation and exchange of value (of goods, services, knowledge, etc) occurs through human interactions versus (solely) financial transactions. Asset allocation is optimized such that resources are jointly consumed and assets rarely stand idle.”
A social movement…
“Where brands and people start thinking more cooperatively for the greater good…instead of competitively & businesses go back to being more sociable and people-focused.”
A technical platform…
“Coordination of mobile devices, cashless payment systems, reliable rating mechanisms to get value from each other as opposed to centralized corporation of assets.”
- Don’t understand how to formulate a strategy
- Don’t have the necessary vision, leadership and resources to engage
- Don’t see a burning platform of missed opportunity or competitive threat
- Aren’t willing (yet) to make the investments in platforms, partnerships, open collaboration and the making corporate assets available.
The respondents who did indicate a high level of urgency, and had active pilots, were engaging in activities ranging from: investment in or partnership with complimentary startups, development of platforms and marketplaces, evolving existing social business programs, and re-developing the value exchanges of their online communities. These pilot programs will be covered in more detail in the final report.
3. Emerging Sectors
Research participants were asked to rank certain sectors of the Collaborative Economy by level of interest. The sector categories were sourced from the Crowd Companies Honeycomb model.
Survey participants were asked to rank the following systems, technologies and engagements based upon their perceived value in enabling an organization to engage in the Collaborative Economy.
The full Brands and the Collaborative Economy report will be released in June, going in to further detail on the topics above, as well as:
- An overview of current pilot programs being conducted by the respondents;
- Key sources of information and data about the Collaborative Economy;
- An overview of missing or underdeveloped resources and services needed by organizations for their Collaborative Economy initiatives.
Wave 2 Research begins June 1st.
Wave 2 research will begin the week of June 1st, and will cover:
- Lessons learned from early successes and failures
- Organizational resources needed to develop and sustain pilot programs
- Development of a simple framework for Collaborative Economy pilot programs
If you are interested in participating in the research (via survey), being interviewed or profiled for the report, or sponsoring a future report, please send me an note.
Private Briefings & Advisory Sessions
I am also doing a limited number of private briefings on the Collaborative Economy research and how a modern approach to online communities can support innovation, customer acquisition and retention.
I’m available for online session booking via Popexpert, or feel free to drop me a note.
I 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.
I got my start building online communities in 1999 with the launch of TechRepublic.com. 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?