Category: Online Business


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.

The Secret Ingredient for Customer Lifecycle Marketing? Community Management.

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.

Excellent summary graph from

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:

  1. 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.
    Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 6.03.39 AM
  2. 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.


    Example Customer Nurture email from a Community Manager

    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.

  3. 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. 

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

File under: slightly off topic but personally meaningful.

Disclosure: I’m not a massive U2 fan. With that said, Achtung Baby is one of my all time favorite albums. It is a transformative recording from a band that had, to date, been cast as a folksy and righteous rock and roll band from Ireland. Achtung Baby is a product of the band intentionally losing its established identity, giving themselves time and room to explore (albeit contentiously), and birthing an almost unclassifiable masterpiece and subsequent co-opting of mass, and particularly, electronic media as part of the album experience.


In 2011, From the Sky Down was released to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the album. The film takes the band members back to Berlin to talk about the creative process of recording Achtung Baby, and in the act of creation, remaking the band.

One of the most insightful moments in the film is at the end, when Bono sums up the intention behind the Berlin sessions and the album. It is at once terrifying and inspirational:

“You have to reject one expression of the band, first, before you get to the next expression,” says Bono, “and in between you have nothing, you have to risk it all

I LOVE this. Applied personally, it is a call to action to grow, explore and transform. Faith in your instincts, talents and abilities bridge the gap between what you are and what you can become, and help hedge the risk.

It occurs to me that most organizations are in a similar state today – business models, culture, internal structure – basically most everything needs some level of transformation to thrive in the new increasingly connected and empowered market that is emerging globally.

How many will have the will to reject the “current expression” of the org?
How many will invest in the work needed for exploration and transformation?
Most importantly – how many will find the will and purpose to risk it all?

We will find out in the very near future.

ps: I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Berlin in 2011. I have to admit that I was not looking forward to the trip, but I wound up falling in love with the city and its energy- including the vibrant startup scene. I posted some of my pics from the trip here:
shots from Berlin

Attributes of Thriving Online Communities

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

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

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

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

Attributes of Thriving Communities

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


What would you add?

An Update on the Online Community Unconference 2013 #OCU2013


I wanted to provide a quick update regarding the Online Community Unconference that we are putting together in Mountain View on May 21. It has been an amazing experience to reconvene the “community of community managers” that were first brought together during the period Forum One hosted these events, and inspiring to see the new members of the community: both practitioners and organizations that are embracing the art and science of building and sustaining online communities.

We are currently just shy of 100 registrants, with a target of 200. We have an amazing group of organizations and industry experts registered, including leaders from:

  • Autodesk
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Brandle
  • Ebay
  • George Lucas Education Foundation
  • Google
  • Intuit
  • Lithium
  • Mozilla
  • Netbase
  • Ning
  • SAP
  • WestEd
  • Wikia

and many more.

We will also be joined by independent practitioners, industry analysts and authors that are deeply invested in and knowledgable about the community space, including:

The OCU is shaping up to be a fantastic day of learning, sharing and networking. If you haven’t had a chance to register, you can find more info here:
Online Community Unconference 2013 Registration

I hope to see you all on May 21st at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View!


Announcing the Online Community Unconference 2013 – We’re Back!


File under: blog posts I never thought I would be writing – but excited that I am.

It’s been an interesting journey to get here (and I’m certain it will continue to be), but I’m very pleased to announce that we will hosting the Online Community Unconference in Mountain View, CA on May 21ist.

You can register here. <

The Unconference planning team is rooted in the #OCTribe meetup and is made up of me, Kaliya Hamlin, Randy Farmer, Scott Moore, Susan Tenby, Gail Williams, Rachel Luxemburg and Maria Ogneva. Our plan is to closely follow the successful format of the Online Community Unconferences that ran from 2007 – 2010 in the Bay Area and New York that I produced when I was at Forum One – specifically:

  • Personally inviting key professionals in the industry to ensure a knowledgeable and experienced group
  • Adhering to the principles of Open Space Technology to ensure a quality event experience & maximum content – no filler / no talking head keynotes and no recycled presentations that you’ve seen from “noted experts” at other conferences. This is about real professionals having real conversations
  • A great location in the Computer History Museum
  • A commitment to document the proceedings  – see an example of the Book of Proceedings from the OCU 2009.
  • A fun and collegial environment

I’ll have more details as we get closer to the date, but the key things for now are:

  • Registration is open now with early bird rates @ $85
  • We are currently looking for a modest amount of sponsorship (feel free to email me)
  • Our hashtag is #OCU2013
  • We hope you can join us on 5/21!

And lastly… its nice to be back🙂

#CMAD 2013 and Sharing Some Appreciation

Screen Shot 2013-01-27 at 6.42.43 PM Today (ok, technically tomorrow) is Community Manager Appreciation Day, or #CMAD. As I mentioned before, Jeremiah Owyang will be tracking the global celebration via his blog: 4th Annual Community Manager Appreciation Day: Jan 28, 2013 In my last post about #CMAD, I encouraged everyone participating to “find there own A”:

I originally chose to support #CMAD because I believe that most organizations are underinvesting in and not properly prioritizing the role online communities can play in their marketing, sales and support strategies. I see #CMAD as a way to raise the visibility of the role of Community Management in addition to a whole lot of gratitude for Community Managers being passed around.

My “A” is still appreciation, but I wanted to call out a handful of people in the industry who have really helped shape my thinking about Community Management, and consequently, my career in the industry. Specifically, I wanted to acknowledge:

Howard Rheingold: @hrhreingold
Howard is one of the true pioneers in the space, and if you are unfamiliar with his work, you really are missing key pieces of the foundation of the Online Community industry. Howard’s work in and impact on the space is incredible, from his seminal book “The Virtual Community“, to his early participation in The WELL, his book on mobile social Smart Mobs, and his recent work in social and collaboration including classes at Stanford. A brilliant man and a gentle soul.
What I specifically appreciate: Howard laying the foundation for an objective conversation about online communities and collaboration.

Amy Jo Kim: @amyjokim
I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Amy Jo Kim in real life, but I consider her book “Community Building on the Web” on of my best Community friends. The book is almost 7 years old, but still remarkably useful in day to day practice. In particular, I find her definition of online community as the one I always go back to:

My working definition for community is a collection of people who have come together for some common purpose, interest or activity, and who are able to get to know each other better over time.

Excerpted from this great interview with Nancy White.
What I specifically appreciate: Amy writing the first book on online communities that was both strategic and practical.

Randy Farmer: @frandallfarmer
Continuing the list of pioneers with Randy Farmer, one of the first Community Architects and also an expert in Reputation Management Systems. I first got to know Randy in 2007 through the Forum One Network events that I developed and hosted with Jim Cashel. For me, Randy has consistently been one of the smartest, most pragmatic, and most helpful voices in the online community industry. We’ve worked together personally on a couple of projects, including an RMS project for Dell’s Communities.
What I specifically appreciate: Randy’s guidance and advice as the industry transitioned from Virtual Communities 1.0 to Social Media and beyond.

Joe Cothrel: @cothrel
Joe Cothrel is Chief Community Officer at Lithium (disclosure, Autodesk is a customer). Though not as widely published as the previous folks that I have mentioned, Joe is truly one of the smartest strategists and practitioners in the industry. Joe was another connection that I made via Forum One events, and I’ve always found his opinions and feedback valuable. Joe is particularly great at brand communities and the organizational issues and opportunities with online communities.
What I specifically appreciate: Joe’s advice and feedback on the best ways to create value with brand communities, and how to describe that value.

Jeremiah Owyang:@jowyang
No #CMAD list would be complete with giving a shout out to Jeremiah Owyang. Although Jeremiah covers many parts of the Social Business spectrum, we has consistently tracked, reported on and researched online communities and the role of community manager throughout his career. Jeremiah has been supportive of many of my personal community building initiatives, including my early Online Community Roundtable meetups and Forum One Unconferences. Jeremiah continues to study the value and impact of online communities and the fact that he continues to steward #CMAD is icing on the cake.
What I specifically appreciate: Jeremiah’s ongoing interest in, and quality coverage of, the Online Community space.

How about you?
Who is on your list? Who are you most appreciative of on Community Manager Appreciation Day?

PS – Looking forward to seeing Bay Area folks at the #CMADSF event on Monday night.