Note: this is cross posted from the Online Community Report
Unfortunately, there has been a lot of very grim economic news of late. The purpose of this post isn’t to give an overview of the current situation, but to highlight possible implications of a slower economy on business, and by extension on online community budgets. More importantly, I want to start a discussion about Community Managers can help their community’s survive and thrive during the downturn.
We have seen this cycle before, and relatively recently. When the web 1.0 bubble burst, many “community”-based startups ceased to exist, and spending on online community development in the enterprise all but dried up. From personal experience, most of the community initiatives at Autodesk were suspended in the closing months of 2001, and we shifted focus to our discussion groups and some customer-generated content activities.
What was different with Community 2.0?
By late 2004 and early 2005, key changes in in the marketplace, in organizations attitudes and in customer (user / people online / etc) behavior led to an explosive growth of social media, use of social networking and increased online community building activities by many organizations.
Key factors were (IMHO, I won’t list all):
• Cost of platforms dramatically decreased, and in some cases fell to zero
• Consumer and workplace broadband reached ~100% penetration
• Consumers accepted less formal content, trust in “people like me” exceeded authoritities
• A certain segment of the group formerly known as “the audience” decided they wanted to actively create, participate and connect
• Many companies started to accept and practice the principals outlined in the Cluetrain Manifesto, and in the many key books, blogs and conference that followed, evangelizing the metaphor of conversation
Things Were Going So Well, What Happened?
Earlier this year, we started to hear significant rumblings from wall street that things were not ok, particularly with the credit markets. Over the last two weeks, the markets have been in turmoil. Many organizations are seeing the dark shadow of a recession. Some argue we are already there. One thing is clear: most organizations have shifted to a more conservative outlook for 2009.
As organizations take a more sober look at the last quarter of 2008 and make projections for 2009, there are some likely implications for online community programs:
• Budgets will likely shrink
• Headcount will likely be frozen
• Positions may be consolidated (merging of roles)
• Layoffs may happen
• It will be harder to upgrade / make improvements to infrastructure
• Pressure will increase quickly and dramatically for some articulation of value
• Programs may be cut back
• In extreme cases, some community programs may be abandoned
Thriving in the Downturn
I want to be very clear here: I don’t think the global economic circumstances mean gloom and despair for the entire online community sector. The circumstances for Community 2.0 that I outlined above still generally hold true, and I still believe most organizations can create real value by engaging in online community activity. Signs that interest in online community is still high are all around. For instance, demand for qualified community managers and strategists is at an all time high (even though we are starting to see the first hints of staff reduction).
However, I do think that Community Managers have some work to do in order to navigate some of the potential challenges I outlined above. I’ve outlined the following tactics that can help (and I’d love to here your suggestions via the comments).
• Focus on Defining / and Reporting Value
In order for your community strategy to be sustainable, you need to be able to articulate value back to the organization. This value has to be articulated, at least in part, in the cultural language of your organization. In some organizations, it’s all about impact to customer loyalty, it some organizations, this value is growing an audience (member registrations). You will likely wind up with a report that is a mosaic of quantitative and qualitative sources. We’ve studied this issue in the Online Community Research Network, and you can see a report excerpt here:
Online Community ROI and Revenue Techniques
• Reach Out to Other Departments (CSR / Marketing / Support)
Online Communities offer value to almost every department in the organization, from HR (recruiting), to Support (call avoidance), to Marketing (awareness / reach), to the Product team (feedback, customer led innovation). Now is the time to reach out to other teams and create cross-organizations ties, and involve other teams in community building and engagement activities.
• Show the Cost of Not Participating
One way to show value back to management is to paint a picture of not having a community or community engagement strategy, and the associated costs and losses. These hypothetical costs can range from increased awareness of competitors to decreased customer satisfaction and loyalty.
• Be Honest About Your Strategy
Take a look at the community touchpoints and programs you are engaging in. Are there a few that have little or no participation? Are there features that score consistently low on your community research? Now is a good time to look at shedding these features and programs that are not creating value for your community. This is also an opportunity to involve the community in continuing to shape the experience and ongoing direction. Lastly, are there features or programs that you are struggling to maintain, that would be better served out in the community ecosystem? For instance, a particularly strong, independent Facebook group for your brand that you have been struggling with, or a user group that has a competitive feature on their site? Let it go.
• Stick Together
The worst feeling in trying times is feeling alone and isolated. If you and / or your team don’t have peers at other companies to talk to and share strategies and tactics with, start making those connections now. There are lots of meetups (like my Online Community Roundtable), conferences and organizations (like the social media club and the online community research network) to help support you.
What do you think?
I would love to hear what you think, either via comments or email. Are you seeing changing attitudes towards your online community initiatives? Have you been affected by the downturn? Do you have advice or suggestions to help other navigate these issues?
I’ll be in Vegas next Monday, 5/12 thru Wednesday 5/14 at the Community 2.0 conference.
I’m on a panel with Chris Messina and Dawn Foster (Jive) discussing online reputation.
Will you be there? If so, give me a shout out: email@example.com
Online Communiteers – Breaking news: we have finalized our event series for 2008. I wanted to give the OC Report readers a sneak peek, as well as to let you know that we have opened registration and have a special “super early bird” rate for our OCU East and Mobile Communities Unconferences.
Our events series for 2008 includes:
Online Community Unconference East 2008 (Registration Open Now!)
February 21, 2008 in New York
The Online Community Unconference East is the east coast of location of our Unconference series. The event is an Open Space gathering of online community practitioners – managers, developers, business people, tool providers, investors – to discuss experience and strategies in the development and growth of online communities.
Mobile Communities Unconference (Registration Open Now!)
March 20, 2008 in Palo Alto
The Mobile Communities Unconference focuses on social experiences on the brings together strategists, community hosts, device manufacturers, service providers, and content developers to discuss the emerging opportunities and challenges that mobile communities present.
Online Community Business Forum 2008
April 14 – 15, 2008 in Santa Fe, New Mexico
The Online Community Business Forum is an invitation-based event for online executives to gather and discuss the intersection of business strategy and online community, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Online Community Unconference 2008
June 18, 2008 in Mountain View, CA
The Online Community Unconference is our west coast gathering of online community practitioners – managers, developers, business people, tool providers, investors – to discuss experience and strategies in the development and growth of online communities.
Online Community Summit 2008
October 9 – 10, 2008 in Sonoma, CA
The Online Community Summit, in it’s 8th year, is the exclusive gathering for thought leaders in online collaboration gather to discuss best ideas for the future, in Sonoma, California.
Marketing & Online Communities 2008
November 3-4, NYC (dates and details to be confirmed in January 08)
The Marketing & Online Communities conference will explore current practice and innovative case studies that focus on the intersection of marketing and online communities.
If you have any questions about any of the events, or are interested in sponsorship opportunities, please let me know.
I ran across this yesterday on an old hard drive and thought I would post.
Daniel Siriste, the manager of AREA, and I gave this presentation to our global marketing team in March 2005 as food for thought in their community-building plans.
I’ve removed any proprietary information (of course).
Cross-posted from the Online Community Report:
The Shared Insights folks have posted links to all the blog covergage from the Community 2.0 conference here:
I’ve had a few days to let all the threads running through my brain since the end of the conference settle. Here are the things that rise to the surface.
Mobile Communities: Thanks to Anders from Nokia, I am now convinced that the mobile web in general, and mobile communities in particular will play a large role in shaping “what’s next”. For mobile communities to take off in any meaningful way in the US, the carriers will have to agree and services and standards. Companies like Loopt are already making inroads with the major carriers. How significant a shift will this be? It seems reasonable to think that any social application (think next gen myspace or linked in) that doesn’t require the form factor of a large lcd display to interact with it will make it’s way on to a mobile.
3D / Avatar-based Communities: In general, folks at teh conference seemed to think that these destinations are interesting, but not really meaningful. Kaneva just entered the space that Second Life, and to a certain extent There, have been dominating. I think there is lot’s of opportunity for innovation with this type of experience, especially given the wild success of World of Warcraft and other MMOGs that are essentially the older brothers of these more hangout-oriented sims. Unfortunately in their current state, the experiential investment required to participate Second Life is not worth the overhead. I look forward to changing my position on this.
Marketing in Online Communities is bad / evil / wrong: There was lot’s of discussion about the intersection of online community and marketing. The Edelman / Wal Mart fiasco came up in a couple of presentations, and in conversation. There was also an interesting exchange at the breakfast sponsored by WebEx. The main points of the marketing vs. community debate seemed to be:
– A marketeer has as much of a license to market in the community as the community gives, and this license can be revoked at any time.
– A marketer should be transparent about their intentions for participating in or sponsoring a community.
– The pre-Cluetrain models of marketing no longer work nor are appropriate
Obviously this is a topic ripe for further discussion.
Some Companies Too Risk / Transparency Averse: I was a little surprised at the volume of questions about the pros and cons of engaging in community building activities. I’ll just make a few blanket statements here Yes, your company needs to be blogging. It won’t be as hard, take as much time or come with as much liability as you think it might. Further, you should think about making the electronic brochure that is your current web site a little more participatory (forums, content sharing?). For those of you who actually have online community offerings, how about not burying them 2 and 3 layers down on your web site?
ROI: Matthew Lees from the Patricia Seybold Group led a really interesting panel on the ROI (return on information) of online communities. He has a really great model, and I know he intends to post some of his slides so I won’t try to paraphrase them. I will say that one of the points of value I forgot to mention in the discussion was that of comparative value. For instance, how much does it cost to blog vs. conducting a print advertising campaign? How much does it cost to host a discussion forum on a topic related to your business vs buying a tv spot?
Attention Saturation: Every day, more and more online experiences are vying for attention. From a supply and demand perspective, Joe or Jane Websurfer’s attention seems to be getting to the point of being fully saturated, while new online social experiences are popping up every day. Something has to give, and it will likely result in destination site closures and/or consolidations.
Here are my slides from the Community 2.0 session:
“Community ROI – Return on Information”
I’m heading off to the airport, and will be in Las Vegas tonight thru Wednesday.
If you would like to meet up, call my cell 415.299.9638, or send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.