Tagged: community

Beyond Ideas: Building Open Innovation Communities

img_0571Open Innovation Communities – where companies and customers collaborate on ideas for new products and services – can be one of the most valuable ways to invest in community engagement. Unfortunately, this type of community is also one of the most difficult to get right. Many companies have experimented with this type of  Open Innovation – Lego Ideas, Dell’s IdeaStorm, Starbucks’ My Starbucks Idea – and each of these companies have seen value from the communities. The bad news is that most companies fail because they lack the vision and commitment to see beyond the initial tactic of soliciting customer ideas.

In my community practice, I’ve seen 4 stages that are typical in the maturation of an Open Innovation Community.

  1. The Social Suggestion Box – Launch an open space for customers to give feedback or make suggestions
  2. Overwhelming Backlog – Period where the company can no longer process the backlog and may abandon the community
  3. Managed Sprints – Develop a strategy to shape feedback and ideas by introducing a more formal process and constraining topics & time
  4. Collaborative Innovation – A significant evolution of programs and platforms that layer ongoing ideation into all design and decision making

4 Stages of “Ideas” Communities

The Four Stages of Open Innovation Communities

Stage 1. The Social Suggestion Box
Most companies start their Open Innovation Community with an open-ended call for ideas and feedback. Community members are welcome to submit any idea, and the broader community (hopefully) comments on the idea and rates the idea using a simple scale or upvote. Community managers take the most highly rated ideas to the product team for discussion, and eventually some ideas are chosen for production.

The Social Suggestion Box phase is valuable in the short term, as customers will likely have suggestions they have been holding on to since they began their relationship with the company – essentially a communal backlog, if you will. Companies become stuck in this phase when they are unable to process the backlog of ideas, manage the growing community and deliver quality ideas to internal teams (typically product) in a format and within a timeline that aligns with product roadmaps. This break between the promise of a constant stream of new ideas, and the lack of a process and the ability to shape ideas into a usable format is the key challenge.

Stage 2. Overwhelming Backlog
The equivalent of the “trough of disillusionment” from the Gartner Hype Cycle, companies in the Overwhelming Backlog phase can often find themselves with a large pile of unread ideas, a community platform in need of a serious overhaul, an innovation program that no one really values and a community in revolt.

This situation may sound extreme, but it was exactly the one I walked in to when I joined Dell in 2010. IdeaStorm, Dell’s Open Innovation Community, had launched in 2007. After enjoying 2 years of valuable idea contributions, positive PR and internal support, year 3 found IdeaStorm as a “ghost ship” community, with no leadership, vision or community management. Things became so bad that a community member posted the idea that Dell should shut IdeaStorm down. The community quickly upvoted that idea, it caught the attention of Michael Dell and my team was given the task of “making it better, fast”. I eventually hired the community member who posted the “take it down” idea to become the new community manager for IdeaStorm.

To navigate out of the mess we were in, the team immediately began research to inform our new strategy. I wanted to know the financial impact of IdeaStorm to date, understand why ideas weren’t being responded to, and to understand what the barriers were in getting ideas from the Community into the the product teams at Dell. We found that the financial impact from IdeaStorm was really high ($100s of Millions), that we lacked an agreed upon internal process for scoring and prioritizing ideas, and that we needed to create a new type of community management role to help facilitate the new process – an Idea partner that lived on the product team. The final piece of the puzzle was implementing an archiving policy for ideas that didn’t score well in the community. Within a few months we had processed the ideas backlog, started design on a new platform (with the community), and had reengaged most internal product teams.


Stage 3. Managed Sprints
Companies come out of the Overwhelming Backlog phase with the key insight that shaping the topic, type and form of ideas they would like to receive is critical to realizing value and long term success. Many companies will implement a sprint-like approach to ideation, using phased ideation and design sessions to focus on a single topic or product.

This approach involves developing a clear business or design problem, and then breaking solution development in to smaller ideation projects that are facilitated, in sequence, over a number of weeks. The output of each sub-project helps shape the proceeding sub-project. Ideas and design concepts are generally of higher quality because the problem definition is clear, product teams participate, and community members get real-time feedback from the product team.

Dell did this successfully on IdeaStorm with Project Sputnik, co-creating a Linux-based laptop with and for developers. Other examples of the Managed Sprint stage include Unilever and General Mills. Jovoto (client), an “On Demand Creative Community”, has on of the best Managed Sprint approaches I have seen – you can find more information on their site, and in the book their CEO Bastian Unterberg coauthored, “Crowdstorm“.

Stage 4. Collaborative Innovation
In many ways, moving through Stages 1-3 are a necessary process for companies to undertake in order to develop the strategy, process, alignment, platforms and business models to move beyond what are essentially sporadic innovation campaigns.

Collaborative Innovation is an ideal state where an organization and its community of customer, partners and employees are engaged in an ongoing process to perfect existing products & services and to bring new products and services to market. We’ve talked for years about the boundaries between companies and customers disappearing – in the Collaborative Innovation stage, the boundary is permeable – customers create new products & services with the companies assets, and receive value in return (use, compensation, reputation, etc.).

There are examples of large companies partially engaged in the Collaborative Innovation stage, but none that have extended this to every part of their business.

Some examples include:

Opportunity While Other Stall

The truth is, most companies never make it beyond stage 2, “Overwhelming Backlog”. Dell, an early pioneer in the space (and my former employer) has been regressing back from Stage 3 for a few years (unfortunately). The other notable pioneer, Starbucks, has optimized My Starbucks Idea to be a very well run & designed Stage 1 community. While Communities at each stage offers some dimension of value, companies progressing through to Stages 3 & 4 will discover the most value and innovation.

The potential opportunity for the next wave of Open Innovation Communities is incredible. Why?

  • Customers have shown they are willing to collaborate & create
  • Customers are willing to buy products still in the conceptual phase (millions of examples of crowdfunding)
  • The tools to create & share complex designs are free and relatively easy to use – see Fusion 360 & OnShape
  • Innovation platform companies have an opportunity to move beyond text / pictures / video into immersive & real-time 2d & 3d collaboration. PS – Platform companies – I would LOVE to work on this and have a ton of ideas.


Many companies could realize tremendous value from Open Innovation Communities. Most don’t because they don’t experiment, or do a poor job of planning their initiatives. Companies that commit, support and evolve their Communities see value. Beyond the current practice examples of Open Innovation Communities, the next wave will feature immersive and real-time design as a key feature. Those who wish to innovate need to be evolving their platform, programs and internal process now.

Learning More
I’m offering a session on Jolt that expands on the concepts in this post, and goes in to more strategic detail about how to build the best Open Innovation Community for your business. Feel free to book a session and chat with me about tailoring to your organization’s needs.

Thoughts on the State of Community Management 2015 Report

Last week my friends and colleagues at The Community Roundtable released their annual “State of Community Management” report. This is the fifth year for the report, and the Roundtable team surveyed over 200 global organizations.

Key Points & Findings include:

  • An overview of the excellent Community Maturity model, as well as case studies on ho Microsoft and Johnson Controls have extended the model for internal use.
  • Organizations are still struggling to show ROI (less than 50% in Best In Class organizations).
  • Community Management, as a role and discipline, needs more internal investment and support.
  • Advocacy program need to mature beyond the “MVP Model”.
  • Findings on programming to boost community engagement.

You can view the executive summary here:

And register for the full report here.

I recommend taking the time to download and read the full report.

While at Forum One, I published a similar report in 2008. It’s interesting to note the places where the understanding of the practices and discipline of Community Management have advanced, and where progress seems slower (ROI, Organizational Structure).

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments! What is your take on the State of Community Management?

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 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?

Supporting Community Manager Appreciation Day #CMAD

Screen Shot 2013-01-13 at 7.14.57 PM

First established in January of 2010, Community Manager Appreciation Day (#CMAD) is held on the 4th Monday of January to celebrate the role of Community Manager. The celebrations range from small acts of gratitude, like thanking a staff community manager with a note, to major events and meetups all over the world.

Jeremiah Owyang, the event’s creator, is tracking all of the activity on his blog here:
4th Annual Community Manager Appreciation Day: Jan 28, 2013

San Francisco Happy Hour on 1/28
I am helping organize a San Francisco happy hour on the evening of the 28th at District Wine Bar. The event is free, but you must register and RSVP here:
Community Manager Appreciation Happy Hour – San Francisco

Google Hangout from the folks at My Community Manager
Tim McDonald and the team at My Community Manager are hosting a hangout on Google + all day on the 28th – more info at:
My Community Manager G+ #CMAD Hangout 

Again, Jeremiah is doing a great job of tracking all of the activity across the globe via this blog post.

Find YOUR own “A” in CMAD
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. With that being said, I have a couple of suggestions for celebrating #CMAD:

  • As a baseline, acknowledge the community managers on your staff with thanks and perhaps a small gift
  • Thank a community manager in one of your passion or hobby communities
  • Thank those you have learned from in the space – I threw a shout out to Amy Jo Kim, Howard Rheingold and Joe Cothrel… and I will continue to add to that list on the run up to the 28th
  • Think about how we go beyond “appreciation” for the CM role next year – should it be Advancement? Acceleration? Let’s ave this discussion during the year!

As I look back on my 14 years in the space, I am encouraged by the progress in tools, practices, programs and professional network… but we still have a long way to go! I look forward to seeing Bay Area Community Managers at the Happy Hour on 1/28.


Reflections on Community Manager Appreciation Day

Today was the third annual Community Manager’s Appreciation Day, or #CMAD. The intention of #CMAD is to raise awareness about the role of the Community Manager, and to recognize the hard working women and men who support this role for their organizations. Jeremiah Owyang originally proposed the idea for #CMAD, and has been very active in evangelizing and supporting it since launching 3 years ago.

I was had the privilege of joining Connie Bensen, a colleague on the Dell Community team, for a fantastic Google+ hangout today to talk about the evolving role of the Community Managers. the following folks participated and the video follows below:

+Bill Johnston, Director of Global Online Community, Dell;  <that’s me🙂
+Jeremiah Owyang, Partner, Altimeter;
+Connie Bensen, Sr. Manager Community, Dell;
+Lionel Menchaca, Chief Blogger, Dell;
+Amy Muller, Chief Community Officer & Co-Founder, Get Satisfaction;
+Mark Harrison, Community Manager, Google Earth & SketchUp;
+Patrick O’Keefe, Author of Managing Online Forums / iFroggy Networks;
+Jim Storer, Principal/Founder of The Community Roundtable; and
+Vanessa DiMauro, CEO, Leader Networks.

Based on the G+ hangout, and subsequent conversations, I was encouraged by a number of things today:

  • The global community of community managers is alive and well. I saw hundreds of CM’s participating in the #CMAD hashtag via twitter and on Google+, and had Community Managers from all over the world reach out today.
  • The spirit of the day was generous and inclusive, with lots of shouts out to CMs all over the world.
  • The day surfaced a lot of great questions that the industry is struggling with, including where and how the Community Manager role (and related team roles) should evolve, how community management changes by online touchpoint, and how to deal with burnout in a very high-touch and sometimes emotional role.

My key hopes for next year (#CMAD 2013):

  •  That there is a more integrated approach to Community-building, as part of most organization’s social business efforts. Specifically, I hope that Community Management is seen as a role, as well as an intention (to form and nurture a network of relationships).
  • That we (as a community) will have developed mature social team structures, with specific roles and resources, robust enough to support a range organization types.
  • That we will see rich and diverse educational opportunities for Community Managers (and other social team members), coupled with mentoring opportunities.

As someone who has championed the value of Online Community building for most of my career (at least the last 12 years of it), I am very proud of where we are as an industry… but I also feel that we have much work ahead to fully realize the opportunities that online communities present to our respective organizations and stakeholders. I look forward to continuing the conversation with you all every day, including Community Managers Appreciate Day 2013.

Community Manager Appreciation Day: 1/24/11 – #CMAD

Monday, January 24th is the second annual Community Manager Appreciation Day.

Jeremiah Owyang kicked this off last year by suggesting we take a day every year to celebrate and acknowledge folks who work as community managers and related roles like community strategist, community support, customer outreach… basically, anyone who has the job of reaching out to customers online and building and growing relationships.

How can you participate? If you work with or employ a community manager, or if you are a member of an online community – let your community manager know that you appreciate what they do. Nothing elaborate – a note saying “thanks” will most certainly be appreciated. If you are a community manager, come celebrate! There are tons of local events happening on Monday – I’ve cribbed a partial list from Jeremiah’s blog (be sure to see his post for the most recent list):

Physical Events Around the World (from Jeremiah Owyang’s blog):

I’ll be celebrating at the Austin event. If you are going to be there, please say hi!