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:
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.
I created the Collaborative Economy Kickstart as a companion to our longer-form workshops. In 2.5 hours, participants will get a briefing on the Collaborative Economy, a facilitated exercise to guide ideation and action planning and 30 minutes of group coaching to begin their journey in the Collaborative Economy.
In the first hour Participants will be given an overview of the Collaborative Economy, including:
- The key elements of the Collaborative Economy;
- The three C’s of a Crowd-powered business: Crowd, Community and Collaborative Organization;
- Case studies and examples of Crowd-powered businesses;
- A method for identifying opportunities for, and threats to, a Participant’s business;
- A framework for developing a Crowd-powered business model.
During the second hour Participants will then be guided through an Ideation & Action Planning exercise that helps them:
- Explore the dimensions of the Collaborative Economy that are relevant to their business and market;
- Assess the biggest threats and opportunities;
- Learn to do an asset inventory;
- Explore opportunities via the Ideation Canvas tool;
- Create an action plan to more forward immediately after the session.
The workshop will end with 30 minutes of group coaching to explore topics that have surfaced during the overview and action planning sessions.
Participants will leave the session with a better understanding of the Collaborative Economy, an action plan draft and exclusive templates to use within their organization to kickstart their Collaborative Economy journey.
Your Weekly #CollabEcon Roundup for the Week Ending October 30
We hope everyone is geared up for an extra #spooky Halloween weekend. Uber’s latest valuation and funding round might be scary (actually, terrifying!) We’ll get you up to speed on this week’s best #CollabEcon articles. Just settle in with some trick or treat goodies and read the best the web has to offer this week:
1. “Can the Commission collaborate on the collaborative economy?” via Science|Business – “At a Brussels news conference, top EU officials had different perspectives on taxi-sharing and other aspects of the ‘sharing’ economy.” – https://goo.gl/ioy5jj
2. “Developing the Sharing Economy” via Economy Watch – “For any policy in this area to be effective, it needs to grapple with and challenge some underlying assumptions about the ‘sharing economy’ and its associated rhetoric.” – http://goo.gl/ylbgbY
3. “Interview with Uber: Creating a Frictionless Experience That Spawned A Generation of Copycats” via PSFK – “The Uber experience has also impacted consumer expectations across industries: if people can call a driver, organize a ride within minutes and pay for their trip at the tap of a button, why shouldn’t all service brands apply this same methodology?” – http://goo.gl/QSdl07
4. “Today’s sharing economy will shape our future” via The Daily Northwestern – “This recent unprecedented rise in the so-called ‘sharing economy’ is not just defining our careers, but also actively reshaping our daily lives and even our mental approach toward consumption.” – http://goo.gl/WWNuKN
5. “Following Uber’s Success, Copycats Rush To Carve Out Niches” via NewsFactor – “Uber has become a hip shorthand for efficient transportation and seamless commerce, a digital darling that turns your smartphone into a matchmaker between you and your ride home.” – http://goo.gl/PlLF1g
6. “FIR Interview: Jeremiah Owyang On Competing In The Collaborative Economy” via FIR Podcast Network – “The collaborative (or sharing) economy is heating up, with dramatic increases in both the number of startups that employ the model and the number of consumers who use them.” – http://goo.gl/DsV8Ha
7. “A Revolt Is Coming for Cloud Labor” via The WorldPost – “We are on the cusp of a revolution in the way work and labor are done.” – http://goo.gl/wucpNX
8. “A worldwide paradigm shift from ‘sharing’ to ‘collaborative’ economy?” via LabGov– “Most importantly, it’s only if and when each and all of us gets directly involved in such a process that we together can make a difference – suggesting a more than necessary shift toward a more participatory and collaborative economy.” – http://goo.gl/MlcIiY
9. “The Sharing Economy Doesn’t Need to Be Full of Monopolies” via The Atlantic – “Without checks on their power from consumers, these billion-dollar companies are beholden only to government regulation—and even then, sometimes they shrug that off.” – http://goo.gl/GvvLqC
10. “Corporate Travel Managers Don’t Trust the Sharing Economy” via Skift – “It’s shocking that more corporate travel managers haven’t embraced mobile technology and the sharing economy as ways to reduce costs and gain more accurate data on the habits of their clients.” – http://goo.gl/JCw0n6
Bonus: Bill spoke at Crowdsourcing Week Europe last week in Brussels (the conference was amazing). Presentations from all the sessions have been uploaded here. Do yourself a favor and spend some time with these slides!
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