Image © Leigh Prather
The last few years have seen big brands make extraordinary investments in developing massive “digital transformation” and social media programs. On one hand, these programs have yielded moments of customer connection, advocacy and insight. Unfortunately, for the majority of programs reliant on mass social platforms like facebook and twitter, organic reach has dropped effectively to 0 and companies are now forced to pay to engage sporadically with the “audiences” they worked so hard to build. Companies now realize they have been renting their customer communities on social platforms.
The alternative to social media campaigns and digital transformation theatrics? Developing Customer communities. Specifically, online Customer communities that companies build, host and manage. Customer communities hold the key to Customer acquisition, retention and growth. Further, communities can be a catalyst for development and innovation, and will be critical to future business models. Below I explore the opportunity for Customer community in three key Corporate areas: Brand, Product and Strategy.
Community is the Fabric of Brand
What is the nature and value of brand in a hyper-connected world? A recent HBR article asserts that the collective value of Customer relationships is outstripping the value of “brand. The authors of the article nail the point that Customer relationships are incredibly valuable, but may have missed an opportunity to explore the effect of the customer community as a brand asset & catalyst — the line between brand and relationship isn’t as crisp as the authors imply. Further, I would assert that the “network” of relationships represented by the collective customer base of a company is a manifestation of brand, every bit as important and as valuable as the components of brand identity. My primary research and experience has shown connected customers (via community and social) are more valuable than those that aren’t. Third party research by Deloitte has shown that Networked companies (“Network Operators”) perform better, live longer, and are more valuable. All of these points are are vectoring towards a new opportunity and a new frontier in business: Community-Centric Customer Experience — an approach to customer experience design and business strategy that not only strengthens the Company to Customer relationship (1:1), but also strengthens and develops the Customer to Customers & Company relationship (1:Many, a.k.a. the “Community”). and considers development of the Community the primary .
Communities Will Infuse Product
Customer communities are an essential part of most technology products now. At the very least, online support forums are expected as part of the offering (more on that in a bit). Many companies are experimenting with customer communities as a means to raise product awareness, convert trial customers and retain existing customers. A radical new business opportunity is emerging where the community (both the people and the platform) are the actual product. Purchases are artifacts or a gateway into the community experience, and the real “product” is the collective experience, knowledge, content and means of collaboration with the community. There are many early examples in the gaming world, from MMOG’s like World of Warcraft to the new “build and explore” virtual worlds like Roblox. Software companies are attempting to build communities that address the “whole customer”, and focus on experiences well outside of product support. Adobe (Behance), Autodesk (Instructables, Fusion360, AREA), Intuit (OWN It) and Sephora (Beauty Talk) are actively investing in the community space.
Opening the Aperture on Strategy
There is an unfortunate tendency to view Customer communities as “cost saving” vs “value producing”. This thinking leads to strategies and outcomes that fail to realize the full value of customer communities, and is rooted in a long standing dependence by some companies on customer support communities. In extreme examples, this sort of strategy breeds resentment with valuable customers and leads to a dangerous dependence on an unsustainable resource. When the Corporate mindset shifts to “value producing”, the aperture of community strategy widens to a rich set of possibilities: community advocacy programs, open innovation, peer to peer mentoring, complex content sharing, customer co-design and much more.
Moving forward, Customer communities will be the medium by which value is co-created and exchanged between Companies and customers. To have any chance of long term success with Customer communities, mindsets have to evolve beyond a fixation on cost savings to a more enlightened view of communities as a valuable catalyst for innovation and growth.
The Bottom Line:
Customer communities are the “fabric of brand”, the medium in which the network of customer & company relationships develops and thrives. Companies that create modern communities with their customers will be more innovative, realize more value and have more resilient businesses than their competitors who don’t.
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.
- The definition of social media strategy;
- The current scope of community and social media efforts;
- The current state of strategy development;
- The process organizations are using to develop strategy;
- Ownership and governance of social strategy;
- The biggest challenges that executives and teams are facing
Last Friday, Jeremiah Owyang had a simple question: Is there a national day recognizing the work of Community Managers? The question spawned a conversation, which spawned a proposal for the day of recognition:
That day is today. Happy Community Manager Appreciation Day!
Every fourth Monday in January will be Community Manager Appreciation Day.
Community Managers have a challenging and exciting role. One the one hand, they are called on to be the personification of their organization to the online communities that they manage. One the other hand, they are also charged with being the advocate for the community back to the organization. Sort of like a benevolent double agent 🙂 The role of the community manager is evolving quickly as well, and we are starting to see the “swiss army knife” aspects of the role mature in to distinct roles on the community team: community product manager, moderator, internal community manager, social media manager, social ux designer, and many more disciplines.
We should take time to celebrate the folks doing the hands on work of shaping, supporting and nurturing online communities.
Background about Community Manager Appreciation Day from Jeremiah’s blog:
Now, Recognize A Community Manager, Every 4th Monday of JanuaryWhile we agree with common manners to always thank someone after they’ve helped you, just take a moment to pause.. and think. Why would someone willingly go through the above mentioned challenges? Because of their passion to improve the company, and help customers have a better relationship. In many cases, a genuine ‘thank you’ can mean more than a yearly customer satisfaction survey. Take the time to recognize and thank the community manager that may have helped you while you during your time of need.If you’re a customer, and your problem was solved by a community manager be sure to thank them in the medium that helped you in. Use the hashtag #CMAD.If you’re a colleague with community manager, take the time to understand their passion to improve the customer –and company experience. Copy their boss.If you’re a community manager, stop and breathe for a second, and know that you’re appreciated. Hug your family.This isn’t just about a single role, but a bigger trend of making product and services more efficient, and thereby our world a little bit more efficient and sustainable.
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve never been to SxSWi.
I’m planning on fixing that this year. Are you going? If so, I would love to connect!
A few posts I’ve found helpful in planning my trip:
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?
The wiki for the Online Community Unconference 2008 is now open to all for reading / commenting. Of particular value are the session notes.
The wiki can be found here:
Selected session notes include:
Worst Case Scenerios – What to do when things go terribly wrong
There were over 40 sessions, and most have some level of documentation on the wiki.