Opportunities for Brands in the Collaborative Economy

Zurich Marketplace

Plan from Frau Gerolds in Zurich, CH http://www.fraugerold.ch/

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about the Collaborative Economy lately. The key question many brands are asking: How do I get started?
The good news? You may already have. Most organizations have an existing online customer community (or communties). Most are as simple as technical support forums, but many organizations have explored community engagement that touch most parts of their businesses, from product, to marketing, even recruiting and talent development. Organizations as diverse as Lego, Autodesk, Patagonia, Starbucks, BMW and GE have all shown leadership in this area. Like the previously mentioned organizations, if you have been engaged in building the social business muscle in your organization, you have been building a solid foundation for engagement in the Collaborative Economy.

Big Challenges / Early Days

If you consider the evolution required for most organizations to embrace the Collaborative Economy, the task can seem overwhelming and the path perilous. Unfreezing corporate assets, opening up IP portfolios, bringing customers in to every stage of product development, even bringing customers inside the organization for extended periods – these are all huge issues to wrestle with, there is no doubt. But just like customer voices drove the social media revolution and customer’s preferences drove the customer experience and mobile revolutions, customer choice with experiences like AirBNB, Uber, Kickstarter and taskrabbit will increasingly fuel demand for radical change in products and experiences from established organizations.

So again we are back to the question: How do I get started? To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite professors in my Sustainable Development program: “Start where you are, do what you can.”  It is important to note that we are in the early days of this revolution, and as such, there are few hard and fast rules. Being crisp on business goals and measures of success, while being open to unexpected learnings and sources of value are all key. Specifically, my guidance is to start with your Community and Social Business programs and extend from there.

Places to Start

The list below is meant to give a few examples to start your own internal conversations about the Collaborative Economy – feedback and ideas are welcome in the comments.

1. Explore “Community” with a capital “C”
Move beyond break-fix support forums, and explore ways to engage your customers in product design, product development, content creation and local meetups. The state of online community development has been stalled in recent years by a fixation on customer acquisition via social media. The opportunity is ripe to invest in building your on-domain community and crowd-engagement experiences.
Further reading:
Autodesk’s Fusion 360 Community

2. Open Products,IP, and Assets
Is there an opportunity to open up some, or all, of your product or IP assets to encourage co-creation with your customers or spur market development? These could be in the form Digital Assets (design files, specs, branding, instructions), Product Assets (Digital or physical kits, tooling, specs) or other
IP.
Further reading:
Telsa Opens Patents
Toyota Opens Fuel Cell Patents

3. Open Space:
Organizations generally have a large physical footprint. Many have experimented with opening up unused office space for rent or as on-demand meeting or co-working space. Other companies have tapped their unused manufacturing or production capacity. Retailers are beginning to bring in outside brands and individual makers to sell wares in their retail spaces. Some of the most innovative or actually creating labs and makerspaces and inviting the public in to co-create.
Further reading:
Office Space Yield Management 
Maker’s Row helps match factories with designers
Shop’s at Target (First version of this failed, expect to see more)
GE’s FirstBuild MakerSpace
Autodesk Artist in Residence

4. Share Digital Platforms
Just as many organizations have underutilized physical space, they also have underutilized digital capacity & platforms. What are the possible initiatives for opening up your existing platforms and sharing other forms of digital capacity and data?
Further reading:
Amazon opens store on Alibaba (example of one retailer opening to competitor)
Can I trust you really? The Reputation Currency
Why Online Reputation Needs to be Portable

5. Allow Access to  Talent
One of the most interesting and largely unexplored areas of opportunity is the talent & cognitive surplus present in most organizations. What if that talent and expertise could be could be made available outside the organization? There are a number of challenges here, including an equitable vs exploitative approach, but the results of unleashing creatives and knowledge workers to explore problems beyond their “corporate” boundaries could be amazing. What if you could buy 2 hours of an Apple product designer’s time? Or get feedback from engineer at Boeing on product idea? Or hire a staff writer from Hallmark to write your Mother’s Day Card?

6. Open Access to the Community & Crowd
I mentioned the opportunity to create “Community with a Capital C” earlier in the post. One key challenge with any brand community, no matter how engaging or interesting the brand might be, is that it will likely only be relevant to a specific dimension of a customer’s work or life. Not understanding and accepting this simple fact has been the demise of many online community strategies. To get full value and engagement from online communities in the Collaborative Economy, brands are going to have to get more… well, collaborative. Radically so. Partnering with, and engaging independent communities, existing partners, and increasingly, competitors will be key. One example I would point to is the ongoing series of events that Hackster.io (a community for hardware hackers) is putting on with support from a range of incubators, hardware and software companies. All parties involved are prioritizing community engagement above competitive differences – as a result, everyone wins.
Further reading:
Hackster.io Hardware Weekend

7. Explore Incubation & Innovation
There are essentially three approaches here: 1) Outpost: Open an innovation or research center in a market hotspot like silicon valley; 2) Scout: Send Innovation scouts out into key markets to identify trends, find partners and start pilots or 3) Incubate: Create labs or workshops inside existing corporate locations. All serve similar approaches as they try to equalize the innovation equilibrium inside and outside the corporate membrane.
Further reading:
Ford Silicon Valley Research Center
Swisscom Open Innovation
Autodesk’s Pier 9 Workshop

Suggested Further reading:
Brand Loyalty and the Collaborative Economy – Rachel Botsman
Collaborative Economy: Brand Edition – Jeremiah Owyang

Net: Brands have an amazing opportunity for growth and value-creation in the Collaborative Economy. Those with existing social business and innovation programs are well positioned to navigate the transformation and be the early market leaders. Expect innovative brands to do a lot of experimentation in 2015.

Brands & The Collaborative Economy Research Project: Call for Participation

Update 3/2/15: The survey (Wave 1) will remain open until Friday, March 6th. We’ve had great response from brands, startups and a handful of non-profits. If your organization would still like to participate, you have until EOD 3/6/2015
bitly.com/collabeconbrands.


Today I’m kicking off a qualitative research project exploring the level of understanding, interest in, and urgency surrounding the Collaborative Economy for Brands. The goal of the project is to gain an understanding of how Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 6.38.22 AMorganizations are addressing the threats and opportunities emerging from the Collaborative Economy, how quickly they are engaging, and what resources they need to be successful. The research project will be comprised of a short online survey, select follow up interviews, and an additional series of interviews with emerging leaders in the space. To participate in the research, please take this short, 10 question survey.  All survey participants will receive a copy of the Brands and the Collaborative Economy report when it is published in March. If you would like to be considered for the thought leadership interview, please email me: bill@structure3c.com. I will be preview results from the project at the Collaborative Economy Conference (I’m chairing) in San Francisco, Feb 25-26th. Use code STRUCTURE15 for a 15% discount on top of the early bird discount that runs through Feb 13. Special thanks to Duleesha Kulasooriya, Jay Rughani, Jeremiah Owyang, Chip Roberson, Nancy White and Steve Alter for their feedback on the project.

Announcing Structure3C – Strategies for the Collaborative Economy

Today I’m taking a big (and scary) step in my professional practice – I’m going out on my own to launch a new venture: Structure3C.

It is becoming clear that a new wave of activity, the Collaborative Economy, is poised to have a large impact on global markets. Many organizations are not prepared for the coming shift, and given my experience with and passion for online community, crowdsourcing and collaboration, I see a huge opportunity to help.

So, the “official” pitch:
structure3c_sm

Structure3C helps organizations develop vision and strategy to thrive in the Collaborative Economy.

Through the lens of the “3C”s – Crowd, Online Community & Collaboration – we develop strategies, programs and experiences that connect brands and customers in meaningful, valuable and equitable ways.

In the next 3 weeks I will be:

  • Kicking off a research project to get an initial baseline of Brand’s understanding of, interest in, and readiness for the impact of the Collaborative Economy.
  • Announcing a strategy development workshop in SF in early March.
  • Chairing the Collaborative Economy Conference in SF on Feb 25-26.

Please wish me luck. If I can be of help to you or your organization, please reach to me at bill@structure3c.com or 415.299.9638.

A New Kind of Community Management #CMAD 2015

Community Manager Appreciation Day, for me, is an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been as a practice and as a formative industry, and where we are going.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 12.48.56 PMThere are vibrant & global conversations happening today and that makes me very happy. As someone who has invested most of their career building online (and offline) communities, it is encouraging to see the “tribe” come together for the day.

On the other hand, it occurs to me that the practice of building and managing online communities is in a critical place. With all the progress, we still have miles to go.

Consider other professions of practice: Imagine if Doctors didn’t agree on foundational concepts and definitions? Imagine if Architects didn’t agree on measurements and scales? Imagine if Musicians allowed themselves to be constrained by the theory they learned at university. I could go on – you get the idea.

Further, online communities as we know them are in a state of evolution: the needs and desires of the typical online “member” are changing; hosted platforms, social networks, mobile apps and in person gatherings are pushing the experience and identity of a community to the point of being ethereal and organizations that host communities are scrambling to make sense.

In short: What got us here won’t (fully) get us where we need to go.

Next year, what advances should we strive for in the industry and the practice of building online communities? I would love to hear your thoughts.

It’s Time to Flip the Social Media & Community ROI Equation on its Head

It’s no secret that many Brands realize tremendous value from their social media and online community efforts. Value in the form of cost-reduction for support and service, ideas for and feedback on products, product and brand advocacy… the list goes on and on. Most organizations have analytics in place and some form of dashboard that tracks performance, and in many cases, actual financial impact of social and community efforts.

Unfortunately, there is also a problem with the current approach Brands take: it’s unsustainable – unsustainable because it is predicated on Customers doing valuable work for free. 

We need a new social and online community value equation.  Stay with me here. In the early days of community, all brands really had to do was show up. Hosting a discussion forum met pent-up need for customers to connect, share and help each other. The motivation for participation was generally either purely altruistic and/or driven by the desire for enhanced reputation and recognition.

More recently Community Advocacy programs, elaborate reputation systems and game mechanics were introduced to drive contribution to communities. On the one hand, these programs and technologies enhance the Brand community experience. On the other (and more cynical) hand, they could be perceived as an inequitable attempt to squeeze more value from community members.

Further, there is currently an explosion of expertise and talent marketplaces like Maven, PopExpert, Odesk, Google Helpouts and 100s of others, Community experts now have myriad marketplace options and some are starting to charge for their talent and expertise.

To net it out:
1. Brands generally view Communities as cost-saving vs. value producing, and consequently:
2. Brands haven’t truly considered what an equitable value exchange might look like between the organization and the community;
3. Compensation to the community contributors comes in the form of either reputation and / or fulfilling on an altruistic need, with a very small percentage of member getting “MVP” benefits;
4. There is an explosion of knowledge and service marketplaces that allow experts to place financial value for knowledge and expertise.

In short: Brands have to rethink their social and community strategies from an exchanged-value perspective, or risk losing community their community.

What to do?
The most critical thing is to rethink the Social & Community value equation, and to move beyond the myopic view of Customer Communities as solely a means to reduce cost. Instead of asking what the benefit is to the organization, real research and critical thinking needs to be applied to the needs, expectations and values of customers who might participate in a community. The range of value received from the the community by participants needs to be broadened – access to communal knowledge and connections are an expected part of the digital experience now. Compensation for Community participation and contribution must evolve beyond reputation and become more tangible, possibly in the form of products, services or even financial compensation.

A few key questions to explore:

  • What if community members knew the explicit value of their attention and contribution to a community? 

  • What impact would this knowledge of value have on the current community?
  • How might we enhance the community experience by surfacing and rewarding contribution beyond rank and reputation?

  • What are the emerging knowledge and service marketplaces that might attract our current key contributors?

  • How might our competition attract our customers with a more valuable community experience?

I’d love to hear other’s perspective on the issue of sustainable participation. Please chime in via the comments below.

The Collaborative Economy Honeycomb v2: 6 Industries Added

The latest version of the Collaborative Economy Honeycomb – visualizing the industries showing meaningful growth and / or activity – has been released on Jeremiah Owyang’s blog.

The new version adds 6 new industries:

  • Health & Wellness
  • Logistics
  • Corporate (Platforms)
  • Utilities
  • Municipal
  • Learning

collab_econ_hcomb

 

You can get multiple versions of the Honeycomb file, a directory of all the businesses in the Honeycomb, and a deeper overview on Jeremiah’s blog post.

Digital Content & Tools?
One cell that I was hoping to see added this time around was Digital Content – maybe “Digital Things”. There are a growing number of  communities and networks of people exchanging the digital files, knowledge and expertise needed to make physical goods. Expect these networks and communities of makers, tinkerers, hackers and artists go more mainstream as more people become inspired by the Maker movement and the ease of use for the software and hardware tools becomes better.

Some examples include:
Thingiverse
Hackster.io
GrabCAD
Dremel’s IdeaBuilder Community
Fusion360 Community  (disclosure: I work for Autodesk and my team builds and runs this community)

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I do think the Collaborative Economy is a real and emerging force, poised to disrupt existing brands and create many new ones. Tools like the Honeycomb help capture a snapshot of the current state of a complex system – Thanks to Jeremiah for continuing to analyze, capture and help make meaning from all the activity in the space.

The Collaborative Economy – A Comprehensive Overview from the P2P Foundation

propsI stumbled on the following report from the P2P Foundation, and it was too good (and comprehensive) not to share. The main caveat with the doc is that it was published in 2012 and not 100% current with trends… but with that said, the content is generally helpful, and the editors / researchers were very prescient.

By way of a short overview (warranted, as this doc weighs in at 346 pages), the report gives a fantastic foundational overview and frame of what is now generally referred to as the “Collaborative Economy”, drawing from the best sources in the social business, online community, social media, innovation and collaboration spaces in the last 10+ years – Benkler, Tapscott, Chesbrough Botsman, and many more.

In short: these are the essential cliff notes you wish you had been taking over the last 15 years, but probably weren’t, coupled with thoughtful analysis. It is an excellent preamble to the work Jeremiah Owyang and Crowd Companies (and others) are extending and putting in to practice.