Category Archives: Strategy

Dr. Strangeshare or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the “Collaborative Economy”

dr_strangeloveI have a confession to make: I can become really obsessed with labels.

Back in 2008, when I was producing events and conducting research focused on Online Communities for Forum One, the word “social media” hit broad adoption. I had countless debates with my colleagues about what we should title events and new research initiatives to stay true to the intention and tradition of online community building, while including the emergent activity happening on the mass social networks that were experiencing explosive growth globally. Two years later at Dell, our centralized “Social Business” team was called “SMaC” – Social Media and Community. Many labels in play trying to describe a spectrum of concepts and activities.

Ch-ch-ch Changes
On the one hand, each new term that has been introduced introduced to describe a major shift (virtual community, online community, social media, social business…) signaled a major evolution or change in culture, driven by the twin forces of technology and culture. On the other hand, each change contained so many attributes of the last wave that it was easy to be cynical that it was change in name only, driven by consultants, analysts and authors ready to make a label stick to own a market or concept. What really happened? Honestly, I think a bit of both – as market and cultural forces gained energy, a handful of folks were able to step forward and help make meaning of what was going on and describe what possible future scenarios might come in to play. I created a simple diagram to describe what I personally saw in my career to date:

A Snapshot of the Evolution of Online Communties
(
click for a larger version)

Something’s Happening Here
Which brings us more or less up to date. When I first heard the terms “Sharing Economy” and “Collaborative Economy” hitting mainstream last summer, my immediate reaction was a cynical “here we go again”. But then I started doing research, and listening to some of the smart voices in the field signaling the change. In particular, I found Rachel Botsman’s work very helpful and insightful. Her “The Sharing Economy Lacks a Shared Definition” is an especially good overview. Jeremiah Owyang has done a lot of research and writing in the field as well, and it was his energy and insight that helped me decide to make Autodesk a founding member of his Crowd Companies brand council.

I’m convinced we are entering a new era – one that draws on the collective learning, social technology and cultural evolution to set the stage for the next act in a very long play that the Cluetrain Manifesto described in 1999:

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

I keep coming back to a handful of questions to help frame how the Collaborative Economy will affect my day to day practice:

  • How might this next phase of “social” enable (or force) sustainable and thriving businesses?
  • How can Brand’s fully design and engage an extended community ecosystem – inclusive of all stakeholders (customer, partners & employees), built on shared value?
  • How will reputation play a role as the marketplace becomes a mesh? How can we make data, content and associated reputation all portable across meaningful contexts?
  • How will participation and contribution will be valued, exchanged and incentivized in the near future?
  • What does the future of crowdsroucing and co-innovation really look like?IMHO, early examples, like Dell’s IdeaStorm (I designed the current incarnation) and marketplace’s like Quirky and kickstarter are all part of an interesting but humble beginning.

The net-net: for me, the time for lable-gazing is done. It’s time to learn, experiment and evolve my practice.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Updated 3/3/14 @ 11:55am
This morning, Jeremiah Owyang released a new report: Sharing is the New Buying, Winning in the Collaborative Economy - this is the largest study of the Collaborative Economy to date, and an informative read.

Culture, Change and Faith: Achtung Baby & Social Business Transformation

File under: slightly off topic but personally meaningful.

Disclosure: I’m not a massive U2 fan. With that said, Achtung Baby is one of my all time favorite albums. It is a transformative recording from a band that had, to date, been cast as a folksy and righteous rock and roll band from Ireland. Achtung Baby is a product of the band intentionally losing its established identity, giving themselves time and room to explore (albeit contentiously), and birthing an almost unclassifiable masterpiece and subsequent co-opting of mass, and particularly, electronic media as part of the album experience.

vertigo

In 2011, From the Sky Down was released to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the album. The film takes the band members back to Berlin to talk about the creative process of recording Achtung Baby, and in the act of creation, remaking the band.

One of the most insightful moments in the film is at the end, when Bono sums up the intention behind the Berlin sessions and the album. It is at once terrifying and inspirational:

“You have to reject one expression of the band, first, before you get to the next expression,” says Bono, “and in between you have nothing, you have to risk it all

I LOVE this. Applied personally, it is a call to action to grow, explore and transform. Faith in your instincts, talents and abilities bridge the gap between what you are and what you can become, and help hedge the risk.

It occurs to me that most organizations are in a similar state today – business models, culture, internal structure – basically most everything needs some level of transformation to thrive in the new increasingly connected and empowered market that is emerging globally.

How many will have the will to reject the “current expression” of the org?
How many will invest in the work needed for exploration and transformation?
Most importantly – how many will find the will and purpose to risk it all?

We will find out in the very near future.

ps: I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Berlin in 2011. I have to admit that I was not looking forward to the trip, but I wound up falling in love with the city and its energy- including the vibrant startup scene. I posted some of my pics from the trip here:
shots from Berlin

The Role of Brands in Online Communities

There seems to be a wave of bad advice and misguided thinking regarding where and how brands should engage with their communities. Examples include pundits advising brands to prioritize social efforts “off domain”, being passive observers in their communities instead of active hosts, and a general sentiment that hosting a brand-based online community is high effort and low return.

This is really unfortunate, as I’m convinced many organizations are missing key opportunities to realize value from online communities. The reasons for the bad advice and thinking are myriad and may include legitimate causes like: steady pressure from a slowly recovering economy, increased demands for customer attention online and competition for prioritization amongst a growing list of places to play in social media. Unfortunately, the lack of direct experience and ego play a role as well.

Stakes
So, what’s at stake? Your network of customer relationships. Said another way: you can rent this network on Facebook (along with other tenants), or you can make the investment in hosting, growing and managing the network yourself. Renting is cheaper in the short term. Building and hosting the network creates a business asset that is generative in value if managed properly.

The Role of Host
When I say “host”, I am specifically talking about on-domain, brand-hosted communities that are built on a community platform (like Lithium or Jive) and housed under the brand’s domain. Examples include Autodesk’s AREASAP’s Community Network , Dell’s TechCenter and Lego’s CUUSO . The value of these communities is multi-dimensional, but hosted brand communities are generally a “clean, well-lit place” for a company to:

  • offer customers peer to peer support, lowering support costs and increasing customer satisfaction;
  •  co-develop product and service ideas with customers, lowering research costs and creating products with a built in market;
  • give special access to and content from insiders (like product developers) in the company, increasing the value of the community for members;
  • share special content to enhance the use of (or use in) the products;
  • discuss improvements or extensions to products and services;
  • facilitate niche communities of practice around specializations;

to name just a few in the long list of possible activities that produce value for both the brand and community members.

Being a Good Host

“if you talked to people” by Hugh MacLeod @gapingvoid

The web is littered with failed attempts by brands trying to kickstart communities. Many remind me of the famous Bette Midler quote “but enough about me… what do YOU think about me”. Many early failures hit the wall simply because they made the simple mistake of being selfish. Brands need to be able to come up with a simple value equation as part of the strategic development process for community that accounts for both their business needs as well as that of the community member. If both parties can’t win, there is really no sense in playing. I offer the examples I gave earlier as proof that this can be done – Lego, Autodesk, Dell and others have been and are successful in their efforts. A few reminders on etiquette for being a good host (and there are many others):

  • Be present and attentive
    Ensure that staff are available to participate, answer questions and respond to feedback.
  • Be engaged
    Actively manage the community, ensuring basic moderation is happening and that there is a regular cadence of content and activity.
  • Be respectful
    Ensure that communications, content and activities are geared towards shared value, vs one-sided discussions about the host organization. Being respectful goes beyond generally being civil and includes the expectation that the community hosts will form relationships with members and support the community over the lang haul.

Brands as Networks
One definition of brand is “the collectively held perceptions about an organization shared amongst its stakeholders”. I find this fascinating because the statement implies that a brand can’t manifest unless it is in a networked environment. Brands need networks in order to exist. Online (and offline) Communities are a living, breathing expression of a brand.

The Net:

  • Online Communities should be a focal point of brands social strategy, and a “center of gravity” for social presence;
  • Brands should not shy away from the role of active community host – it’s not an option, it’s a responsibility
  • To be a good Community host, approach the task with the attitude that *everybody can win* instead of a zero sum game of Brand vs Customers

Thoughts on Managing Your Social Vendor Relationships

Let’s face it – the vendors you rely on for social media & community platforms, services and advice have you outnumbered and surrounded. Between account reps, sales reps, relationship managers, executive success partners and the rest of the cast, most vendors have a veritable army of skilled professionals whose primary purpose is to maximize revenue derived from their relationship with you. I’m not saying that this is all bad (profitable vendors = sustainable vendors, after all) and that these relationships can’t be mutually beneficial. What I am saying is that the sides of the social vendor relationship game aren’t evenly matched. For social executives, it’s time to step up our game and more proactively manage these vendor relationships.

What’s at stake? Ultimately, the long term success of your social programs. Have you ever been through an Online Community platform migration? It sucks –  from a technical perspective, let alone a community management perspective. Ever had to buy an additional social listening package because your primary  did a bad job of  influencer identification? Ever had analysts completely contradict each other on best practices for rolling out a Reputation Management system in back to back briefings? Issues with vendors as isolated incidents are painful and expensive. Issues with some or all of your vendors simultaneously can  kill social programs.

The opportunities at hand are to gain the most value from your vendor relationships ideally by:

  • Gaining access to and influencing product roadmap
  • Guiding the vendor into partnership & integration discussions with other vendors that you use
  • Staying abreast of best practice and useful case studies from other customers of the vendor
  • Understanding if you and the vendor are on paralell or divergent paths long term

SWGD? (So Watcha Gonna Do?)
I offer the following tactics and suggestions in the spirit of SWGD :

1. Host an Annual Social Vendor Summit
Ask your vendors to come onsite for an annual Social Vendor Summit. I hosted one of these at Dell in January of this year, and had all of our community, social media, listening, social CRM, social marketing, analytics and touchpoint partners in for a day of shared briefings. The briefing format was dead-simple-  each vendor had 30 minuts to share 3 slides: 1) An overview of current state and feature usage, 2) Suggestions on how we could improve use and effectiveness of their offering and 3) Anything else they wanted to tell us. They sessions were a great way to get the internal team on the same page and also to spur brainstorming and collaboration amongst the vendor partners.

2. Conduct Quarterly Business Reviews
These reviews are likely common as an internal practice in your organization, so why not expect them of your vendors? Reviewing product roadmap updates, strategy updates, progress on key programs and any interesting new customer examples or case studies is a few hours well spent in the quarter. This is a much deeper and more exclusive dive than the Summit mentioned above, and is really intended to be a frank feedback sharing and strategy session. Are some of your vendors not willing to spend the time to do this? Great segway to my next suggestion…

3. Stay in Touch With Competitive Vendors
Competitive social vendors are likely calling you anyway – make the best of it! I was generally willing to take a call or briefing with a competitive vendor at Dell if I was sure about our internal position on the incumbent vendor (favorable or not) and I would always let the competitive vendor know if there was any chance of them winning the business prior to the briefing.

4. Understand & Influence Product Roadmap
Your social vendors with product roadmaps should be more than willing to share fairly long-term (at least 18 mos) roadmaps with you. They will be caveated to the Nth degree and be bookended by safe harbor statements… but they should be shareable. You should feel empowered to have a discussion about the planned features and you should generally feel like your priorities are taken into account. If not, this should be a huge red flag (and see previous point re: Competitors).

5. Build Your Peer Network
It is critical to have a network of peers in similar positions to compare notes with and to seek advice from. Analysts are great for general snapshots of the social landscape and directional advice, but being able to have a conversation with a peer sitting in *your* seat in another organization is invaluable. Your social vendors will likely have conferences and events that will offer great networking opportunities. Vendors can also make intros for you. There are also many great networking organizations like The Community Roundtable and SocialMedia.org. To put a fine point on it: build your network before you need it.

6. Get Personal
Along the lines of building a peer network, get to know the key players working for your vendors as well. Invest the time in building one to one relationships outside of the conference room. Personal relationships often make the difference  in getting a heads up on a feature change, getting a feature request into a release or getting a little extra help with a configuration.

The Net-net: a little extra effort put into elevating your relationships with your key social vendors to a *true* partnership will likely pay back valuable dividends in the form of better platforms, more effective social programs and higher return  on your social investments.

Do you agree that spending more time managing your social vendor relationships could create value? Do you have additional suggestions on why and how to manage these relationships? I’d love to hear your thoughts and any stories or suggestions you could share.

Developing a Social Strategy: Research Project Open for Participation

note: this is cross-posted from the Online Community Report blog.

The next Online Community Research Network project is open for participation. In January, OCRN members discussed and prioritized a long list of topics, and the issue that made top of the list was “Developing Social a Strategy”.
The OCRN chose to study how social media strategy is developed, communicated and implemented because, frankly, so many organizations are actively struggling with the topic. We hope that by getting real-world feedback, advice and experiences from practitioners (read: the folks ACTUALLY doing the work), we can all gain insight in to this important topic.
If you are involved in the development of your organizations Social Media and Community strategy, I would encourage you to participate in a short survey here:
The topics we are exploring in this project include:
  • 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
I would ask that you please complete the survey by next <strong>Friday, 3/12</strong>. All participants will get a copy of the results.
The tag for this research project is: #socstrat

My SxSWi 2010 Panels – Please Vote (Because My Mom Can’t)

Please Vote!

Please Vote!

It is that time of year again… SxSW Panel Picking!!!

I have two proposals this year, and I would appreciate your support for either or both.

Panel #1:

What community and social media metrics are organizations tracking?

Bill Johnston, Chief Community Officer for Forum One (that’s me), will present and then lead a discussion about best practices with community & social media metrics and reporting, based on 4 years of ongoing research and data from thousands of participants on the topic. This session will dive deep into the topic of online community and social media metrics and reporting to explore:
• The role of community strategy in shaping reports
• Specific data sets that should be included in community and social media reports
• The limitations of native community and social media platform reporting
• Report design, distribution and frequency
• Stakeholder satisfaction with current community and social media reports

And Panel #2:

Where the Hell Are We In the Evolution of the Social Web?

Social media practice and implementation is a dynamic and volatile subject that effects all functions in a company from the obvious (product, support, marketing) to the not so obvious (hr, operations). Hear from 5 seasoned social media practitioners (plus YOU!) about where we are on “the map” of social media adoption and practice, and where we are headed. The mood will be lively, the panel bright eyed and prepared, and the audience smart (and involved).
Questions Answered:
1. Where are organizations on the social media adoption curve?
2. What departments should be involved with online communtiies?
3. What online community and social media metrics are organizations tracking?
4. What is the level of satisfaction with community and social media efforts by stakeholders?
5. Is ROI important?
6. How is the “static” organization web site being impacted by social?
7. How will online presences evolve?
8. What role will employees play in expression of brand online?
9. What’s on the horizon for online presence?

Check out this panel of Awesomeness! I’ll be joined by:
Aaron Strout – Powered
Jake McKee – Ant’s Eye View
Shawn Morton – Nationwide
Sean O’Driscoll – Ant’s Eye View

Your Input Needed: Surviving & Thriving in a Downturn

I’ve been working with my research team at Forum One to put together a short survey about the effects of the economic downturn on online community budgets and strategy in the near term, as well as the effects on 2009 planning. If you currently run an online community for your organization, I would love to have your input.

The survey can be found here:
http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=aIL0VzBCp03sc6az_2bu8t1A_3d_3d

If you decide to participate, there are few things to note:
• All participants will receive a copy of the final (aggregate) report.
• All data will be processed and compiled in aggregate. Data will not be reviewed or presented in a personally (or company) identifiable way.
• All participants are entered in to a drawing for 1 of 10 $25 Starbucks coffee cards.

If you have any questions about the study, please feel free to contact me. We hope to close the survey portion of the study by December 12th.

Online Communities and Sustainable Development: Supporting “Green” and Beyond

Online Communities: Surviving and Thriving in a Downturn (Part 1)

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?

Online Community Governance: The Project Brief

One of the biggest challenges for those leading the community efforts for large organizations (or really, orgs of most sizes) is ensuring that the hosted community efforts of the organization are appropriate, valuable (both to the org and to the member / customer) and sustainable.

First, a little context. I worked at Autodesk for 6 years as the Online Experience Manager (basically a chief IA). The internal web team was structured as an agency within the company, and each division was a “client”. This approach has pros and cons that I won’t go in to now, but for the purposes of the conversation today, the effect was that we had oversight over most online activities, including any hosted community activity. One of the tools we used to ensure a quality online experience was to have our clients fill out a simple project brief describing their vision for the community.

Specifically, the brief covered:

  • Client Team and Stakeholders
  • A Summary of the initial community vision and purpose / rationale
  • Executive sponsorship
  • Community Manager and extended staff
  • Desired features and content
  • Goals “what does success look like?”
  • Budget
  • Launch date

I’m attaching a heavily modified version of the brief I used, updated with the benefit of a bit of hindsight.

I’d really love feedback on this, and would love to hear if you actually find it of use in your day to day practice.

You can download the brief template here:

oncomm_project_brief_v1