Mature software companies allow a “thousand flowers to bloom” as 3rd parties would build and sell new wares around their online marketplaces. Now, every company can tap this strategy.
Make no doubt it, the Collaborative Economy continues to grow. At the start of the year, I was tracking just over a dozen examples of big companies engaging in the change. Today, just over six months later, there are over 50 examples of big brands who have moved into the collaborative economy. That is a 76% increase!
What is the Collaborative Economy? It’s where people are sharing goods among each other, or making them on their own. Existing, traditional model companies are beginning to realize that the way to join this trend is to enable these behaviors, using the three business model shifts, we’ve outlined here.
One business strategy is for single brands to shift to a marketplace strategy, thereby enabling a community of buyers and sellers around them to gain on a brand platform. In the past week, we’ve seen two new examples, in addition to two older ones. Let’s take a look:
TOMS commits to social good, allowing makers to resell on their platform. This week, Toms launched a marketplace for 30 makers to resell their own goods, items that are not Toms’ products. This means that they are willing to support the growing community of mission-driven makers around them. What’s really striking is their homepage banners says, “We believe commerce can be about more than just profits,” which aligns with the theme that “purpose matters more than profit” to a growing number of people.
Staples launches a collaborative marketplace, increasing their SKUs by 500%. A few hours ago, Staples announced they will expand their number of SKUs 500% by launching a marketplace. This new marketplace will take Amazon head-on, by enabling them to move from 200k SKUs to 1,000,000 SKUs, expanding their total market offerings.
GM tapped location technology to activate a car sharing marketplace. An earlier example, GM partnered with RelayRide, which allows people to rent their own cars to strangers (I tried it, and let a stranger drive my family car). Using their OnStar technology, GM could identify where idle cars are parked and develop that ability to activate a collaborative marketplace of car owners and car renters.
Patagonia encourages selling used goods –proving commitment to sustainability. The prime example that most people know is Patagonia’s big partnership with eBay for the CommonThreads program. They encouraged people to purchase used goods – instead of buying new – with the profits from the transactions going to non-profits. This bold move proved Patagonia’s commitment to sustainability, and also showed they had quality products that could withstand secondary ownership.
Right now, we don’t see enterprise-class, white-label marketplace software. There’s an opportunity for software vendors like Bazaarvoice, Lithium, Adobe, Salesforce, IBM and Ariba to create these to enable brands to quickly launch their own marketplaces, rather than building custom from scratch. A few months ago, I put out a call out to the market for this blue ocean opportunity, and was contacted by ShareTribe, who’s enabling marketplaces for anyone to launch.
What’s the big trend?
Savvy companies know that branded, online communities are shifting to thriving online marketplaces. Not only can they achieve social good, offer more products to sell, activate used goods, but they centralize commerce, community, and people around their brand.
Image by Vainsang, creative commons licensing
Update: Here’s a Wrapup of #CMAD 2013, which Trended.
Today is Community Manager Appreciation Day, in celebration of saluting this important role changing the face of corporations and customers everywhere, I wanted to share original data and insights on the state of the space. Community Manager Day (#CMAD) is hosted globally every fourth Monday in Jan, I’ll do a wrap up post and cross-link for this fourth year. Why do Community Managers get their own day? Essentially, they serve customers every other day, so they should get a day of thanks to highlight how they’re changing the face of business, customer care, and our industry. Here’s key stats on the essential skills, requirements of community managers, as well who they follow the most on Twitter.
1) Top Required Skills of the Community Manager
Altimeter Group conducted analysis of 30 global job descriptions of Community Managers to ascertain patterns on job requirements and skills.
Above: Out of 30 Community Manager job descriptions, the most critical requested skills were writing ability (83%), customer relations in online channels in normal daily conditions (76%), and working with other departments (53%). Other critical skills included reporting, and providing feedback to product teams on innovations and improvements. A few of the requirements included passion/tact/clever people skills, as well as passion for the topic and vertical the CM was covering.
2) Top Tools of the Community Manager
Above: Interestingly, 43% requested that Community Managers to participate in social networks –not just online communities owned by the brand. The heritage of the term originated with online communities (before Facebook and Twitter were founded) but the job requirements now suggest that 43% of community manager roles must interact with customers wherever they go.
3) Top Experience Requirements of the Community Manager
Job Experience Requirements: Out of the 30 job descriptions, 13 (43%) required bachelor degrees, and a majority required that they have Years required about 2.5 – 3 years of experience in social/marketing/customer service. Additionally, 6 companies had a requirement that the community manager have 2.5 – 3 years of experience in the specific vertical which they were serving.
4) The Most Followed Community Managers are in America, Western Europe
If you’re seeking to reach community managers in person, you’ll find key global hotspots in East Coast US, Western Europe, and a scattering up and down the West US Coast. This represents the top 500 followed community managers (update: Little Bird has provided a method and list of top 1000 CMs), and is not representative of the thousands of total CMs in the entire industry.
5) Most Influential Community Practitioners
Long time friend, Marshall Kirkpatrick (RWW, now entrepreneur) provided me data on influential community managers in Twitter. While I’m not involved in creating his social analytics product, Little Bird they provide this service analysis to any topical community. By analyzing which Community Managers are most followed in Twitter by their peers, he generated a list. Here are the most followed (thereby highest potential of Influence) Community Managers followed by their peers. Caveat: I recognize that measuring influence can’t be a sole number, but the data provided is interesting on heat maps on a social graph.
Community Managers followed the following folks, who are mostly providing services, resources, information and guidance to other community managers. Out of the top 500 Community Managers on Twitter, the 5 most-followed by their peers are:
- Jenn Pedde (@JPedde) Community Strategist at 2U and Co-Founder of CmgrChat is followed by 74% of the top Community Managers on Twitter
- Blaise Grimes-Viort (@blaisegv) Head of Community Management & Social Media with @eModeration is followed by 66% of the top Community Managers on Twitter
- Rachel Happe (@rhappe) Principal at The Community Roundtable is followed by 64% of the top Community Managers on Twitter
- Jim Storer (@jimstorer) Founder of The Community Roundtable (like Rachel, above) is followed by 61% of the top Community Managers on Twitter
- Tim McDonald (@tamcdonald) Community Manager for @HuffPostLive is followed by 53% of the top Community Managers on Twitter
Yours truly (@jowyang), is followed by 43% of the top 500 CMs, thank you!
6) Most Influential Community Managers at Corporations followed Community Managers
The top 500 Community Managers followed the following corporate community managers the most:
- Maria Ogneva (@themaria) at Yammer (which is a social business vendor, kudos Maria)
- Lauren Vargas (@vargasl) at Aetna
- Paco Vázquez (@pakvazquez) at Telefónica
7) Top Software Vendors Followed by the top 500 Community Managers
The following are the most followed social software vendor corporate accounts (not personal accounts, like Maria) of the top 500 Community Managers. While just one data sample, this gives light to the mindshare owned by actual product users in the industry:
- Salesforce MarketingCloud (@marketingcloud) is followed by 26%
- Wildfire (@wildfireapp) 11%
- BuddyMedia (@buddymedia) 8%
- Lithium (@LithiumTech) 8%
- Cotweet (@cotweet) 8%
- Sprinklr (@Sprinklr) 6%
- Spredfast (@Spredfast) 6%
- Adobe Social (@AdobeSocial) 3%
- LiveWorld (@liveworld) 3%
- Involver (@involver) 2%
- Little Bird (@getlittlebird) 2%
- Oracle (@oracle) 1%
8 ) Most Influential European Community Managers
Out of the top 500 Community Managers in Europe, the ones most followed by their peers are:
- Camille Jourdain (@camj59)
- Christophe Ramel (@Kriisiis)
- Cédric DENIAUD (@cdeniaud)
- Flavien Chantrel (@moderateur),
- Jean-Luc Raymond (@jeanlucr)
- Isabelle Mathieu (@isabellemathieu).
9) Rising Stars in Community Manager Space
Globally, the most Emergent CMs this year, defined as new but already followed by a large number of other leaders in the field are:
- Hootsuite’s Laura Horak (@laurahoots)
- Rolando Cuevas (@cuevas_rolando) of Spain’s Community Next
- Mark Schwanke (@AdoptACM) formerly of Motorola Mobility
- Fer Rubio Ahumada (@FerRubioAhumada)
- Patricia Fernandez (@triciafernan)
10) Most Connected Community Managers
Globally, the CMs who are following the largest number of other top CMs on Twitter are:
- Nissim Alkobi (@nis519) at Payoneer
- James Baldwin (@TwistedEdge) of the International Game Developers Association
- Paulette Bleam (@paulettebleam) of stealth startup Sumazi
- Jim Storer (@jimstorer) of Community Roundtable
- Robyn Tippins (@duzins) of ReadWriteWeb
Summary: As the broader category of Social Business continues to proliferate around the globe, these day to day business programs will be staffed, run, and managed by Community Managers serving on the front line with customers, employees, and partners. This key role represents the shift to digital real time communications in the business workplace, and demonstrates the changing role of authentic and human customer interactions.
Credit to data analysis by Julie George of essential skills in data point 1-3.
Left: A social network mapped out, this one is of influential photographer Kris Krug’s social graph.
These breakdown posts often contain content that didn’t fit into research reports, and contain input from industry experts or deeper client engagements, see other ‘breakdown‘ posts.
Unsure how to deal with the most passionate communities your market has to offer? One of Altimeter’s large brand clients was struggling with this same question, a brand cannot simply waltz in without fully realizing the commitment being made and impact to brand relations. Our client specifically wanted to know from myself and colleague Sr Researcher Christine Tran on the “best way to enter and exit a passion community”. I interviewed Jenna Woodul from LiveWorld (software and services), Robb Meier from InternetBrands (they host/manage lifestyle communities and Stefania Pomponi B. from Clever Girls (manage a network of influencers) to get their take on this specific task.
A Passion Community Defined: Is one that contains highly focused brand and lifestyle advocates often on a third-party (one which you have no control over) website that the brand does not manage. This is a high-intensity group, containing members that pose opportunities to engage with influencers, but also risks of brands being unable to manage in a scalable manner. The most engaged members of these communities, we will refer to as Passionistas.
Passion Community Scenarios
|Don’t Engage Passion Community
||Do nothing. For some brands they choose not to engage these communities, but most often they are monitoring. I know of one airline who was observing Flyertalk, but involved in the other, in order to find out how customers were “gaming” the system.
||While not engaging can mean less resource commitment, it does not mean less risk. By not engaging, brands may not have a foothold for product launches or dealing with crises that may arise.
|Dive Head First
||Many a companies, and their agency partners, may dive headfirst into passion communities without first bothering to plan. In most cases, companies have already deployed some resources or have an adhoc community manager involved.
||Rapid deployment, often without having to deal with legal or corp comm checking off every step, but the downside may be much greater as companies are unable to scale, deploy resources, or answer all the questions.
|Approach with a Strategy
||Companies that step back, analyze the situation, the develop key relationships are examples of these scenarios. This can include either a long term or short term engagement.
||While the chances or doing it right increase, the opportunity to do it fast, or even beat competitors to reach these groups.
Risks to Engaging a Passion Community
What are the risks of jumping into a passion community without a strategy? We have identified at least four key risks: 1) May setup unrealistic expectations with passion customers who may now expect your commitment, 2) Disrupt your existing customer relations business processes for sales, support, or communications. 3) Trigger discussions around your product or company that you’re not prepared to discuss, 4) May disrupt the business model of the hosts of the third party site, who may be monetizing the support or service of your product line.
Case Example: Top Tech Company Jump Head First –Then Backs Out
A few years ago, a top tech brand shared with me they involved their highly coveted engineers in a discussion at Digg (pre-Reddit era), only to be surprised and slightly overwhelmed by the amount of questions and discussions that no human nor one brand can respond to. The tech community reacted so positively to see this blue chip involved that it created such a large set of questions that this brand had to reset expectations, and ensure there were enough resources to provide the right experience.
Key Principals of Passion Community Engagement
- Passion communities may outlast your brand. Often, communities have existed before your brand, and may also exist if your brand ceased to exist. Robb Meier of InternetBrands shared that; “I think the biggest point you make, is that passion communities existed before the brand knew of them, and will very likely continue on, even if the brand doesn’t. Prime examples are the thousands of Vehicle model specific communities, based on cars no longer in production. Brands should recognize that passion communities have their own power source. Don’t attempt to become that source, instead, figure out a way to complement the existing energy grid”. Remember, these communities can self-sustain –even without the brand.
- Passionistas may be a small group that don’t reflect your larger customer base. It’s key to remember that these passion members may not reflect the greater market, and brands should understand their place in the ecosystem. Robb shares that; “One other side point, is that in a typical passion community, the vast majority of the discussion comes from a small percentage of the participants, usually less than 10%. If a brand can engage community members from that group, they can potentially realize far more benefit, than by trying to engage the community as a whole.”
- You’re a guest in their house –even if the community is about your brand. These communities often are self-maintaining without brands around, Jenna Woodul from LiveWorld shares that; “Pasionistas have a very proprietary feeling about their community; it’s their space. Until you’ve been around long enough that you really become a accepted member, comport yourself as a guest. If you don’t plan to stay and become a member, consider arranging with the moderator to go in on a promoted forum event basis.”
- Expectations on brand involvement may have already been set by them. Passionistas may already expect brand to participate, and may be upset if you haven’t already. Once you enter a community as a brand representative, the community may expect you to stay and participate. Robb shares a couple of points; “Passionista’s may be upset when the brand comes to discuss, especially if the brand rep can’t provide an in-depth enough amount of information.”
- Third party business models may create a unique dynamic. Third party web hosts (forums, communities, user groups) may have a business model around the community that may stem from ads, education, cross-selling services, sponsorships, or lead generation activities. They make work with your competitors, or offer their own complimentary product or service.
Three Stages for Engaging Passion Communities
Stage 1: Preparing: with the Ears and Eyes
- First, deploy a listening station. Don’t jump in without first knowing your community, take the advice from Jenna at LiveWorld that: “Assuming the forum is publicly accessible, have an internal team or outsourced agency listen and report on both issues and culture before you go in to a Pasionista community. What are forum members saying about your brand already, and what is the prevailing sentiment behind it? Listen for the community culture — how people interact, the tone they use with one another, how they treat new people, the role of the forum moderator, the leaders/influencers.
- Conduct analysis of topics and cultural nuances. Listening alone is not sufficient, companies must make it actionable by analyzing the tone, frequency, and who the key leaders are. Robb from InternetBrands writes: “The nature of text based communication is such, that careful attention must be paid, as each community has grown around different conventions. Words may carry entirely different meanings between two similar, but separate communities. Making a communications gaffe in text, can have consequences that are far reaching.”
- Identify the Influencers, specific tactics may be required. Find out who’s really running the show, Jenna suggests: “During the listening prep phase, identify the squeakiest wheels and, if possible, plan how you might give them some ownership in your brand-relevant message (e.g., providing them with materials and/or answers). That helps to affect the tone they communicate to others”
- Then make the decision to engage –but have clear goals up. Brands must have clearly defined goals in place, priorities and success metrics, and the proper resources setup with commitment from the orginzation on how and who will interact. Be able to articular these goals both internally, as well as externally, in the next phase. As discussed above, a decision may be made to not engage, and that may be a sensible decision rather than brand risk.
Stage 2: Build Rapport with Community Leaders
- Build a relationship with community owners or moderators. Recall the prior principals, some website owners may be threatened by the presence of a brand as it can offset community management, or even revenue capabilities. Jenna from LiveWorld suggests that brands should: ”Create a relationship with the moderator or owner of the page. Explain what you are planning to do and get their input”. I’ve observed situations where community owners discourage links to other competitor communities –even those owned by the brand –as it disrupts traffic and monetization options.
- Be accessible to community leaders and influencers.. Offer a direct line of access to the key influencers or website owners, they’ll appreciate the special access, and your willingness to do business on their terms. Jenna from LiveWorld suggests you make yourself very accessible to the community managers; “Make sure that the moderators have your direct contact information so that if they get complaints when you go in, they’ll need to engage you when it happens. If they can’t get you, you lose the chance to give your side of a story or offer a possible solution.”
- Engage the community –but with clear goals outlined. Once you’ve built a set of agreements with the website owner, be prepared to enter the community, but be clear on goals. In some cases request that the website owner introduce you to the community or even key influencers in private before meeting the masses. When entering, beyond the civil pleasantries, be clear on your role, will you listen? respond? support customers? Will you source ideas? If you’re not going to support products or answer questions be clear on where you plan to do it. Lastly, be clear on what topics are off-limits, and the best way is to indicate where you want to focus the discussion –not list a bunch of limits.
Stage 3: Engaging when you’re a Guest –Mind your Manners
- Deploy best practices as you engage with community. Now that you’re engaging with the community, a few tactics we learned: Go in as a person –not a logo. Logo’s don’t have mouths (unless you’re selling orthodontics and that’s still weird). Consider creating a dedicated thread to consolidate conversations on one topic that can be answered there, esp around support, so if you need to be focused on lifestyle and marketing discussions, areas of focus can be maintained. Jenna from LiveWorld suggests brands should have a measured approach: “Begin your engagement with responses, versus starting topics. Once you get past the listen and learn part, start commenting and adding value to the discussions happening in the community — not as an authority; just as a participant. By responding to other people’s topics, you are engaged in what they value vs the topics you select. Once you are an active part of a community, then begin to start discussions.”
- To scale, work with outsourced agencies –but only if your brand can digest this. The concept of outsourcing community outreach to PR, or specialized groups is an often debated ones. The upside is scale and community expertise, but the downside is lack of control, and potential inability to discuss deeper topics that only brand management teams may know. Savvy companies know that not all services should be outsourced and will apply the right mix, see this matrix on community management outsourcing to learn more.
- Exist as graciously as you entered. For some brands, entering a community is a short term engagement, depending on company goals, community needs, and resource allocation. It’s key that brands exit as gracefully as they entered by: being clear with community owners that their time will taper off, then letting community members know where the brand can be found.
Pragmatic Recommendations: Key First Steps
We’ve found that to be successful, companies need the following two pieces in place before moving forward:
- Prepare your orginization for the politics ahead of time. Companies that are very bureaucratic will struggle to quick questions posed by passionistas. Companies must deploy education, and risk mitigation plans, in advance, in order to prepare the company for the real time discussion that will occur. Make it clear on what your company will talk about –and not talk about. Stefania Pomponi Butler from Clever Girls expressed that: ”only to take days and weeks to reply to direct questions with awkward, formal corporate statements that need to be run through 27 levels of approvals. At that point, it’s probably better for the brand to be completely uninvolved.” I agree.
- Obtain resources to engage at levels the community will require. This isn’t a press release, these are real world relationships that just happen to be on online channels, and you must treat them as such. Stefania from Clever Girls reminds companies must be prepared: “Not only in terms of budget & time allocated to involvement, but in terms of really thinking through staffing. Meaning, “Who is going to be the brand rep. and how much authority will s/he have to respond and engage in a useful way?”. I agree with Stephania, that not only do dedicated resources need to be in place, but working with outside providers and agencies can help leverage off hours and campaigns that require intense engagement over a short time.
- There are some passion communities that you should not engage in at all –just avoid. If a community doesn’t want you there, it may be best to avoid completely, or deal with friendly individuals on other channels. Jenna from LiveWorld reminded that anti-brand communities or even competitor communities should just have an ‘ears-only’ strategy of listening –no engaging. This stance of listening in, and knowing key times to go in to correct ill-facts, or respond to specific questions may be appropriate, but caution is required.
In closing, this is a brief breakdown of engaging with passion communities, but kindly leave a comment if you’ve further resources, recommendations, or expereiences.
For seasoned or budding community managers, investing in a solid foundation of learning through an education program and becoming certified is a good investment –yet don’t think classroom time is sufficient, as time and experience in the field is the most important.
A Need for Capable Community Managers on the Rise
If there’s one thing I’ve been learning in my research it’s that corporations need skilled staff to use new media tools. Enter the Community Manager, part customer advocate, part product manager, part host, who tirelessly deals with customers online. In fact, Altimeter’s research indicates that budgets increase significantly for social media boutiques, and digital agencies as corporations become more advanced. Despite the increase in adoption from corporations, they are often ill-staffed, or throw traditional communicators into a new media mix –with poor results. Furthermore, we’re seeing a rise in out-sourced community management services, which raised quite the online conversation.
[As the Social Business Space Emerges, Education and Certifications Will Emerge --Yet Be Sure to Balance Your Team with Education --and Real World Experience]
WOMMA and Friends Launch Community Certificate Program
To meet the needs listed above, a group of very talented and experienced community professionals have teamed up with Womma to launch a certificate program with Community Roundtable and ComBlu, to aid education and standards across the industry. I chatted with Rachel Happe of Community Roundtable to learn that their focus provides:
“Our training helps organizations in three specific ways:
-It sets common expectations for individuals and companies about what individuals should know at different levels.
-It ensures that individuals are introduced to the issues and concepts that they will face over time.
-It consolidates learning so that individuals can more quickly ramp up and become productive contributors.”
I also like how they segment their classes for different roles: Community specialist, Community manager and the Community strategist. As this program grows it can certainly advance the industry, as well as the professionals involved in partaking in the offering.
Risks of Certs: Best Practices are Few and Far in Between
What’s one big challenge with certs? It’s hard to define best practices in a nascent space that may be just as much art as it is science. In fact, Dells’ Bill Johnston who’s leading their Community Strategy told me that “The inevitable downside will be a lack of standards. I’m assuming that every association or firm that is involved with social media / community will develop their own curriculum and standards” He also writes; “Further, certification without hands on training and mentoring is not going to help advance the practice of community management and development.”
Yet, Don’t Over Rely on Education –Real World Experience is Key
Like any trade or art, from sales, PR, performance arts and beyond, real-world experience is the most important teacher of all. Unlike black and white task orientated jobs, Community Management, and the art of dealing with dynamic humans, is as much of an art, as it is a science. I asked the CEO of Liveworld (who hires hundreds of Community Managers), Peter Friedman who says we should look broader; “The key is to get someone with the right personality, enthusiasm and skills. Experience counts too. Even if there were good CM certification programs around, I wouldn’t disqualify someone for not having such a certification. I’d look at the person’s other specifics” he also put certifcations into priority order: “For example a person with 5 years real CM experience is likely to be much stronger than a person with 1 year of experience and a certification”.
Hiring and Compensating your Community Manager
- Look for experience match against the Four Tenants of Community Managers. In 2007, I analyzed 16 job descriptions, and published the Four Tenants of the Community Manager and we found the following four job requirements: Community Advocate, Brand Evangelist, Savvy Communicator, and Shapes Product Roadmap. Your Community Managers should match these job needs, and have the relevant experience to boot. For example, Dell’s community strategist Bill Johnston told me he made his two hires (Connie Benson who’s written a post covering this topic, and Cy Jervis) based on “experience & impact” and cited both of their previous work.
- Ask them how they’re polishing their skills, beyond the day job. Although Community Managers are often social creatures, they could be working in a vaccum, and may be missing out on greater training or perspective. Ask them how they stay current on industry trends, as well as help them connect with their peers in groups like the Community Roundtable, and participating in online discussions such as the Twitter #cmgrchat tag. By bolstering skills and learning through education programs (like the Womma Certification), and see this older list by CM Roundtable.
- Reward them based on Business Impact. As orginizations invest in communities, they must serve business purposes from marketing, increasing adoption, self-support, or even using for innovating new products. Companies should measure based on the business impacts that these communities provide –not just raw engagement or community growth. I asked Evan Hamilton the Community Manager for UserVoice (which in itself a community) what he thought and he told me; ”I think employers should pay based on what their team members accomplish. I didn’t start in community management with any sort of training, but I deliver results for the companies I work for, and they pay me accordingly. Companies should always encourage employees to get more training…but they shouldn’t pay based on a piece of paper that says you’re good at something.” …well said.
The Bottom Line: The emerging Community Manager education and certifications are a good thing for all professionals –yet be sure to balance them out with peer to peer learnings, and real-world experience.
Companies With Support Communities Not Ready For Changes To Come
For over a decade, with simple BBS systems to community platforms, support communities haven’t undergone much innovation. Often a silo and tucked away in a website, these communities are going to take center stage. With social technologies appearing on every webpage, and more existing systems starting to connect, expect to see interesting use cases evolve. Support focused communities will evolve to touch marketing, sales, channel partners, CRM systems, and even become a thriving platform in the next few years. Let’s explore the rapid changes coming together.
A Support Community, Defined.
Take a look at Microsoft’s media centric Channel 9, VMware communities, or even AAA’s travel tips. These branded communities are offered by companies and encourage members to self-support each other, or the company will support them directly. The members are often customers, developers, or implementation partners. It’s not limited to them alone, prospects of a company may peer in to see how vibrant –or angry–the community is. There are over 100 technology vendors offer these commodity features.
The Opportunity: The Support Community No Longer A Cost Center
New forms of monetization for the brand are going to emerge. Support communities won’t just be a cost-center, we should expect to see new forms of value that meet the needs of the community members themselves, the brand, and the partners. To kick start the discussion here’s a few ideas of where I think the support community could evolve to:
- Become a thriving marketplace of buyers and sellers. Not just through discussions, but through automated matching of buyers and sellers using reputation systems, and needs analysis tools. See how the concept of VRM is slowly taking hold.
- New forms of value from third parties will spur innovation. System integrators, consultants, and other vendors who have services to offer community members will want to offer training, webinars, or other campaigns. Branded communities can monetize this as an intermediary.
- Formalized advocacy programs will take hold beyond the organic evangelist. Some communities will offer features and programs that encourage members to join an unpaid army and reach out to prospects –and ready them to arms when the brand is under attack.
- Communities members will ideate and start build new products with R&D. In some cases, they may help the brand define new products and be very involved in the R&D process.
- Developer platform will let community create their own experience. Taking a nod from Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, someday, support communities will offer platforms that will enable the members to create new applications, tools, and even products within the context of the community.
- Connecting to CRM systems to offer better service. Community platforms will connect to CRM systems identify upsell, crosssell, and underserved accounts, increasing the efficiency of support.
- Connections to other systems yield new experiences. Support communities will no longer be a silo but will connect to brand monitoring tools. ERP systems, business intelligence systems, web analytics, and social analytics tools.
- The walls of support communities crumble as they connect to the public web. There are support communities in existence all around the web (see Get Satisfaction, UserVoice or even a customer created community). Expect to see branded communities tie to these off-domain systems.
- Leave a comment below with your idea. The opportunities are abound.
A Key Constraint: Members first, Company Second
Despite the many opportunities for innovation of communities, first and foremost, the sanctity of the community members must not be broken. Companies have learned, often the hard way, that the members are in charge, so this needs to be a win for them first, the company second.
Join The Discussion and Upcoming Roundtable
I plan to hold a no-fee “Community Innovation” roundtable in Q1, to ideate the evolution of the branded community beyond support. Should you be interested in attending, I look forward to hearing from you in the following web form. I’ll be extending an invite to some key thought leaders in this space, to really spur the thinking from the top minds.
Every fourth Monday of January, let’s take the time to pause, recognize, and celebrate the efforts community managers around the world to improve customer experiences.
Passionate About Customers
The title matters not, whether it’s online customer advocate, online customer support, company evangelist, disgruntled customer handler. Instead, focus on what they do: A customer advocate willing to help regardless of where they are online. Learn more by reading the Four Tenants of Community Managers.
Yet, Community Managers Don’t Have it Easy
Yet despite their admirable intentions, we know they face several uphill challenges:
- Many challenges are internal: Most companies want to hide customer issues, and shuffle them into existing support systems. Additionally, measuring ROI in new media when a company wants to keep the kimono shut, increasingly becomes a challenge.
- Seemingly never ending job: Customers never stop having problems, and with the global internet, the questions, complains, and inquires never stop.
- Emotional drain impacts lifestyle: The sheer emotional strain of dealing with a hundreds of yelling customers and the occasional trouble maker will take a strain on anyone.
- Privacy risks in the world of transparency: In an effort to build trust with customers, they expose their real name exposing their personal –and family– privacy forever on.
Now, Recognize A Community Manager, Every 4th Monday of January
While 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. The comments are wide open if you wanted to share your experience working with community manager, or as one, feel free to thank them below.
Supported by Bill Johnston, Connie Benson, Rachel Happe, Jake McKee, Sean O’Driscoll, Lane Becker, Dawn Foster, Thor Muller, Amy Muller and Jeremiah Owyang, as we recognize and salate community managers!
HRZone recognizes Becky Midgley
Jake McKee says this is (just about) the loneliest job
Bill Johnston, recognizes community managers
Amy Muller, Get Satisfaction contemplates where community management is and where it’s heading.
Amy also asks the community to showcase her community management heros.
Dawn Foster asks if you’ve thanked your community manager today.
Dawn shouts out to community managers.
Sam reasons why the community manager role is essential.
Connie Benson, a great friend, shouts out to community managers.
Rachel Happe gives reasons why we should pause and thank community managers
Connie Bensen of Alterian sent me this screenshot of mentions
Recently, I attended a corporate event that showcased products related to an industry. Press, media, bloggers, and influencers were invited to attend, and meet a variety of vendors and see products. Featured were members of the company’s advocacy program, (a group of preferred clients), and were given products to demo. Some members of the this advocacy program are bloggers, in particular one with a journalistic background, who’s credibility came into question. While the event continued on, a not-impressed attendee (who claimed to be a journalist) started to make comments that some of the members of the advocacy program were not authentic and went so far as to say quite loudly during the presentation they were “shills” from the back of the room.
[Brands, which are often untrusted, must develop advocacy programs to influence their market. Despite good intentions, several risks could result in mistrust and even backlash from those they seek to impress]
Let’s break it down, as these same events are likely going to happen to your advocacy program at events and echo online.
Opportunities: Advocacy Programs Foster A Low-Cost Trusted Voice
Companies aren’t trusted, brands aren’t trusted, and nor are your executives. People trust each other, and now they have the tools to communicate with each other using social technologies and mobile with or without brands involved. As a result, trust has shifted to the participants. Many brands, knowing their credibility has diminished, rely on advocacy programs where trusted members of the community are given a platform and encouraged to speak.
Take for example the B2B Microsoft MVP program (I was formerly briefed) selects the most helpful professionals in their space, and anoint their most knowledgeable customers in public, and use the program as a way to get product and program feedback. They MVPs aren’t directly paid, but may have travel and expenses covered to speak at a variety of industry events. Another example is consumer facing WalMart’s Mom and Dad blogger program (also briefed) where influencers that fit their ideal market are given a place to blog on the corporate website. They have very few limitations and often talk about the competition.
These programs provide brands with a: trusted set of market influencers, a lower-cost program compared to traditional marketing efforts, and a platform to engage in dialog with their most knowledgeable market.
Risks: Incorrectly Implemented, Advocacy Programs Will Cause Brand Backlash
Innovation always requires risk, and many corporate cultures aren’t yet ready to yield control to the market. As a result, they apply command and control tactics to a group that could ultimately shoot them in the foot. Example? The “Target Rounders” program (I’ve not been briefed) encouraged customers to advocate the brand on public social networks, but unfortunately encouraged them to do so without transparency. The email sent from corporate to the members suggesting they advocate without disclosing their ties was quickly put on blogs –detracting from the whole movement. Also, companies not ready to take the bad with the good may not know what to do with the negative feedback, and may push back resulting in the program to crumble. Lastly, the members of the advocacy program themselves may be subjected to scrutiny from the community, they need to ensure they are inline with their own editorial guidelines.
Checklist: Develop a Successful Advocacy Program
Don’t build your relationships on a whim, have a plan, and build off the learnings of others. This checklist is the start of your program plan, share it with your internal teams before getting started.
- Get Internal Teams Prepared First. You can’t love your customers ’till you first love yourself. Companies that aren’t ready for the new world should tread lightly. Marketing, executives, legal, and the rest of the company need to be prepared for a new site of spokespersons to step forward in an unconventional way. Getting ready for the raw discussions that are already happening in your marketplace closer to your doors requires virtue, patience, and an open mind.
- Find Credible Advocates. This is not a shill program. Getting individuals that are already experts in your market to learn more about your company and talk about it in an open way requires a filter. Likely they have respected blogs, or thousands of followers on Twitter, or frequently attend and speak at industry events.
- Ensure The Advocacy Program Is Above Board. Make sure disclosure is loud and clear. Find advocates that are already vocal, maybe have sung your praises in public, and may already be a raving fan. Recognize them in public (online and off) give them a badge (maybe for blog, or even at events) that signify their distinction. Develop a policy, and enforce that any public mentions should require disclosure, involve your legal team.
- Ensure It Matches Up With Their Agenda. Advocates need to feel comfortable this is a topic or association they like. If they are not comfortable with this program they risk ruining their own credibility which will damage your own associations. Make sure they can say whatever they want to –but always give them the right to discuss it with the brand first as a right of first refusal. Never limit their access or privileges based upon what they do or don’t say.
- Incentivize Them With Special Access –But Don’t Pay Them. I’m a firm believer that your most passionate customers want to be recognized as experts, so thanking them, saluting them, and giving them access to information or events is key. Letting them demo products before others and providing an honest review is commonly done.
- Hand Over The Microphone –Give Them The Platform. This isn’t about you, it’s about them. The market doesn’t trust your brand, so let them have the platform to speak. Recognize them on your public website, develop a way to indicate that they’re the most trusted members in your online communities, and allow them to tell others.
- Intake Negative Feedback –But Be Actionable. You’ve now asked for open dialog for them to discuss with their community, but be prepared to intake their experience and thoughts with your marketing and more importantly: product and development teams. This can’t be just lip-service by corporate communications, but their input must be acknowledged, and then reported back to them it was taken into account. Use this as a way to reduce innovation costs –but ensure product teams correctly know how to develop these relationships.
- Provide Them With Communication Tools. Give them the opportunity to talk with each other. Develop an online community or email distribution list, just for them to participate in and talk with each other. Additionally, give them a platform on your corporate website or within your communities to vocalize. For those with advanced communities, give them higher level abilities than other members such as ability to moderate, add unique media, or personalize their experience.
- Define Success Based On Influence And Reduced Cost. This is an influence program, much like media, press, or analyst relations. Measure based on influence by looking at KPIs around number of touch points, impact (anecdotal and through surveys). Also, measure how much and how useful the feedback to product and development teams was taken used –divide by traditional ways of getting similar feedback. Measure cost savings: offset the measurement with the denominator of lower costs of a WOM program to develop a measurement based on value.
- Got An Idea? Leave a Comment. Whew, that’s my list, however the real knowledge is with the community. Love to hear your thoughts. What are key steps companies must take to have a successful advocacy program? Here’s a chance for agencies, brand managers, and anyone who’s got first hand knowledge to share what they’ve learned.
Advocacy programs are a mainstay of today and future marketing programs –yet to be successful companies must have the mindset of being enablers –not controllers.
Left Image: Companies can monitor and manage the discussions in their marketplace, screenshot of Jive Market Engagement
This post was collaboratively written on a wiki with my colleague R “Ray” Wang who focuses on enterprise strategies such as CRM. My focus is on customer strategy which encompasses social technologies. Together, we’re covering convergence of the emerging and incumbent technology systems, he’s cross-posted on his own blog.
Summary: Jive Offers Brand Monitoring Using Radian6 –Empowering Companies To Quickly Respond
Jive Software made an announcement that they’re now incorporating listening service Radian 6 into their community platform suite, they dub it Jive Market Engagement. This gives internal teams that manage brands, topics, or influencers to discuss, manage, and assign tasks to follow up with real world –and real-time market events. An example? A company selling headache relief medicine can quickly be alerted to conversations with mommy bloggers in the social sphere, discuss in an internal, private community powered by Jive, then decide on how to quickly take action before it escalates.
Currently, companies are doing this in a mish-mash of manual efforts using scraped together RSS feeds, Google alerts, and Twitter clients. The benefits of this partnership? Companies can now become more organized around the real-time web, develop a process to quickly respond and therefore be more reactive to customers. Yet, despite the automation upside to brand and customer management, this causes yet another disparate pool of customer data that IT departments will have to splice together –potentially giving customers a fragmented view. Companies should nod to this latest trend of social business software converging with existing company systems and develop an information strategy.
Macro market forces foster new trends in adoption and risk:
Despite this announcement, there are greater trends at play that impact both business and IT side, be aware that:
Diverse systems converging, resulting in greater speed but more complexity
The push to improve customer intimacy, move to a proactive customer experience, and convergence of Web 2.0 with enterprise class social business apps, drives new models and solutions. We’re tracking this living breathing reef and see social software, CRM, brand monitoring, email, and mobile quickly converging.
More “CRM” features being deployed, without involving the CIO
Jive’s offering is really a customer relationship module in disguise, yet because of the web based offering, marketing can implement this psudo-CRM solution without involving IT. We continue to see technology adopted from business units -often at the frustration of not getting on the IT roadmap during budget tightening times.
Greater exposure to risk, as more siloed customer information fragments enterprise systems
Being responsive to customers is ideal, but in the long run, it’s not truly effective if you can’t integrate it with your sales, service, or marketing systems. In the end, fragmenting customer data will result in disjointed user experiences for customers as separate departments will have disparate data for each customer.
Jeremiah (business side) and Ray (IT side) come from completely two different worlds’ speaking two different languages. Yet they both know that these new technologies are going to force IT and Marketing to quickly come together. Expect to see more joint-blog posts merging these two groups together, because customers don’t care what department you’re in –they just want their problems solved.
Ray’s Take: For the CIO
Expect a proliferation of social media monitoring solutions to emerge with a tie back to CRM, eCommerce, project based solutions, and collaboration software. Disparate sources will create fractured customer experiences. Single 360 degree view must be assembled and reassembled.
- Find tools to aggregate these new channels and sources. Consider how these new social business software platfrms will integrate back into data warehouses or customer interaction histories.
- Focus on data integration skill sets as process, data,meta data across hybrid deployment models. Data integration and master data management will play a role here.
Jeremiah’s Take, For the CMO
Marketers should continue to be responsive to the real-time web, but quickly develop processes that involve other customer touchpoints such as support, service, and product development into the mix
- Don’t limit your responses to the corporate communication team and brand monitoring team –cascade this information quickly. While the discussions that will be had in Jive’s community platform will help to aid the customer triage problem, be sure to tie the process and data back to other customer facing teams. Remember, customers don’t care which department you are in.
- Use imported social data to create topic based aggregations. Looking forward, use the data that brand monitoring companies are unearthing and turn your product pages into trusted aggregations of conversations –not just static product pitches. Learn how future webpages will be more like collections of customer conversations.
The Altimeter Group is a strategy consulting firm focused on providing companies with a pragmatic approach to emerging technologies. Note: Ray had a minor changes and links added, which I’ve updated since original post.
One of the top 10 questions in social media marketing asked is “How do we kick start our community?” This post aims at providing some resources for brands that are preparing their community strategy.
The old adage of the field of dreams isn’t true -if you build it–they won’t neccesarily come. Brands must have a kick start plan to be successful with their community. Below, I’ll list out some practices I’ve heard from companies that have had successful communities, and I’d ask you chime in and add more ways, let’s get started, I’ll be as specific and actionable as possible.
How to Kick Start A Community
- Create compelling content on a recurring basis. Brands sometimes create videos, podcasts, or stories on a daily or weekly basis that encourages members to come back.
- Reward users who fill out their profile. Folks like to see other friendly faces, so giving them access to premium features or recognition of those who have the most complete profiles should recognized.
- Invite community influencers and advocates to the community first –giving them first right of testing the system and then inviting others.
- Encourage interaction through conversations. Ask questions, talk about controversial topics, or host a contest that encourages participation.
- Reward top contributors: Those that participate the most, or perhaps, are the most helpful should be recognized on a leader board, and thanked in public. Unexpectedly, send them something nice as a thank you, or reward them with premium services –never money.
- Centralize your community around your real world events. People want to find each other before events, talk about the event during the duration, and then afterwards are key. Use the community in your physical events.
- Virtual Events integrate community: Don’t just use on your real world events, but integrated with your virtual ones, I‘ve written at length about that here.
- Integrate with your website –and other customer touchpoints. Remember, corporate sites of the future are aggregations of community discussion, be sure to integrate community in your corporate site. Make sure your call center, email marketing, and external newsletters all integrate community. (don’t forget even the email signatures)
- Encourage employees to get active. A party isn’t much fun if there’s no one there, so encourage the hosts (often employees) to kickstart discussions by talking, debating, and arguing about the news, updates, or even relevant YouTube videos will trigger discussion. Of course, you have a community manager on staff, right?
- Leave a comment below: Whew, I’ve rattled off my best, now over to you. Leave a comment with your tip. How do you kick start a community?
I’ve also signaled to some of the vendors in the community platform space to chime in –giving them the chance to strut their knowledge. Also see tips from Connie Benson, Shout Em, and Keenview.
Left: Several Press, Analysts, and Bloggers met with executives from Cisco and Warner using Telepresence from NY, SF, to San Jose. Cisco’s Eos (their community platform for media brands) landed an enterprise wide deal with Warner Music.
Attendees included John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, Dan Scheinman who heads Eos, and Edgar Bronfman, CEO of Warner music and Michale Nash of Warner.
Rather than focus on the details of the deal (you can read WSJ, Reuters, and GigaOm), I’m going to discuss what it means to the industry at large.
[Media companies will adopt social technologies to respond to the Groundswell in social networks --yet to be successful, the change isn’t about technology –but instead, their business model]
Media companies know that they’re not the only voices in the auditorium –the audience now talks back. They create media, content, and share it directly with each other on social sites —now brands, like Warner seek to embrace them closer. Rather than allow this inevitable social interaction on social networks like MySpace, they want to take it back by launching their own social features.
Although EOS was announced earlier this year (read my take), this is their first major client, hence the fanfare. What’s taken EOS so long to clinch a large deal? Their hefty enterprise system is designed for media brands to cascade across multiple properties –not one-off installations. Community platform players that also compete in the media space like Kickapps and Pluck (and to some degree Ning) have self-serve features, are modular, and even have credit card payment systems so individual brand managers can get started –bypassing IT.
Impacts to Community Platforms, and CMS Vendors
Incumbent community platform players (learn more about this crowded space) like Kickapps (who power artists U2, Madonna and Food2), Pluck (who powers USAToday/Gannet, The Guardian, and the NFL), and incumbent CMS systems like Vignette, Documentum, Interwoven need to demonstrate they’ve enterprise viability by proving their systems to brands that can scale across multiple entertainment properties at media conglomerates. Warner is an ‘end to end Cisco customer’ so the aforementioned vendors should immediately reach out to their customers with a large Cisco footprint in the datacenter.
Impacts to Social Networks: MySpace, Bebo, Facebook
As media companies develop their own communities this takes some power away from social networks like MySpace, Bebo, and Facebook. Fortunately, not all fans will interact with artist created communities –so they will need to quickly distinguish how their community base is different (perhaps in a different part of the marketing funnel) –but still valuable.
What It Means: Opportunities –and Challenges for Media Brands
- Consider this the first day in which Chief Media Officers recognize that social is a key component to fostering a brand amongst an audience that wants –and will talk back. Expect other media conglomerates to start this evaluation process.
- Rather than punt the community to MySpace and Bebo to monetize, media companies can now aggregate the data from the community to quickly identify trends, memes, and hits and wins from the community. Artists can foster a tighter relationship with fans as the communication goes both ways.
- They could monetize by providing premium products (exclusive content, backstage passes, or special venues). Additionally there are WOM opportunities, and harvesting data to identify new trends, top influencers, and market trends. Creating premium products for fans and evangelists will spur their business forward.
- Media companies need to develop a strategy beyond technologies that encompasses dealing with process, roles, and allowing for the voices of the customer –not just the media brands. Remember my 80/20 rule about communities, only 20% is about technology, the majority is strategy.
- Lastly, media companies will need to reformat their business model, as the people formerly known as the audience now join artists on stage. Given how media companies have responded to this movement with a clamping and silencing motion –this is a big change for their culture.
Media Companies Under Extreme Change as Fans Join the Stage –Changing Biz Model
Summing things up, media brands that recognize the party is happening without them on MySpace, Bebo and Facebook will build branded communities for fans and artists closer to the corporate domain. This means the structure of the business will need to change, not just to allow fans to participate on the ‘online stage’ but to also develop new ways of monetizing through premium products, cross sales, and lean on efficient word of mouth marketing.