We continue to see that communities will continue to gain more and more power as they lean on each other to make decisions, support each other, and share their lifestyle. What happens to agencies that traditionally serve brands?
Seem far fetched? Not really. We’re already starting to see bits of this: I’ve seen user innovation in car forums, Facebook groups, and networks of mommy bloggers. Or take for example UserVoice , GetSatisfaction or Ideastorms that allow communities to define what features they want with products.
Imagine for a second that these communities, say bike-enthusiasts, or young mothers, or even home-theater-fans could start to define using organized innovation tools what products and features they want. What if Doc Searls vision for Vendor Relationship Management systems (where consumers define what products they want –brands bid for them) takes off?
With communities in the driver seat over product, a shift will happen as communities can define the spec of future products and therefore multiple brands will bid for their business. As a result, we should expect the agency model to flip over, where PR agencies start to represent communities of customers –rather than brands.
What if these communities (we’re likely all part of at least one) started to band together and used UserVoice to define what we want? What if a savvy agency saw this, and decided to take our ideas to market on our behalf?
What could this wacky idea look like? These PR agencies would take the community defined spec to brands, bid for the top design, and even help negotiate the terms. As a result, they could skim profits off the transaction, or maybe offer new services such as community support, or organize events. Either way, if they stay as the conduit between them. Some users in Twitter mentioned this already happens, that agencies represent communities in non-profits, or at the chamber of commerce, but I’m thinking much broader, into the context of commerce.
Perhaps it won’t be that polar, existing agencies that represent brands will adopt the right skills and relationships, and will retain their relationship with brands. If you’ve access, a forward looking report called the Connected Agency discusses how this could work.
What do you think of this wild idea? Far-fetched or is it already underway? If communities assert control over what products they want, will agencies follow suit?
Update: we’ve now 40 comments below, and without a doubt the wisdom from the commentators is greater than the original assertion. I think one key finding from everyone is that this trend is far greater than PR, and impacts all agencies, and marketing as a whole. Secondly, it’s difficult to determine who these agencies will monetize, and some suggest they’ll go away all together. We’ll keep on exploring this topic, I’ve some new ideas on consumer crowdsourcing that I’ll blog soon. Thanks for being part of the dialog.
I’m a former community manager, and many of my friends are currently in this role, and I want to make sure they are armed with the right knowledge to succeed during hard times –I know some of them may get laid off.
Community Managers are at risk of being let go
During a recession, we know that marketing, sometimes new media and unknown expenses get cut. Unfortunately, to some, the Community Manager role may sit in all three of those areas of scrutiny. Although I’ve been tracking quite a few Community Managers working at enterprise class companies, they must quickly learn to measure, and demonstrate ROI or risk getting cut.
Community Managers must educate stakeholders and management.
Measurement depends on which objective they are trying to solve, so I’ll break it down into specific objectives and tasks. During incidents the community manager should report in real-time to key stakeholders. Secondly, they should provide weekly updates that can be quickly scanned in 30 seconds to community managers. Each month, they should provide a detailed report, and initiate a 30-60 minute meeting with key stakeholders to discuss changes.
Among these changes they should measure:
Improvement in marketing efficiency
Community Managers should measure increased speed from word of mouth or marketing awareness, the best way to measure this is time from awareness to close –or spread of WOM. This could also include increase understanding of customers (listening) for marketing research, or warning stakeholders about potential detractors before they become real issues. Unfortunately, these metrics aren’t valued as much as the next two, so focus accordingly.
Reduction in support costs
The bottom line is always important to business, so if you can measure a decrese in customers going to physical stores, emailing account reps, or calling the support center as they instead rely on community to help self-support themselves, you can start to put dollar costs on this actual community savings.
Actual improvement to sales
This matters most. Community Managers should start to measure how clicks from community directly impact ecommerce, go to product pages (perhaps if you’re B2B) or to affiliate marketing to demonstrate how community interaction increases revenue. If you can demonstrate this (like Dell’s million dollar sales in Twitter) tout this loudly to management.
Conduct additional research
If you’re like most companies, layoffs are coming, therefore Community Managers must educate the powers that be the value that they offer when it comes to customer service and support. Rather than focus purely on the role that they have, they should demonstrate the overall of the community –then discusss why a role is needed (like a physical store manager) in order to keep it running smoothly. Consider running quarterly surveys that measure Net Ratings or customer satisfaction, and don’t forget to quote qualitative responses from community members themselves, there’s nothing like a pure customer testimonial about why they are customers.
If you’ve other tips for Community Managers during a recession, leave a comment below.
Update: Bill Johnston has some additional tips you should read, he also left a comment below.
Ill be up front, writing research is one of the hardest parts of the job for me, it’s an area I end up putting extra time in.
Despite the extra effort I have to put in, looking back I’m very proud of my body of work. You’ll notice that there’s a strong body of work on community and social networks, all designed to help a brand with their community strategy from soup-to-nuts. Here’s some highlights of what I’ve been working on in the last 16 months:
Body of Work: Community and Social Network Research
Strategy: Online Communities: Build Or Join? (Hint: the answer is ‘when’)
Resources: How to Staff for Social Computing (Like any business program, key people are needed, and here’s there two roles you’ll need to succeed)
Best Practices: Online Community Best Practices (I interviewed 19 brands that have done it right, and to find out how, remember: only 20% is technology)
Best Practices: Best And Worst Of Social Network Marketing, 2008 (we scored 16 brands who conducted marketing efforts on social networks like Facebook, MySpace, and Bebo)
Best Practices: What works in Online Company Forums (lead by Cynthia Pflaum, we published this report to help brands understand what works)
Vendor Selection: Forrester Wave on Community Platforms (This recently launched report scrutinizes 9 of the 100 vendors in this crowded space)
Technology: I’ve done a piece on Facebook’s engagement ads and Google’s Opensocial, while I tend not to like to focus on technology as a driver, these were both innovative ways for marketers to reach communities.
Soon to be published: My upcoming publications include the social technographics of baby boomers, and our predictions for social computing for 2009, you can setup a ‘research alert’ on the right nav of my profile page to be alerted to upcoming reports.
I’m very proud of the hard work we’ve put in, and I’m thankful for my very tough editors, researchers, research associates, editing team, web team and management for supporting this process. Although the research is never done, the current body of work is designed to answer the most critical questions during key milestones for brands who want to understand community. In most cases, while these reports help brands get their strategy in order, I’m often asked to present the reports to their staff, conduct custom research, or make specific strategy and vendor suggestions, I’ve noticed an increase in demand and it’s keeping me very busy.
I’ve two reports that I’m working on, both I hope you’ll find interest in. The first, which is focused on how brands are changing their spending and behavior towards social media during a recession. We conducted a survey, and I found it interesting that most marketers certainly leaned one direction when we asked them “are you going to increase or decrease social media spend”. I am also seeking case examples of brands that have conducted social media efforts since sept 08 and have seen success during times of resource scrutiny. Secondly, I’m working on a report to outline the future of social networks, you may know about the roundtable I hosted in Oct, which is just the precursor to this vision piece. I’m seeking to speak with thought leaders that can see how technologies like, social networks, mobile, ecommerce and corporate websites will evolve to impact the marketing and purchasing process.
If you have research examples you want to submit, you can contact me at jowyang at forrester.com, lead in the subject line “Research Report Submittal: X”
Social + Research
In my opinion only, I’m well aware of the impacts of social technologies on research and analyst firms. Although it hasn’t been done correctly yet, the market could self-organize and provide community based research to each other, bypassing firms. We’ve not seen this happen yet, as then quality of community based research is still low and lacks a directional strategy it certainly is possible. Like I tell my marketing clients, the power is in the hands of the participants –so participate!
My employer has taken note of how I’ve used social technologies to improve research, increase thought leadership, and to share the findings with the market, I’ll be working with fellow analysts to help them understand what works and what doesn’t. Blazing trails is always risky and sometimes fun, but what really matters when it helps a company become more efficient.
If you had your say in my 2009 research agenda, I’d love to hear what you think is missing. We’ve a pretty solid plan based on what we think the market is asking, but I’d love to hear your opinion as well.
Given the state of the economy, monetization is at top of mind for this blooming social media industry, in fact, we’re not seeing a tremendous amount of it. I can see some entry level opportunities for community platforms, here’s some quick ideas that have been churning in my mind, I release them here in public and maybe someone will make something of it:
Hook then offer premium services
Like Yammer, create an easy to create community tool that allows any person in a company to quickly setup an enterprise class social network and start collaborating –sans the sales folks. Let it be rebrandable, but with features perhaps more robust than Ning or Yahoo groups, that tie into company confirmed email addresses. Then once you get 10% of the company hooked, you’re able to start to have an enterprise licensing discussion. I’m surprised no one has done this.
Go the consumer route –then build network
We’re seeing more of an influx from Liveworld’s features LiveBar that let an ‘social media overlay’ quickly be plugged into any website, as well as Plum which offers features that can be quickly embedded into websites. The trick here is to gain mass consumer adoption, and then switch up business models away from premium instead to an advertising model, data collection, much how buzzlogic has morphed their business model.
Start em when they’re young
While there’s many social media tools for the classroom, I’ve yet to hear about a robust social media community platform that could be used for schools for the entire duration of a students enrollment at an education institution. While schools may be reluctant to pick up the tab, there’s ways to monetize that let parents purchase premium services, or education vendors like Scholastic, Kaplan, or other supplementary services.
Ideas are cheap, and I have no idea sharing these in public. What’s more important is prioritizing your feature roadmap based upon market needs. As a result lately, I’ve been doing strategy sessions with product teams at enterprise companies to discuss how their products can benefit from the social web. You’ll see some major products released from large companies in the coming quarters, some of them, I had a direct hand in shaping and molding.
Not all of the community platform plays need to be at enterprise level, there’s quite a few other untapped ways to monetize. Leave a comment if you’ve another idea, or see some of this in action.
Intel is known for trying out a variety of social media efforts, for better or for worse. They experiment, and continue to learn and iterate, I give them continual credit and reference them in presentations. One particular activity of note is what I learned from David Veneski, he tackled the join vs build question and made the call to join.
Earlier this year, I visited Intel up in Seattle (correction: Portland) and spoke to David Veneski, a marketing manager, and spoke to his group about social computing strategies. He had deployed some successful marketing efforts, and reached communities where they existed, he had efforts to reach early tech adopters in Digg, as well as Slashdot. Both of these communities are rabid passionate tech communities that are self-thriving and require little attention from outside sources to be successful.
[Savvy brands join communities where the exist, rather than solely trying to coax customers to the corporate website through disruptive tactics]
In the case of Digg, Intel funded development of new features, and became a sponsor of the creation of “Digg Arc” a visualization feature. This associative play tied the Intel name with early tech adopters, as well as got dugg. Next they brought forth some of Intel’s top engineers to have a conversation with the Slashdot community, and apparently it was so successful that the amount of questions became unwieldy to respond to.
The moment of brilliance was when David said that one of the requirements of his marketing efforts was to not link to Intel.com. Rather than try to join a community then pull them away, the marketing efforts joined the community and stayed there –likely where the trust is highest (see data).
As a result, David fished where the fish were, and avoided trying to suck the members off the community they were part of. Marketers are often measured on the amount of traffic they generate to their corporate website, but in this case, Intel will have to measure using different attributes such as interaction, viral spread, and maybe even a survey.
Rather than coax users to your irrelevant corporate website, savvy brands will fish where the fish are.
Part of being an analyst is talking with clients on inquiry calls, I have several of these a week. Just about every other week, I have a client who calls and tells me their grandiose plans to create a community to reach executives. From the CIO, CTO, COO to CEO, I’ve heard them all. Of course, I tell them that they are not alone and that I just had a similar call just a few days ago.
While reaching the check signer is always ideal, I have to remind these ambitious brands that:
- Should first know the technographics of executives, do you know if they even participate in social technologies? If age is an indicator of adoption, (see this chart) then it’s less likely older users are going to be ‘joiners’.
- Executives are busy and don’t have a tremendous amount of time to join communities
- Decisions are made from the folks below them –they seek the recommendations from the troops, execs may just sign the check –not make specific recommendations.
- Executive communities already exist –why not join them where they are?
- Quite a few other brands are trying to accomplish the same task
So before you venture off to create the next executive community be sure you can address these previous five points.
Left Image: This sample screenshot of the embedded community experience from the Quickbooks site.
Over the next few years, expect your friends and network of experts to be interacting with you as you use desktop software –community will be integrated within your products.
This weekend, I had a discussion with Scott Wilder at Intuit, who is one of the practice leaders when it comes to community and how it impacts business. He’s one of those leading the charge at Intuit, who has developed very large communities that thrive beyond the product itself and serve the lifestyle of the community.
Scott discussed his strategy of embedding the community features right in the software products –extending the discussion, network, and peer to peer strategy past awareness, consideration, purchase all the way to support and development. Although this is mainly a supporting objective, when brands embed community this close it’s naturally going to lead to ‘embracing’. Watch this video to learn about all five objectives: listening, talking, energizing, supporting and embracing.
[Software products will integrate your contacts in the application experience --encouraging peer learn, self-support, and community improvements]
The software product embeds the community features right into the Quickbooks, not a link, not a popup, but as part of the product experience.
Of course, more challenges lay in wait for Intuit: 1) They need to have a plan to ensure the community will understand and adopt these changes 2) Need to make it clear what the scope of this community is and what it’s not 3) Be internally prepared for what changes this brings to future product development and how it impacts support –undoubtly, customers will make product suggestions, and others will chime in.
How can this cascade to other products? Microsoft, Dell, Oracle, SAP, IBM, HP, Symantec, Electronic Arts, Hitachi, Adobe, Autodesk (Bill Johnston leaves this comment), and Apple can start to embed community into their desktop operating system and software. TV shows can start to allow users to embed community actually on the TV set (we saw an early taste of this with Current TV during the elections), and the possibilities can continue on.
Now if you have a software product and a community, forward this post on to them, and initiate an internal discussion, to find out if customers are really core to your mission, and when this would make sense to trial or even put on the roadmap.
All of this points to the larger trend how people are connecting to each other, and forming their own power bases, some companies who embrace this stand to benefit –but only if they are prepared.
We’re all social creatures, and we thrive on the interactions of others, in fact, these interactions are the primary drivers for troublemakers in communities.
I’ve read stories about how babies that are given all the proper medical attention, food, shelter to deem them ‘healthy’ whither away to near death if they don’t get human contact and love and care. The same applies to prison, perhaps one of the more dreaded punishments is sending inmates to the ‘hole’ for isolation from all social contact. POWs can muster the strength to survive knowing that a series of Morse code taps can signal to fellow inmates that they’re ok and cared about. How does this apply to online communities?
[The 'Bozo' Feature renders the troublemakers' activities invisible to everyone else, naturally severing what they most crave from others --attention and reactions]
One of my primary coverage areas is on community platforms (also known as white label social networks) that are used by brands to deploy their own social features on their corporate domain. I’ve come across both Mzinga and Pluck that offer this feature, leave a comment below if you also have this feature.
Community managers have a few options when dealing with troublemakers, the first is to take them on head on, either in private or public, sometimes it leads them to banning them. Banning them (removing their account) often doesn’t solve many issues, instead they may choose to create new accounts, or figure out how to cause additional trouble in subvert ways.
Some community managers who can’t deal any further with these troublemakers are left to only one option, by rendering the troublemaker as a “Bozo” using the communtiy software. What’s the “Bozo” feature? It renders the troublemaker invisible to everyone else.
Troublemakers thrive on the attention they get from others and enjoy stirring up fights, but they won’t know that no one else can see them, and therefore assume everyone is ignoring them, or their ploys hold no weight. As a result, they’ll slowly move away, sometimes never realizing that they’ve been labeled a “Bozo”. This gives the community manager a way to defuse the situation, in a non-confrontational manner, allowing for the troublemaker to quietly move on their own.
Above Image: Gartner’s Generation V Quadrant, found via Marketing Charts.
Gartner: Generation Virtual not defined by demographics
Gartner has recently published research on the topic of “Generation Virtual” (Generation V) which essentially define as two things: 1) This generation isn’t specified by demographics (age) but instead by technology usage. 2) There are four major behaviors
Gartner suggests that Generation V isn’t a demographic categorization, but instead behavioral:
“Unlike previous generations, Generation Virtual (also known as Generation V) is not defined by age — or gender, social demographic or geography — but is based on demonstrated achievement, accomplishments and an increasing preference for the use of digital media channels to discover information, build knowledge and share insights.”
This is an interesting notion, but I’d suggest that having a demographic overlay is actually very important. First of all, demographics are how brands develop personas of who they are trying to reach, bucketing all internet contributors into one classification may be too broad. Secondly, within Generation V, demographics influences the different tools they use. For example, youth may be more inclined to participate in Club Penguin, while an older professional may be more inclined to participate in Linkedin or Xing –demographics do matter. We focus on Social Technographics, which is also behavioral yet closely tied to demographics (age, country, gender, etc).
Gartner: Four major behaviors with Generation Virtual
Secondly, Gartner focuses on four different behavior types: creators, contributors, opportunities, and lurkers:
“Gartner has identified four levels of engagement within Generation V, addressing both the extent to which customers will engage with other customers, as well as the level of engagement needed from businesses to enable the community. The four levels of engagement include: creators, contributors, opportunists, and lurkers.”
This is a helpful segmentation, it indicates that while Generation V composes of a movement of those participating, there are different levels to each behavior. One suggestion is to forgo the term “lurker” (reminiscent of someone standing in the shadows) and instead focus on “spectator”. We note that there are other behaviors beyond the four listed, such as creators, critics, collectors, joiners, spectators, and inactives. Furthermore we do not view these behaviors as mutually exclusive, a creator on one site could be inactive on another. They suggest only a limited number of activity per each behavior:
“Up to 3 percent of individuals will be creators, providing original content and can be advocates that promote your product and services.
Between 3 percent and 10 percent of individuals will be contributors, essentially followers, who add to the conversation, but don’t initiate it. They can recommend products and services as customers move through a buying process, looking for purchasing advice.
Between 10 percent and 20 percent of individuals will be opportunists, who can further contributions regarding purchasing decisions. Opportunists can “add value” to a conversation that’s taking place, while walking through a considered purchase.
Approximately 80 percent of individuals will be lurkers (and all users start as such), essentially spectators, who reap the rewards of online community input, but only absorb what is being communicated. However, they can implicitly contribute and validate indirectly reporting the value from the rest of the community.”
I’ve not read the full report to get the context (but would like to) but his coverage seems to slant the CRM side. I believe it’s important to note that demographics indeed influence behaviors, see this technographic profile tool, and you’ll quickly notice different behaviors, with an increase in adoption from those younger –particularly see the US charts.
Gartner’s Analyst Adam Sarner does an excellent article featured in Forbes that lists more, it’s a good read with some very practical recommendations. I hope to meet Adam someday (see his Gartner profile), and discuss communities more in detail.
To Consider: Demographics do matter
In summary, while this breakdown of “Generation V’ is certainly telling of where things are headed, demographics are critical, as behaviors and where they participate will radically differ.
As an analyst at Forrester Research primarily covering social networks and communities for interactive marketers, it’s confirmation to hear of other analyst firms discussing my same coverage area. For some, it may seem counter-intuitive for me to discuss about another firm’s work, but it’s important to me that I provide helpful information to my network, regardless of source, and hopefully they’ll continue to trust me and come back to me –even when I send them away.
Update: There’s more conversation on Friendfeed. Carter Lusher (analyst watcher) is impressed we can have a civil discussion, why couldn’t we? Also, I’ve made some edits to this blog, post-publication around the area of indicating that our technographics is tied to both behavior and demographics, and discussing how our behaviors (creators, critics, etc) are not mutually exclusive to provide additional explanation.
One of my most popular diatribes is my rant on the irrelevant corporate website, in summary, I suggest a gap between the reality of the public conversation and the biased marketese on company websites. Today, I’m starting to see more websites evolve, from Sun’s aggregation of public blog posts, to many companies launching social network features for their site.
Two of my former colleagues, Carlos Soares, and my former manager Peter Simonsen (Update: other team members include Jim Price, project leader, and Suzie Im, web designer extraordanaire) are now spearheading the web efforts at Cadence, and have launched a new website that puts the community front and center right on the homepage. You’ll find headline aggregation of corporate bloggers on the homepage, as well as a link to a budding community forum. They’ve organized blog and community discussions by topic area, making it easier for folks to find information. Recently, they hired Tom Diederich, as the community manager, sounds like they’ve got their work cut out for them.
Above: Cadence prominently features blog posts from employees, as well as one click links to community forums
Why community for Cadence? Their description says they “Provides front-to-back design tools and services for all aspects of semiconductor design”. Essentially, a developer community of engineers is who they are often going to serve, as such, developers will tend to communicate, ask and answer questions, and self-support each other. I’d guess this is a ‘supporting’ (forums) strategy followed by ‘talking’ (blogs) objective, using Groundswell terminology.
Above: Although just getting started, the forum is seeded with topics, has member profiles, as well as tags and unanswered questions.
A deeper look into the forum features you’ll see on the right nav a listing of unanswered questions, as well as ‘popular tag’ content modules. The former to encourage self-support from members, and the latter will help identify popular topics in the community. Also you’ll find a rating and ranking system for popular discussions, such as this comment marked three stars.
What’s promising is the ability to leave comments on any of the blog posts, or within the forums, all just one or two clicks from the corporate webpage. I asked Carlos Soares “How do you deal with negative comments” and he responded: “Comments are pre-moderated. There are terms and conditions that people who leave comments should abide by. If off-topic we may address it directly with the user leaving a comment or not depending on the nature of the comment (spam, obscene, personal attack, etc.)”
What are some potential next steps for Cadence? To continue to reach to their community by aggregating all of the discussion in their market, not just Cadence centric content. By becoming an industry discussion hub, they could take expand mindshare from other competitors and customers. Examples of this would look like aggregating content from other blogs or forums that are not hosted at the Cadence domain. Perhaps another method is to invite engaged customers to lead blog posts and prominently feature them discussing relevant –and sometimes controversial –discussions on the site. Currently, there is not enough user interaction, most of the forum discussions appear to be pre-seeded by Cadence (a good practice) but Cadence should have a kick start plan, to attract, and promote community members (I addresses this in my Online Community Best Practices Report). Lastly, the forums don’t have social networking features, I highly suspect that engineers will center around specific activities and will want to connect with each other, therefore Cadence forums could evolve to a white label social networking platform.
In any case, this is truly a step in the promise of putting people and the discussions they have in the foreground, let’s revisit this in a few months and see if they community has taken the lead.