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.
Wave report to segment market leaders in a crowded industry
I’m over the hump of this laborious research project to determine which of the 90 community platform vendors are enterprise worthy for Fortune 5000 interactive marketers.
Enterprise brands seek ‘Community Solution Partner’
I firmly believe that technology is a commodity, that’s why there are 90 vendors in this crowded space. Brands have indicated that success is only 20% technology, and the majority is 80% is a combination of internal changes, services, and support.
One thing I heavily stressed in my research, isn’t a focus so much on the technology, but instead how the vendors could truly be ‘community solution partners’ to their clients. A true solution partner understands the business needs of their client, offers strategy, best practices, can assist with implementation, offers ongoing technical –but more importantly, community management, guidance, and recommendations.
The research methodology includes:
I’ve had to make sense of thousands of cells in multiple excel sheets, ensure each line is accurate and will enable our clients to make important decisions.
6-hour in person lab days with each of the 9 vendors
During the last few weeks, I spent 5-6 hours with each of the nine vendors, often in a windowless room where powerpoint, screenshots, and live testing of their software took place. Using Forrester’s 5 objectives of listening, talking, energizing, supporting, and embracing, I’ve found some key patterns to the strengths of vendors.
Up to 27 customer interviews
Surprisingly, vendors don’t know their own customers that well, in more than one occasion, customers poorly rated the vendors that suggested they participate as this ideal customer reference. I also cross references with vendors to see how well they could anticipate what their customers said about them –in some cases, vendors were completely unaware of the challenges that clients were having –a very bad sign.
Reviewed data submitted by vendors
Earlier, we issued a survey to vendors in this space, over 50 of them responded, and submitted around 50 or so fields of data. I factored in a great deal of this to perform market sizing and to complete comparative analysis.
Frequent discussion with clients
Perhaps the most important piece of data input is the constant discussion with my clients on inquiry calls. I hear from them what they want (demand side) as well as their experience with vendors (feedback). It’s interesting to find out that many brands are not happy with their platform vendors, and the vendors often don’t even know it!
Next Steps: Final Analysis, Preparing for Publication
Expect to see the published report in the coming weeks. Right now, the spreadsheets are being reviewed by vendors in the fact checking process, and I’ve already started to see some patterns in the data that will help to determine positioning. Thanks for your patience, between client duties and travel, getting all the pieces together for success requires some patience to ensure it will be done correctly.
If you’re a client and need advice now, you can schedule an inquiry call with me and I’ll be happy to discuss with you my current findings. I’ve already made some recommendations to clients based upon their specific needs and objectives.
I hope you find this transparency in the research methodology helpful in understanding our goals to make sure our clients make the right decisions to be successful.
Read more about this Wave Research project:
Part 1: Starting the Wave
Part 2: Data Collection Process
Part 3: The Analysis Process
Part 4: Announcing the Wave, the final report
LiveWorld now introduces “LiveBar” and Mark Hendrickson from Techcrunch has a review showing now any static website that embeds this lightweight social script.
I first saw mockups of this product a few months ago from LiveWorld, and it seemed impressive, but unlike embedding chat, comments, forums, or blogs directly into the webpage, this is an ‘overlay’ that is quietly positioned at the bottom of any webpage.
What use cases could warrant this overlay experience versus an embed? Existing large websites with an inflexible CMS system that makes UI changes difficult. Companies that want to experiment with social on their websites but aren’t ready to dive in. Lastly, websites with heavy interactive marketing or content where community should take a back seat to what’s being shown. Expect to see competitors of Liveworld to develop their own versions of Livebar, allowing lightweight deployments of community features. Also, expect this to be a great ‘sampler product’ for LiveWorld to demonstrate community to hesitant brands –much like the easy to deploy OpinionLab tools.
Looking forward, whether companies like it or not, the future holds that websites will be social, and it means that customer opinions (good and bad) will circumvent their marketing content. The LiveWorld folks also have launched a community site, where you can interact with them further.
I’m conducting a Wave report on this community platform, and it’s become very clear to me that the technology is a commodity (that’s why there are around 100 vendors) and what really is going to count is strategy, service, support, and knowhow.
Status Update 2: The Forrseter Wave Report
What Facebook Connect means to brands
Thinking Long Term: Google’s New Browser ‘Chrome’
Forrester Report: Online Community Best Practices
I’m deep into the Wave research (read my latest status update) for nine community platforms (big list here), in fact, this week and next, I’m in 5 and a half to 6 hour meetings with vendors getting to know them very well. Of course, that’s just one side of the story, I’m interviewing up to 27 of their customers (brands) to get the ‘other’ side of the story. You’ll see me pop up online for “Twitter breaks” here and there, surfacing for air, then submerging back again.
I wasn’t surprised to hear from a few brands that not everyone is a fan of Software as a Service (Saas), in fact, for some, on-premise software makes a whole lot more sense. What exactly was the pain point with Saas?
Of course, the most obvious points continue to come to mind: conservative companies, or those with truly critical data wanted to have the data on site, or wanted to self-support their own architecture, or wanted to modify the software at their choosing, yet I learned about something that I hadn’t even considered:
Some brands felt that being tied to SaaS meant they were at the mercy of the vendor when it came to the software architecture. While this is certainly the case not just for SaaS but all non-opensource software, when a vendor would upgrade a version, some brands were forced to accept the changes. In some cases, some brands were not aware/prepared of some upcoming upgrades to the SaaS software and were blindsided to the changes.
Furthermore, these brands felt that the larger customers who wanted specific feature upgrades were able to influence the vendor through direct pressure or even fueling the R&D work through feature requests. What’s wrong with that? Alot, if the feature requests of the larger customer don’t reflect the needs of a smaller SMB customer. Since the software is delivered over the web, there was little recourse for the smaller brand to deny the changes, they pretty much had to suck it up.
Now you may ask, isn’t this a problem with all software, SaaS or on-premise? Yes but vendors are more likely to allow customers to use multiple versions of on-premise software, of course there’s a date when they will no longer support it. Yet vendors who provide SaaS are far more likely to provide only one version, forcing clients to swallow the changes on demand.
Have you had a bad experience with Software as a Service? Leave a comment, let’s explore this further.
Related reading: Community Platforms: Here comes the CIO.
Update: As usual, the conversation has also splintered into FriendFeed.
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.