Continuing the Conversation: For Companies, Build Teams, Not Communities

8 12 2009

Yesterday I posted a response to all the wonderful comments and contributions that you all made to my last post on “Why Companies Shouldn’t Build Online Communities“.  As I plan to delve further into this idea of “Social Teams”, I thought I’d repost that reply as a post in its own right so as to make it easier for people to find and read – so here goes:

Dear All

Many, many thanks for your responses – they’re both very welcome and very appreciated. I wanted to take some time to reply to some of the concerns that were expressed in the comments.

It seemed that many of you think I was advocating that companies should no longer value the input of large groups of people. Far from it – the main point in the post was to point out that as a structure for large groups of people, the community concept is a flawed one – at least from a corporate perspective. It’s simplistic, unstructured, and lacking in motivation and purpose to name but a few flaws.

That’s not to say that value can’t be created in a community setting – it’s just very hard to do so because you’re relying on value being created through serendipitous interactions between community members. It’s not unlike advocating participating in the lottery as your prime way of getting rich – sure, it’s possible that you could hit the jackpot if you take part, but only a fool would rely on that as their sole chance at fame and fortune.

Likewise, whilst there is definitely a place for serendipity in an organization (more on that in a future post) – it would be a foolish management team that would rely on its occurrence to generate value for the company.  My argument instead is that the team framework is a much more robust and reliable one when it comes to generating value for a company.  In fact, in the few cases where looser community based initiatives have created value, I’ve found it’s usually because they began to adopt the characteristics and roles of a Social Team – namely things like purpose, direction, shared goals, diversity in skill sets and specialized roles, etc.

You could also make a good argument based on semantics – ie, that a Social Team is merely a type of Community; however, I think it would be equally valid to say that a community is simply a dysfunctional Social Team.

I think it’s also important to point out I focus on strategies and processes specifically to drive corporate value. Whilst I believe the Social Team concept still holds and still works in more social groups, the concept of what constitutes value and the expectation of it being created in those groups is very different to that of a large enterprise investing in this area.

Companies invest real money as well as intellectual capital into creating and participating in these networks, and as such, need to see a reasonable return, ideally on the bottom line to justify investing in these initiatives.

Having said that, my core belief is still that people function and perform better with a degree of organization when compared to loose collectives. In addition, the visualization aid that thinking of these groups in a similar fashion to that of a sports team, gives us to analyze and improve the quality of that interaction is invaluable.

I’ll go deeper into the Social Team concept in future posts, but in the meantime – please do keep your comments coming, or contact me directly via e-mail or twitter (@bpluskowski) – to discuss this further!





Why Companies shouldn’t build Online Communities..

22 10 2009

1600_3Forget about Communities.Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it. Oh I know that communities are all the rage currently – companies are falling over themselves to create, build and own their very own communities: Communities of Employees, Communities of Customers, Communities of Interest Groups, Communities, Communities, Communities….

But with all of these efforts out there, how many of them are yielding real tangible results for the sponsoring organization? It seems that the very concept of communities is a flawed one for most corporations – leading to wasted time, money and effort – and I think I know why.

Let me explain:

2945559128_53078d246bI find that many, maybe even most, companies approach social media, and other online community projects – with very little, if any, forethought on how value will be achieved as a result of jumping on this particular bandwagon.

They seem to share a belief that value will just “be created” by the mere existence of a new online channel; that innovation will simply appear if you provide a new collaborative tool; that competitive advantage will be retained through the “ownership” of a new networking group.  Yet that’s rarely ever the case.

field-dreamsUnlike in the movie “Field of Dreams” – you can build it – but “they” rarely come spontaneously – or if they do, they may well end up playing a jovial game of scrabble rather than a vintage MLB baseball game on the back lawn.

Even the word Community itself is somewhat flawed when applied to a corporate setting: Here’s the Dictionary.com definition of the word:

com⋅mu⋅ni⋅ty  [kuhmyoo-ni-tee]

–noun, plural -ties.

1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
2. a locality inhabited by such a group.
3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually prec. by the): the business community; the community of scholars.
4. a group of associated nations sharing common interests or a common heritage: the community of Western Europe.
5. Ecclesiastical. a group of men or women leading a common life according to a rule.
6. Ecology. an assemblage of interacting populations occupying a given area.
7. joint possession, enjoyment, liability, etc.: community of property.
8. similar character; agreement; identity: community of interests.
9. the community, the public; society: the needs of the community.

old-ageThere’s a lot of nice words and feelings in that definition. “A social group”; “common heritage”; “interacting populations”; “shared identity”….The word conjures up a nice warm vision of a collection of friends and associates sitting around a fireside or, for the more cynical among you,  images of suburban old age homes in Florida and Arizona maybe.

As I look at that definition however- I ask myself – where’s the value in that for a company? Where does it get created? Augmented? Shared? Delivered? Whichever way you look at it, communities are about people gathering with no set agenda or action in mind – so why would a company invest/waste resources to simply enable random conversations amongst a group of people?  At best, it’s an exercise in corporate branding to be associated with a particular conversation topic; at worst it’s an exercise in wishful thinking.

Lencioni_WebAt the recent World Business Forum, held in New York City on Oct 6-7, Patrick Lencioni (founder and president of the Table Group, and a fantastically articulate and dynamic speaker incidentally) spoke to the audience about “What makes a good team?”.  One specific question stuck with me: “If you have a bunch of people who play in a sports team each week, really get on well with each other socially, gel as a unit, yet still manage to not win a single game – are they a good team?” Patrick asked with a mischevious look  at the front row and a pause for effect.  “The answer is NO – they’re just a bunch of LOSERS!” (cue laughter and some nervous side glances between executives either side of me).

Whilst maybe declared a tad glibly by Patrick, the core message was clear, and it got me thinking about what had been bothering me with the concept of communities for so long: That lack of performance, of achievement, of purpose. It struck me that the relative value of the concept of “communities” to most organizations is not dissimilar to Patrick’s example of a team that doesn’t win – they are, in essence, Losers. And why would companies waste time creating groups of Losers?

It seems to me that the failure companies are making starts right at the beginning with a badly formed misconception as to what they really need – and it’s not an online community – it’s an online team.

It may seem as if I’m nit-picking or playing with semantics in making this differentiation – but consider what this simple change in mindset would mean to projects as you think about how to build a great online team instead of an online community.  All of a sudden you add dimensions of:

wales-rugby-squad

  • Direction and Leadership
  • Shared Goals, Shared Failures, and Shared Successes
  • Ensuring Participation of Diverse Skill Sets
  • Tangible Achievement
  • Passion, Purpose and Loyalty

Whist still retaining all the collaborative, cooperative and creative structures usually associated with Communities.

I don’t know about you – but I know which one I’d rather build! You tell me – What’s the more powerful concept?…





“Follow Me to Profit” or…Business Strategies for a Twittering World

29 05 2009

follow_FullTwitter continues to be the fastest growing social media platform at the moment – but that growth seems to be primarily led by individuals with varying degrees of success and sustainability. By now I’m sure you all have several friends who have tried Twitter – some love it, others can’t see the point of it  – which doesn’t tend to help its credibility as a business tool.

Your business arsenal?The truth of it is that it can be a very valuable tool in your business arsenal – BUT – unlike other social media tools, it delivers little value until you put a significant amount of effort into developing it. Now when I say “developing” – I don’t mean in the classic “programming lines of code” sense – but rather, in order to be useful to a business – you need a defined strategy, and a sustained input from your part before it begins to yield results back. What that input is, and how long it takes you to put in enough input to yield an output, really depends on which of the main strategies you decide to pursue – and as with most applications that work on the establishment of information flows – there are two main strategies: Push and Pull.

tug-of-warThe Pull strategy for Twitter is simple.  It revolves around an understanding that what Twitter can provide to you is an unrivalled personalized information source.  Whatever niche information requirements you have – chances are, there are people out there posting tweets on it. Find them, follow them, and eventually your information feed begins to deliver a constant source of valuable data – be it important headlines, links to interesting articles, relevant quotes, allowing you to follow conferences remotely, etc etc – the more careful you are in selecting the people you follow – the more relevant that data feed becomes.  In pure Pull strategies – you don’t care how many people follow you – it’s irrelevant and secondary to achieving a quality information flow to your desktop.  For those of you considering this strategy – Don Smith has written an excellent Twitter 101 Primer for you.

pushThe Push strategy is a little more complex – as what you’re trying to do is be read rather than necessarily do the reading. Maybe you’re a company with a product message to distribute, maybe you’re a consultant trying to build up your personal brand, maybe you’re a store with product specials to sell – whatever you are, the basic concept is that you have a message that you want people to see and read.  Here, the name of the game is to amass followers – to get the largest possible following to actively subscribe to, and read, your feed.  Whilst that sounds easy – it’s far from that – you have two big challenges ahead of you:

1)   to get people to want to subscribe to you and

2)   To get subscribers to pay attention to your tweets.

It’s no easy feat to convince thousands, or even millions of people to want to subscribe to you. Unless you’re a chique celebrity like Ashton Kutcher, a regular media outlet like CNN, or a cult brand like Whole Foods or Twitter itself (To see a list of the most followed on Twitter, go to http://twitterholic.com/ ) – you’re not going to get a million people seeking you out to follow you just by being present online and twittering any old rubbish you feel like.  That means you have to do it the hard way.

At the recent World Innovation Forum – I had the unusual opportunity to poll a bunch of fellow veteran social media mavens and active twitter users (“twerps” is apparently the preferred group name currently by the way) on what they look for when they decide to follow someone new. The results were interesting with the top three answers being:

1)   User name – is it someone I know, want to know, or have heard of in the past.unknown-person

2)   Profile – What do those 160 characters you use to describe yourself on the right hand pane of your Twitter page say about you and what you do? Is it of interest? Are YOU of interest?

3)   Your last 20 tweets – what kind of information have you been posting? Is it all self-serving nonsense? Is there value in your flow? How often do you post? Do I want to read more?

So on consideration of these three points – people make the decision as to whether or not to follow you. So how does that translate into an actionable strategy?  Here’s how:

1)   Understand who you are and what social role you want play online – Decide upon your “social brand” – are you posting as a corporate entity or as an individual?  Is this an official feed or a casual conversation?  What’s the ultimate goal of this interaction? Is it to sell? To build a community? To build a brand? – use the answers to those questions to come up with a username that expresses your intent and your identity.

2)   Describe yourself and your interests – the profile section tells people who don’t recognize your username why they should join you. Who are you really? What are your interests? What kind of posts do you find interesting and will you be posting yourself?

3)   Provide value to your community – In order to get people to follow you, and to stay following you – it’s ultimately about content. It’s about providing value to your following. It doesn’t matter if you post several times an hour or once a month – make those posts worthwhile reading, and people will stay subscribed to you.

nm_airplane_stuffed_080819_mn

Don’t tell us about your trip to the bathroom, or the pain of not getting upgraded on your trips across the Atlantic, or that you’re on your way to get your kids from school – trust me, no one wants to hear that on Twitter – use your Facebook account for that kind of interaction (incidentally – by now you should understand that the social media space is complex – and there are different tools for different uses. For example – LinkedIn is all about connecting to business connections and maintaining business networks; Facebook is all about staying connected to personal friends and family; Twitter is about establishing an information flow. Each of these is a different tool, and whilst it’s possible to link your status updates and tweets – it’s usually a mistake to do so in my opinion as what constitutes “useful and valuable content” is very different for each network – and to ignore that when posting, will lead to others ignoring your postings. Ultimately, the point of all social networks is to be heard! Hey – who ever said this was going to be easy?).  It doesn’t even matter if the content is not yours ultimately – even a series of posts with links to interesting content can be deemed valuable.  Just keep people interested and reading!

hiv_virusThere’s another reason to provide valuable content, especially on Twitter – Twitter is a “viral community”. That is, it works on a viral process of message dissemination to the community at large. You post something of value, I see it, and I “Re-Tweet” it – meaning I pass it on to my own subscriber list with appropriate attribution to the original poster. I get kudos points from my community for passing on something valuable, and you get exposure to my subscriber list who may well decide to subscribe to your postings too (assuming you’ve followed the three steps above to create an interesting profile page!).  There’s also exists a general concept of mutual following – You follow me because I post good info, and in return I’ll probably follow you too to see what your feed is like. Of course, if you then post a load of rubbish, I’ll probably end up deleting you from the list of people I follow – but that’s up to you to establish the value to me as a reader 🙂

So keep posting value add to your twitter feed, keep following people in your target market as well as those who decide to follow you, and be an active participant in the conversations – and you’ll soon amass a growing “following”. That then gives you the opportunity to slip in marketing, sales, or branding messages into the flow to not only a large audience, but – if you follow the rules above – an actively listening audience – the nirvana of corporate sales and marketing folks!

229551714_a5b4f7bc43_o

These are of course, very general strategies – and several other variants exist – I’d love to hear what YOUR Twitter strategies are – or tips you may have for “pushers” and “pullers” – share away!





“Hey – Didn’t you know it’s not rude to tweet whilst someone talks to you?!” or “How to incorporate user generated content to the conference format”

12 05 2009

ny-for-cc-course-announcementThis last week I had the pleasure to attend the World Innovation Forum held in NYC’s Nokia Theatre.  Although the conference was well stocked with top class speakers,  it wasn’t their content and inspiring speeches that really made the conference noteworthy to me – but rather the attendees – or more specifically, a sub section of the attendees and the conversations that were ongoing throughout the speeches.  You see – what made this conference unique, at least to me, is that it was the first conference I’ve been to which has explicitly encouraged and exploited the work of social media mavens during the conference itself.

Imagine the scene then – as you walk into a classic theatre type settings – only with two balconies either side marked explicitly for pre-registered bloggers and twitterers ( or should that be “twittees”? :p )  looking not a million miles away from a press box at a sports game.1121734099_8067

Once up there, the dedicated space had everything you needed to cover the event live – including plenty of power outlets for laptops, and several dedicated wireless signals to ensure plenty of bandwidth.  Outside the conference, several large elongated screens displayed a constantly updated feed showing all the entries in the Twitter-sphere which had been marked with the pre-agreed “#wif09” tag – allowing non-twitters and other mere mortals outside a voyeur-esque view into ongoing virtual conversation.  The effect was quite startling with a large amount of content being exchanged in real time during the various speaker’s speeches.

Now, I’ve been playing with Twitter for some time now, albeit with limited ideas of how useful/applicable it was to the business world…until now. Watching and observing the interactions between the people in the room was a revelation, and you could quite clearly distinguish between several different participatory styles/roles of Twitterers:

Minute-Man-lg

1)   The Minuteman – The Minuteman would primarily be taking notes of the speaker’s talk – including any noteworthy quotes, points, and stats that they might mention. The end effect was to enable people not physically at the conference to follow along, and judging by the response rate, there were several people who were indeed “watching” the conference live in this manner. Personally I also found this role increasingly useful to me – as the rate of information exchange increased, I found it increasingly hard to pay attention to both the conversations taking place online in addition to the material the speaker was sharing. A quick glance along the various minuteman entries gave me an easy way to catch up on what the speaker had been saying whilst I was debating his previous point with other participants online.

librarian_google_tee_opt2)   The Librarian – The librarian role would primarily be adding supporting material and/or other referenced material from the speaker.  Maybe it would be a link to a video shown on screen, or a to a report referenced, or to a list of articles recently authored by the speaker – the end result was a steady flow of material enhancing the content being shared by the speaker that greatly added to the value of the speaker’s talk.

31debate.xlarge33)    The Debater – Focusing more on comments, opinions, and shared viewpoints – the debater added unstructured and less formal contributions, essentially contributing a discussion flow that allowed people to openly support/refute arguments made by the speakers in real time as well as provide a more interactive community experience to the group.

The end effect of these three roles was to provide an enhanced experience for both the conference participant, as well as for the remote non-participant – and to further network and connect a group of people interested in the same topics.

6a00d8345224a669e200e54f5780a78833-800wiPersonally I can’t see why all conferences in the future shouldn’t be organized in a similar vein, and I have to take my hat off to HSM Americas, the conference organizer, for taking on such an innovative approach to an Innovation conference. Bearing in mind the buzz created by the invited bloggers to this event, it’s sure to increase interest in attendance next year, and thus benefit them in the long term. The whole effort was also sponsored by Pitney Bowes who definitely got some very positive buzz and attention out of the effort – so well done to them too for a very open minded and innovative approach to attention marketing.

If you haven’t already, make sure to do a twitter search on the #wif09 tag and read through the contributions. One of my blogging colleagues at the event, Stefan Lindegaard was talking about the changing nature of the conference market in an increasingly digital, global, and economically challenged world. I don’t know about whether or not some of his ideas around the death of the conference industry will ever play out – but by adding value enhancing innovations like this, the conference industry certainly seems to me to be prolonging its lifespan substantially.

For those of you interested in following some of the participants in the #wif09 event – here’s the partial list I have of active Twitterers at the event:

6a00e5540e11a7883401156f7bb757970c@AndreaMeyer @YourBoot @HelenWalters @georgelevy @Jeffhurt @FHInnovation @dixitboy @innovate @chrisflanagan @ReneeCallahan @katiekonrath @stu @stevetodd @ssusman @bhc3 @twinnovator @ctcoco @pinnovation @PBConnect @wearewhatif @vidales @wrighth1 @hsmamericas @lindegaard  @donpeppers  @Pauldunay  @dominicbasulto @LeftTheBox @Stu   and of course, if you’re not already following me on @bpluskowski, shame on you :p

If I’ve accidentally missed your name out please add it to the comment section below) many have since put up blog posts on the event too and are definitely worth looking at in more detail!

Do you agree with these viewpoints? Have something you can add to improve them? As always, would love to hear from you!





World Innovation Forum ’09 on Twitter

6 05 2009

Just a quick one folks – if you’re on Twitter, do a search for the # tag “#wif09” – there are a fair number of Bloggers/Twitters here who are covering the event quite well – take a look and get some insights!








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