Friday, December 19, 2014

The Power of Community

Yes, after all these years, we're still talking, debating and waxing poetic about the power of community. That's because when you do it right, it works. I had the unique opportunity this week to develop a short talk focused on leveraging the power of community and ended up scripting a brand new talk that I wanted to share. I haven't blogged in ages, so I figured this would be a good way to try to make a comeback.

I recorded myself doing the talk to practice, then had to deliver it 3x back to back to back for small "rotating" audiences of about 15 -20 people each. I can't share the client name, nor can I share any images (we had a scribe!) but I can share the core ideas and content.

I'm going to blog this as if it was actually my talk minus my "Hi I'm Marc intro and background" and minus the wrap up part where I got super client specific. What remains is the guts of how companies can leverage the power of community.

The topic of today's talk is "Leveraging the Power of Community." Instead of spouting stats to you about how big Facebook is (1.4 billion users) or how many Instagram photos are posted every day. Stats are great, but I'd prefer to share some stories instead.

What I'm going to do in the next 8-10 minutes is walk you through some examples of incredible use of online communities and talk about what makes them work so well. Then, I'll walk you through some of the core design principles and common attributes each of these communities share, and encourage you to think about how can weave these design principles into any and all of your existing efforts. We'll wrap up with a brief discussion of how you can apply these in some specific ways and take any questions you may have.

Each story uses a core "mechanism" that describes what the community, company or brand is using to drive success. As our first story, let's talk about communities that use customer data to create massive value - Facebook. While to marketing and social media nerds like myself, the average person may not fully grasp the extent that Facebook is using your data, each click/photo/poke is helping them build their knowledge of you so they can create advertising value and deliver better and better experiences to you as you engage with their platforms.

Some communities use their customers intelligence and ideas to create, refine and unlock massive value. The best examples of this may be Starbucks and Dell, who collaborate with customers, partners and employees to create new products and services. Co-create is a massive opportunity once you start to think about ways to leverage your customers, and your communities.

Some brands use what I call (and I need a better name for this) "Integrated interactivity" to drive sales, loyalty and engagement. Nike+ is my favorite example of this - their app not only allows you to track your fitness but allows you to share (and receive feedback) from your own personal network of friends on Facebook and Twitter. Nike has transformed itself through this approach and competitors such are now following their lead - by developing or buying their own apps. I believe, and I am paraphrasing that Phil Knight who runs Nike has been quoted as saying that "Nike is not a sneaker company, we are a technology company." (Bloggers note... I desperately searched for a source for this with no luck. If you have a source, please leave it in the comments).

Using social proof to leverage a community is a popular tactic these days. Quickly defined, "social proof" is behavioral concept where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to "be like them" - Nike's original "Be Like Mike" campaign is one that you may all remember. Do you remember those bright yellow wristbands - the ones for Livestrong? They sell them in packs of 10 or 100 - prompting the question - why do I need 10 or 100 of these things? Social proof. Apple includes a sticker or two in every box - why? Social proof. Even driving a Prius is a bit of social proof - I mean, I'm not totally sure that owning a Prius saves anyone money (maybe it does, maybe it doesn't) but it absolutely makes a statement about the driver and spurs some to want to say they same thing about themselves.

Some communities are built to solve intractable or super hard questions. The XPrize Tricorder is a great example - $10 million to the winners. And of course, this builds on their original prize focused on space travel. There's a "classic" story from the early 2000's where a mining company bought a gold mine and realized they couldn't figure out how to get the gold out. They created a prize mechanism and "open sourced" the data allowing anyone who wanted to try to help them solve their problem. 

So the question I asked myself, and what I want to talk about next is, what are the design principles and common attributes of these divergent ideas. There are lots of ways to leverage community, but as I was thinking about this talk, I wanted to develop a few common elements to give us a short hand way to think about community.

Here's the list:

  1. Obsessive Customer Focus every minute of every day. 
  2. They all use data as a strategic and tactical "weapon" to build value.
  3. Each community has sharing built right in - the sharing community is a core part of the DNA of these communities.
  4. They are all platforms that create new ways for engagement, revenue and value.
  5. Agility is at the core of how they operate - moving quickly, doing more of what works and less of what doesn't work.
After this, I did a round of specific client examples (can't share those!) and took some quick questions. And there you have it... a good chunk of my talk. Do you have other examples, or other principles I missed? Other good examples of how brands or ideas are leveraging the power of communities? 


Thursday, August 22, 2013

The New Digital Age

Just finished reading "The New Digital Age" which had me thinking of picking up my original copy of "Being Digital" to compare and contrast. Maybe later.

It's a good book, thoughtful and smart but at times a bit out there. I wanted to capture here some stats they throw in to set the stage for their assumptions, all stuff we know but it's more good data you can use and quote. The book focuses on BIG issues around digital - statehood, terrorism, politics, society etc... worth a read but it is dense. I admit, I flipped past some of the sections on statehood and politics.
  • Number of people connected to the Internet worldwide increased from 350 million to more than 2 billion
  • In the same period, the number of mobile-phone subscribers rose from 750 million to well over 5 billion (it is now over 6 billion)
  • By 2025, the majority of the world's population will, in one generation, have gone from virtually no access to unfiltered information to accessing all of the world's information through a device that fits in the palm of the hand.
  • If the pace continues, most of the projected 8 billion people on Earth will be online

Now that's scalability.


Disconnect - 3 keys to disconnecting while on vacation

Previously posted on Medium, reposted here. I blog so infrequently, I figure I need to repurpose as much content as I can!

(Photo by Marc Sirkin, Utah Mountains 2013)

Even before mobile/smartphones I was bad; sneaking away to check email, reading business books or memos while on the beach, working on proposals or ideas at the pool. All behaviors of someone who would rather lose himself in work, instead of being present with family, focusing on clearing the mind and having a good time.

Over the past few years I’ve improved my efforts to disconnect. I did however notice that it would take 2 or 3 days to fully disconnect. Similar to an addict, I’d have dreams about work, fanatically check in and have to almost physically restrain myself from replying to emails. It was bad, very bad. I’d come back from work up to date, but feeling like I hadn’t even had time off.

As my kids grew older, it became more and more important to disconnect from work and get focused on my family and friends while on vacation.

I was recently off for a week in Utah and did a lot of thinking about being disconnected. I noticed how much I loved it! In honor of that glorious time off, I present you with my 3 keys to disconnecting:

  1. Drop the ego. Start to realize you aren’t you just aren’t that important. Life goes on. Work goes on. People step up while you are gone.
  2. Be selfish. Read something other than the news, business books and memos. Find a book or a movie that moved you and consume it again with fresh eyes. I have been sharing my favorite movies from when I was a teenager with my own teens and it’s been an incredible experience. Most recently, we watched “Stand by Me” which brought me back to thinking about what it was like to be 12.
  3. (Re)charge. I read recently something about how the brain engages in new ways when you are learning something for the first time. Do that — find something new or something you do rarely and allow your brain to struggle with it, focus on it. It (re)charges you in ways that are hard to explain but are easy to feel. We went on a 3 mile hike that I absolutely loved, something I don’t often do. I was focused on the trail, the rocks, not getting hurt and enjoying the view. It was amazing.When it was over, I felt elated. My mind felt electric.
I can’t wait for my next vacation, even if it’s for a day or even a few hours, I will most certainly be disconnecting. I hope you can find your own keys to disconnecting.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013


If you've been reading my blog (sorry it's been dormant for so long) it's time yet again for me to leap to the next thing. For the last 3.5 years I've immersed myself in the autism world learning more than I ever thought possible. Up until last week, I had been leading teams at Autism Speaks in social media, fundraising, marketing, IT, direct mail and CRM. I've been a busy bee.

First and foremost, I learned that autism is really, really complicated. Pick any one thing about it (take causes for example) and you'll find significantly different viewpoints from a variety of corners of the community.

I deeply connected with all parts of the community; parents, children, adults, researchers, caregivers, teachers and more. Beyond any of the other causes I've been involved in, autism got under my skin in some incredible ways. I feel deeply for those on the spectrum and for their loved ones who are must struggle to understand and cope with whatever comes from their experiences for all sides of the spectrum.

The autism journey is it's own unique, amazing, stressful and challenging path - one that as a society we're just now starting to understand, cope with and build supports around. I hope to stay involved in variety of ways with the community and will not soon forget the friendships I've forged with so many touched by autism.

Being at an organization like Autism Speaks which has both fans and detractors has led me down many different paths - from conversations with self-advocates and parents to civil and gay rights leaders to try to understand and get straight in my own thick head what autism is, and what it isn't.

After my time however, I still don't have a simple or single answer. That said, I know that there are many, many people and organizations out there fighting everyday for a variety of things, all hoping to improve the lives of everyone diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

The "arc" of autism, (the story about what we as a society tell ourselves autism is and isn't) is just now cresting after years of misunderstanding and confusion. That said, there are still miles to go. Even the very definition of autism, and classification as an illness, a disorder or some other word is up for grabs. Until we as a society we find some balance in the semantics of autism we'll struggle, argue and fight. Right now, in early 2013 it's as it should be and how it must be in this moment. In the future, when we do finally figure it all out, all of our lives will be enriched with millions of new and unique voices. If you listen closely , you can actually hear a few already.

I'm extremely proud of the work my team accomplished within Autism Speaks. I want to acknowledge all those who helped shine a light on my path and informed my own journey. You know who you are - and there are many of you who helped me. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Autism has changed me and affected my perspective on life for the better.

In case you are wondering, I'll be joining PwC as a Director in their customer advisory group focused on social enterprise, social business and using technology to change the world like I always do. I hope to resume regular blogging but know better.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Finally, I'm a Judge - it's Taggie time!

Fair warning: I'm one of the many judges of this year's program!

The Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards Program (a.k.a. The Taggies) just opened its fourth awards cycle with the addition of an Advocacy Campaign Tagline category.

Nonprofits and libraries everywhere are invited to enter their organizational tagline in the program, plus any tagline they’ve created to advance programs, fundraising campaigns, advocacy campaigns and/or special events. The 2,700 taglines entered in the 2010 Awards were a bounty of skillful messages and this year’s entries are expected to be equally powerful.

“A relevant tagline does double-duty—working to extend an organization’s name and mission, while delivering a memorable and motivating message to the people whose help it needs,” says awards program organizer Nancy E. Schwartz. “But our recent Nonprofit Messages Survey showed just 29% of organizations have a tagline that connects and spurs action.

“The biennial Awards program is designed to inspire and guide organizations to deliver taglines that connect quickly and strongly with their target audiences—Aha! messages that build and strengthen key relationships for the long term.”

Schwartz says that in addition to the new Advocacy Campaign Tagline category, Wildlife & Animal Welfare has been added as a field of focus for the organization tagline awards.

All entrants will be invited to a free webinar (Aha! Messages: 4 Ways to Test Message Relevance) and receive access to the fully-updated Nonprofit Tagline Report— the only complete guide to building an organization’s brand in eight words or less—and Database.

Organizations can enter their taglines via an easy-to-complete entry form at


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