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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? 

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