Online Communities: The Tribalization of Business

Recently I spoke with Francois Gossieaux of Beeline Labs about the role of online communities in the enterprise. Francois has been evangelizing the learning gained from his recent study “The Tribalization of Business” (see here for the Slideshare presentation).

The interview is broken into three parts. Francois is a great storyteller, bringing case studies in to support nearly every point. Here are a few insights I took away from our conversation:

Community for community’s sake:
most businesses begin planning a community with traditional objectives (lower support costs, drive innovation, increase customer loyalty etc.). On the Social Web this is the equivalent of entering a personal relationship with an ulterior motive (which never works out quite right). Businesses should begin with the question, “how can I satisfy the needs of this community?”- and then follow the community’s lead. Be open to the unexpected.

In my experience this is one of the hardest things for companies to get behind and relegates this kind of “enlightened” community effort to either top-level leadership or skunk works development. Middle management is typically the most reluctant to deviate from standard practice and place a bet on community for the community’s sake.

Communities require a social framework to thrive
– most companies have a mindset that reflects the legal, contractual and hierarchical underpinnings of their business and carry these behaviors with them into the community. This informs their planning, measurement and how they encourage contribution. These incentives have little sway on the Social Web where the mindset is social and trust, reputation and relationship are big drivers of contribution. As Francois says, “The most successful communities occur when you tap into that social framework”

Consider stories as a success metric: While there is a fair amount in this interview about measurement – this was my favorite: A great anectdote about how one company views the stories that emerge from their community as a key metric of success. Great stories are inherently viral and can have a profound impact on decision making in an organization.

Think Bigger: Most large companies are satisfied to have small communities; basically bringing a focus group online. Doing so misses the potential of the online community to transform your business. Consider how Intuit is now embedding live community directly into their application – allowing users to seek help and get questions answered directly.

Transformative communities blur the lines between company and customer and portend a future where retail ecommerce sites go well beyond ratings and reviews and provide problem solving, shopping mentors, product development and other services directly from the community. Where internet sites are co-evolved (from interface to feature-sets to codebase) in cooperation with community, where complex applications (desktop and cloud-based) meld standard functions with community functions. Communities are certainly helpful in providing feedback on customer behavior but that is just one small part of the story.

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  • I love the idea of considering user stories as metrics for a thriving community. This is the online equivalent of being the house that all the kids want to hang out at in the neighborhood.

    Such stories could provide wonderful testimonials, research fodder and prompt changes for smart organizations who are willing to listen and engage their users in this way.

  • Seb

    Interesting article. I believe it’s essential to hit the nerve of the niche, for which a community is designed for. Especially for brand communities, or rather communities which are related to certain product brands (like Dove’s Ning Community) this isn’t always easy. Communities have to be authentic, but have initially been developed to fulfill certain business needs or targets …

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