"Blogging innovation and marketing insights for the greater good"
Business Strategy Innovation Consultants

Blogging Innovation

Blogging Innovation Sponsor - Brightidea
Home Services Case Studies News Book List About Us Videos Contact Us Blog

A leading innovation and marketing blog from Braden Kelley of Business Strategy Innovation

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Companies Shouldn't Build Online Communities

by Boris Pluskowski

Companies Shouldn’t Build Online CommunitiesForget 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:

I 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.

Unlike 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:

community - [kuh-myoo-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.

There are 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.

At the recent World Business Forum, held in New York City on Oct 6-7, 2009, 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:
  • 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?

Editor's note: If you would like to save $200 on either this year's World Business Forum or World Innovation Forum, please register with discount code "innovate"

Don't miss an article - Subscribe to our RSS feed and join our Continuous Innovation group!
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Boris PluskowskiBoris Pluskowski is the Founder of The Complete Innovator where he regularly shares new ideas and best practices on how big companies can harness Innovation, Collaboration and Social Media to drive new sources of value throughout the enterprise.

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Feed Button Subscribe to me on FriendFeed


Anonymous Michael Fälling Sørensen said...

Boris , You are so right - and yet so wrong;-)!
Off course building a community without setting up targets of what you want to achieve is useless - but who does that ?...We help companies implement collaborative communities for innovation, and we are met with a demand for clear measurability every time, so I really cannot recognize what you`re saying here!? Yes - there is a hype - but to assume that all projects are implemented without strategy for measurability is not what we experience.....

6:16 AM  
Blogger Leo said...

Michael's right, and I think you have some valid points for starting a social enterprise/ community building campaign, but you are playing with a semantics.

A couple of scenarios where a team is not the right word, but value and innovation still arise: Sometimes a community is developed not for the success any specific team or organization, say an online group of the same profession, but to advance the individuals and share knowledge and experience for mutual benefit of each individual. Every person might have their own reasons for joining the community, like twitter, but that doesn't mean there's no value. Everyone gets out of it what they want.

Communities might be established (or deteriorate) spontaneously between individuals that are not on the same team, say in different departments on opposite sides of team planet and may not even know what their goals are, but that doesn't mean they won't advance or gain value from the tool. Goals can arise spontaneously ("hey, can anyone help me with X"). The spontaneity and the serendipity are sometimes where the biggest value is (see @jhagel on this subject).

I agree that for pilot projects and initial implementations it helps to have some specific goals in mind and see how things can be organized better and get more newbees to participate actively, say, offering examples of how online communities can make the team's work more effective, but don't forget that often times the emergent nature of sharing and spontaneous organization of cross-functional communities is often where some great innovations happen, and it is totally unplanned and unpredictable.

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really interesting stand and info.


6:16 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Site Map Contact us to find out how we can help you.