Since I’ve recently been on one of my Tom Sawyer rants again about the lack of humility I see in many community efforts, I thought I’d share a story that might help you visualize the role your organization could play in the communities it belongs to.
A few months ago, two of my business partners, David Burney and Matt Muñoz, were sitting in a meeting with a client of ours (The Redwoods Group, a very cool B Corporation), discussing the unique relationship that organization has with its customers, employees, and other communities. The conversation turned to the ideas of service and humility, which are so often ignored by big organizations attempting to engage with communities.
All of the sudden, Kevin Trapani, CEO of The Redwoods Group, encapsulated the entire conversation in a few short words:
“We should be of it, not above it,” he said.
So many organizations, intentionally or not, approach things as if they are above a community. Sometimes this means taking the Tom Sawyer approach of using community strategies to get others to paint your fence for free. Sometimes this means creating a new community with your organization at the center rather than joining an existing community effort. Sometimes it simply means a lack of humility or selflessness shines through in the organization’s community interactions.
Maybe some day we’ll look back on the role of the manager in our organizations and laugh.
Such a quaint trend. Kind of like having The Clapper in every room of your house, or wearing multiple Swatch watches, or working out to Richard Simmons videos. Each seemed really helpful at the time, but looking back, we kind of wonder what the heck we were thinking.
OK, I’m exaggerating. After all, the manager/employee trend has been going strong for 100 years or more. But are we seeing enormous changes in the role of managers on the horizon? Signs point to yes.
In some of the most forward-thinking businesses and in many projects being run the open source way, the traditional manager/employee relationship, which looks something like the image above, is being replaced with something much less formal and much more flexible.
I think the new model looks more like this:
[read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
In my day job at New Kind, I spend quite a bit of my time working on brand-related assignments, particularly for organizations interested in community-based approaches to building their brands.
When marrying the art of community building to the art of brand building, it’s hard not to talk about building “brand communities.” It’s a convenient term, and brand experts love to trot out examples like Harley Davidson and Apple as examples of thriving communities built around brands.
The term “brand community” even has its own Wikipedia page (definition: “a community formed on the basis of attachment to a product or marque”). Harvard Business Review writes about brand communities. Guy Kawasaki writes about brand communities.
Yet almost every article I’ve read about building “brand communities” shares a common trait:
They are all written by brand people for brand people.
The result? Articles focusing on what’s in it for the brands (and the companies behind them), not what’s in it for the communities. Learn how to build a brand community so your company will succeed, not so a community will succeed.
Typical corporate thinking.
What if we turned things on their heads for a second and changed the words around? What if, instead of “brand community,” the phrase du jour was “community brand?”
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
Over the past month or so, I’ve been having a conversation with Iain Gray, Red Hat Vice President of Customer Engagement, about the ways companies engage with communities. I’ve also written a lot lately about common mistakes folks make in developing corporate community strategies (see my two posts about Tom Sawyer community-building here and here and Chris Brogan’s writeup here).
One idea we bounced around for a while was a mashup of community thinking and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For those of you who slept in with a bad hangover the day you were supposed to learn about Maslow in your intro psych class (damn you, Jagermeister!), here is the Wikipedia summary:
“[Maslow's hierarchy of needs] is often depicted as a pyramid consisting of five levels: the lowest level is associated with physiological needs, while the uppermost level is associated with self-actualization needs, particularly those related to identity and purpose. The higher needs in this hierarchy only come into focus when the lower needs in the pyramid are met. Once an individual has moved upwards to the next level, needs in the lower level will no longer be prioritized. If a lower set of needs is no longer being met, the individual will temporarily re-prioritize those needs by focusing attention on the unfulfilled needs, but will not permanently regress to the lower level.”
Now granted, the needs of a company are very different than the needs of a human being. At its very basic level, a company has a “physiological” need to make money. If that need is not being met, little else will matter. But in an ironic twist, this basic need to make money can actually hinder the company’s ability to make money if it is not wrapped in a more self-actualized strategy.
To explain what I mean, think about the last annoying salesperson who called or emailed you. Why were you annoyed? Probably because it was very clear to you that the salesperson was badly hiding his basic motivation to make money. He wasn’t talking to you because he valued you– he was talking to your wallet.
Now think about the best recent sales experience you’ve had. Mostly likely, this salesperson was being motivated by a higher purpose, perhaps something as simple as a desire to make you happy. Sometimes the most effective salespeople aren’t even in sales at all– like a friend who tells you about a new album you should buy, for example. Or sites like Trip Advisor, where you can learn about where to go on vacation from other folks like you.
When it comes to community strategy, most companies have trouble finding motivation beyond the simple need to make money– and the communities they interact with can tell.
Yet if you look at the greatest companies out there, you’ll find that they usually have a strong sense of identity and purpose– just like Maslow’s self-actualized people. Read anything by Jim Collins and you’ll see what I mean.
For a recent presentation, Iain developed a chart that looks a lot like the one below. And to embarrass Iain, let’s call it the Gray hierarchy of community needs.
After hearing Chris talk about building trust in online communities, it hit me that one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make when trying to build communities online, even in the open source world, is that they think like Tom Sawyer.
Here’s how Wikipedia retells the story of Tom Sawyer and the fence:
After playing hooky from school on Friday and dirtying his clothes in a fight, Tom is made to whitewash the fence as punishment on Saturday. At first, Tom is disappointed by having to forfeit his day off. However, he soon cleverly persuades his friends to trade him small treasures for the privilege of doing his work.
When thinking about building communities online, are you thinking like Tom Sawyer? Why are you building a community in the first place? When it comes right down to it, do you really just want people to whitewash your fence for you and give you small treasures in return for the privilege?
If you are looking to ideas like open source or social media as simple means to get what you want for your company, it’s time to rethink your community strategy.