10th May 2007

Is your Baby Ugly? aka - convincing the unconverted on communities…part V

Ok, true enough, I’m actually titling Part 5 here as "Ugly Baby."

What’s another reason why it is so important you engage with your users in your communities?  Well, I’ve talked before about several ways to build this case - links below.  Many authors and speakers who are more elegant than I like to to talk about "building customer loyalty."  Well, what does that really mean?  In a session last week I described this as the act of building a sense of maternity or paternity for your products, content, company - a sense of ownership by your users - nothing is more powerful.  It’s a simple and sticky idea (hint: book review coming soon):  Everyone has seen an ugly baby, but nobody’s baby is ever ugly.


For reference…links back to first 4 parts:

Part 1:  The Analogy

Part 2:  Fear by Example

Part 3:  Data / Evidence approach

Part 4:  Assumptive Close


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19th February 2007

Online Discussions - Insights you could use!


In the series I wrote on Convincing the unconverted, Part 3, I talked about using the data/evidence approach to convincing your business of the value of communities.  It often feels to me like many of the investments being made in communities by businesses are first and foremost about brand and brand marketing.  That is not inherently wrong, but I do feel it is too limited a purpose for communities and in fact if done in isolation to other motivations may be perceived as insincere by your users – (and, they might be right!).  I guess I tend the see marketing benefits as a good by-product of why you do communities, not the reason you do it.  I thought in this post I’d talk a little more about “insights.”  This can be broken down into a number of areas:

1.     Product feedback (both current and future) – Important:  Don’t assume you know everything you need to know from your call centers!!  That is a “going out of business feedback model.”

2.     Policy, program or content feedback

3.     Demographic insights – better understanding who uses your products

4.     Preference information – Why people use your products or why not

5.     Companion information – people who use your product also use _____?

6.     Competitive insights – whose products do they use instead of yours

7.     Unexpected insights – users often do what you didn’t intend with your products – this might indicate new markets or avenues of sales/development


Now, realistically, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to do all of this – particularly in a short time frame.   Just collecting all these insights is non-trivial to say the least – it could be a massive amount of data (unstructured data)!  And taking action on it, which your users expect, is even more challenging.  Not all of it is actionable and you can’t be all things to everyone.  So deciding how to manage this is a complex, but important task. 

Perhaps, together we can share some thoughts on who we think is doing this particularly well and what we think about the approach is effective.

I’ll start with a couple of examples:

http://connect.microsoft.com/: Now, I’m not hiding that I work at Microsoft, but I don’t work on this project and either way, I still think this is very good.  The concept of connect is to provide an engagement, feedback and voting mechanism on Microsoft products.  On the splash screen, you can see connect has over 800,000 members who have registered over 225,000 bugs and over 30,000 product suggestions.  You can quickly view a list of connection opportunities, manage your participation and join others in publicly contributing and/or voting on others contributions.  Imagine, a public database of everything that is wrong with your products – this would be heresy for many companies.  But communities are all about transparency. 

http://www.dellideastorm.com/: This is pretty new, but is another interesting engine for gathering insights.  After registering, you get a quick idea of the size of the community and some light reputation based on top participants.  More importantly, you can quickly navigate user provided insights and either add to the insights or vote on existing.  As a company that brands itself on user customization, this is an interesting way to extend their customer research process.

:  Just so I’m not accused of any Microsoft biasJ  The level of activity here doesn’t seem very high yet (I think this is fairly new), but the idea is quite similar to those mentioned above.

As the collector of insights, knowing how to think about the thresholds for when you take actions and how you close the loop back will be an important part of your planning process…but the first step toward collection and transparency seems to have some obvious long term benefits.  A big challenge of feedback systems is that they can add so much noise to the system that you don’t know what to do.  That’s what I love about these examples with voting models implementing.  With nuturing, the community will manage the noise out by voting for what is good and marginalizing what isn’t most important. 

Imaging how your users will feel when they “see” their feedback in your product!!  This ain’t easy!!  But, that should be the core principle. 

Now, who do YOU think is doing this well!  (yes you, this means now you post a comment) 

Feeling informed? Digg it!


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17th February 2007

Convincing the unconverted, Part 4


Now for my favorite approach to convincing the unconverted on the importance of community. I call it the assumptive close.

#4 The Assumptive Close

I have to admit, I really like this one. It’s almost a version of guilt combined with the already mentioned techniques. It essentially goes like this: "You are going to do it anyway. Why do you want to be last?" Users are going to talk about your products, policies, licensing, people, everything! You really don’t get to decide this. The only decision you get to make is whether or not to participate in that conversation. You must also accept the fact that you CANNOT control the conversation. In fact, the harder you try the more impossible it is. So, what I’m saying is that you (your company) are eventually going to get involved in community (it’s not some fad). Stop selling the company on whether or not to engage and tell them that it is a foregone conclusion that they will. You are here to discuss not the "if," but the when and the how. Got it? Good luck.


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13th February 2007

Convincing the unconverted, Part 3


Convincing the unconverted, part 3

For technique #3 of “convincing the unconverted on communities,” I thought I’d talk a little about:  The Data/Evidence driven approach.

#3:  The Data/Evidence approach

Unfortunately this might be the toughest, but at the same time the one with highest likelihood to succeed within a corporation.  What data/evidence to use depends a lot on the following:  

  • What industry you are in

  • What organization you roll up to (Marketing? Product development? Support? Sales?)

  • What communities you have today (is there any baseline data?)

The truth is, there is a community today for almost everything; it’s just that you might not host it.  That might constrain how easily you can collect data from it, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t very valuable to your users. 

Risk:  Don’t let measurement define your strategy…let your strategy define your measurement.  Sounds obvious, but too often it is not.

The following are some thoughts on Data and Evidence that help build the story for communities.  I’m not saying all this is easily measured or completely measurable at all, but these are some of the areas I’ve thought about.

  1. Satisfaction and likelihood to recommend – Every company I know does something to measure these indicators (satisfaction being rear-view and recommend being forward looking).  How do your community users opinions differ from non-community users?

  2. Product insights – Are you collecting product insight through the community conversations?  Can you compare that to other mechanisms?

  3. Outreach – Are your communities extending your brand or helping you reach users (potential users) you never reached before?

  4. Credibility – Mastercard model – the independent community voice compared to your “corporate voice” is “priceless

  5. Image/”humanization” – Your chance to demystify your company.  You can “put a face” on your company through bloggers and/or content that is just downright unexpected, and GREAT.  Example:  Check the ReadMe.txt on Channel 9: http://channel9.msdn.com/about.aspx.  My favorite is #8:)

  6. Community “Health” – Unique users, return rate, average days active, answer rate, rss feeds, etc 

That’s a good start, I’m sure I’ve missed some good ideas I hope others will add.  I guess I would note that every metric is inherently limited and taken in isolation could really lead you down the wrong path…so check your assumptions regularly (ask your users!).

Next up:  “The Assumptive Close” – a personal favorite


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13th February 2007

Convincing the uncoverted, Part 2


Convincing the unconverted, Part 2

In my last post, I introduced the topic of “convincing the unconverted on communities.”  I started with technique #1:  The Analogy.

Today, I thought I’d talk about: “Fear by Example.”

#2  Fear by Example

Anyone trying to win this debate in their organization should read the book Wikinomics (www.wikinomics.com).  I think the authors do a great job articulating this approach. 

Wikinomics quote:

“…2006 was the year when the programmable web eclipsed the static web every time:  flickr beat webshots; Wikipedia bead Britannica; Blogger bean CNN; Epinions beat Consumer-reports; Upcoming beat evite; Google Maps beat MapQuest; MySpace beat friendster; and craigslist beat Monster.”

“What was different?  The losers launched web sites, the winners launched vibrant communities.  The losers built walled gardens.  The winners build public squares.  The losers innovated internally.  The winners innovated with their users.  The losers jealously guarded their data and software interfaces.  The winners shared them with everyone.”

While I’m not totally in agreement with all the examples raised by the authors, I think the overall point is right.  Those who engage their users will be rewarded and those who don’t will fail.  So, it’s not about the opportunity presented by communities, but creating fear of failure if you don’t join “the social.”  The world, your users and your competitors will move on without you.

No industry is immune.  Take the following recent press release from Nike:  http://www.nike.com/nikebiz/news/pressrelease.jhtml?year=2007&month=02&letter=a

Quotes from CEO Mark Parker:

“As the market leader, we have the ability and the responsibility to take the industry and our partners to a new and better place,” said Nike Inc. President and CEO Mark Parker. “The ability to connect with consumers is the single most important competitive advantage in our industry today. Nobody does this better than Nike. Our vision is clear. I’ve never been more excited about our opportunities.”

“In today’s world, power has shifted away from traditional brand growth models to growth driven by the power of consumers,” Parker said. “No one is better positioned than Nike to take advantage of this. We will drive growth and build shareholder value by embracing the power of the consumer and creating a new marketplace.”

The story goes on to say:

“The Internet will get more attention for building a community for consumer to make them feel more connected to the company and the sports it supplies,” … “You’ll see that move from a bit of a hobby for Nike to a massive commitment.”

This is a good time in our group therapy for you to share your fears or related stories.

Next Technique:  “The Data/Evidence approach”


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13th February 2007

Convincing the unconverted on communities


Convincing the unconverted on communities

One of the issues that has challenged community enthusiasts inside traditional corporate structures is over-coming the lack of understanding of the implications of the shift from the publish/browse web to a participation web.  Let’s face it, most of those that control prioritization decisions, investment decisions, risk management decisions and strategy decisions are at this point inexperienced in the “social.”  A colleague of mine even suggested they were “too old” to even get it…and by too old I think he meant over 25!!  Ok, I’m 37 (very soon) so maybe I should take some offense, but at the same time, I’ve made a big effort to understand it…the exaggeration might not be that far off. 

So, given that we can’t roll back their clocks, a common challenge is how to make it visceral for them.  You have to accept that this is not their problem, but your problem.  Realistically, no single approach is always successful, but I thought I’d share some of mine in hopes you might share some of yours – all can be effective, the edge is in knowing how and when to use each based on your audience or the type of resistance you are experiencing. 

There are several approaches I use and over the next several days, I’ll try to explain them here.  I’ll start with what I call “The Analogy.”

#1:  The Analogy:  I use this one A LOT, especially in scenarios where I know the gap is really pure understanding.  Nearly everyone has benefited from community, but we often try to talk about it so specific to our area of business interest, that it just doesn’t resonate.  I have 3 examples I use a lot.  They are each specifically designed to appeal in different ways (hobby, personal transactions, and a non-standard selection).

·          BBQing (hobby) – This was really the first example I ever used.  One of my hobbies (obsessions according to my wife) is BBQing.  I won’t get into the passions that surround debate on this subject here, but be assured they are as strong and deep as any topic I’ve ever seen.  So, here’s the story – and yes, it is 100% true (these must be for it to work).  A few years ago, my wife bought me a BBQ for Christmas, technically a smoker (www.cookshack.com).  One of the first things I did was go online to register the product.  I immediately discovered an online community hosted at the site.  By the end of the day, I was reading post after post from a guy named “smokin’ okie.”  I was lurking like crazy all the time (and slowly starting to post).  As the months went by, I didn’t really give this a lot of thought relative to my day job on communities at Microsoft.  But, one day it hit me.  I was using this BBQ WAY more frequently than the average person uses a BBQ.  I was buying accessories for it.  I was recommending it to others (I can name 5 people I recommended it to who now own one).  I was using it in non-standard ways – things you won’t read in the manual (by the way, this really builds loyalty as you’re not sure you could do it with a competitor.)  It also dawned on me that my motivations for being in that community were very diverse.  I sought recipes, trouble shooting, tips and tricks, product recommendations, social connections, and on and on – I was really forming relationships.  Since then, that cookshack has become a center piece of a full outdoor kitchen (see flickr photos in sidebar) I had built to extend my addiction to bbqing.  So, how did this relate to Microsoft for me?  Well, let me tell you, software and computers are not a lot different than BBQing.  What does every company want?  They want you to use their products more.  They want you to use a richer set of its features and capabilities.  They want you to add onto it.  They want you to recommend it and they want it to become a focal point in your life.  It’s really the dream scenario – if communities could do that for me with BBQ, couldn’t we do the same with software – another topic with massive passions!!  Now, don’t use BBQing (unless it’s true for you), but do figure out what your “bbq story” is.  What you are trying to do is create a vivid story that helps others discover their own story – then you’ve got them.

·          Buying a camera (personal transaction) – This one is simpler, but I think equally effective as most people can relate to the process.  Here’s the story.  10 years ago most people bought cameras the same way.  They went to the camera shop and the person behind the counter was an “expert” (relative to you the shopper) and that sales person held massive influence over what you bought.  Actually, many manufacturers spent lots of money on channel training, shelf placement, spiffs, etc to help move their products.  Yes, we had consumer reports, but on the whole, I think the approach above is true for the masses.  Today, how do we buy a camera?  Well, if we go into a store at all, we likely know as much or more as the person behind the counter (high quality/specialty stores not withstanding).  We already went to www.amazon.com or www.cnet.com or … and we read user reviews.  We’ve been to communities to read and listen to others.  We trust the voice of other users far more than the mfg or channel – other users are like us after all and they are unbiased (we assume).  Often time, we better understand our peers as well.  What did I hate about my last digital camera?  When I pushed the button to get the picture, the delay often meant I missed the shot.  Do I even know about shutter speed?  If I go to the camera web site, I just see performance data – no context really that I can understand.  Nothing like reading posts from other users who hated the same thing with their prior camera and now are happy with .  In fact, it’s in this scenario where I wonder why we go to a manufacturer web site at all?  Don’t I know what it says without going (easy to use, low cost, flexible, powerful, fast, great support, etc, etc, etc)?  Isn’t that roughly what all web sites say?  What’s useful for me is the conversations with other users.  In fact, “why would anyone build a website without hosting user to user conversations” would be my close to this example? 

·          American Idol (non-standard) – I admit, I’m sucked into this show a little.  I also admit it is the first several weeks when everyone is terrible that I really like it – especially the ones who actually think they are good and are really brutal.  But, isn’t AI just another type of “community” delivered through network television (definitely managed – but none the less true I think).  It is all about user generated content and participation in the voting.  Imagine the relative cost of producing a 1 hr episode of AI vs a 1 hr episode of 24 or Lost?  What a great idea!  Not to mention, they just monetized what was once an immensely expensive process – talent discovery.

What are your favorite analogies??

Next technique: "Fear by example"


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