Friday, 29 December 2017

Customer engagement model; the community model (full version)

This is the full version – what, why, how with numerous use cases.  It suggests how you can apply the model for your business.  The short version (click here) explains the use of the community model – the ‘what’ and ‘why’.

Want to use crowdsourcing?

Surveys have shown that companies want to pursue digitisation but don’t know how.  Perhaps they are not yet familiar with the techniques.  This post expounds on one.

Most of us have in fact come across the community model.  Before making a booking at AirBnB, we look at the reviews.  Reviewing is a consumer activity.  What is written in aggregate can make or break a buying decision.  AirBnB and online hotel booking sites, unlike the traditional travel agents or hotels, use the community model deliberately to enhance their business, providing important information consumers want.  In fact, most internet startups use it in one form or another.  It creates value for the business in a digital era.  It is an important part of their digital strategy.  So can you.

The community model, one stratagem to execute crowdsourcing, engages a specific community to directly or indirectly contribute towards a goal….to help with sales (AirBnB), provide better customer service, design a better product, monitor the market, spot a trend...and is achieved over a few months to the long term.  It is the deliberate use of the community for the business.  To utilize the crowd the scheme has to tap into our social nature (AirBnB) or be appealing to the target community, say, potential subcontractors to a bicycle maker.  And value must be exchanged.

The community is made up of customers, would-be customers, partners, the public or a combination, over a subject of common interest.  It can come from those working in a specific industry, the like-minded or fans of retail brands.

To be sure, it is unconventional (for now) but it works.

“How YC Alum Polymail Grew to Over 25,000 Active Users with
 Continuous Customer Development” - Jul 27, 2017, codementor

Learn from internet startups

Rackspace (data centre business), a company that can only thrive within an internet era has this on its website.

“The Rackspace Community (“Community”) is provided “AS IS” without warranty of any kind. 
  The information on the Community sites is created by members of the Community and is
  intended for reference and general discussions only.”…Note that the communities are partly
  created by members of the industry.  They are for user support and to develop technology and the services.

’What has provided a lifeline to Alibaba is the user-generated rating systems for the thousands of online small merchants that Alibaba would otherwise have no way to police.’ – China Daily Asia Weekly, 12 Aug 2016….this also saves Alibaba a ton of money from a bigger internal audit group.

Threadless, an online merchant sells T-shirts but it does not have its own designers.  Instead it runs design competitions online.  Members submit their ideas and then voted on the one they liked best.  Hundreds of thousands of people use the site blogging and chatting about designs and socialising with their fellow enthusiasts.  They also buy a lot of shirts.

BMW hosted a ‘virtual innovation agency’ on its website.  Smaller businesses submit ideas hoping to establish a relationship.

Inkshare, a publisher, lets readers decide what should be published.  Authors who post their ideas and sample pages to Inkshare’s community of 100,000 readers, will be published if their ideas get 750 preorders from readers.  Inkshare handles the editing, design, marketing, publicity and even movie options.

The next example is classic Jeff Bezos who gets the internet way of doing business.

‘Early on the company hired a lot of editors to write book and music reviews—and then ­decided to use customers’ critiques instead. ‘ - Jeff Bezos's Top 10 Leadership Lessons, Forbes, 4 Apr 2012…a simple idea and Amazon get to save costs in the process!

OpenSignal is more like a traditional firm but uses the tools the digital economy offers brilliantly.

“OpenSignal, which crowdsource its figures on telco signal quality and data speed from users who have installed its app on their Apple or Android smartphones.”….There is no better way to do this and certainly not the traditional way with field teams that samples data only from time to time…This is volunteerism at work since contributors don’t get anything in return except feel-good and note that it has to be perpetual.  Waze and Foursquare use volunteerism in a similar way.

The challenge here is the ability to accept ideas outside the conventional.  If you are working in a 20-year old firm similar to OpenSignal, it would be using the survey method, something the industry has been using for decades - would an executive even think of using something so different?  The conventional method is tested, used by all in the industry and accepted by clients.  And crowdsourcing sounds iffy.  As we know, change is a bugbear within almost all organisations and many managers will simply say, ‘we have been doing it this way for years…’  While this is generally true, where we are in now is an era of change and modern tools allow things to be done better.

I believe Jeff Bezos is the type of person who can think unconventionally and this may be because he saw the internet as the next frontier and thus a chance in an established business environment.  He knows business should be executed differently, thus he is more likely to accept things against norms.  He probably could not understand the internet way of doing things when he started (he was a banker) Amazon but with that open attitude, he learnt fast.

What can the community model be used for, for an enterprise?


·         improve customer service (customer reviews in AirBnB is cherished)
·         improve product development or service deployment (OpenSignal)
·      improve a product or service (Waze’s live sharing of road incidents makes it a must-have for   
 frequent road users)
·         assist customer support (Telstra, a telco, uses it for customer self-service)
·         monitor service levels (customer ratings & reviews)
·         track trends
·         build trust (reviews and rating)


·         support marketing and branding
·         assist sales through word-of-mouth (comments, ratings/reviews)
·         recruitment or rather talent spotting

If you value data, the community model sets up a ‘mining’ operation.

Engaging the community is a very important component of a business for OpenSignal or Waze.  To others, including FourSquare and Yelp it is THE business.  For an enterprise, use the community model for specific corporate goals.  Treat it as a business tool, like you would, advertisements.

"When it comes to digital marketing, spend 40 per cent of your time worrying about brand, another 40 per cent (of your time) worrying about performance related marketing, such as driving people to sign up or buy online, with more tactical messaging, and the last 20 per cent of the time creating conversations online," Mr Peltoniemi said, adding that "this can be done with content and social media" - ‘5 digital innovation trends Asian advertisers are asking for.’

An architectural firm could develop a public online site to design houses.  Enthusiasts participating provide the data to keep the firm in tune with consumer trends, through their creations and chatter.  A percentage could become customers because it is convenient to after they have outlined what they like. 

A furniture maker could create a design platform, a combination of a visual blog and easy-to-use drawing tools, for peers of retailers (partners) to design, re-design and discuss furniture pieces.  Since retailers face the customers on the ground, they have a good perspective of likes.  This is data to the furniture maker, perhaps to produce specific pieces or variations.  It would provide better estimates of the quantity to manufacture.

Indirectly, sales would increase with the examples.  The primary aim though is in its use to tracks consumer trends, tap insights, become more customer savvy, to make what customers actually want and to produce more saleable items.

The skill here is the ability to seed peer activity.

Will it work for your goal?

Scheme….as you think through your scheme, bear in mind it can be short term, long term or perpetual; the makeup of the target community; that the goal can be achieved directly or indirectly; that what it boils down to is how it appeals to the target community.  Do not be stymied by traditional thinking that only monetary incentives will work.  It does and in certain schemes they could be used in a complementary manner but by and large, it isn’t necessary.  The most effective ways though is to tap interest.  Threadless built an entire business on an online community around shared interest in design while knowledge is Wikipedia’s.  Volunteerism plays a part particularly if the activities appeal to our innate social behaviour as member of social communities.  Or it has value to the participants.  Click free now has value to understand this dichotomy better. 

Value….the key then is finding value for the potential participants.  The cause has to be alluring.  If you are a bicycle maker you might consider doing what BMW did – dangling a potential contract. If your product has hobby appeal, indulge hobbyists.  Humans are by nature social creatures so like Foursquare, make a case for them to indulge their friends.  Google Maps entice volunteers by offering volunteer benefits; discount vouchers, meet-ups, etc.  I am one but I don’t bother about such benefits – if a restaurant I visited is good, why not tell others.  This works for me because it is very easy to write a comment.  That is to say, for simple tasks like feedback, the site has to be made convenient and extremely easy for them to do so.  The less friction there is the more successful the initiative.

Lists…. do you already have access to a semblance of the intended community?  If you represent a well-known firm and if the target community is within an established ecosystem, you have it.  If you work for a famous retail brand, ditto, with followers in the social media accounts.  For those without strong brands or if you do not yet have access to the intended group, there is work to do.  But in almost all cases anyway, you would want to expand the list.  [This is one reason I encourage organisations to collect contact information like email early on, even when there is no reason to, say, in public talks.]  If there are influencers in your vertical, go through them.  You’ll have to pay for this shortcut.  For the long term, build a following in specific segments of your industry through blogs, forums, op-eds in the media, social media, etc.  This job and the outreach work later are for an emerging job category – the community manager.  Many internet startups have one.  And as these examples show, the role of branding is elevated in a digital economy.

Lastly, do note that traditionally, managers exert close control over projects.  This won’t work with the community model - it is an indirect method.  Rather it is about setting up the correct mechanism then nurturing and nudging it.   A good community manager has lots of empathy!

If you have the pieces in place ….

To get it started

It can be as simple as using email or setting up a social media page. Or build your own platform.

The choice depends on the objective of the campaign; whether it is strategic, the duration and the intended participants.  If you require better control over the process, complete access to the data and flexibility of engagement, build your own.  With this you can for example add tools to further engage your intended crowd or build data analytics into it.  It can simultaneously host multiple schemes.

Let’s look briefly at the digital platform.

It is not your existing website.  Corporate websites are designed primarily to be read and find out what the company do.  It is mostly a closed passive site.  A digital platform on the other hand is meant to engage ie. an interactive site.  Thus the term, open platform is used in fig. 1 (fig. replicated below).  Secondly, for better security, the platform should reside on a separate machine and isolated from the corporate’s other digital properties such as an eBanking site.

When you first launch the platform, potential participants do not know of it.  So as the framework in fig.1a shows, use public channels such as Facebook or WeChat and your organisation’s private channels; website, email, blog to kickstart your campaign to draw them into your platform.

The rest is up to your ability to seed peer activity and nudging it along.  Test your scheme, apply mvp (minimum viable product) principles and pivot if there is little traction.  Keep a focus on the data you are looking for.  Make it easy to contribute.

Happy harvesting!

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