John has posted a recap of our lengthy discussion a while back (which turned into a chapter in his book, Spark). I’m repeating it here because I think he’s done a fantastic job of encapsulating a long conversation into its key points.
- Let Everybody Go Home Happy – I love Jake’s motto! It’s all about getting everyone involved in the community, from customers to suppliers, but ensuring that everyone is excited to be involved and their needs are being met.
- Be a Guide – Jake’s distinction of letting go of the management paradigm is an important one. As we all learned in navigating the waters of dating in high school, you can participate in and perhaps guide a relationship, but you certainly can’t control it. Instead of managing the relationship with customers, think about being their voice inside the walls of your company. Allow for members of the community, both inside and outside the company, to take self-guided explorations.
- Facilitate a Community – While lots of companies think about and even say they have formed a community around their products, many times this "community" resides in boxes of warranty cards that have been unopened for years. Think about ways you could form a community of customers and suppliers. Focus on personal relationships. Think about how you could support your community by sharing information and building space, both online and off, to facilitate gathering.
- Form an Advance Warning System – Once you have steps in place to form a community around your company, think about it in terms of a strategic advance warning system. How can you use the community, whether it’s 10 people or 10,000 people, to give you a strategic competitive advantage?
- Define the Relationship Between Company and Community – For many companies, like Lego, it is impossible to start the journey of building a community in the confines of the current company structure. Try taking a small group of people, and allowing that small team to engage and start to build a community with customers without the usual corporate pressures. Only after the community gains some momentum should you reintegrate it back into the company itself and make it a part of the organization. Remember that community is about establishing long-term relationships, not just creating a new marketing campaign.
- Keep Your Customers Engaged – The one thing I’ve learned from writing a blog is that it’s relatively easy to get people excited and engaged initially, but it’s another thing to keep them engaged over the long haul. Once you start the process of community building you have to be committed to creating new reasons to stay engaged. Run contests, connect customers to other customers, and create fresh content.
- Experience the Good, Bad and Ugly – I like Jake’s analogy that engaging in a community is a lot like dating. At first, people are giddy to be involved. After a while, the humanness of relationships begins to emerge, including insecurities and disappointment. That’s all part of the game. To gain the most from a community, you’ve got to be committed in good times and in bad.
If you’re interested, this is the blog entry on Emergence Marketing that kicked off this discussion.