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« The New Era of Management by Committee | Main | Leaving IDC...Joining Mzinga »

June 25, 2008


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Oliver Marks

Hi Rachel,

Great points in your post; I've been pondering a lot recently the fact that a group of employees is a community whether organized and/or given software to collaborate in or not.
To some extent this is about tapping the zeitgeist and amplifying it, this seems a quick way to get up and running.

The challenge is that many of these pre existing employee communities and relationships are working together despite the adversity of their corporate conditions.

In haste


Rachel Happe

Great point - starting with existing offline/existing communities is a great starting point.

I am hoping (maybe naively) that social media can help companies do better by their employees in spite of themselves. We'll see!

Ted McEnroe

The longer the ramp up for a decent ROI, the more dependent that community building will be on relative strength of a company's overall business. The closer the scrutiny on the bottom line, the more difficult the investment.

To me, that means that executives have to be more than interested and engaged - they have to really buy in as early as possible. Teaching up the ladder will be even more critical in a tighter economy.

Christian Briggs

I wholeheartedly agree with your concerns, Rachel. While bottom-up community development is key, top-down expression (in tangible, operational ways) is too so that the bottom-up folks aren't swimming upstream. As an example, Google employees probably would have developed their own apps on their own time no matter what the corporate culture, but since Google sees innovation as a core part of their business, they allow their employees to work on pet projects 20% of the time. This has served to kick off a pretty prolifically innovative culture.

I think companies that succeed in taking a community approach will similarly allocate real time and resources to the effort.

Pedro Martins

Answering to you're last question:
"Do companies have the patience to wait 2+ years to see value…I'm not sure that most do – what do you think?"

I would say that if it was their choice the answer would probably be No, for most cases, but because they have to do it to survive in market the final answer is Yes.

Rachel Happe

Thanks for all the great comments - regardless of the answer, it should be interesting to see community deployment play out over the coming years...and see who 'wins' doing it.

Chris Brogan...

I think there's value at all those stages. At the onset, it might just be press over being noteworthy. "Nike launches new social network!" When things get cooking, new values might pop up: "Nike discovers sneakermod community is actually worth about $2B in special parts sales." Then, when the adoption level is at a fever pitch and it's cool to be there, there might be even more cross-promotional stuff.

So maybe it isn't 1:1 value from the start, and maybe it's a matter of using the community's natural ability to deliver ROI on R&D, etc, that pulls it through, but you've definitely given them a sense of how this should all develop.

Excellent post.

Rachel Luxemburg

One aspect here is that you need to think about what metric of ROI you're shooting for.

Are you looking for measurable sales increases that can directly be tied to community effort, or fuzzier numbers like increased product mindshare, or better WOM?

Kristi Grigsby

Another great post. Two years is a very long time, and I agree that most do not have the patience to see it through. But it's also important to note that there are certain characteristics at the onset that can drastically shorten this expectation - at least in our experience.

Scripps Networks/HGTV is a great example. Their Rate My Space community generated real ROI within months ('real' meaning revenues generated covered all associated costs, and then some...bottom-line results, not the warm & fuzzy stuff). Within one year, the community fueled a new tv show. It's a great example of what is possible with the right vision, strategy & execution.

Kim Kobza


This discussion is headed in the right direction and I thank you for encouraging it. It is time for thoughtful leadership so that we do not let the opportunity for stewardship slip away. Let me try to give the discussion added dimension.

Let's start with a reference to a discussion note by John Mahoney of Value Networks. John is a noted authority on network behavior. As an example John and Verna Allee advised Boeing on Boeing's network mapping for 3000 engineers in product development. It was so successful that Boeing established an Office of Value Networks.

With his permission, here is John's post from another discussion group (global) where we are wrestling with a similar value analysis and discussion of network behaviors:

John Mahoney:

“All human social organizations are networks. These are families, teams, council, committees, platoons, communities, parties, commissions, tribes, corporations, departments, governments, and so forth and so on through wide and diverse configuration of human interaction and their abstraction. They are ALL networks!

All forms of human organization have roles, links and exchanges. Networks are the canonical model of human social interaction. This is a basic concept. Unique network patterns and configurations exists and emerge. As a convenient abstraction we assign names to these like group, cabal, body politic, coterie, neighborhood, etc. to describe the unique patterns and properties of the specific network.

To pose whether a team or community is a network is utterly ridiculous. It is like asking if matter is made up of atoms, molecules and elements. Silly. It is entirely appropriate to assert the properties of the network and question if they rise to threshold of the particular and convenient
abstraction of human organization such as a team or community.

This is among the frontiers of the relatively new science of networks.” [end quote].

This new area is becoming known as Network Science. Many of of the questions that you are asking are being addressed by experts in this new area of study - some from marketing, sociology, network behavior, economics, statistical analysis, and other disciplines. (a partial listing of these resources can be found in my Inflection podcast series with summaries). These experts, like you, are investing a great deal of intellect in understanding network value and the behaviors that create that value, such as the economics of social attention, habituation, novelty, recommendation etc., - all important.

The point is that Web 2.o isn't really anything new - it is people connecting with each other in networks. What is new is that they are actually doing it, and there is an understanding that business and public sector organizations inherently can realize value through participation, listening and learning within those networks.

To take the discussion another step, network scientists are dedicated to understanding how business and public sector organizations can gain value and leverage networks of consumers, partners, and employees that they have built over many years. What are the correct or most optimal behaviors?

Is it true that "users are in control" or that companies are not to be trusted in building their own networks (as some of your peers have suggested)? Or are businesses and public sector organizations necessary participants in their own networks?

They have the capital, intellectual property, and structures necessary to help networks support meaningful and informed conversations, rather than often emotional diatribes. In other words, aren't they more effective acting as productive participants "in network" as opposed to pitching advertising messages from the outside in - for instance advertising in a Facebook?

For sure, organizational behavior has to change to recognize the value that you are trying to measure. Organizations have to be willing to invest in networks knowing that much of the value that they help to create will inure to the benefit of the individual members, and only part may eventually be monetized. But by creating a greater Total Network Value, they in part will create a greater opportunity to monetize value.

It is time to elevate the industry discussion and analysis and I think that you are on the right path - rising above the pop culture characteristics of Web 2.0 (reminiscent of .com) to achieve a meaningful understanding of what these trends really mean.

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