My First Year as a Consultant and what 2016 Holds for Online Communities (I hope)

Sonoma Sunrise
Sonoma Sunrise in honor of the dawn of 2016

Honestly, I wasn’t going to do this. I’m already rolling eyes at all the “prediction” posts. And there are way too many 2015 retrospectives to look back on… but I’m feeling optimistic and inspired! You are taking the time to read this – THANK YOU! I have had an incredible amount of support for my first year of Structure3C. Thank you for being part of it.

This is a long-ish post – the short version is a list of personal highlights from 2015, and a look ahead to 3 big ideas and aspirations for 2016.

A Look back at the first year of Structure3C

Thank you for letting me take a moment to reflect on a few key accomplishments from this year.

  • Launching Structure3C on February 4, 2015 to help brands create successful customer communities and crowdsourcing initiatives
  • Chairing the inaugural Collaborative Economy conference in San Francisco in March
  • Conducting the first research study on Brands & The Collaborative Economy – exploring a range of organizations level of knowledge, interest, priority and current activities in the Collaborative Economy
  • Having a number of prominent speaking engagements, including SxSWi, Social Business Forum 2015 (Milan), The Silicon Valley Boomer Business Summit and Crowdsourcing Week Europe (Brussels) 
  • Helping a growing portfolio of brand and startup clients with briefings, crowdsourcing strategy, online community development and product design
  • Being interviewed by Virgin Entrepreneur on Crowdsourcing
  • Holding the closing workshop at the Crowd Companies 2015 Main Event in SF – (you can download my custom workbook from the event)
  • Being honored as one of the inaugural A. Barry Rand Fellows for the Life Reimagined Institute
  • And on a personal note: I made a commitment to my family to be present more throughout the year – one lagging indicator of success is the number of pancakes and pieces of french toast made in 2015 numbers just shy of 1,000! (disclaimer: back of the napkin calculation)

3 Big Ideas for 2016:

1.) Beyond “Digital Transformation” 

In 2015, it seemed like Digital Transformation ate the business world. Almost overnight, the big consultancies dropped “Social Business” and began to sell Digital Transformation strategies. Thought leaders and former champions of social published articles and books about establishing, then disrupting “Digital Business”. Former Social Centers of Excellence were abandoned or repurposed for the “new” digital business journey.

In some ways, this is completely logical. Big consultancies need to keep clients anxious and their armies of consultants employed. Thought leaders need a constant stream of new terms, concepts and frames to stay relevant and top of mind. Executives need to frame annual objectives in ways that are novel and show progress year over year.

And, let’s face it: Social, Community, Customer Collaboration are all hard. Really hard.

Getting Real
Obviously, technology plays a critical role in modern business. The problem with many Digital Transformation efforts is a hyperfocus on the technology at the cost strategy and customer relationships.

Further, the definition of “Social Business” was always somewhat nebulous, and the internal culture shift and alignment needed to be successful was an arduous task. Pursuing a primarily technology-driven agenda likely seems more attainable, and “Digital” is an easier sell – both the perceived value and anticipated results.

What is lost in the shift from social to digital is the opportunity to fully realize the business value of connected customer relationships at scale. Realized specifically through strategies based on networks, communities and deep collaboration. Sound nebulous? I’ve shaped and seen first hand the value of social and community in the form of increased direct revenue, increased loyalty, crowd driven products and early market dominance based on building communities in parallel with products. Examples: The quantified value of Dell’s IdeaStorm was in the hundred’s of millions of dollars, Dell’s TechCenter community had billions of dollars in impact on Large Enterprise sales, Autodesk’s support community saves the company millions of dollars a year… I could go on.

2.) Digital / Social Business reframed as Business, Networked

Based on my experience building online communities and collaborative experiences, as well as research I’ve conducted, I’m convinced that a new and comprehensive approach to online communities is the way forward.

An approach where:

  • What we thought of as “social” is really the networked marketplace
  • Your market is synonymous with your crowd
  • Online communities build lasting relationships amongst your customers, prospects, employees and partners and
  • Collaboration looks like a true partnership with customers, not an internal social network no one really uses.

Market as a Network




In order to begin exploring business opportunities in the networked economy, businesses need to shift their mindset to think about markets as networks. Their total addressable market(s), connected via platforms & social networks.

There are three important contexts to think about in the Network Marketplace:

  • Crowd: A group within a Market Network that has:
    • A shared interest or goal
    • The ability and assets to participate in a shared marketplace, task or activity via common platforms
  • Community A connected & hosted group within a Market Network that has:
    • 1 or more shared interests or goals, leading to shared identity & purpose
    • The ability, motivation and assets to work towards a common purpose over time
    • A host with intention to support & manage community over time
  • Collaborative Organization Collaboration amongst organizations, partners and customers essentially functioning as one organization:
    • Shared IP & Common resources
    • Shared vision of activities and outcomes
    • Shared risks and equitable outcomes

3.) Radical New Leadership

To truly make progress in the evolving online community strategy we need new leadership, and evolved (not incremental) vision. This requires a shift from quarterly-driven decision making by businesses and a “sell what we have” mentality from our collective social vendors. Specifically:


  • A new function that owns customer experience across every touchpoint – and further – owns developing the 1:Many relationships in the market network, not just 1:1
  • A new Executive to lead this function
  • Integration of platforms, systems and customer data that create internal efficiencies, better customer experiences, and put the customer in control of their experience, relationships and data
  • A new point of view on value, and specifically, the value of customer engagement and participation. The days of customers supporting other customers without compensation are coming to an end.


  • We need a bolder vision for online community platforms and social media & network tools. Platforms now are: 1) optimized around specific functions, like peer to peer support 2) are incredibly hard to customize and 3) are incredibly hard to integrate. We need better from you.
  • Reign in sales-driven organizations that over-promise and under-deliver on community quality and outcomes.
  • We need vendors to come together on feature & data standards and interoperability. Just to pick a specific example: The current disconnect between CRM, Marketing Automation and Community Platforms (even from the SAME vendor) is unbelievable. Invest in fixing it.

Thought Leaders

  • You need something new to talk about and sell. I get it. I humbly ask:
    • Connect the dots between your concepts, especially when retiring an old concept for a new one.
    • Talk to your peers in the industry when selling new ideas so clients aren’t dealing with 10 flavors of the same burning platform concept.
    • Show your source data when you have it.
    • Attribution is appreciated. Especially for concepts you are essentially recycling.

Industry Organizers

  • Show you really care about the future of the industry by cooperating on standard definitions, benchmarks and training
  • Try to coordinate conference data and overarching themes
  • When collecting practice data you intend to use for consulting or products, please provide a disclaimer at point of collection.

Do you agree? What would you add to this list?

With that said, 2016 is shaping up to be even more fun.

A preview includes:

  • An upcoming announcement for a series of Crowd Economy “Rapid Orientation Workshops”
  • Select speaking engagements focused on describing a Modern Approach to Online Community Building by developing Market Networks
  • Ongoing research into how Brands continue to evolve their Crowd and Community business strategies
  • An expanded set of consulting offerings, including modules for leadership & team development, value / ROI analysis and scorecard development. 

Should we talk? I’m offering a limited number of free introductory consultations (via phone). I’d love to learn more about your community & crowd plans for 2016, and I promise your will take away new ideas from our call.

Book a call here. 

In the spirit of the New Year, I wish you a peaceful and epic 2016. Thank you for helping make Structure3C ‘s first year a success!

Social Media Club: Interim Board Formed, Seeks 1 More

I’m very excited to have been asked by Chris Heuer, founder of Social Media Club, to be part of the interim board in order to help with the next next generation of the club.

According to Chris:

“The Social Media Club is honored to have so many accomplished and well-regarded industry evangelists come forward to lead the organization. While the interim board will focus on charting the organization’s future direction, our core mission will remain the same: promotion of media literacy; support of industry standards efforts such as Creative Commons licensing, Microformats, Data Portability and OpenID; discussion and promotion of ethical behavior; and sharing our knowledge among our members and the industry community at large.”

There is a fantastic group of folks coming together, and I’m flattered to be among them. The list includes:

Because of a minor snafu, there is actually a seat open. You can throw your hat in the ring here:
Oops! The Missing 42nd Interim Board Member

Online Community Unconference 2008 – It’s a wrap!

Cross-posted from the Online Community Report.

The Online Community Unconference was held this Wednesday at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.

How was it? In a word? AWESOME.

We had 250 participants from a diverse range of organizations, including Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Linden Lab, SeeqPod, Flickr, LinkedIn, Cisco, Sun and Current TV.

We had a jam packed day (started @ 8:30 and ran until 5:30). The energy was palpable. Check out the short video I shot below of folks reviewing the session grid shortly before session 1.

Over the course of the day, participants held over 50 sessions about community strategy, UX, management, member engagement and technology.

Session topics included:

  • How do we motivate empowered users to participate positively
  • Worst Case Scenerios – What to do when things go terribly wrong
  • The Numbers Behind Trust – The hidden numbers that govern group dynamics
  • Internationalizing content & community
  • Meet them where they are vs. If you build it they will come
  • Building the Collaboration Ecosystem – All components for community building success
  • Cross Networking Madness – How are niche communities using data portability
  • Community Management 101: How to get started in this big wide world
  • Web 2.0 Components to build B2B Collaborative Communities
  • Community Year One – Phases, Activities, Successes
  • Community Management 2.0 – Success & Failures
  • The platforms for community are SH*T. Discuss
  • Effective Ambassador programs
  • Pulling the plug – how/when/why?

My observations:

It’s 2 days later, and I have to admit my head is still spinning. The quality of content and conversation was high, and there is still a lo of processing I need to do. My genreal impressions were:

This was the “Community Community” coming together.
This was not an event where a few talking heads lectured the masses. This was a gathering of the tribes for those who manage communities and set community strategy on a daily basis.

The conversation has matured. There were far fewer folks that wanted to talk about community 101 this year as compared with last year’s Unconference. Topics were fairly sophisticated and most of the direct feedback I got was that participants were pleased to discover the level of experience represented by the other participants.

The lack of standards is REALLY starting to hurt. Focus is (finally) beginning to shift from islands of communities to the larger community ecosystem. A general lack of standards around nomenclature, metrics, data schemas (including profile structure), profile accessibility and community UX (to raise just a few issues) is starting to come up as a real issue more often. I think we are finally mature enough as an industry to have the discussions as a body of practice (and contribute to and help direct discussions on tactical problems, like Data Portability).

The best resource about online communities is the community of practice. This statement is actually a common thread in all of Forum One Network’s activities. We believe the best and most valuable source of information about building and growing healthy online communities is the body of practitioners.

We will be opening up the Unconference wiki in about a week, and will post highlights of the session notes. In the meantime, lot’s of folks were twittering and blogging. I’ve posted highlights below.

Other Unconference highlights:

PS: Tasty Snacks = Accomplished!

Online Community Unconference: June 18 in Mountain View

Online Community Unconfernece East: A report back

(This is cross-posted from the Online Community Report)

We had a fantastic OC Unconference East in New York City last Thursday. Over one hundred online community and social media professionals were in attendance, and we had over 40 collaborative sessions. I’ve captured highlights below. I’ve also just opened up the Unconference wiki, so you can check out the session notes for yourself.

Organizations in attendance included:
AOL, MTV, Consumers Union (consumer reports), Cyworld, Business Week, Socialtext, IBM, Mzinga, Spinvox,,, Harvard Business, MediaBistro, KickApps, HP, TV Guide and

Sessions ( a partial list)
– What is necessary to start a successful social network?
– Social Movements/Communities with a Cause:
– Enterprise And Large Organizations Meets Community
– User Managed Communities: where users make the rules
– Community Building: Resources and Considerations
– Virtual Goods 101
– Social Media Optimization
– Customer/Consumer Communities for Co-Innovation
– Twitter Strategies for the Enterprise
– Culture vs. Community: Intention-based content
– Community Analytics: measuring success & failure
– Social Networks: Likes/dislikes and what you want to know
– Virtual Goods and Virtual World Interactions
– Building Enterprise IT: Colloboration & interface to internal systems (using wikis)
– Open ID & other user-centric identity technologies (Higgins, Infocards, SAML)

You can see pictures from the Unconference here:

Again, the wiki is now open to the public for reading. We do restrict the right to edit / post to Unconference attendees.

Blog posts about the Unconference

Online Community Unconference East – KickApps Blog
Online Community Unconference 2008 – Updates – Modern Metrix Blog
Live Blogging at ForumOne’s Community Unconference 2/21 – Aaron Strout / Mzinga

Next Unconference:
Our next Unconference is the Mobile Communities Unconference March 20 in Palo Alto. If you are interested in exploring the opportunities with community building via mobile devices I would encourage you to come check it out.

Web Community Forum: Seattle – 12/ 5-6

I’ll be attending the Web Community Forum next week in Seattle.

I’m looking forward to Jeremiah Owyang’s keynote, and to conversations about the perceived and actual value of Facebook.

Going to be there (or are you in Seattle?). Give me a shout: 415.299.9638 or send me a message on Facebook.

Marketing & Online Communities: Factors affecting change in consumer and marketer attitudes

It’s just a little over a week away from the Marketing & Online Community conference. The conference agenda is almost set, and we have a great list of speakers and topics. I’m pulling together my thoughts for opening remarks, and I thought I would share some thoughts about how marketing techniques and consumer and marketer attitudes are changing.

The marketing equation to date has been something like this:
Corporate marketer engages agency with a specific goal in mind, like sell more widgets the next 2 quarters. Agency comes up with campaign that pounds consumers via available media with call to action to buy more widgets. Single digit “conversion” is deemed successful. Wash, rinse, repeat.

So how are the players in the above equation changing?

Consumers / Community Members
More and more people are flocking to social networking and community sites every day. More social media is being created and consumed every day, as traditional media consumption falls. Consumers have never been so empowered, and have also never been so overwhelmed with options and content. The connected consumer generally trusts her peers more than a c-level exec or slick campaign.

Brands / Companies
Companies are starting to realize that they can’t control the message or the medium. The best are acting as good hosts of their communities, and creating clean, well lit places to host the conversations and experiences their customers want to have. They are also extending their efforts to reach customers and prospects at the other places they work and play online, and to engage them in appropriate and interesting ways. These efforts go well beyond the traditional marketing and PR efforts of the past, with the end goal of creating unmediated relationships with their customers.

Agencies have traditionally been paid to achieve campaign-driven results quarter over quarter. Most are struggling to evolve their approach, and to help client companies build meaningful and direct relationships with their customers. Authenticity (becoming part of the community) and transparent intentions (being clear about what you want / are trying to do) are key elements in this evolution.

We have a great group of folks coming to discuss these issues, and much more. We do have a handful of tickets left to the conference, including 2 discounted tickets. If you would like more information, please send me an email.

Who Owns Community? – Webinar this Wednesday

 I’m doing a webinar with Matthew Lees from the Patricia Seybold Group this Wednesday about how the community team functions and is funded in the corporate environment.

Please join us if you can.

Who Owns Community? – Webinar
Aligning Business Sponsorship and Responsibility with Community Goals
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
11:00 AM Pacific / 2:00 PM Eastern
Free Webinar hosted by Forum One and the Patricia Seybold Group

Online communities and social networks are changing the ways
organizations do business in this customer-empowered, Web 2.0 world.
Different companies have taken different paths in defining the
ownership of community initiatives.

Join Matthew Lees of the Patricia Seybold Group and Bill Johnston,
Director, Community & Research of Forum One Communications, for this
live Webinar in a discussion of these questions and issues:

• Who should be responsible and accountable for it? Who should fund it?
• What problems can arise — both within the company and within the
community — if the “wrong” group owns it?
• Do the answers to these questions depend on the industry, the type
of community, or other things?

Space is limited. Click here to register.