Online Communities – An Interview with Francois Gossieaux

This is a cross-post from Radar:

Recently I spoke with Francois Gossieaux of Beeline Labs about the role of online communities in the enterprise.   Francois has been evangelizing the learning gained from his recent study, The Tribalization of Business (click here for the Slideshare presentation).  I am embedding the second in the three part series but you can see all of them here:

The interview is broken into three parts.  Francois is a great storyteller, bringing case studies in to support nearly every point.  Here are a few insights I took away from our conversation:

Community First:
(Note: in the original post I called this “Community for Community’s Sake” and had this to say….)

Most businesses begin planning a community with traditional objectives (lower support costs, drive innovation, increase customer loyalty etc.).  On the Social Web this is the equivalent of entering a personal relationship with an ulterior motive (which never works out quite right).   Businesses should begin with the question, “how can I satisfy the needs of this community?”– and then follow the community’s lead.   Be open to the unexpected.

In my experience this is one of the hardest things for companies to get behind and relegates this kind of “enlightened” community effort to either top-level leadership or skunk works development.  Middle management is typically the most reluctant to deviate from standard practice and place a bet on community for the community’s sake.

After a bit of reflection I think this summary is insufficient.   I didn’t ask Francois to clarify the “community first” position – leaving the viewer with an impression that community building should be an abstract leap-of-faith.  I don’t think this is the case.    Business leaders have every right to ask how allocating a significant amount of time, resources and funds are going to deliver value.   The Tribalization of Business study is an attempt to answer that very question.   Community first is an approach that allows businesses to nurture a successful community by thinking about what motivates community behavior and user contribution (after all, if you can’t get that, all your business objectives go out the window too).  So the thrust of my revision (not sure if Francois agrees) is that business objectives are important and should be part of the planning process and should be measured – yet if you aren’t dead clear about what value you are delivering to the community first you are going to have problems.  

Communities require a social framework to thrive – most companies have a mindset that reflects the legal, contractual and hierarchical underpinnings of their business and carry these behaviors with them into the community.   This informs their planning, measurement and how they encourage contribution.   These incentives and disincentives have little sway on the Social Web where the mindset is social and trust, reputation and relationship are big drivers of contribution. As Francois says, “The most successful communities occur when you tap into that social framework”

Consider stories as a success metric:
While there is a fair amount in this interview about measurement – this was my favorite: A great anectdote about how one company views the stories that emerge from their community as a key metric of success.  Great stories are inherently viral and can have a profound impact on decision making in an organization.
Think Bigger: Most large companies are satisfied to have small communities; essentially replicating a focus group model.  Doing so misses the potential of the online community to transform your business.   Consider how Intuit is now embedding live community directly into their application – allowing users to seek help and get questions answered directly.
Transformative communities blur the lines between company and customer and portend a future where retail ecommerce sites go well beyond ratings and reviews and provide problem solving, shopping mentors, product development and other services directly from the community.   Where internet sites are co-evolved (from interface to feature-sets to codebase) in cooperation with community,  where complex applications (desktop and cloud-based) meld standard functions with community functions.    Communities are certainly helpful in providing feedback on customer behavior but that is just one small part of the story.


1 Comment

Filed under Marketing, Social Media, strategy, video

One response to “Online Communities – An Interview with Francois Gossieaux

  1. Hi Josh,

    I agree with you. Business who want to leverage communities should have business goals in mind. But, like you say, you first have to think about the motives that will get your community excited – because if you don’t have that you will not be able to meet any business goals. The key is finding communities where the “what’s in it for me” proposition for the members overlaps with that of the company. While some of those overlaps may seem far fetched and counter-intuitive at first – if you cannot find any, then you should probably pass on trying to leverage communities in support of your business.

    Thanks again for the opportunity to speak with you.


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