Online communities are “real”.

The Editors Weblog reports that We Media Forum organized by iFocos and hosted by the University of Miami with special support from the Knight Foundation and Reuters, the first session, Community Forum, got under way.

The purpose of Community Forum was to discuss “How communities real and
virtual are changing through media,” and asked “What are the new ways
for people to use information, news and journalism to imaging their
collective possibilities as communities, and to set and reach common
community goals?”

I am trying to explain to customers that online communities are not something to be afraid of since there is a persistent objection of “loss of message control, lack of brand control and overall disenchantment with community as a new marketing medium”.

I cant say people are lame and have their “heads in the sand” but some of their concerns are real. I will try and address the question of lack of brand and message control later, but her is what was interesting about this blog post.

“Israel is writing a book called “Global Neighborhoods” which explores
online communities. He talked about how the communities being created
on the Internet are not virtual as some would imagine, but real: real
people are being connected with others around the world, in ways never
before imaginable that defy all geographic boundaries. They are
creating lasting freindships and most of the communities are composed
of young people. What happens when they grow up and replace the Boomer

I would agree with this a lot. Customer communities built at Mercury allowed customers to talk to one another, which gave them an opportunity to complain to each other, but they were more specific and collectively clear on what needed to be done to fix things.

Best Practice for Customer Communities: Facilitate Social Networking with Leverage Software

I reviewed a very good demonstration of Leverage Software and its social networking on-demand offering version 5.5. Kate Swanson, Senior Sales Executive of Leverage Software, who has been with the company since Aug 2005 showed their customers’ implementation of the system; InfoWorld IT Exec-Connect .
First some facts about the company:

1. Founded in 2003, by Mike Walsh and Joe Kleinschmidt.

2. Privately held, venture backed (June 2005, was their series A; Investors include Halsey Minor and his OnDemand Venture Capital Fund
and John Stanton, a financial services entrepreneur and executive)

3. Based in San Francisco the company has over 150 customers – their primary target verticals are High Tech –, Microsoft, etc. and Media Companies– InfoWorld, CMP etc. They used to target events (seminars, user conferences, etc.) for social networking before, but now more companies are looking to build communities around their customers.

InfoWorld Exec-Connect (about 10,000 members) is a good example of a social networking
business community. Its objective is to help IT professionals (its
readers primarily) connect with others. Here is why – they believe
communities will keep their readers loyal, allow them to create
evangelists and increase ad revenue because of their focused user


Top Takeaways & Key Capabilities:
1. Its very simple to use and get up and running as a community member. Once a user enters their profile information there is a very cool people-map capability that will match your interests and your profile with others that are the closest fit to yours. Makes it easy to find users “who have the same wavelength” – see below. So, my image is the center and the people that match my interests close are nearer to my image and others are further away. Very nice.

<img src="/images/64360-56413/Infoworld1.gif”>

2. They have a suite of capabilities once you are setup: Advertising support, Polls, Blogs (users can blog for other members), Discussion boards, Online Events and Meetings, Group Chat, etc. Pretty comprehensive and well thought through.

3. Since they are an on Demand service, once you sign up, you pay per user per month. Setup for a new account takes approximately weeks (4-5) – with colors, brand, logos, etc. A project manager will work with your team to get his up and running.

4. Then you start to recruit users and collect reports and administration. One very cool report tells you if there is a disconnect between who your users are and who they are looking to meet. Which will give you trends and information about what type and kinds of people to recruit to the network.

The things that I thought still needed work:

1. They dont have user incentives & rewards system, which is a key measure of how to get users motivated to contribute. Which is okay for now, but I can see as they branch into creating communities for things beyond social networking, will be a challenge. I would not recommend building a support community or a product innovation community on this as it is.

2. Marketing teams tended to be the primary target user at the companies was the impression Kate gave me. Which is nice, but I dont think they have done a great job of convincing me that there is great ROI (Tangible, Measurable and Documented) with social networking communities.

3. The profile information (what I am looking for and my preferences) seemed still very naive and nascent. At the InfoWorld community for example, the results for me were matched with arcane people from Indonesia and SOA, even though I did not check the SOA box. Its a start, but that capability will be huge to help people connect with people in their same wavelength and if your first experience is poor, you tend to discredit it going forward is my experience.

Top Bloggers on Communities

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Here is a list of bloggers that focus on community development, management and engagement:

Check out the new photo book on these bloggers (at least the ones that have photos on the web)

1. Shel Holtz   RSS Feed
2. Jake McKee RSS Feed
3. David C. Churbuck RSS Feed
4. Francois Gossieaux RSS Feed
5. Neville Hobson RSS Feed
6. Tara Hunt RSS Feed
7. Deborah Schultz RSS Feed
8. Chris Carfi RSS Feed
9. Isabel Walcott Hilborn RSS Feed
Giovanni Rodriguez RSS Feed
11. Kathleen Gilroy RSS Feed
12. John Winsor RSS Feed
13. Chris Heuer RSS Feed
14. Karim Lakhani RSS Feed
15. Alan Moore RSS Feed
16. Bill Johnston RSS Feed
17. Community Centric RSS Feed
18. Damon Billian RSS Feed
19. Danah Boyd RSS Feed
20. David Crow RSS Feed
21. David Lazer RSS Feed
22. Ken Thompson RSS Feed
23. Mario Sundar RSS Feed
24. Online Community Report RSS Feed
25. Corante Many 2 Many RSS Feed
26. Sebastien Paquet RSS Feed
27. Howard Rheingold RSS Feed
28. Network Weaving RSS Feed
29. Social Media Club RSS Feed
30. Larry Wilson (Managed Collaboration) RSS Feed
31. Society for New Communications Research RSS Feed
32. Lisa Whelan RSS Feed
33. Nancy White (Full Circle Interaction) RSS Feed
34. Bob Troia (The Word is Out!) RSS Feed
35. Jim Storer RSS Feed
Aaron Strout (Shared Insights) RSS Feed
Barry Libert RSS Feed
38. Rawn Shah IBM RSS Feed
39. Phil Soffer and Joe Cothrel Lithium RSS Feed
40. Comuniteer RSS Feed
41. Johnnie Moore RSS Feed
42. Sean at Community Group Therapy   RSS Feed
43. Marc Canter RSS Feed
44. Lee LeFever Common Craft RSS Feed
45. Brian Balfour Social Degree RSS Feed
46. Mike Gotta Collaborative Thinking RSS Feed
47. Amy Jo Kim Social Architect RSS Feed
48. Mukund Mohan Best Engaging Communities RSS Feed
49. Christopher Allen Life with Alacrity RSS Feed
50. Shel Israel Global Neighbourhoods RSS Feed
Jeremiah Owyang Web strategy RSS Feed
52. Noah Kagan Okdork RSS Feed
53. Jason Kolb RSS Feed
54. Mike Rowland Impact Interaction RSS Feed
55. Fast Wonder Blog RSS Feed
56. Community Matters
57. Ross Mayfield’s Weblog

Best Practice from reviewing communities: Mini Owners Lounge

You have heard about the huge fan base that the Mini Cooper has. Its owners are a very loyal bunch and there are multiple Local chapters of Mini Cooper owners. Since I was at the Mini Owners Lounge, I think they made my sign away my first born to be used as a lawn ornament, so I have published the review of MetroPlexMini (a Texas based Mini Cooper online community). They have about 1900 members.

The one takeaway: Helping online communities leverage offline events for building relationships among members creates a stronger bond and facilitates “friendly” community ownership.

There are several things great about the MetroPlex Mini site. Here are a few that you can use right away.

1. Monthly opt-in offline local events (meetup): Getting community members to meet offline to create the “bond” and friendly atmosphere that ties them longer and keeps them contributing more is key. Similar to a lot of companies that have Local User Groups, allow and facilitate community members to meet locally without your company really being there. THe MetroPlex group has monthly cookoffs, Happy hours and breakfast meetings.

2. “Ride of the month ROTM“: There are 10-15 submissions each month for the best Mini. Very democratic, voting system. The way to leverage this for your online community (example of a user – developer community) is to have a monthly best contributor award with voting by the community for the member with the most and best contributions for the month.

3. Community authored newsletters: Nothing worse than a Newsletter that your company creates (spending a lot of time and effort doing so) to see that it does not make it past the Junk mail filter. When the community authors (wiki style) an updated newsletter, there are 2 benefits – you give a chance for budding writing talent to show their stuff and it also creates a sense of ownership.

Growing up from a customer support portal to a customer support community

Had a great discussion with a prospect today. The develop & sell infrastructure software, are about $5-$10 million in revenue, growing 100%+ YoY and business is up and to the right. Their focus is to sell to primarily departments within large Fortune 2000 companies, and mid-sized companies. The VP of Customer Support has been in the industry for years. Great guy, gets the web, self service and knows that in a fairly competitive space such as his, customer service is a key differentiator – because, every differentiator counts.

He had a great question for me: “I have a customer support website, customers can access self service and log their tickets, avoiding the cost of phone and also can search my knowledge base. So why do I need a customer support community?”

Here was my answer and I would love your feedback and other points to know what your perspectives are.

1. The $156 Billion software market is in a transition from large enterprise licenses to small pay as you go models, from. SaaS (Software as a Service) is now a preferred alternative for most customers. Most importantly software companies are starting to focus on mid-market and smaller companies, since large enterprises have lost their appetite for large purchases of software. These smaller companies have less sophisticated IT capabilities and hence more a need for support. So the number and type of support calls has increased over the last 2-3 years. This was validated by 2 other customers of ours. While the number of support calls have increased, customer support budgets have not. So you need a better model.

2. Customer support has evolved from having customers help themselves to having customers help each other. This creates a network effect and can scale your support in a non-linear fashion. Having a customer website for self service is great, but your people still have to create the knowledge base, provide answers to queries and solve the simple and tough problems.

3. The Long tail effect: There are more arcane support requirements now than ever before. In 2003 for example, Dell had 970 variations for Blade servers, Rack servers and Tower servers. Now its closer to 7000+ according to Server Watch. From what I can tell 95% of these arcane servers have not much in terms of replication in a customer support organization. Who best to tell your customers about a specific configuration than another customer with the same or similar configuration. On another note, most customers know typically more about a company’s products in production than the software provider themselves.

4. Google search and Instant gratification: The first response I have heard from most users if they have a support issue is to Google it. If the answer to a customer’s question is not in your knowledge base, they are going to submit a case and wait for your response, (which will take long since you have probably not encountered this before) and hope to get an answer soon – in this age of Instant gratification that is so not cool.

If however you enabled customer chat and instant message and Wiki based customer support documentation, you can get them the answer from other customers faster.
Now you have created an opportunity for a customer to upsell to other customers and AVOID the cost of having to purchase Google Adwords – saving your company money and bringing a new opportunity to the table.

5. The American Idol effect in Enterprises: Everyone is looking to be an instant pundit in a niche or an “A-list blogger” on Technorati. Since your customers are also in this camp, why not facilitate them to “be discovered” as an expert in an area. Since the acceptance of open source in enteprises and the “fame” for the community developers as a part of that, other users are also looking for avenues to show their capability and be the “dragon slayer” for their area of expertise.

What Business Communities can learn from social networks & Consumer communities

Here are the top things I heard from a panel of Directors of B2B communities in our customer base. We hosted 5 Bay area companies with less than $20 Million in revenue and about a potential customer base (each) of 500 users.

I also recommend if you are in the SF Bay area to attend Community Next. Bill Johnston at Online Community Report pointed me to this. I have daddy duty this weekend so I cant go.

1. Get Started: Grass roots efforts win. Get a community started without “approvals”, “budget meetings”, “lengthly discussions on the impact to the brand”. “Its easier to ask for forgiveness than permission is true of 90% of large companies. The same is true for small companies”.

2. Keep it cheap for starters: If Digg and JotSpot could get started for less than $100,000 there is hope for others to not have to spend millions to get some form of community going before the big expenditures kick in.

3. Make it easy for customers (users, partners etc.) to sign up and contribute. All you should ask for is an email address (valid company address, not a free one) and password to join the community. Collect other profile metrics over time.

Types of Corporate Blogs and Categories of Communities

Brian Oberkirch
has a good entry on types of Corporate blogs. It is a good list which compares well to the categories of Communities.

Here are some other types of communities postings:

1. We are smarter than Me also has a good list of types of communities which they reference.
2. Nancy at Fullcirc has another list of multiple types of communities.
3. Finally Face2Interface has an list of 4 types of their communities.

Best practice: Blackberry communities; Pushing User Delight

There are several independent communities around Blackberry: Blackberry forums has about 16,000 users, PinStack has about 100,000 users. One is focused on the IT community supporting blackberry and another supporting the user community. Besides this Blackberry has their own developer community, Blackberry Connection and an Owners Lounge. Owners lounge has the fewest users – approximately 12,000 I am told* (not verified).

There are a total of approximately 4.2 Million blackberry users, worldwide and about 3+ million in US.
So less than 0.3% of users have signed up for their “communities”.  According to Travel Insider, 59% of users considered themselves satisfied and 7% dissatisfied.

So why such low numbers for community participation and if these are the numbers for a product that is so well liked and universally considered a HIT, what does it say about participation levels for your own company’s communities?

The one takeway: Supporting independent communities around your company’s products and services has justified ROI.

Here are some major findings about how to justify ROI for supporting independent communities:

1. No cost of community software, hardware, telecom, support personnel etc. – This cost is typically the highest when you are starting a new community. With independent communities this cost is borne by the community participants. Most of these communities are user funded or ad supported. Your company obtains great value with limited investment in supporting the community with oversight and direction.

2. Lower cost of supporting users: Every user that goes to pinstack for questions is NOT going to Blackberry site or calling their support – this is a huge cost savings.

3. Lower cost of research and trend identification: Independent communities tend to be more innovative around cost management, since they are driven by users. They are more likely to give you information about new trends, since there is a perception of being “objective” and “independent”. Instead of paying a consulting firm for focus groups and private communities, you can obtain the same level and possibly quality of information at much lower cost.

There are some downsides of course, but we will discuss that in a future post.

Quickly putting a best practice into action itself is a best practice

Giovanni Rodriguez at hubbub has a very good piece on “The Meming of Life”. Worth a quick read. He talks about 3 kinds of “best practice” ways that people are known to get ranked up in blogs. Posting comments on other blogs – Tailgaiting, Creating lists (like I have been guilty of) Aggregating and Baiting people to discussion. To net it out the one point that I could really relate to was “The experience led me to believe that we were entering an age of
disbelief that anyone can come up with anything that’s truly original.”

I do agree with his basic premise that doing something original is fulfilling in its own way. But, here are 2 questions:

1. In this age of instant copy and paste, how much value is there to original thought? I remember at Mercury we would come up with new positioning, demos, etc. each month only to see the same thing at competitors website within 4 weeks of our new message.

2. Is there anything necessarily wrong with seeing what works and repeating its success? The best companies in most industries (Microsoft for e.g.) are fast followers. Google itself did not invent search (only did it better) and nor did they come up with their business model – You have to thank Bill Gross of Idealab ( renamed Overture, sold to Yahoo) for that. There are also several studies that point to the fact that a good idea in one industry is worth taking to another and trying to do it better.

The one takeaway
: I think best practices yield results. If significant investment in taking an original idea and making it work is made for the benefit of one company, then the collective also-rans benefit and so does productivity. The key I believe is how quickly and fast does someone execute and make a best practice “even better”. Each best practice in the community world that are discussed is something you need to implement (even in a small way) to see how it betters your community. Afterall not everything that works for one community will work for another – even if it is in the same category, same industry with the same objective.

Software Vendors that provide Community Software

There are over 100+ software vendors providing products and applications to help companies. Here is a partial list by focus and type of community. The list is compiled based on the assumption that they provide more than just forums since Wikipedia has a large list of discussion board providers. This is primarily a list of Business community providers. We will focus on Social Networking providers later. A detailed analysis of capabilities, vision and direction on each is being compiled after detailed interviews with each of the companies.


Company Name



Communico Site Server




Convio (GetActive)




Jive Software




Leverage Software




Pix Pulse


Q2 Learning


Ramius Software


Red Dog Software


Small World Labs


Social Platform


Sparta Social Networks


Telligent Community






Wow BB




Connect Beam

The personal blog of Mukund Mohan