Reference Point
  a newsletter for customer reference professionals
  December 2010


- Customer Communities: It's Not About the Tools

- Enter the World's Best Customer Video contest.
- Uber blogger Paul Dunay to present at the 2011 Summit on Customer Engagement.
- Onsite workshops.
- Join our LinkedIn community
- Local meetings of reference professionals
- Jobs: Who's Hiring? Who's seeking a position?

Customer Communities: It's Not About the Tools
Dynamic customer communities can create great value, for companies that succeed in building them. But I see too many people who think that building great communities is about the tools, that a "community strategy" is about how to put together the right mix of blogs, Facebook and LinkedIn pages, tweets, wikis, what have you. But it's not about the tools.

"Community" is a very human creation that's been around for far longer than Facebook, and has proven itself as a very powerful force for bonding people and organizing to get things done. In America in particular, communities have proven to be exceptionally powerful as immigrants from around the world have come here to  settle a huge wilderness, establish settlements, build cities, form business and social associations that were the building blocks for the world's richest economy. Over the course of several centuries, a community building model that works has emerged.

Companies--particularly B2B firms--can absolutely leverage their power by forming customer communities, but many forget the lessons of experience. They need to remember, it's not about the tools. It's about the very human dynamics. Here's a check list to keep in mind as you build your customer community.

1. Communities are formed intentionally by members to achieve what individuals can't.
Time and again during the settlement of America, people would bond together in community to achieve what they couldn't do alone. They had to in order to build settlements, organize an economy, build roads and bridges, provide for common defense and pursue economic opportunities. No monarch, guild or other hierarchical authority could reach them or otherwise manage such tasks. Today we see this all the time as customers form their own communities to provide each other the service they can't get from their vendors.

is harnessing this tendency big time.  HP's health care and public sector businesses is forming an industry wide community to help 800,000 US physicians, perhaps half of whom need to seriously upgrade their computer systems to keep up with complex requirements of electronic health card record keeping. No one company can possibly meet this need, and even if it could, most physicians prefer to work with local vendors. So HP is forming a community of local healthcare providers and vendors around the US to work together to tackle this opportunity.

2. Successful communities organize around and meet the needs of their members--not those of the organizers.
I see a lot of people confusing or interchanging "community" with networks, tribes, ecosystems, and other social groups. What makes communities different from, and more powerful than these, is the common purpose described in the subhead: it's about the members. Be sure and remind your marketing department:)

Btw, what sort of needs do people want their communities to address? Peer relationships, support toward achieving both personal and group goals, status, recognition, education and learning, and pursuit of some higher purpose (see below).

3. Communities empower members.
"Empowered" is a much used and abused term, but in successful communities you'll see the real thing. Governance of great communities is based on mutual agreement among members, who have a say in leadership selection. It creates messy situations at times--but those messy situations, if handled correctly, bind people further to the community.

(SFDC) is a model for this approach. It gives customers wide latitude in running and building their communities. In the Facebook-like Chatter interface it uses to build interest for this year's annual Dreamforce conference, for example, SFDC set up a few subgroup communities it thought that attendees would find interesting. It also allowed members to set up their own subgroups, which quickly numbered in the hundreds and led to many new relationships among its customers that SFDC would never have thought of.

4. Community values are critical.
Massachusetts Bay Company, which settled New England in the early 1600s, gave high importance to community values. Their great Congregational minister Cotton Mather, for example, insisted that members of the community use absolute transparency (his word) in all business dealings. Even truthful comments that nonetheless deceive should never be used. I can think of a few companies today that could use that advice, come to think of it:) Those strong values were critical to the success of the Massachusetts settlement and established a culture in New England that created one of the most dynamic, innovative economies in the New World--the result of good community building par excellence!

5. Great communities pursue a higher purpose.
This is another critical aspect of dynamic communities. Alexis de Tocqueville, perhaps the most perceptive observer of America's economic success and the reasons for it, saw the vital role that pursuing a higher purpose has on the economic success of communities. In explaining the remarkable economic dynamism he found in New England in the early 1830s, he explained that it was the result of them pursuing both "material wealth and moral satisfaction," as he put it. "These two tendencies, apparently so discrepant, are far from conflicting: they advance together and support each other." A profound insight that many firms still miss.

National Instruments (NI) tapped into that same powerful emotional force in building a community to increase the use of its robotic software LabView at the 2009 Robots [R] competition. NI formed a community that put experienced mentors together with young students who were entering the competition. That higher purpose--teaching and mentoring young kids and getting them interested in science and technology--was a powerful pull in attracting experienced engineers to the community. And NI reaped a tremendous economic advantage as well, by getting substantially more contestants to use their relatively unknown software, together with great media coverage too.

So in building your community strategy, remember, it's not about the tools. It's about the people. Social media and other web based tools only support the effort; they can help continue the community relationship for people who live thousands of miles apart, and help to make it more convenient with easy ways to communicate and share information. But the model is a people model, and for successful communities, it is not something you have to make up or re-invent. It's been with us for centuries.

All the best,

Bill Lee, President
Customer Reference Forum and Customer Strategy Group

Author of the forthcoming Harvard Business Review Book, The Hidden Wealth of Customers

Twitter(follow me)
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LinkedIn Community(connect with other reference professionals)
- WORLD'S BEST CUSTOMER VIDEO: We're accepting entries
- 2011 SUMMIT ON CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT: Uber blogger Paul Dunay to present
- Join our LinkedIn community
- Local meetings of reference professionals
- Jobs: Who's Hiring? Who's seeking a position?

March 1-2, 2011
San Mateo, CA, USA

- World's Best Customer Video contest: we're accepting entries.
Customer video is emerging as perhaps the most important marketing and sales tool on the Web. And the state of the art is in for rapid changes and improvements. Our community of customer engagement professionals is on the leading edge of all this. Time to start recognizing the leaders and sharing best practices.

For more information and to enter the contest. Contest videos must be submitted by January 20.

- We've just added uber blogger Paul Dunay, as a presenter at the Summit. Paul is author of Buzz Marketing for Technology, Facebook Marketing for Dummies, and Global Managing Director of Services and Social Marketing at Avaya. His topic: Social Media and the Future of Customer Reference Programs.
For more information. (scroll down the page_
To register.
Is it time to take your customer reference program to the next level? Having trouble getting there?  Bill Lee brings Customer Reference Forum's knowledge, research capabilities, and the most extensive network of reference professionals and suppliers in the world, onsite to you. Currently we're offering two workshops (with more on the way):

- Building a Just-in-Time Reference Capability
- Bringing Customers Into Your Social Media and Lead Generation Efforts

Learn more.
For practitioners only. Exchange ideas and best practices with peers, get your questions answered quickly, expand your network. We're now up to 380 members. If you're not a member, join us - just reply to this email "sign me up for your LinkedIn community" in the subject line.


For the Boston Customer Reference quarterly meetings schedule, please check with Kara Manfredi for updated information, at karaManfredi@deltek.com

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For the next Bay Area Reference Group Meeting please send an email (and please include your title) to val.stephen@acxiom.com.


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