Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Five Modalities Model of Community Development

When considering community development as a part of marketing activities, corporations often forget the most basic requirements of inter-dependency and value creation. In 1986, researchers McMillan and Chavis wrote about defining a sense of community that it must have the following elements:
1) membership, 2) influence, 3) integration and fulfillment of needs, and 4) shared emotional connection.
Too often companies simply believe that a "community" is a cluster of people who expressed interest in their products or services, and that this can constitute a sufficient connection to continue to communicate AT these people.

Instead, companies must consider how they can bring value to the people of a community, not just expect value from those people. We have identified five core ways that companies can bring value to people and can develop this sense of membership, influence, integration, and sharing that is crucial in community formation. The first two, the easiest and most common, only allow a company to earn attention, even when they are accomplished in a context of "co-creation." But the other three modalities are much more powerful and can form the basis of a long-lasting relationship for a company with its customers and prospects.

These five approaches can be used both when a company elects to create its own community and when it engages with existing communities. While we have developed the use of these approaches in online environments, they are as valuable to consider when engaging in the physical world.

There are two modalities useful in earning the attention of an audience, we call them "entertain" and "inform" although often (as with all five) they can be used in concert. The better the content, the more valuable it will be to an audience member, and the more likely it will be to result in some sort of response -- whether it is through sharing (passing the company's message to one's social graph) or through co-creation. A "better" content will be one that is in itself more entertaining or more informative, but also one that is more tuned to the needs of the people consuming the content as opposed to the desires of the company to achieve some transaction.
  • INFORM -- In its most basic sense, informing communications are ones that help educate people about something whether it be a product, service, or the problem that such product or service addresses. For example, a company that sells do-it-yourself home repair supplies might simply advertise the low price of lumber available at their store. While this would be a form of "information" it is of transitive value and only relevant to those immediately in need of the particular goods on sale. Instead such a company could construct a website answering questions about how best to do various repair or construction projects. How, for example, to use that lumber to build a treehouse.
  • ENTERTAIN -- Getting people to laugh has been a mainstay of advertising since virtually the first commercial messages were distributed. Whether as humor, spectacle, or narrative the notion that an advertising message can be coupled with some kind of entertaining content is well worn and works in the social space as readily as in other mediums. Finding those opportunities to create an entertaining envelope for your ad message which is also adopted by a community is somewhat more difficult than the onanistic pleasure we get from a good commercial on primetime TV. But a number of simple mechanisms are evolving.

But far more interesting than merely using this new social "channel" to recapitulate the attention models of old marketing, social technologies provide the opportunity to shift the model -- from one in which you as the marketer are seeking an audience, to one in which interested parties find you. This reversal is truly the core of understanding the current marketing revolution and why the old mechanisms will continue to decline in effectiveness while a new science of market engagement is needed.

The new engagement modalities provide a circumstance for a relationship to develop between a company and its customers (or prospects). Broadly speaking there are three possibilities:

  • SUPPORT -- Facilitating the customer's experience of a product or service, typically by hosting an open collaborative space for customers to interact with each other. This can be moderated, mediated, or merely contributed to by the company with the objective in any such participation being to enhance the quality and credibility of the discussions. So for example, providing more accurate information is good, deleting an accurate (though negative) comments is bad...
  • CONNECT -- Helping members of your market connect with one another hopefully toward some purpose that is related to the company's product or service. This can be as simple as hosting content and community on related topics or as sophisticated as providing a matching system that allows participants to identify themselves to others with compatible interests or objectives.
  • COLLABORATE -- Truly the most powerful of the engagement modalities, when you can collaborate with your market, or at least help them to collaborate with one another, you provide the greatest (and most lasting value). As with any of these approaches, it is more powerful when directly related to the company's products or services, but this is also a place where "corporate social responsibility" elements often can appear.
These five approaches to building community should be used in combination, and the "devil is in the details" in getting the right strategy and execution. But this brief outline is at least a useful filter to apply to your organization's social activities and a useful starting point to ask questions about whether your current strategy is right or whether it is time for some new thinking. If the latter, let us know as we'd love to help -- Open-First.