It's been a Hell of a week for the Internet community. Despite headlines landing on some unsavory top-down behavior in Paris and London, much of the remaining conversation dealt with community-oriented generosity.
There was Cory in Forbes talking about how he profits by just giving away books. Jeff Barr's Blog shared wise instructions for marketers on how to prepare for their first visit to SecondLife and even our favorite curmudgeon, Hugh MacLeod reminded us that most people will make money, not by blogging, but because they blog.
This all spilled over into the real world for me this week, in two back-to-back lunch conversations, the first with Honolulu's Carnet Williams, whose ChipIn is intended to make it easier to give online. On the same day, Citizen Agency was writing about Kiva, a new fundraising system for nonprofits.
Then I had lunch with the three bright lights who are Citizen Agency. It carried over into the comments section of this recent post, where Jeremiah joined the conversations and extended it onto his own blog.
Each of us is actually fumbling with words. Jeremiah is trying to describe what it is he did that was so wildly successful for Hitachi. My Citizen Agency friends are trying to tell prospects just what they have done that is wildly successful for existing clients and I'm fumbling with the words that will make Global Neighborhoods explain to business people the wisdom of community generosity.
Please note, each of us has some selfish interest in this new-found generosity advocacy. After all, we are in business and business exists to make a profit for the most part. Our excitement comes from the opportunity to find both fame and fortune by being exceptionally generous.
Since late October, the bulk of my attention has been focused on a 10-15 page document called a publisher's proposal. This document tells publishers just what will be in my book, who will buy the book, how it will be marketed and what the contents will be. A publisher will then offer me an advance and then I'll actually get to write the book. For me, it is the agonizing part of this authoring business. It is the money/marketing part. The book itself is an act of passion and generosity, and there is great joy for me in writing one.
Any, enough of this self-absorbed digression. My point in raising itis that part of my draft publisher's proposal is this argument:
" Power is rapidly shifting from the clutches of large organizations--companies and governments--into communities, where new technologies have allowed people of common interest to find each other despite the historic barriers of geography. Companies have never built communities that benefit citizens, but citizens are now building communities that can benefit--or demolish--companies and perhaps even governments. The new community influencers are not the officials with the largest media campaigns, but the individuals who have the most of value to give to these communities. The new influencers bring valuable information, insight and even inspiration. In return, the community gives tham a valuable commodity called trust."
I like these words. But I'm pretty sure they will not earn me that fat cash advance. It will not empower me with the financial success that will let me join that community of Mercedes enthusiasts.
The business guy is going to read it and say: "Okay. I get that I can no longer view my customers, prospects and investors as targets. I get that the costs of marketing are no longer justifiable, and I certainly don't mind saving some marketing bucks. But just what do I do to turn a profit with these so-called communities." Without readily answering those questions I won't sell a lot of books into the corporation.
Likewise, won't sell a lot of books to you consultants out there until I can tell them
what to do tell their clients that will make those clients so profitable and so ecstatic with the advice they receive that the consultant will be retained for a longer period at a higher billable rate."
Okay, enough about me. Jeremiah is struggling to describe what he made such a difference to Hitachi. I think the best word to describe what he did is a fairly mundane title. He was a community facilitator. Instead of building an Hitachi company town for Hitachi users, he used social media tools and face-to-face meetings to tighten a highly fragmented data storage community. He built a wiki and encouraged Hitachi competitors to join and contribute. In the end, Hitachi has emerged as a valued and respected member of that community. Hitachi does not attempt to set the agenda, but it attempts to serve the community agenda.
It is very much like Robert Scoble as a camera store salesman, sending customers to competitors when the competitors had better deals. Robert may have lost a few sales, but he gained a whole mess of customers.
I've been thinking a lot about Hitachi as I read Dell's not-quite-there blog. You'll find countless references to a Dell customer community. In fact, what they have is a huge user group with a still self-serving blog that feeds in how wonderful Dell thinks Dell's efforts are. If they want this to be a true community they need to remove walls and let in other users who share a common interest in personal computer hardware. They need to point out things that HP and Gateway and Toshiba, Apple and others are doing right or wrong. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for this to happen.
Citizen Agency has done a good job of describing who they are and what they do. But people I speak to are still confused why they are just not a new spin on PR agencies or marketing consultancies. I am just now starting to get the difference myself.
But it is a significant difference and to communicate it I need to get down a level in my own transparency. I worked with Tara over at Riya during pre-launch times. I have to admit she often befuddled me by declaring she could best serve Riya by just hanging out in the blogging community she so clearly loved. In fact, I was among those who suspected she loved the blogging community more than Riya itself.
Now I get the power to Riya of Tara's loyalty to the blogosphere. At the time, bloggers were a primary community to efficiently spread word of mouth. Through Tara's efforts, millions of people became aware of and enthusiastic about Riya's recognition technology. They trusted and knew Tara first and her personal brand proved transferable onto Riya.
But to tell those you report to that you should get paid just to hang out with your friends is a really hard sell. To survive in a company by saying you can't evangelize a new form of social media while hanging out in the conference room and filing weekly activity reports is difficult for any employee anywhere. It's a much easier sell if you are consulting the very same company and that is why Tara has so clearly found her stride at Citizen Agency.
In any case, the community conversation seems to be taking off in a great many ways. That is very much in my selfish interests. If I learn enough, I can share it with you folks out there and you in turn will get excited about my new book. You will give me tidbits to make it a better book and by this shall I prosper or so I would like to think.