One of my exercises in starting a new book is to create two sentences. The first tells you what the book is about and the second tells you who it is for. The challenge is to constrain yourself to two sentences.
I'm not there yet. It would be nice, because once I get there, figuring out the Title/subtitle would not feel like such a daunting task.
As I've written before, I use this blog as a sandbox, for my books, a place to play and experiment. A place to see what does and does not work. Over half the books I planned to write have never gotten beyond this sandbox. Almost all writers go through similar exercises, the difference being that mine occupies a public space. And my hope is that you give me some feedback that will help guide me forward.
So, here are a few thoughts I have on what this book is about. I offer them randomly. It helps me just to put them down on virtual paper. It would help more if you chose to give me some feedback.
- Almost every corporation today is dealing in some way with social media. Almost any department of any company can use social media tools and I've dealt with that issue previously. This new book looks only at online enterprise communities, built by a few, usually very large enterprises. I will spotlight at least five: IBM, SAP, Microsoft, Oracle and Intuit and use my blog and Twitter to actively search for additional enterprise community examples and anecdotes.
- Enterprise communities are usually part of enterprise ecosystems, an historically vague term that predates social media. It refers to the global infrastructure of partners, customers and companies. Every large enterprise uses the term, but it is very often just a concept that looks like a lifeless org chart with lots of dotted lines. But when you insert online communities into the ecosystem it gives it a heart, one that pumps life into the ecosystem, making it more resemble the biological kind. This section will probably be called "The Tinman's Heart," in reference to the Wizard of Oz character.
- Some online communities are huge. SAP has about two million active users as part of an ecosystem that Ray Wang at Altimeter Group says is a marketplace worth about $80 billion. Intuit's series of very loosely joined social networks may be the most viable small business marketplace anywhere. I believe that these marketplaces simply could not exist without these online communities. My research for this book will either prove or disprove that opinion.
- Online communities almost invariably have small cores of passionate champions coming from all sectors of the online community. They play key roles in all the online communities I've looked at so far, but these roles and styles vary greatly from, say Microsoft MVPs to SAP Mentors or the contributors that Intuit assembles periodically a few times each year. Founding companies give these community leaders recognition, but what seems to drive them is a passion to share what they know with other community members. [This section may be called, It's not the stoopid tee-shirt]
- A key issue to address is the role of the founding company in the social networks they create. This section, tentatively called I lost my command & control. Just what do I do now?"
- Another thread will be a look at the blurred line between companies, customers and partners. Both Intuit and SAP have given me countless examples of how online communities and ecosystems have changed traditional perspectives of buyer v seller v vendor into something more fluid and interactive. These days, there is an interdependence between companies, customers and partners. They count on each other for better products. They thrive or fail together and this changes the entire dynamics of the relationship and how products, support, design and policies develop.
- Social media serves as an accelerant for the sharing of ideas and information. Even during these tough and formative times for enterprise communities, participants are getting smarter faster than has been previously possible. As the economy turns around, this will put social media closer to the center of the company and help businesses come back faster and at lower cost.
- This book will deal with the issue of business value for social networks. This does not mean that there needs to be an ROI for communities, but this book will look long-and-hard at how social networks are being braided into the fabric of traditional business, which they so recently disrupted.
These ideas are neither sequential, nor are they organized. They are the beginning of my understanding the two sentences of what this book is about and who will want to read it. I am missing a good deal and I am sure that some of what I've just written needs greater clarification.
It's a work in progress, so tell me what you think. Oh yeah, one more thing, got a good name for it?