I've decided on a working title for my new book, unless of course, someone tells me why it's a bad idea:
--How online communities help companies & customers mutually profit.
When I interviewed Mark Finnern, who runs SAP's mentor program, he told me that the companies community networks were blurring the lines between the company and it's customers. The same perception came up again when I interviewed Intuit's Scott Gulbransen who talked about an ongoing collaborative process in communities that let the users say what they wanted in products in discussion with those who built it.
Then there's the whole ROI issue, which I view with the same ambiguity as measuring the ROI in a telephone. You really can't find the answer, but there must be a way to measure value. I will not be able to report that online communities are delivering directly to enterprise bottom lines. If they were, public companies would not be able to discuss specifically anyway. But my early research indicates that hundreds of millions of dollars are being realized by both companies and customers because of online communities.
I talked recently with Ray Wang, a partner at Altimeter Group who covers enterprise ecosystems--a major component of the book. He estimated that the SAP ecosystem had created a marketplace for the company, it's customers and partners of about $80 billion, with the lion's share being enjoyed by the partners and customers.
I asked him how much of that was being delivered by online communities. He explained that while very little--if any-- profit was being derived directly from the communities, a great deal was coming because of them. "The heart of the ecosystem is the community," he told me. "You cannot take them away. The level of connection is what gives the ecosystems life."
The novel concept is that companies and customers have historiacally seen themselves in a symbiotic tug of war. One makes and markets; the other buys and uses. One side's expense is the other side's profit. That perspective is starting t be seen through a new prism, one where both buyer and seller thrive or flounder together. This changes a great deal, I believe, and Blurry Lines will examine how this fluidity between company and customer change all marketplace dynamics.
The concept of the ecosystem coming to life because the communities are at their heart is yet another key point of this book. I was tempted to call this book "It's Alive!," until Lon Cohen who follows me on Twitter commented that the title sounds a bit like a cheesy horror movie.
So how does "Blurry Lines" sound to you for a book title? I may change it at some point down the line, but I really need a name right now. For me it's like having a new baby, who I'm calling "the kid," because I can't come up with a name I like.
Tell me what you think.