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Why Companies Should Start to Think About Building and Leveraging Communities

Organizations that are striving to scale and generate high impact must start to leverage and build communities around their cause. If you want to scale and generate higher impact, ask yourself and reflect on the following questions ...

Simon Nopp
Simon Nopp

A community is a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. The particular characteristic can be a common interest, common profession, or an external event like the Covid-19 crisis, that rallied thousands of people around the world together to find solutions for the problem.

For a very long time, communities were particularly present in the cultural context, in sport or leisure activities, and in organizations and NGO's trying to raise awareness and solve issues related to social causes, education, poverty, etc. Yet, when looking at the private business sector and traditional industries such as manufacturing, retailing, or consulting, the concept of communities was simply non-existent. The relationship between business and user base was a simple transactional one without any higher purpose - providing services or products and receiving money in return. There was no sense of community and belonging. But in today's fast-changing and connected world, this relationship is remarkably limiting businesses in their pursuit of growth and impact generation.

Communities: Providing Core Functions and Support Functions

The inability to draw together large groups of people, limits organizations to generate high impact in this world. Assuming you are a company with 1,000 employees, thinking only within your companies boundaries does not allow you to tap into the global pool of human resources supporting you to tackle the challenges you are trying to solve. A community can provide anything from simple support functions (like troubleshooting) to providing main business functions. Take Airbnb or TEDx as an example. Airbnb relies on its community to provide its core services. The same applies to TEDx, which has built its community around the purpose of “Ideas worth spreading”. The foundation of both companies is a community. Without leveraging communities, they would not have had the resources and opportunity to generate the impact and growth rate they both experienced.

On top of that, communities are especially valuable for companies to amplify ideation, validate new ideas and learnings, and even building products and services. Now if you think that might work well for TEDx or Airbnb but not for manufacturing companies, I must disappoint you. Take Local Motors as an example. Local Motors is an American motor vehicle manufacturing company that is fully embracing a co-creation strategy. "Since it’s founding, Local Motors has empowered a global community of designers, engineers, automotive enthusiasts, and makers to deliver locally relevant vehicle innovations faster and more affordably than traditional vehicle manufacturers". They frequently host challenges like design challenges, were people like you and me can come up with the next design for their car. This allows them, among others, to significantly reduce time to market and get feedback early on from their community.

Embracing True Engagement

A community is worth nothing if they are not engaged. In the last years, engagement has become a new buzzword, and is especially associated with marketing. Companies are focusing on social media and leveraging digital tools and technologies to hold online webinars and talks. This "engagement", however, is a one-directional communication. Organizations are providing information, advertisements, and new offers to their followers, intending to proceed people in the sales funnel. Although that is a relevant practice, companies could generate significantly higher impact if they ask themselves first: What can we provide for our followers? What do they need from us?

This goes beyond mere information about products or services. Let us have a look at Discovery Health. Discovery Health is a South Africa-based company focused on financial services and insurances. Among other insurance, they sell health insurance. However, they have reinvented the business model of traditional health insurance providers by fully embracing the community attribute. As a Discovery Health community member, you earn points if you are doing healthy things. Going for a run, stopping to smoke, doing your yearly health check at the doctor's all earn you points. These points then can be used to get memberships in gyms, get special discounts at healthy food stores, or for other health-related activities. The result? Discovery Health benefits from fewer insurance disbursements and the community benefits from a healthier life and support in their healthy lifestyle. Win-Win!

Reflect on the Status-Quo of Your Community

To summarize, organizations that are striving to scale and generate high impact must start to leverage and build communities around their cause. If you want to scale and generate higher impact, ask yourself and reflect on the following questions:

  1. Do you have a true community formed around your company?
  2. What functions can the community fulfill in your case? Can it support you with ideation and innovation or can it even carry out main business functions like TEDx or Airbnb?
  3. Are you embracing true engagement and providing real value to the community like Discovery Health? Or is your focus on one-directional communication and largely based on digital marketing/social media?

Before you get started leveraging communities, it is imperative that you have identified your Massive Transformative Purpose (MTP). What positive change would you like to see in this world? What is the reason your organization exists?

Having identified your MTP, you can then start thinking about identifying possible communities around your purpose, how you can engage with them, and running first experiments.

Are you ready to scale and make a dent in the universe?

This article was originally featured on the OpenExO blog on June 17, 2020.

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Simon Nopp

Supporting purpose-driven innovators to develop disruptive ventures successfully