3 ways to get networks working for your business
By Christina Andersson August 3, 2015
- The three areas: Communities of practice, social proof, and reciprocity
- Inject expert advice and customer service within communities, groups, forums, etc.
TODAY’S most successful businesses are those which harness the networks that connect customers to one another.
But our intensely interconnected social environment also poses threats for businesses: Namely, that any mistake they commit can be amplified, distorted, and remembered far beyond the initial point of contact.
To get the most benefits out of our networked society, businesses should focus on three phenomena that we commonly see: Communities of practice, social proof, and reciprocity.
Communities of practice
Due to the networked effects of the Internet and social media, connecting with other people – no matter where they are around the world – is now a simple task.
That, in turn, has made it easier to form ‘communities of practice’ – loose groups of individuals who all take part in a specific activity or pursuit, including sharing their experiences and collectively addressing problems so the group can advance as a whole.
These communities are often global, highly knowledgeable, and passionate – often to the point of obsession.
The global e-sports community, for example, has turned what was once a solitary leisure pursuit – videogames – into a professional and highly-popular spectator sport, particularly in countries like South Korea and the Asean region as well as the United States.
Like most digital communities, e-sports isn’t limited by physical or geographical constraints in expanding its base of members, whose numbers can number in the tens of millions at championship events streamed online.
Businesses can benefit greatly from tapping into this knowledge and passion, becoming ‘members’ or sponsors of communities of practice.
Because the members of these communities are also active practitioners of a certain craft, they tend to be especially active in sharing information, recommendations, and experiences with other members, all of which can potentially drive leads or sales of particular products or services.
Brands can influence these processes by injecting expert advice and customer service within these communities, groups, forums, and social media channels – which in turn will end up being shared more broadly across the network.
Businesses should: Identify communities of practice which dovetail with their target markets, then provide advice and support (for both products and broader issues) where it will enrich members’ knowledge, skills, or results as practitioners.
Authenticity is essential for businesses seeking to spark a network effect amongst their customers. Members of a digital community or ‘tribe’ will share both the good and bad about a business, and are usually quick to recognise inauthentic overtures by brands.
In order to become a part, and subsequently harness the power, of any social network, businesses need to provide sufficient ‘social proof’ to its members. Social proof involves demonstrating that their primary intent is to contribute to the wellbeing of the network, not themselves.
The businesses which most successfully capitalise on the e-sports community, for example, are those which made significant investment in its livelihood – including sponsoring and training their own competitive teams.
Mid-tier gaming hardware brand Razer, for example, directly manages a professional e-sports team with a million-plus international following, consisting of some of e-sports’ most high-profile gamers.
The social proof of this major investment demonstrates to the community that Razer is ‘serious’ about e-sports, not just its own bottom-line – which, paradoxically, makes its range of peripherals even more sought-after and discussed within the networks that connect individual gamers.
Businesses should: Demonstrate to digital communities that they have a credible role to play in the space, be it through investments or other contributions which its members’ value.
Networks, both of the social and the technological kind, require a two-way exchange to function.
For businesses looking to harness digital networks, this means two things. First, they can boost their profile and credibility amongst their target audiences by directly seeking their input: Crowdsourcing ideas or contributions to larger projects is one way of doing this.
Second, they must reward inputs from these individuals with some sort of return. In some cases, this will be recognition of an individual’s contribution (such as a mention in credits or thanks), in others, it will be more substantial.
The crowdfunding models of platforms like Kickstarter (and, in Asia Pacific, others like Indiegogo) rely on this two-way process to function.
Every contribution to a crowdfunding project will typically receive a commensurate ‘perk’ – for example, a donation of US$500 will receive a far more impressive or exclusive perk than a US$5 donation.
However, to gain critical mass and widespread awareness there needs to be a story or idea that compels people to share it – whether that’s a ground-breaking innovation or a humorous gag.
Businesses should: Call upon social networks and online communities to have input into areas of their work (such as product development or service improvements); and publicly reward individuals who make meaningful contributions.
The best networks and communities to invest in will:
- Be relevant to your business’ area of expertise (though not necessarily your products);
- Have reasonably high levels of activity between nodes or members; and
- Revolve around a compelling central activity or cause that your business can add value to
What sort of network effect will your business trigger?
Christina Andersson is managing director of Hyper Island Singapore. Hyper Island is a private tertiary institution and educational company specialising in real-world industry training using digital technology.
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