Communities are the future of business

Between AI, machine learning, chatbots and the cult of big data, business can feel like it’s becoming less human. But the key to success in this changing world is to double down on those things that make us human, and leverage community to thrive.

Let’s explore why.

From networked to collaborative markets

Collaboration is a defining human force in our era. Technological disruption and digital transformation have necessitated that we work cooperatively and creatively to solve challenges in our businesses, across our industries and societies.

Networked markets are now commonplace, but collaborative markets — where businesses lean into opportunity with a communal mindset — are on the rise.

Berlin company Jovoto embodies the possibility of the collaborative market model. The business gathers tens of thousands of creative professionals from global brands and enterprises to solve design and innovation challenges for other organisations. Its contributors earn, Jovoto earns and recipients gain, with value first defined, then directly produced by those in the community.

While inter-connected audiences and groups are a feature of networked markets, communities are the scaffold of a collaborative market.

Business as community platform

Platform strategies that create a layered view of value and exchange between products, services and users, have been changing our business landscape since the Internet arrived. But these models often still take an traditional approach when it comes to putting customers first and sharing control or agency with consumers or participants.

As Doc Searls puts it, ‘most marketing works for companies, not for customers.’

A new generation of platform businesses is emerging; a model where users aren’t merely the product or a means to cost savings, they’re a partner in value production. The experience created together around goods, services and content is the product. Shared experiences rich in social ties have naturally greater resilience against intervention or threat - which leads to more sustainable ventures over time.

Take Firechat, a messaging app for public or private communications, powered by peer-to-peer connections, that doesn’t require Internet access or mobile service to function. Their mission is to connect the next 5 billion devices using mesh networking.

This new way of operating requires both understanding and emotional investment in what people want and need, and how you can create fulfilment and expression for both. This is at the heart of community management, just as communities will likely be at the heart of our new economies.

Purpose is the new product

The attention economy has flatlined. We’re exhausted by lazy, gamed engagement tactics from brands, and depleted from the shiny bells and whistles used to distract us for even one real-time micro-second off the task at hand.

Without meaning, context and critical purpose; interruptions will only ever be that, interruptions… then we go back to the stuff that really counts. Worse than that, the attention economy has proven harmful; to our brains, our relationships, even our democracies.

Applied purpose leads to success because it lets people connect on an intrinsic level with a shared mission, and feel influence and strength in contributing to that mission.

Jon Perera, VP of product development for Adobe Document Cloud, puts it this way: “People want to wake up in the middle of the night with a great idea, share it, and have impact… The companies that are most successful five years from now will be the ones who find a way to scale that up.”

Successful and beloved Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ted Rheingold was an ambassador for profit-from-purpose. As he tweeted:

The trend of purpose is coming like a tidal wave. Get out in front of it. Enjoy the ride. Die fulfilled.
— Ted Rheingold

Deeper human connection means more success

Clickbait would have us believe that millennials prefer avatars to IRL. 2016 research from Adobe Think Tank shows the opposite is true, with younger people seeking increased human-to-human connection over purely digital pathways.

John Stepper’s Working out Loud movement has added more fuel to the fire, suggesting that a share-first mindset at work generates both better career and business outcomes.

We already know connected customers are more valuable to business. They buy more, repeatedly. They recommend to peers and those recommendations are more impactful than brand advertising. But we’re selling ourselves short by only looking at the surface reach and endorsement.

The science is in, and it proves emotional connection matters more to business success than mere satisfaction. Satisfaction, while great, may not be intrinsic or a reliable indicator of loyalty.

Communities are built on belonging, needs fulfilment, influence and shared emotional connection. The ubiquitous Net Promoter Score (NPS) could pivot to measure these signals as a better guide to customer relationships (with the organisation and each other).

As communities expert Bill Johnston explains,: community managers are the architects of the exponential experience.

Businesses are beginning to engage community specialists in shaping the human infrastructure they need to enable and scale, human connection and exchange.

A new talent paradigm

The days of career tenure are over. Led by a socially motivated generation, people are switching companies, roles, even subject matter speciality, at a faster rate than ever.

At first, this was read as an indicator of disengagement and a failure of the organisation to retain talent. Digital nomad flight was a risk. Smart leadership now understands that containment and control isn’t the right objective.

Forward looking businesses are leaning into ecosystem models, allowing those that work for and with them opportunities to move through those networks of partners and peers.

If you’re a business, instead of investing in, then losing talent, empower your people within an ecosystem you’re an active part of, leaving the door open for future work or collaboration. If you’re a worker, use shared networks to move to new situations and scenarios as your passions and skills evolve.

Machines make humanity matter more

AI and automation are making business to consumer interactions more relevant and more streamlined. But human interaction isn’t disappearing, its role is changing.

We don’t need another human to search for us, recommend for us, or analyse for us. We do need them to listen, inspire, share, understand and connect. Once dismissed as ‘soft skills’ — creativity, empathy, communicative adaptability and other barometers of emotional intelligence will become core skills. Machines will take up the slack.

It’s time to ask how your business is investing in its communities and participating in wider ecosystems. The future of business is purposeful, collaborative and emotionally entwined communities.

How will you fare?

Venessa Paech