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Transcript of Using Technology to Build Connections in the Real World

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John Jantsch: I love technology. I love the fact that we can communicate and work virtually, however there’s no question that these tools and technology have created a sense of isolation for a lot of people in companies, a lot of marketers with their customers. In this episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, we’re going to talk with Dan Schawbel, and we’re going to visit his book called Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation. Check it out.

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Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. And my guest today is Dan Schawbel. He is a New York Times bestselling author, partner and research director at Future Workplace, and the founder of both Millennial Branding and workplacetrends.com. He’s also the author of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation. Welcome back, Dan.

Dan Schawbel: So happy to be here. I was thinking this morning. I’m like, “I’m going to talk to John.” And when did I first connect to him? I mean, it’s got to be 2006, 2007 when there was the Ad Age 150. Remember that?

John Jantsch: Yeah, I kind of do. Yeah.

Dan Schawbel: And when it went up I’m like, “Huh. Well, I aspire to be on that list.” And I think strategically it’s probably good to know everyone on there because they all love marketing, and I’m a marketer, even though I’m a marketer in HR now. It’s always my skillset and I always looked up to you. You always provided incredible content consistently. You were passionate. You had a great model. I just really liked it, and I think you do a great job.

John Jantsch:  Well, thank you very much. I guess we’ll pass out compliments here because just in watching what you’ve done over the last decade, a lot of people have jumped on this personal branding thing years ago. And you have done as good a job of building a personal brand as really anyone online. And mainly it’s because you’ve been so consistent.

Dan Schawbel: Thank you. I appreciate it.

John Jantsch: Let’s get into the book. I’m kind of reading this because I want to get it right. But I want to let you unpack this. Back to Human reveals why electronic and virtual communication, though vital and useful, actually contributes to a stronger sense of isolation at work than ever before. I’m guessing that’s the main premise of the book, so unpack that for me.

Dan Schawbel: Absolutely. Technology has created the illusion that we’re so connected, but in reality we feel very disconnected, isolated, lonely, less committed to our teams and organizations over the overuse and misuse of technology. It’s not like technology’s a terrible thing. It’s really about how you use it. And so I interviewed 100 young leaders from 100 of the best companies in the world, so Johnson and Johnson and GE and Uber and Instagram. And everyone described technology as being a double edged sword. It’s done some great things. But at the same time, it’s made us think we have a ton of friends, Facebook friends. And it’s made us think that we are being incredibly collaborative and accomplishing great work, when the reality is we might get some stuff done, but the relationships we have with our coworkers are not as strong. And it’s much easier to leave a team of acquaintances that you sometimes email and work with than a team that feels like a family.

John Jantsch: Yeah. And it’s funny because technology has obviously enabled us to work differently. I have a client in London. I have a client in Toronto. I’ve never sat face to face with either of them. I have employees that are in seven different states, and rarely do we ever see each other. It’s enabled us to work in different ways, but there’s no question there’s a whole new set of practices I think to try to kind of regain some of that humanness, as you talked about in the book. Aren’t there?

Dan Schawbel: Yeah. And it’s interesting because I think especially today when people are working so, so hard, in America the average workweek is 47 hours a week. And not having your phone is the new vacation. We’re always kind of on the hook. We’re always kind of on duty. We feel guilty if we’re not responding to a business email on vacation or after “work hours.” Right? Because of the remote work revolution and the ability to do work using technology and connect wherever and whenever you want to, the downside is that we get burned out. We have weaker connections. We feel stress and anxiety, so it can be bad for our health. And the most fascinating finding, I worked with Virgin Pulse. My company, Future Workplace, and Virgin Pulse partnered in a study of over 2000 managers and employees in 10 countries. And it revealed something really fascinating. If you work remote, you’re much less likely to want to say you want a long-term career at your company.

Working remote has all these positive things that people talk about, having the freedom and flexibility to do work when, where, and how you want. And it lowers commuting costs, of course. But the downside never gets talked about. And that’s isolation, which creates loneliness and then unhappiness. It’s all connected. And so consciously, as someone who’s worked from home for almost eight years, I’m always thinking about: How can I break up my day so I’m meeting people, whether it’s for business or personal? And it’s like when we look at our calendars, our calendars are created for business. Right? And we always say things like, “If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist.” We let the technology try to do the work for us.

If we’re going to let the technology do the work for us, it should also have aspects of our personal life on our calendar. That’s part of what I’m saying when it comes to work, life integration and being conscious about if you’re working so many hours and you’re kind of always working, how do you break up the day so you’re fully maximizing your time, and you’re fulfilled personally and professionally? And the first chapter is called Focus on Fulfillment. You need to become fulfilled before you can sit down with all of your team members and help them accomplish their goals and service their needs. And the things that remain consistent, as you know, you’re born, you pay taxes, you die. That’s the big joke. Right? Probably through multiple generations.

Well, what about we only have 24 hours in a day? And then our needs in terms of the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs remain the same regardless of how much technology we have. We need food and shelter, and then to be loved and have friendships. Otherwise, we’ll never be self actualized. We’ll never be able to reach our full potential and be the most productive worker imaginable for our company.

John Jantsch: And you know what’s interesting, there’s so many companies today that have distributed workforce. And I find myself falling into this habit. I have our check in meetings, and at the end it’s just like, “Get to it. Work. Work.” It’s like we never have that what we used to call, around the water cooler time, where it’s like, “Hey. How was your weekend?” It’s just like, we’ve got this call, it’s scheduled. It’s for a purpose. It’s like a meeting, so we never have that time to in some ways get to know each other. One of my favorite chapters in the book is this idea of shared learning, where you may be … I think you have to carve out these things. Don’t you?

Dan Schawbel: You know what’s amazing? So many people have said they’ve liked that chapter. And the reality is the reason why I think that chapter is so in the now is because true power, and you’ve done that, we’ve grew up in the world of blogging, so we know this very well, is true power and influence in our society is not the people who hold onto the information. It’s those who distribute it freely. And I think that’s a big shift from maybe 10, 20 years ago versus today.

And we need to share what we know with the people we work with and care about, so all of us can keep up with the speed of business and adopt the changes that are inevitably happening, whether we like it or not. The average relevancy of a learned skill is only five years, so we have to keep on moving. The big skills now are artificial intelligence, machine learning, data scientists. You’ve got to keep going. You’ve got to keep up with what’s changing. And if you don’t, the tasks you did five and 10 years ago are just not going to be as relevant. You’re going to get paid less for them and you’re going to struggle.

And in order to know this information, in order to know the trends that are going on in your industry, learn the new skills, see the latest research study, we have to count on each other because we’re finding more and more information through our network. I mean, that’s the brilliance of Facebook. Right? It’s like, I don’t have to figure out what’s going on in the news. It’s going to come to me based on who I follow and friend.

John Jantsch: Yeah. And I think you could take that a step farther. I know in our organization, what we try to do is almost task people with saying, “Hey. Go find out about that and come back and teach us all.” And I think what it does is, it has the dual effect of, as you said, we get to learn some more. But as you know, nothing makes you learn something better than if you know you’re going to have to teach it to somebody.

Dan Schawbel: Well, actually now that you bring that up, I did a whole presentation on this. Google has a G to G program, where employees teach other employees what they know. And it’s all volunteer basis. But I think people naturally want to be teachers. They might not want to be part of the school system, but they want to share what they know with others because it helps them learn and master it more. And it’s good for your career. Right? You become an expert. You’re sought after. You build a network. It’s really the crux of personal branding, what I did earlier in my career. Right? It’s become the best at what you do for a specific audience, or become really good at multiple things when combined give you a competitive advantage. And then just give freely. I mean, between us, how many pieces of content you think you and I have generated in 10, 20, 10 or 15 years? Like, thousands, right?

John Jantsch: I’ve got 4000 blog posts.

Dan Schawbel:  Yeah. And personalbrandingblog.com, I think we hit 5700. And then if you add LinkedIn, Facebook, all the other networks, writing articles, like we have books. It’s a lot.

John Jantsch: Wouldn’t it be great if in your business, all you had to do was the stuff you love, the reason you started the business, and not all that administrative stuff like payroll and benefits? That stuff’s hard especially when you’re a small business. Now I’ve been delegating my payroll for years to one of those big corporate companies. And I always felt like a little tiny fish. But now there is a much better way. I’ve switched over to Gusto, and it is making payroll and benefits and HR easy for the modern small business. You no longer have to be a big company to get great technology, great benefits, and great service to take care of your team. To help support the show, Gusto is offering our listeners an exclusive limited time deal. If you sign up today, you’ll get three months free once you run your first payroll. Just go to gusto.com/tape.

Another thing I like about your book is that you put a lot of exercises in there so people can try what they kind of have read about. And you’ve even created a test or an assessment, the Work Connectivity Index. Tell us about that.

Dan Schawbel: Yeah. I always wanted to do an assessment for my book. I saw what Sally Hogshead did with Fascinate and what Gallup did, and Tom Rath with Strength Finder. And I was very inspired by them. I’m like, “Huh. I’d love to do it someday.” And on this book I had the idea. If I’m studying work connectivity, what about having an assessment to tell people how strong of connectivity they have within their organizations? Right? And so you get low connectivity score versus high connectivity score. And people are all in the middle of that. And so I reached out to seven professors. It was like first come, first served. The first one who was really excited about working with me got it, so it was Kevin Rockman, a professor at George Mason University helped me create the assessment. It’s on workconnectivityindex.com. When you take it, you’ll get a score. And of course, if you have a low score it means that you’re not getting enough face time and you’re not building the type of relationships that are required to be happy and fulfilled and successful in today’s working world.

John Jantsch: You’ve also created a LinkedIn learning course, which I think is awesome. I’ve done about, I think I’m up to about seven courses with them. They’re great people to work with.

Dan Schawbel: Wow. You win.

John Jantsch: You know what it is, you go out there and they go, “This guy’s easy to work with and he gets done fast. Let’s give him another one.”

Dan Schawbel: Especially when, I know this probably true to you as well, I finished I think three hours ahead of time, and they love that because the beach is right there.

John Jantsch: Exactly. I love going to Santa Barbara. But they told me they had one person come in and it took them four days to do a course. I was like, “Wow. I would shoot myself.” One of the things that you are so good at, and I think a lot of people neglect this today in the online world, is you have done a great job at attracting mainstream media. Obviously, you’ve picked some hot topics, and that’s one of the ways to get attention. But I’ll ask this question really for business owners, but other authors out there. What’s been your secret to get so much pub? You get as much as anybody in the mainstream, I think.

Dan Schawbel: Yeah. I think I’ve generated, it’s definitely thousands of media impressions at this point, or media hits, I would say. And you know what, it’s a cross between right topic, right time, trying to be original, staying in my lane. Any time I venture out of my lane, things don’t work out well. I’ve done a whole research campaign on politics that failed. Anything that’s outside of my domain, it typically doesn’t do well because you have to be seen as the expert in what you’re publishing, or publish what you want to be an expert in. And if you aren’t doing that, you’re not going to be seen as a credible source no matter what you’re putting out there. Focus on your strengths. Stay in your lane. Double down.

And think of something original. For me, I’ve led 45 research studies surveying about 90,000 people in 20 countries in six years, so I’ve been all in with research because it allows me to create something new, find something and share and disseminate and distribute those findings through books and speeches and media and various forms. I think you need a good network. I have an advantage being in New York because the media’s here, clearly. That has helped. I won’t deny that. Second, I think you need to figure out what makes you unique. Right? What topics do you think that you have something to say about? If you have nothing to say, and so in interviews, that interview’s not going to go well, and you won’t be invited back.

The other thing is start small. Back in the day, I was doing local TV, radio, some of the smaller outlets, which prepared me for the bigger outlets. If my first interview was on the Today Show, I would’ve bombed it because I didn’t have the experience. So I bombed a local ABC affiliate. I didn’t bomb it, I just didn’t perform at my best. But that was good because it was a learning experience. And then I knew that even if they give me the questions, that they might not ask the questions. They might do a trick question, so it’s being prepared for everything. And then I think it’s just being easy to work with, like what you’re saying. It’s like being very responsive. For me, I’m very responsive. I get immediate inquiry, boom, I just go for it.

Back then, I’ll tell you, phase one in my career with personal branding, it was my only goal was to own the search results for personal branding in Google. That was the only strategy I had, but of course that connects to doing a lot of other things right. And that got me almost all my original media that allowed me to build my platform. And then I think phase two has been more on the research, so it’s harder to get press now, so I need to create news instead of hoping that I can fit into the news that’s currently happening.

John Jantsch: And the media loves statistics, [inaudible 00:16:56].

Dan Schawbel: Yeah.

John Jantsch:  It’s something that can be simplified into one sound bite. And unfortunately, that sometimes is what it takes.

Dan Schawbel: And I think phase three, the way I’m seeing it now is really building your own platform. I just started my own podcast. It’s called Five Questions with Dan Schawbel, really active on Instagram, two posts a day, seven days a week. Instagram is my new blog. It’s exactly what I did. How I’m operating Instagram is exactly what I did in the early blog days. Back then, I posted twice a day. And it was longer form with blogging. And I commented on every Instagram, or blog profile, or blog website, sorry, that mentioned personal branding. Today, I’ve chose maybe six or seven profiles and I’m always commenting. And between commenting and posting every day, I’ve gone from four to 26,000 followers organically in a little less than four months. That’s it. That’s all I’ve done.

And of course, people I’ve met have read the book, so I get some followers just based on reputation. But most of it’s earned, and it’s just a lot of work. And people don’t want to hear that it takes time. I think phase three is you’ve really got to double down on your own platform because the probability of getting seen in traditional media is declining significantly. I used to do campaign. My first campaign, John, was in 2012. Literally went viral. I analyzed four million millennial Facebook profiles, Today Show, CNN. It was everywhere, 70 national media outlets, so people saw it.

Now it’s like maybe you get 10 at most. And I’ve been doing this for six years consistently. In one year, I did nine studies. And I’m telling you, now if you do something like that, it’s much harder to break through. Books, it’s harder to break through. So that tells me, that to me is feedback that, okay, I need to double down on social media and building my own platform and leveraging everything I’ve done to do that because the future could be grim. I think a lot more of these media companies are going to go under, and new media’s going to be rising. I think you’ve got to shift strategies as this is happening. And that’s the call I made, is I’m moving my efforts.

John Jantsch: Perfect segue to the last question I wanted to talk about. We’ve been talking about social media here for a minute. And there’s a lot of people that would claim social media has actually made us less human, probably one of the biggest culprits of making us less human. How do you, in the vein of how great leaders create connection in the age of isolation, how do you do that with the realization the social media is an important channel?

Dan Schawbel: Great question. The motto for the book is to let technology be a bridge to human connection and not a barrier. Use the technology to schedule a podcast interview. But when you’re in the interview, hopefully it’s audio or maybe video, and so you’re getting to know the person. Use it to connect with others to get them to go to a meeting, or a networking event, or an office birthday party. And by the way, found through the book that the number one thing that leaders should do is create more social events and company outings because that is what employees really are looking for right now, is to build relationships in that respect. And it’s lacking. Only 20% of companies have those type of social events, and that’s kind of broken.

I think, let technology lead you to the human interactions instead of just relying on it as crutch, thinking that technology’s going to do all the work for you. Use it in order to make those initial connections. And what you’ve been so good at this too is in the early days, you would connect with so many bloggers. But then there would be blogger meetups. And you’d meet them in person. For me, as an introvert, it’s much easier to reach out via email or text, and then actually meet in person. I feel more comfortable because I feel like I already know you. I think when and when not to use technology is what we have to think about.

John Jantsch: Awesome. Speaking with New York Times bestselling author Dan Schawbel. We’re talking about Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation. We’re going to have links, of course. We always do, to everything we talked about, like the assessment and the book itself, of course, and even the LinkedIn course. But Dan, tell people where they can reach out and connect with you.

Dan Schawbel: Absolutely. You can go to danschawbel.com. That’s S-C-H-A-W-B-E-L.com. And you can go on Amazon or your local book retailer and pick up Back to Human, and then listen to the podcast, Five Questions with Dan Schawbel. Thank you.

John Jantsch: Thanks Dan. It’s always great to catch up with you. Hopefully we’ll run into you out there on the road.

Dan Schawbel: You got it, my friend.

How to Use Technology to Create Real-World Connections

Using Technology to Build Connections in the Real World

Marketing Podcast with Dan Schawbel
Podcast Transcript

Dan SchawbelThis week on the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I chat with Dan Schawbel. He is a New York Times bestselling author, partner and research director at Future Workplace, and founder of both WorkplaceTrends.com and Millennial Branding. His forthcoming book, Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, is about how technology that seems to bring us together has actually left workers feeling more isolated, and what leaders can do to re-engage and re-energize their teams. It’s the content from this book that we discuss on the podcast.

Schawbel’s writing has been featured in numerous publications including Forbes, TIME, The Economist, The Harvard Business Review, and The Guardian.

He has been recognized on both Forbes‘ and Inc.‘s “30 Under 30” lists, as well as Business Insider‘s “40 Under 40,” and was one of BusinessWeek‘s “20 Entrepreneurs You Should Follow.”

Questions I ask Dan Schawbel:

  • How do you carve out the time for shared learning?
  • What is the Work Connectivity Index?
  • What’s the secret to generating publicity for your work?

What you’ll learn if you give a listen:

  • What the unseen downside of remote work is, and why it can make employees less committed
  • How turning your employees into teachers can help create a sense of community
  • Why using social media and building your own platform is the best way to get your voice out there

Key takeaways from the episode and more about Dan Schawbel:

Like this show? Click on over and give us a review on iTunes, please!

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How to Make Community the Secret To Success

community building
The word community has been with us for centuries.

A town, a church, a school, a collection of hobbyists, have all long been identified as communities.

Only in more recent years have we begun to apply the concept to business.

Every business today has a community that is made up of its employees, customers, supporters, networks, suppliers, and mentors.

The real question I suppose is whether each business realizes both the existence and power of this community.

Today, a healthy business is defined by the health of the community it draws.

Recognition of the fact that total community is far greater than a customer list is key to the most profitable business growth.

Many members in one’s business community – seen and unseen – wield tremendous influence on the growth, reputation and success of a business and intentionally nurturing community participation must be seen as a core element of business development.

A community, as described above, can serve a business in a number of ways.

A community can be a direct element of a business or it can simply be an ecosystem that indirectly serves a business.

Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Community

Here’s an example to illustrate my thinking on this.

I have a network of independent marketing consultants that make up a business known as the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.

These business owners choose to join this network in order to gain access to a set of tools and other benefits, but they are also drawn by a common point of view and network of like-minded individuals.

They voluntarily pay a fee to be part of this network as they see it as a valuable contributor to both their business and personal growth.

On paper, this is a transaction based on perceived return on investment.

In reality, the value of this network or in belonging to this network grows as each member chooses to contribute in ways that benefit other members.

Recently, we held our annual Summit at a ranch in the Colorado Rockies and session after session of the 3-day event were led, facilitated and orchestrated by various network members willing to share their individual talents to benefit the group.

New mastermind groups formed to go to work on areas of specific interest. Documents, templates, examples and other intellectual property were freely distributed to participants.

A regional leadership team made up of long-standing members was formed with the express intention of helping to assure that new members successfully tapped the benefits of the network.

These regional leaders plan to create accountability groups and hold “office hours” communication sessions to ensure that information is broadly spread across the network.

This layer of community infrastructure is what will allow this network to grow and prosper.

The World Domination Community

The second example I want to share is a community of which I am a member.

Chris Guillebeau has created what could only be called a movement that sprung out of his pursuit of non-conformity. The WDS community is one that’s unified by a simple idea that work can be what you say it is and that there are many, many people who would like to help you realize the work you were meant to do.

Each year for last five years WDS types trek to Portland Oregon to commune at the World Domination Summit.

I spoke at the event in 2014 and while I’ve spoken at hundreds of conferences over the years I can say with little hesitation this is the most fun I’ve had in my speaking career.

The event itself is ridiculously well run and put together, but it’s the tribe that shows up that makes this a one of a kind event.

While I’m sure that Chris’ business benefits from the collective word of mouth, sharing and spending of community members, this is first and foremost a community curated around an idea more than a business.

Members meet, mastermind, support, push and promote each other with vigor I’ve witnessed in few other places.

The event draws over 3,000 attendees and is planned by a few paid positions, but it’s run by community volunteers willing to contribute significant amounts of time and energy to ensure the experience is unique and fulfilling.

When Chris released a new book (he’s written three to date) WDS members around the world vie to host him in their city. The power of this very active community is evident to anyone that’s exposed to it.

So, I guess the real point of all of this is ask and answer this question – If intentional community building is so vital how does one go about embracing the idea.

There are certainly those who know more about this than I, but over the years I’ve experienced the positive benefits of community by focusing on these five elements.

Communicate a unifying why

This advice is pretty mainstream these days as there’s no question that people rally around ideas, not businesses.

Whether you have the next big way to save the world or those in need or you simply want to create an innovation in your industry, you must create something worth joining.

Show me a business with a healthy culture and I’ll show you a unifying why. Show me a strong community and you can rest assured there is something that draws and engages its members.

People like to have fun, they like to feel they are making a difference, they like to contribute to ideas worth spreading, they like to be around people with similar values, they like to fight injustice, and they like to know they aren’t the only weirdoes who have been told they are crazy for going for something they feel passionate about.

The mistake many organizations make is to limit their community building efforts to marketing initiatives. When community starts with your why you quickly come to realize that community is every department.

Find your fire starters

When an idea grows big enough that divergent tribes start to form from within it’s essential to find and nurture leaders in the community. These leaders start little fires in little pockets and sometimes form their own communities. But, more often than not they help hold a community together by mentoring new members, spreading the good news and even performing functions that benefit the community as a whole with little regard for reward and recognition.

Nurture these fire starters as they hold the keys to creating a blaze that attracts far and wide.

In some instances, it makes sense to hire these fire starters and give them an official capacity.

Mike Stelzner of Social Media Examiner has done an incredible job identifying his fire starters and in some cases making them a part of the full-time team. He’s also got a large number of volunteer fire starters who help run the extremely popular and growing Social Media Marketing World Conference.

Manifest engagement

While a big idea is what attracts people to a community, giving members the ability to engage and contribute is what holds them.

You might start by forming some mastermind groups to help attack issues, contribute to long-range plans and advise on short-term initiatives.

There’s no question that live events help community members connect in ways that no other tactic can. Spending time working on problems or just having lunch with someone is incredibly bonding.

Simply asking opinions before charging ahead can be a great way to gain some valuable insight while giving people a sense that their voice matters.

Waiting for consensus on every decision is a sure path to paralysis, but letting people participate in and fight for things they believe in is how you create loyalty and commitment.

Create ownership

As a community grows and fire starters shoulder more and more work a sense of community ownership must evolve.

If members of the community are to become more deeply committed they must also feed a much deeper stake in the planning and outcome.

This step may indeed be the greatest test for any leader in a movement or business. This step requires letting go in a way that may feel both foreign and frightening, but without it a community will plateau.

Start by letting go of things that don’t work like they should. Look at the things hold you or your business back. You may just be surprised at what an energized group of individuals tasked with tackling a community constraint just might come up with.

Protect and serve

As a community grows that role of leader or leaders comes full circle. While you may indeed spark the fire that attracts people to rally, you eventually need to step back and perform a more strategic function.

The leader of any successful organization starts as the visionary, builds a team of leaders and then transitions to the role of story or brand leader.

Your job is to protect the vision, tell the story, and be the voice of the unifying why.

That’s how you serve a community that has matured to the point where the founder is more of an advisor and cheerleader than an implementer.

I don’t mean to suggest that this role is passive in any sense. If the core values of the community veer from a vision that serves, the leader must jump in aggressively to protect the community.

Community is a hot term in business these days and rightly so. In the past, community was about place, but today it’s about belonging, regardless of physical location and that change has the power to transform any business that embraces it.

I would love to hear about the communities that you belong to – the ones that make you feel you are part of something worth joining.

9 How to Turn Your Best Customers Into a Growth Engine

I’ve said repeatedly that building a vibrant community is the most important objective of any business these days.

photo credit: Mourner via photopin cc

photo credit: Mourner via photopin cc

While this may sound like some social media laced feel good sentiment it’s actually quite practical.

Making your business customers, prospects, suppliers and partners feel like important members of a bigger community simply makes long-term business sense and is the key to long-term growth in ways that you not have even considered.

Many businesses get the idea treating customers in ways that make them want to return and refer, but you should also look at your best customers as collaboration partners able to help you formulate plans for growth.

Creating new products and services and making plans for growth is tricky adventures. Why not systematically involve your customers in every decision you make? Why not create new products and services with your customers? Why not include them in content creation and marketing campaigns?

Why not get your best customers to tell you what they need and then help you create, iterate and perfect it?

Below are five steps that can help you build systematic community involvement into your growth plans

Champion personas

The first step is to segment your business customers into personality types. Not every customer group is right for this approach and you may likely have completely different segments, such as B2B and B2C, and may need to build entirely different approaches for different segments.

Additionally, you’ll want to identify customers groups or types that are more open to this level of involvement. One of the best places to look is for customers that already refer or evangelize what you do. Can you identify them specifically or can you at least come up with a description of common characteristics?

These are what I refer to as you community champions. This is the first group to focus on as you try to expand your community reach.

Ongoing mining

Next you’ll want to dig in and figure out what this group might be lacking. This is sometimes a little tricky as if they really knew they probably would have told you by now, but I find that posing a series of questions around what they wish they had, what they can’t find or what doesn’t seem to work, even about your current offerings, is a good place to start.

After you do this you’ll want to audit your content, touchpoints and revenue streams in an effort to identify a handful of potential growth and involvement opportunities.

Many times you can find ways to involve your customers by simply creating content opportunities such as guest blogging, case studies and video testimonials.

Consider events you might create where your customers can do some of the education. Host peer-to-peer roundtables and let your customers facilitate discussions among prospects.

Consider additional revenue extensions where your champion customers could moderate other customer groups and help add ongoing value.

Innovation circles

Once you’ve established some working rapport with your community champions get them involved in helping you build, test and refine new offerings.

Create what I like to call innovation circles to use to build with your customers. Take rough product, service, packaging and pricing ideas to your circles and get feedback. Then with this feedback create a beta test group that agrees to help you get it right. Then use these testers as case studies and early evangelists for your now much improved offering.

You don’t have to stop here either. You can use this same approach for all of your marketing initiatives, copy and positioning.

Accountability tracking

The final piece is the glue that holds this entire approach together and keeps your community champions coming back for more.

You must create a way to religiously track the results your champions are getting from their relationship with your organization as well as their greater involvement in the community.

This just makes good business sense, but it will also help reinforce the value you bring to the table over and above the somewhat empty claims of good service and low pricing used by your competitors.

One of the best ways to build this into your community is through game mechanics. Create ways for your community champions to participate in contests. Get them to compete with each other. Teach them how to help each other through tangible acts such as linking swapping, sharing and guest posting.

Make the use of your progress and services something they must report and even incentivize them by creating awards for people who come up with new uses and best documented results.

Partner platform

One way to take this notion up a notch is to teach a group of strategic partners how to do the same and then start cross-pollinating your communities.

When you create a common language and process, such as “innovation circles,” you make it easier to teach the methodology and create even greater participation as you and your partners are promoting the same approach.

Imagine how much more value you can bring to your community by building this kind of best of class partner platform, Further imagine how interested potential partners will be to learn how you plan to shine the light on them throughout your vibrant customer community.

Your customer champions want to help you grow and, while making referrals is one powerful way to involve them, when you take a formal approach like the one described above you’ll not only make it easier for them to refer you, you’ll create a team of business partners eager to help you plan and grow.

10 Teaching Your Business to Manage Itself

Have you ever encountered a business where everything just felt in place? The experience was perfect -the products, the people, the brand, everything worked in seemingly effortless fashion. You made an odd request; it was greeted with a smile. You went to try a new feature; it was right where it should be. You walked in, sat down and felt right at home.

Teaching Your Business to Manage ItselfBuilding a business can seem a bit like a giant set of Legos scattered all over the room. There are countless bits and parts and pieces that might fit together or they might not, but the game appears to be locked in composing these fragments in a manner that verges on what seems like some kind of normal.

But here’s the thing. Normal is a trap. Normal is the business you ran from to start this business. Normal is the last three businesses that choked and spurted and collapsed under the weight of management. Normal is a poor imitation.

Businesses that run so smoothly as to seem self manage aren’t normal. In fact, they are terribly counter intuitive, but terribly simple it turns out. The key is a tremendous focus on three things only – clarity, culture and community.

Clarity

Until you can get excruciatingly clear about the one thing your business really does that no one else does and, perhaps more importantly, the handful of high payoff behaviors that you the owner of said business must to spend as much time as possible immersed in, you will have a very difficult time practicing anything that looks or feels like art.

Until you can feel why you do what you do and use that as your guide the road ahead will always seem uncharted.

When you are clear about the one thing everything just gets so simple. You don’t even have to think about decisions anymore because you have the perfect filter and the filter runs the business.

If clarity for your business means earning a referral from 100% of your customers everyone know what to ask, how to greet a customer and who owns the result.

Culture

If a business is to mange itself a culture of ownership should be the sole objective. This must come at the expense of hierarchy and the assertion of autonomy. Every business, regardless of size has a culture. The only question really is whether or not it serves the business and the people that come to work there.

I’ve worked with business owners for years now and in my experience control, or the inability to give over control, is the greatest threat to business growth. Until a business can extend trust to those around him and give up control, there will be little more than constriction and contraction.

This means that you must also be able to communicate your sense of clarity and package it in a set of core values that when practiced in action become the road map for culture and the mantra for “this is who we are.”

Community

There was a time when community meant only customer. Today the customer is the community and that includes its customers, employees, mentors, vendors, advisors and even competitors all conspiring to advance and influence the business ecosystem.

When there is a clear picture about what the business stands for and the people that fill in that picture are given the freedom to manage their outcomes, the creation of a strong, vibrant and supporting community is a natural outcome.

A fully alive, self-managed business is little more than the sum of these parts orchestrated with total purpose.

61 What Farmers Know About Community

Family FarmI grew up in a farm community and while it’s unlikely one farmer thought of themselves as fierce competitors of another, they do provide a market with the same products.

However, I would often witness a sense of community that I think has been lacking of late, even with all of this talk of the word community. What I saw time and again was that if one farmer experienced a hardship, a broken down tractor, loss of livestock, or need to get the crop in before a big storm, they could usually count on the help of neighboring farms without the need to ask or expectation of payment.

Everyone in the community knew that they would probably need this same kind of support and gave a hand willingly. I wonder if today’s small business community could take this view? I wonder if we could take that view with our customers and even our competitors?

As we begin to will some sort of economic recovery take a quick look at your closest competitors. What’s happened to them during this downturn? Is there an opportunity to grab market share? If so, resist it and consider lending them a hand instead.

I know this may run counter to competitive wisdom, and I’m not suggesting we should to take on their payables, but I do think there’s a long view in being the kind of company that uses its position in the community to establish a statement about what’s really important.

Even with all this buzz about social and personal business behavior, I wonder if we’ve forgotten what real community is somewhere along the way.

Image credit: royal broil

13 Testing SezWho commenting plug-in

SezWhoIf you make comments on this blog you might have noticed a new WordPress plug-in that I’m trying out called SezWho. SezWho is a distributed context, rating and reputation service for blogs, forums, wikis and other social sites.

So, what that means is that when you post a comment or read comments from others, you can also track related comments that person has made on this blog and others. You can also sort all the comments based on reader ratings, rate comments yourself, and focus only on those comments that were rated highly useful.

It think it’s an interesting way to find new and related blogs and build a little tighter community around the folks that comment the most. Here are some examples of other sites using it as well.

Go ahead and make some comments and try it out. I would love to hear your feedback on the tool.