I originally wrote this on Wednesday November 28, 2007 in response to a set of questions posed by Mike Masnick to the Techdirt Insight Community. I had applied and been accepted into the community after it was announced at the 2006 Office 2.0 conference (I blogged about in “Born With a Face Made for Podcasting“). Those questions are in bold in the following text. Please note that under the terms of service, each blogger retained the rights to his own words.
Q: How to continue to grow the Community itself?
There is no substitute for a face to face meeting to build a real sense of community. I would suggest that you run a few events in 2008 (perhaps twice a year, perhaps quarterly) where they would be convenient for Techdirt folks and the blogger members of the Insight community to meet and get better acquainted. I think you might find that unleashes a lot of creativity around how to grow the community.
The competitive mechanism you have chosen doesn’t seem to foster as much discussion within the community on the topic. And frankly for the dollars you have put out there I am not sure I am as motivated as I would be by the opportunity for further on-line or face to face discussion with the blogger community you have brought together.
I also wonder if your Techdirt Greenhouse format might be appropriate for a set of your customers: have them present an issue, break up into smaller groups for focused discussion with two or three teams addressing the topic (perhaps two to three topics in parallel) and then come back to the main group for a summary and briefing. Obviously not every issue will be appropriate for this approach, but many of the “what’s going on in this market” or “how to you see things evolving in this technology landscape” questions that are more open ended or exploratory may be a fit.
Q: How to get existing customers to become repeat customers or regular users of the community.
What’s their perspective on the benefits they have gained from putting a question to the community?
One benefit a community model might offer is an ongoing surveillance of an issue from a variety of perspectives. In other words, instead of trying to reach a conclusion, use an insight community as more of a “what are recent developments in…” and let a number of folks submit links (perhaps rated/sorted/ranked/tagged by the community) in addition to their own comments/posts to provide their context. This might have the additional advantage that you could sell the same feed to several clients, and then sell a second tailored offering that addressed their particular situation. But ongoing surveillance of an emerging technology or market space is something that a community of interest does well.
Q: How to get more companies aware of what the Techdirt Insight Community can provide.
I think you have to use references/testimonials and find a way to offer a version of the service that is more general, such as the community of interest model I suggested above, so that they can get some idea of what’s involved.
Q: How to keep bringing in additional customers.
You have to expose some aspect of this “blogging ecosystem” on your site and in your ongoing marketing efforts. I worked on a project at Cisco about a decade ago to add a filtering/ranking layer on top of an incredible amount of analyst research that we purchased that was used by hundreds of marketing folks across dozens of business units. The challenge your clients may be facing is that they are getting too much insight and they need more sensemaking. I don’t know enough about your mainline services and how they are marketed and deployed to be able to comment effectively on how to generate additional synergies between the Insight Community and your other services, but it seems to be that you need to determine in your sales model what is the “portal” or “thin edge of the wedge” into a new customer and what’s the add on. Another way to think about it is how to re-purpose the existing content that’s been created over the last year, perhaps paying an additional success fee to the bloggers, to go after new customers. It’s a little hard to determine the “shelf life” or “half life” of some of the content, and longer half life content probably addresses different questions than gathering info to make a decision in a few months. I guess I don’t understand your current model to be able to suggest how to better integrate TIC capabilities and content.
One final challenge I have with your mechanism is that it does not foster interaction between the community members, I might have written this much sooner if I knew that other folks might read it, comment on it, and help me to evolve it. I think a wiki would be complementary to this forum of blog posts as refinery for issues that we all have a stake in, such as the continued health and growth of the Techdirt Insight Community. But I don’t think that it’s a technology issue as much as the natural consequences of the incentive set or mechanism you have established.
Postscript added as a comment to the forum “How to Improve the Techdirt Insight Community”
I guess I have reluctantly concluded that community is the wrong word for Techdirt Insight effort. The mechanisms established to make clear who owns each individual insight work against again real collaboration or shared contribution. It’s become a rolling essay contest more than a blogging community, which probably better suits Techdirt’s business needs but it’s not the reason I joined. I have appreciated the opportunity to take part and contribute.
Net Net: I have asked Techdirt to delete my account and donate the $18 credit I have earned from my contributions to the Salvation Army. At it’s root the Insight Community is a zero sum game, and this mechanism works against collaboration and community building.