Collaboration: blurring consumption & production
18th January 11
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As a guest poster, some additional disclosure is required because my LinkedIn profile is incomplete. I’d like to add:
+ reviewer at Amazon
+ gas refiller at Zipcar
+ traffic data provider at Google Maps
+ plug-in tester at WordPress
+ opinion offerer at Jovoto
+ classifieds editor at Craigslist
+ A/B headline tester at the Huffingtonpost
+ music popularity statistics reporter at Apple
+ idea spreader at Kickstarter
I think most LinkedIn profiles have similar omissions. But that is only part of the problem, because I don’t just do work for organizations, but also for friends and family.
So why it is so important to know who I “work” for or with?
Of people, value creation, costs and revenues
All organizations incur costs to make and communicate – to create, design, develop, produce and distribute products or provide services; to generate awareness, evaluation and trials to generate revenues. Of course many of the costs in doing this relate to things like media buying, IT infrastructure, raw materials, rents and the like, but depending on the business a very large percentage of the costs come directly from paying people (i.e., salaries for ALL the jobs to make the organization function).
So what happens if one of your competitors figures out a way to get some of their work done more cheaply? Fewer people, lower salaries – off shoring and outsourcing over the last 20 years has fundamentally changed developing and developed economies.
Or, what happens when your competitors are able to attract better talent?
Most labour conversations tend to focus on full time employment, but there is another important workforce – they are doing the types of tasks we don’t disclose on our LinkedIn profiles. And they are not just working for organizations as we tend to think of them, but for the benefit of their peers.
Paid vs. earned vs. owned business activities
Recently Rishad Tobaccowala described among other trends for 2011, paid vs. earned vs. owned media. I’d like to steal this idea and expand it to paid vs. earned vs. owned business activities. Not as catchy, but I’ll keep the explanation short.
I believe that some of today’s most successful organizations are figuring out how to earn “business activities” that their competitors still pay for. It’s more visible in part because it has become easier to help people help you. Amazon sells more because so many of us choose to write elegant reviews there and Lego benefits from a relentless flood of new product ideas from their community. Zipcar has us refilling gas tanks in the name of sharing and the Huffington Post generates more pageviews when they learn what we like by observing our choices. Groupon gets us to band together into temporary “big organizations”, so we can get discounts previously only available to real big organizations.
The fundamental change in this collaborative model is that business can create value by “earning” our effort. If you’re looking for inspiration for all the ways in which people can add value, I like the business model canvas or board of innovation (their templates were used to create the diagram above). More specifically, these visual business model tools can be used to quickly highlight the number of ways in which consumers can also be producers, or customers can also be suppliers.
Beyond roles, these visuals also help outline the different value exchanges: from money and fame to reputation and experiences. The diagram at the start of the post was my attempt to describe the various value exchanges happening around this guest post. It is far from complete, but I hope it shows how “customers” also show up as “suppliers” in exchange for a variety of non-financial currencies. Organizations have many new ways to redefine their relationships with the people formerly known as customers (apologies to Jay Rosen).
Why this type collaboration matters to marketers
MIT Center for Collective Intelligence does a great job breaking collaboration down into its DNA – the who, what, why, where and how of collaboration. In Mutopo’s experience on projects like betacup and Life Edited, some of the hard questions have been:
+ why will people participate?
+ what are the right activites and outcomes to focus on?
+ what expertise is required?
+ what can organizations offer in return?
+ how do we quality control?
I don’t know that this is altogether new for marketers (or for markets). We’ve always had to build teams and find talent, but the scale has changed. Some activities will involve large numbers of people accomplishing tasking in a few minutes or in a few weeks. It will mean much more time evaluating what new outcomes we want, who we want to work with, what they want, what they can do, what we can give them and evaluating how they are doing.
Finding talent may feel like human resources’ responsibility, but this is a critical role for marketing. Not only because it can touch current or prospective customers, but because it is another way to create value for the organization beyond driving sales through a funnel. And these collaborations can build on exactly the relationships brands aspire to build anyway. Now they have the additional benefit of greatly expanding the reasons for conversation, as well as the types of conversations we can have. After all, it’s quite engaging to discuss what we can accomplish together.