May the Best Community Manager Win


In The Vanishing Establishment, Nicholas Confessore cites decentralized organization and fundraising as one of the major assets of the Obama campaign. Hillary, he observes, has been left vulnerable by her old-style, establishment-cozy program of reliance upon an elite few for the core of her support. While she has tapped the relatively small number of heavy-weights in her corner for all they can legally provide, he can continue to collect a little bit from everyone in a widely distributed base of everyday folk.

Razor-sharp focus on high points of leverage was once standard practice for business, government, the media – you name it. Sharply hierarchical organization has long been the vehicle of choice in wealth and power creation from the Roman army to feudalism to the corporation of today.

But these times, they are a-changing. Something to note about what the influential of today seem to have in common: They all pay heed to the self-organized and highly distributed. From Wikipedia to terrorist activity we’re discovering at warp speed that self-organization can work much more effectively than strict hierarchy, and especially so in the production of information goods. And what is politics but the information goods business? Obama, with his highly distributed, self-organized power base, seems the more successful purveyor of information goods to my eye. We shall soon see.

As marketers, we are also in the information goods business. We are also finding out that distributed networks of input drive better and faster product and marketing innovation. Witness Dell’s Idea Storm, a forum for Dell users to share ideas for product improvement. Dell launched Idea Storm after it discovered that a self-organized community of Dell customers and prospects already existed and they were already connected. They were sharing their (sadly, upleasant) Dell experiences on YouTube, blogging about the brand and influencing purchase behavior by a disturbingly large degree. Dell responded to the crisis by harnessing the power of the already connected community and facilitating its growth with Idea Storm.

As she chips away at Obama, it’s becoming ever more clear that Hillary can’t seem to find purchase. Where Obama deftly harnesses the power of the already connected community, Hillary re-tools her message. Where Obama delivers a resonant brand experience to voters, Hillary lodges a “features war”, attacking his product attributes. Where Obama gains momentum, Hillary plays catch up.

As marketers, as business people, we are wise to take a lesson in community management from this increasingly interesting voting season and that is this:

This way of communicating with your community doesn’t work any more: “Listen to me – I’m (better, smarter, faster, more experienced).”

This one does: “Listen to me. I am one of you.”

Send me a note

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