Community 2.0

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Community – it means different things to different people, particularly in our industry. But I like this definition the best: A community is a social unit of any size that shares common values. I’ve recently become involved in a crowd-sourced community, WhatMatrix. The goal of WhatMatrix is to provide free comparisons to organizations based upon collaborative, expert input. Having been involved in the launch of this community, it is exciting to see people’s responses to the matrices – particularly when they don’t agree! But the sweet thing about WhatMatrix is the fact that this is exactly what underpins it; if you disagree and can assert the correct information, it will be updated.

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The value of this can, however, potentially be undermined or misconstrued if an expert contributor is associated with a vendor. It could be assumed that the expert might have a bias towards his or her own company’s solution. This train of thought got me thinking about other things in general. I think that experts, bloggers, industry contributors etc., whatever “nomenclature” you want to associate with this group of people, it all boils down to respect. If you can demonstrate that your opinion is factually based and be willing to change it if proven wrong, then you command the respect to be an ‘independent’ member of said community. Whilst I’ve always said if you’re an employee, you’re ‘always on’ as a representative for your company, you can still be a community contributor and employee. I’ve also seen experts move from being independent to working for a vendor only to discover their ‘perks’, such as NFRs etc. are removed from them, as owners of the programs to which they belong don’t like the competition having access to their software. Well, let me tell you, if you sell via a channel and your competition is that desperate to get a hold of your product, they will! Don’t penalize the expert for no longer being independent is my view.

But I digress…….. What does the future hold for our community within the virtualization and cloud space? I see many vendors creating their own select programs and really getting behind them to own, drive and, in most cases, fund them. For any user community to thrive the vendor has to take ownership early on, in conjunction and collaboration with the users. Big user groups, such as the VMware User Group, have become totally independent to be effective and are funded via vendor sponsorship. For more niche players and start ups, make the community what your ‘social unit’ needs it to be, not what you, as a vendor, want it to be. Other community programs, such as VMware’s vExpert accolade, become less meaningful, to some, as they grow. People want exclusivity to feel more valued it would seem. My view is that as the user base grows, the vExpert numbers will grow. But maybe it is time to create some kind of tiering? This point reminds me of being involved building the channel for Citrix and then VMware across EMEA in both companies’ early days. The innovative partners that first came on board and really invested wanted recognition as the partner base grew to include the ‘box shifters’, and so tiering was introduced; platinum, gold, silver, etc.

In summary, I think Community 2.0 will be more collaborative, potentially less exclusive but more ‘segmented’ and should continue to focus on the needs of the member first and foremost.

 

Crossing the threshold of passion to arrogance

I’ve recently witnessed a resurgence within our industry of knocking the competition – I’ll not mention any names, but unfortunately many companies are still guilty of breeding this culture within their organization – both the startups and the established companies.

It is acceptable to be passionate about your company, your colleagues, your product(s), etc. It is acceptable to have self-belief and to be able to back up any claims, preferably with customer case studies (a hot button of mine!) But it is not acceptable to bash the competition in the vain hope that you and your company/product will come out on top.

I’ve listed below some guidelines that I not only try to operate by but which I advise my clients to adopt also:

  • I’m a strong advocate of using the term comparative, versus competitive. Competitive immediately conjures up negativity and is a combative term. Whereas comparative is a much more positive term when referring to other companies/products that are available in the space in which you operate. Therefore, I always advise to produce a “comparative matrix” versus a “competitive matrix” to distinguish between your product feature set and another solution in the market
  • Always uphold your own integrity; do not succumb to any type of insidious corporate culture of competition bashing. It is all too easy to get swallowed up in the internal hype and mantras, try to remain objective versus subjective in these situations
  • What happens to those that ‘jump ship’? I’ve seen many peeps join their main rival and attempt to sell to the same customer they’d previously sold to. Only those that do NOT knock the competition can operate in that mode
  • Always maintain the high ground. Even if asked to provide feedback on your competitors it is best to maintain focus on YOUR core strengths.

A story I’d like to share is one that demonstrates a way in which to handle corporate pressure in these situations. A colleague of mine left Company X and joined Company Y. Company Y was the under dog and had hired this individual based on his knowledge of the sector and customer base. He was instructed to target all users of Company X’s products to offer them incentives to change to his new company’s offering. He informed his new employer that as he’d sold a majority of the ELA’s to that customer base, he’d be making a mockery of himself and his integrity to offer them an incentive to convert. Why would they trust him now? However, he was aware that some ELAs would be coming up for renewal. What better way to start a conversation with “You’ve been using great technology thus far, but now there is an alternative I’d like to talk to you about?”

None of this is rocket science, just a bit of common sense really, but when you’re riding the wave and the goal is always to win, you can sometimes lose sight of the reality and get swept along with the internal hype.

As I used to preach to my children when they were younger, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Today we work in a society that is very social media driven and led, and it is very hard to convey intonation on Twitter, for example. So do be careful what you say, and how you say it. Passion is always acceptable in my book – arrogance, on the other hand, never is.