Once you’ve identified the key communities you think it is important to engage with, the next step is to identify the people you’d like to represent your brand within these communities. For simplicity, I like to refer to these folks as brand ambassadors.
How to find brand ambassadors
Start by identifying the people inside your organization who have the best relationships with each community. These people are the best candidates to become your brand ambassadors. The ideal brand ambassador is already an actual community member, actively participating in conversations and projects with other community members.
While an employee of your organization, this person shares common values, interests, and experiences with other community members. It is less important what position they hold within your organization and more important how they are viewed by the community itself.
After you’ve identified possible brand ambassadors, reach out to them to see if they are willing and interested in expanding their personal roles in the community to include being representatives of your brand as well. Some might already be playing this role, others might be playing this role and not realizing it.
Don’t force or pressure people. The ideal candidate will be excited to be considered and will be passionate about the opportunity, so if your best candidate doesn’t seem interested, try to find someone else who is.
Creating brand ambassadors from scratch
If you don’t have anyone in your organization who is already a member of the community, you’ll need to have someone join. Choose someone who understands your organization’s story and positioning well but also already shares interests, values, and experiences with the community in question.
Have this person attend meetings, join mailing lists, participate on forums, and otherwise begin to contribute to the community first as an individual. It will take a little longer to get started, but it will be worth it if your brand ambassador has a deep contextual understanding of the community before they dive right in officially representing your organization.
Brand ambassadors as faces of the brand
You should ensure that your brand ambassadors deeply understand your brand positioning so they can live it (not just speak to it) in their activities within these external communities. If you are developing many brand ambassadors at once, consider hosting a brand ambassador bootcamp where new ambassadors can practice telling the brand story and get aligned on the overall positioning of the organization. Also use this as an opportunity to emphasize the key role of these ambassadors in developing the brand experience and keeping relationships with the community healthy and productive.
You may have some communities where there is a whole team of ambassadors, not just one. For example, at Red Hat, a large team of developers represented Red Hat (and themselves) in the Fedora community. Invest as many ambassadors as you need in order to provide the best possible support for and adequately communicate with the community.
As you recruit brand ambassadors, you extend the internal core of the brand. Although it is wonderful to see your core group getting bigger, extending your reach is also an important time to ensure consistency. Be very careful to take the time to educate all brand ambassadors well so the entire brand orchestra stays in key.
Brand ambassador philosophy
Wikipedia defines an ambassador as “the highest ranking diplomat who represents a nation and is usually accredited to a foreign sovereign or government, or to an international organization.” Usually an ambassador lives and operates within the country or organization where he is assigned.
Your brand ambassadors should channel the same philosophy. While they are members of your organization, they should “live” within the communities they are assigned to as much as possible while representing your organization within that community.
Great brand ambassadors are loyal to the organization and to the community at the same time. They develop relationships of respect, honesty, and trust within the community, which allows them to clearly and openly communicate the priorities, desires, and needs of both sides.
Brand ambassadors are not just mouthpieces for the organization, but should also maintain their own personality, interests, and opinions in the community—often distinct from those of the organization. In places where they are representing their own opinions and ideas, they should provide the proper disclaimers. With a little practice, this is not nearly as difficult as it might sound. The key is maintaining an authentic personal voice while being open, transparent, and human in their communications.
Don’t think someone in your organization has the right makeup to be a good ambassador based on what you see here, even if he or she has good relationships within the community? Don’t make him or her an ambassador. The brand ambassador is a representative of your brand to the outside world, and the job carries a lot of responsibility and requires a high emotional intelligence and diplomatic sensibility to do well.
So take the time to find, train, and support brand ambassadors within your organization. With some attention and focus, you may soon find that your network of ambassadors becomes one of your organization’s most valuable assets.
If so, you can find more tips about how to extend your brand effectively in my book, The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:).
Organizations have a lot more to offer the communities they interact with than the products they sell. When these organizations unselfishly offer assistance to the communities around them, they can build powerful relationships based on trust and shared value rather than just on transactions.
Sure, building this foundation will often mean that people in these communities would be more likely to consider buying products or services from you down the road (in case the marketing types ask). But if that is central to your thinking, community members will smell a rat. It is not enough to simply seem selfless while remaining selfishly motivated by your own bottom line.
You must actually care what happens to these communities. You must want to help them be more successful at achieving their own goals. Although this approach seems so obvious, my experience of working in the business world for the last 20 years indicates that it’s not.
Usually when I begin to talk about helping the communities that surround a brand, people immediately assume I’m just referring to typical organizational philanthropy or corporate citizenship work. While in some cases, a community-based brand strategy will dovetail nicely with these efforts, they have very different end purposes.
By carefully considering how you can help the communities of customers, partners, prospects, friends, neighbors, and others that interact with your brand every day, you can not only create value for these communities, you can develop deeper non-transactional relationships that will also benefit your organization in the long run.
If you need help shifting your thinking to a community-based approach, consider the following types of things your organization might do to help the communities around your brand:
Consider investing money in projects that help the community achieve its goals. Bonus points if the investment will also help your organization achieve its goals or further your brand positioning. Red Hat and other open source software companies have done this extremely well, investing in projects that later become the heart of products they sell while also creating value for community members at the same time.
Many communities are in need of assets that individuals can’t buy on their own. Are there assets you already own or could buy and then give to the community as a gift? Red Hat bought many companies over the years with useful proprietary source code and then gave away the code for free. The community was able to innovate more quickly, and everyone—including Red Hat—reaped the benefits.
Your organization might have other assets that would be of value, such as a conference facility that could be used or land you haven’t developed. You could donate your products, services, web server space, or other supplies and materials that might otherwise go to waste.
Your organization probably has knowledgeable people who might have a lot to offer. Consider allowing employees to spend on-the clock time helping on projects that further community goals and support the brand positioning.
Who do you and others in your organization know, and how might these relationships be of value to others in the brand community? Perhaps you can make connections that not only help the brand community, but also help your organization at the same time.
Could you use the power of your brand to shine the light on important community efforts, drawing more attention and help to the cause?
The bottom line…
When organizations begin thinking like members of communities—when they are of the community, not above the community—and bring value in the same ways individuals do, they can fundamentally alter the relationships they have with members of the community.
This means that organizations have to stop thinking selfishly about what they want to get the communities to buy from or do for them (what I call Tom Sawyer thinking) and start thinking about what assets they bring to the table that could create real value for community members.
Faking it will get you nowhere, but when you really bring some tangible value to a community and the community becomes better for it, your brand will reap the benefits down the road.
This is the ninth in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand.
In my view, traditional marketing sets up an adversarial relationship, a battle of wills pitting seller vs. buyer.
The seller begins the relationship with a goal to convince the buyer to buy something. The buyer begins the relationship wary of believing what the seller is saying (often with good reason). It is an unhealthy connection that is doomed to fail most of the time.
What’s the alternative? I believe companies should stop trying to build relationships with those interested in their brands using a marketing-based approach and instead move to a community-based approach where the culmination of the relationship is not always a transaction, but instead a meaningful partnership or friendship that may create multiple valuable outcomes for both sides.
How do you do this? Consider beginning by eradicating three of the most common words in the marketing vocabulary: audience, message, and market.
So you better understand what I mean, let me attempt to use all three of these words in a typical sentence you might hear coming out of a marketer’s mouth:
We need to develop some key messages we can use to market to our target audience.
Yikes. So much not to like in there. Let me break this one down.
You hear companies talk about their “target audiences” all the time. So what’s wrong with that?
The word audience implies that the company is talking and the people on the other end are listening. This sort of binary, transactional description of the relationship seems so dated to me.
Certainly in the glory days of advertising where companies had the podium of TV, magazine, and newspaper ads, the word audience was more appropriate. After all, no one ever got far talking back to the TV set.
But in the age of Twitter and Facebook, companies must respect that everyone has the podium. Everyone is talking, everyone is listening.
Where most marketing folks would use the word audience, I often substitute the word community. By thinking of those who surround your brand as members of communities rather than simply as ears listening to you, you’ll already be on your way to a healthier, deeper relationship with the people who engage with your company.
The word message bothers me for the same reason. It is such an antiquated, transactional term. When a company talks about “creating messaging” or “delivering targeted messages” I start thinking we should call the Pony Express.
I believe the move to a community-based approach begins when you quit worrying about “delivering messages” and begin thinking about sharing stories, joining conversations, or sparking dialogue.
These are much better ways to communicate authentically in a collaborative world.
Perhaps the word that bugs me most is market (used as a noun or a verb) and its related friend consumer. Companies that think of people interested in them as consumers or markets take what could become a multi-dimensional relationship and whittle it down to one dimension: a transaction.
If you think of someone as part of your “target market” or a “consumer” you are making your interest in them abundantly clear. You want them to consume something. You want their money.
But what if there were more that people who are interested in your brand could share besides just their money? Perhaps they have valuable ideas that might make your company better? Perhaps they’d be willing to volunteer to help you achieve your mission in other ways?
When you stop thinking of the people that care about your company as consumers or a market, you can begin to see opportunities that you would have been blind to before.
Want an example? Look anywhere in the open source world. Sure there are buyers and sellers, but there are also lots of people bringing value in other ways. Developing code. Hosting projects. Writing documentation. The list goes on.
So let me be the first to admit these three words are the tip of the iceberg. Moving a company from a marketing-based to a community-based approach to building relationships will take more than changing a few words. It will require you to embrace new media, new skill sets, and a totally new way of thinking.
But you have to start somewhere.
Do you see other things that may need to change as we move from a marketing-based to community-based approach to building brands and companies?
I’d love to hear your ideas.
[This post originally appeared on opensource.com]
When I hear people in the technology industry talk about the benefits of open source software, one of things they mention often is their belief that open source software “gets better faster” than traditional software (David Wheeler has done a nice job collecting many of the proof points around the benefits of open source software here). While the speed of innovation in open source is in part due to the power of Linus’s Law (“Given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow”), I believe it also has a lot to do with the way open source projects are managed.
Many of the characteristics of this open source management style apply well beyond making software, and I’m always looking for examples showcasing this in action. A few weeks ago, I wrote briefly about the story in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink about (now retired) US General Paul Van Riper.
Gladwell tells the story of how, in an enormous military war game called the Millennium Challenge in 2002, Van Riper took command of the Red Team, playing the role of a rogue commander who broke away from the government of his Persian Gulf country and threatened US forces (the Blue Team). Rather than following standard military management protocol, Van Riper managed his team according to a philosophy he called “in command and out of control.” From the book:
By that, I mean that the overall guidance and the intent were provided by me and the senior leadership, but the forces in the field wouldn’t depend on intricate orders coming from the top. They were to use their own initiative and be innovative as they went forward.
Last week I received a heads up about a new web application launching today from a company called BetterMeans with an impressive goal: to build the infrastructure (processes, technology, governance, etc.) to make an open organizational structure like we talk about here on opensouce.com a reality.
From their website:
BetterMeans.com is a web platform where people can start and run companies in a new decentralized way.
– Teams self-form, self-organize, and self-manage using an issue-tracking tool
– There is no management class, only natural hierarchies.
– Leadership emerges organically by users earning other users’ confidence
– Compensation is based on contribution
– Strategy and ideas are crowd-sourced
– There’s full accountability and transparency. Relationships are built on trust.
– Ownership is distributed
– Capital allocation and decision-making are decentralized
If a traditional company was a network architecture, it would be client-server.
We’re building a platform for peer-to-peer companies that are more agile, resilient, and innovative.
The video below explains what they are doing and why.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
Maybe some day we’ll look back on the role of the manager in our organizations and laugh.
Such a quaint trend. Kind of like having The Clapper in every room of your house, or wearing multiple Swatch watches, or working out to Richard Simmons videos. Each seemed really helpful at the time, but looking back, we kind of wonder what the heck we were thinking.
OK, I’m exaggerating. After all, the manager/employee trend has been going strong for 100 years or more. But are we seeing enormous changes in the role of managers on the horizon? Signs point to yes.
In some of the most forward-thinking businesses and in many projects being run the open source way, the traditional manager/employee relationship, which looks something like the image above, is being replaced with something much less formal and much more flexible.
I think the new model looks more like this:
[read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
Let’s face it. There are tons of projects out there in the world being run the open source way today. While the great ones can accomplish unbelievable things, the bad ones, even the average ones, often fail to achieve their goals.
Some projects fail because the contributors just aren’t skilled enough at what they are trying to do. Projects also fail because people don’t have the dedication to see them through—folks give up when the going gets tough.
But in many cases, the contributors have the skills and the dedication, yet the projects still don’t work out. My view? Many of these projects fail because they are missing one simple thing.
Collaboration works better when you trust the people with whom you are collaborating. Transparency is more believable when you trust those who are opening up to you. And it is much easier for the best ideas to win when there is a base level of trust in the community that everyone is competent and has the best interests of the project at heart.
A successful open source project needs a culture of trust much more than a project not being run the open source way. Why?
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
A few weeks ago, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst wrote an article for BusinessWeek suggesting that Toyota might benefit from doing things the open source way when it comes to building the software inside its automobiles.
Open source is about leveraging the power of participation to solve complex problems such as manufacturing, health care, and government. This advantage is why numerous 21st century successes—from Google to Facebook to Wikipedia—are all based on open-source software and principles. It may also be how Toyota can improve its vehicles and ultimately regain consumer trust.
Toyota may be listening.
Last week, Associated Press reported that Toyota has opened a new Design Quality Innovation Division. The new group will be led by Kiyotaka Ise, formerly of Toyota’s Lexus subsidiary, and will be tasked with more quickly reflecting customer feedback in automobile design.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
Last week I was on a panel with Chris Brogan, author of (with Julien Smith) the NY Times bestselling book Trust Agents. Also on the panel were Robert Cook (founder of Freebase and Metaweb), Gary Slack (Chairman of Slack Barshinger and head of the Business Marketing Association), and June Arunga (partner at Black Star Lines and one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business). The panel was moderated by Sree Sreenivasan (Dean of Student Affairs at Columbia Journalism School and regular TV commentator).
After looking up the kickin’ credentials of each of these folks, I figured I’d better get my act together and do some research so I wouldn’t immediately out myself as the weak bulb. As part of my homework, I picked up a copy of Trust Agents to read on the plane.
Now I must admit, I’m not a big fan of most books about social media stuff. I think I may be allergic to what I call social media meta-marketing: people using social media to show others how much they know about social media. If all the people using social media to talk about social media just shut up for a minute, we’d probably save Twitter some serious bandwidth expense. But I digress…
So I buy this book, sign up for Chris’s Twitter feed, all the normal stuff. It turns out Chris has almost 100,000 followers on Twitter, and almost every post on his blog gets like 50 or 100 comments (and most of them seem really nice and friendly, us open source folks aren’t used to that).
His Twitter feed almost looks like a breathing rhythm, with tweets coming in and out every few seconds. You could probably even calculate how much sleep he gets by putting the times of his first and last tweets of the day for a month in a spreadsheet and averaging out the results. If I hadn’t seen him sneaking some tweeting in under the panel table via his phone, I’d guess TweetDeck was directly wired into his brain.
OK, cut to it. The book is great. I really dug it. It turns out it isn’t so much about social media as it is about building relationships, building trust, being helpful, being useful, being nice, and a bunch of other stuff your mom told you to do when you were younger. After reading the book and spending an afternoon with Chris, it’s pretty obvious how he’s been so successful. He’s just really, really freaking nice.
From the book, here is his strategy: