Starting and growing a community for your employees, clients or suppliers for innovation is not as easy as “just setting up a forum-like website and communicating the website-location to the participants”. Online communities are not simply tools that you can switch ON and then wait for the ‘all important’ knowledge-sharing to happen. Fortunately, there are only two basic principles that need to be covered.
Whether your organisation would like to do an idea challenge to solve important strategic goals or start an online community for easy knowledge sharing, there are basically two principles that should be applied. To attract participants and to maximize their interaction levels.
1. Attracting participants: communication
Good communication is essential to direct the target group (the crowd) to the initiative. You need to communicate about your initiative before, during and after the initiative intensively and through all possible channels. Many organisations struggle to keep attracting people and think the initiative is not what the target group wants when activity decreases. However, the target group simply forgets about the initiative because it is usually not part of their daily routine. A diverse and well balanced palette of communication is the key to keep attracting new and current participants.
2. Interacting participants: value creation
When you have attracted your crowd to the online platform, they need a good reason to stay and start interacting with one another. This is where creating value comes into play. Without anything valuable to offer to them your crowd will leave, never to be seen again.
The exact specifications of value are different for each initiative and each crowd. Sometimes value is created through increased innovation or productivity while in other cases it is about discovering unknown customer needs or setting up a knowledge management system. However, for most online innovation communities value is created through the interaction between the ‘known’ and ‘unknown’. Connecting knowledge-demand and supply is often what you see emerging when breaking down everyone’s ‘what’s in it for me?’. Some people value easy access to answers to their problems while other value a place where they can ‘showcase’ their expertise
Every online community or crowdsourcing initiative needs a team of dedicated and motivated people to jump-start and maximize ‘knowledge turnover’. These ‘knowledge brokers’ will need to work hard to activate people to submit contributions, streamline discussions, connect the right people to each other, make sure questions formulated well are answered quickly etc. These brokers will act a a catalyst to spark interaction and make sure the participants will think their visit to the initiative is valuable every time.
To apply the above principles sounds like a lot of work for both the communication department as well as the knowledge brokers. It seems like much more energy is put in than would ever come out. However, these two principles are special. They are each others’ catalysts. When the two principles are applied properly you have just set the conditions for a perfect storm and a tornado will emerge.
When the participants have found value in the initiative they will keep coming back, and more importantly, start communicating themselves about the platform to persuade others to join the platform as well. The more valuable the initiative gets the more people are attracted which will increase the value even more. This is the tornado effect.
When done properly, your online innovation community may become a tornado of attracting participants and value creation. This might sound like an inappropriate metaphor but remember that tornadoes break down old houses and infrastructure yet they clear the path to build new and exciting things for the future.
image credit: Jan Martijn Everts
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Jan Martijn Everts is Innovation Consultant @ Innovation Factory in the Netherlands. Jan Martijn has worked on a variety of projects, ranging from Heineken’s annual idea contests to PostNL’s ongoing innovation programme. Due to his uncommon background of both Engineering Physics and Business Administration he has great association skills, is creative and can give any challenge a creative twist.