Opinion

Drive business growth by harnessing communities in the cloud

5 min read

24 January 2014

In a world where disruption is becoming the norm, the worlds of media and technology are becoming so rapidly intertwined by the internet and mobile technology that they are no longer distinct sectors.

As a powerful force for economic growth, their combination offers opportunities to those that embrace them and are willing to collaborate, suffocating old media in the heavy cloaks of its own legacy.

While human lifespan increases, company lifecycles decrease. As Dame Helen Alexander of media giant UBM recently said at an Oxford lecture: “In the real world the tortoise loses”, especially those media businesses that don’t think like a technology business.

The concept of community collaboration became even more acutely transparent to me recently when I was researching for a TEDx talk I was giving, where the theme for the event was ‘Empowering a community through one.’ 

The word ‘community’ can mean different things to each of us, whether we see ourselves as part of a global, local, ethnic, religious one or just where we have attitudes and interests in common. Yet we all belong to at least one – probably many communities – depending upon the context. Generally, we just don’t think about it that much.

When I first became CEO of IRIS in 2001, one of the first changes I made was to ditch our attendance at the annual software exhibition at the NEC (where we had a big stand alongside our competitors) at massive cost and not much evidence of a decent ROI.

Instead, we ploughed the funds into mobile roadshow IRIS World, where we toured the country and visited the cities and towns close to our customers, presenting both our new software tools and enticing audiences with guest speakers from our sector and with not a competitor in sight. 

As a sales and customer retention tool, it was phenomenal. Customers loved talking to us and to each other, plus it was a tremendous opportunity to test out new product ideas. Our partners, who wanted to attend, helped fund the whole event and the community feel was tangible.

So where am I heading with this? ‘Crowd’ funding and sourcing as a business model via the web is exciting, still relatively new and growing very fast. Often however, the objectives and outcomes are quite singular and transactional. 

Hot on its heels, I can see a wave of collaboration and co-creation with communities in businesses, social enterprises and charities, that take us way beyond traditional customer and market segmentation. Unlike our IRIS World roadshow, this will be virtual and utilise the full range of multi-media online to help us engage, educate, differentiate, sell, retain, refer and develop our products and services.

Organisations’ social media strategies are starting to and will need to develop rapidly beyond just a presence on social media. This is to create more distinct and much more interactive communities using the full range of text, audio and visual media available.

People want to be engaged and most importantly engage with each other and that means that social media needs to be more fully integrated with the rest of the marketing mix. Measurement is less about the number of followers but much more vitally about their level of real brand and product engagement.

That interaction will be catalysed by multi-media content that can only be delivered rapidly and effectively by collaboration and co-creation. This approach will disrupt traditional media businesses, agencies and internal sales processes. 

When fully integrated with the marketing mix however, it will dynamically shift businesses from selling to really emotionally engaging with customers and accelerating their sales growth through inbound leads. In essence, driving growth by harnessing and collaborating with communities in the cloud, or as I realised: ’empowering a community through one.’

Martin Leuw is a serial entrepreneur and former CEO of Iris 

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