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Sometimes it is hard to see the things that matter most to us, explaining why they are so special is even harder. Communities are a great example. They provide so much tangible and intangible value that it is hard to explain in a crisp way. And yet, it is critical to understand communities to understand business in the digital economy.

I was recently asked to present on the topic of “Future of community”, but ended up rephrasing the presentation title to: “Community is the future”. Why? Here is a quote that captures it well:

“If you get the community right, opportunities will present themselves for the company. If you get the community wrong, the engine of innovation will dissolve, and then you won’t have a company anymore.“Chris Anderson, CEO, 3D Robotics

People do business differently in a digital economy. Collaboration is the new way of working, making communities very central to the success of companies, ecosystems and individuals. Here’s why:

  • 80% of B2B sales start with online search.
  • Up to 90% of the decision process is done before prospects talk to a vendor.
  • Conversations shift from conference rooms, restaurants or the golf course to the web.
  • There is more information available than anyone can consume. 
  • Attention spans are shorter than ever before. 

In this environment authentic information becomes hard currency. People listen to people who know what they are talking about and who aren´t just repeating an approved promotional message. They look for accurate information from credible sources. B2B buyers turn to communities for the same reason as consumers scan reviews prior to product details when they shop online.

For companies, communities are often considered a powerful way to increase the variety and frequency of customer interactions, accelerating the speed at which they can test and receive feedback on new products and services. But the value goes way beyond feedback.

Here are the top five reasons why I love the SAP Community:

  1. Co-Innovation is the Ultimate Audience Focus
    The days when companies could plan secretly in an ivory tower, then launch and adjust based on feedback are over. Ever faster innovation cycles and a more dynamic competitive landscape require bringing your audiences in earlier. Make them part of developing the future of your company.

  2. Customer Success
    A strong community fosters innovation and accelerates the time to market of better products, services and support. Moreover, it creates an environment that ensures customer are successful with their investment. Why? Community users help each other fast, accurate and at scale. Lines blur within and between organizations when people come together based on what they need to get done. Knowledge and network trumps title and position.

  3. Learning 2.0
    Remember when you´d go to the library as the starting point of learning something new? Today, what you know is who you know. People learn in networks and communities. Hence investing in a community is an investment in knowledge; for organizations and individuals.

  4. Career Opportunities
    Everyone knows the chances of getting a new job through an ad are slim. The most promising way? Your network. According to this article, the probability that your next job is in your existing network is 80%. Where are networks the strongest? In communities! This is the best place to learn, grow, and spend a career as part of a value generating network.

  5. The Family Factor
    With all the talk about value, what community is really all about is people. I call it the “family factor”. Going to an SAP Community event is like going to a family reunion. The bonds I see here go far beyond purely professional relationships. People are friends, mentors, supporters, coaches. They spend a large part of their careers, their lives, together. It is not surprising that members of a strong community tend to stay within that ecosystem. People move, but they find the next opportunity with SAP, a partner or one of our customers. In a knowledge based business where it is critical to attract and retain talent, communities are often the glue that makes it rewarding for people to stay in an ecosystem.

Customer centricity through communities

If you want to invest in community, you have to be brave enough to start a conversation that matters. A strong community will give you an unfiltered view, and sometimes it’ll hurt. But if you´ve invested in the partnership and your strategy is for the long haul, it will be a fruitful and constructive collaboration that in return will help you excel in serving your customers. Your most honest critics are also your most valuable potential advocates that people will listen to. Thus making community the next competitive battleground.