Focus on the Advocates, then the Crowd
Chit chat is not the goal for a Knowledge Community
On Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019, the core Zapnito team got together at our quarterly All-Hands meeting and talked about a lot of things.
We talked about goals, the vision, created some Holacracy circles and even shared the books we were reading in our ongoing anti-book club (Zapnito's own version in which we share the books we are reading vs. assigning books to the group). There were books about Octopuses, Donut Economics, and even Top Gear.
But mostly we talked about the key difference between building Knowledge Communities vs. traditional online forums.
A Knowledge Community is about content created by your brand advocates. These are your experts inside and outside the organisation. They are the humans that help power the brand.
A client of ours, who runs an important programme funded by the Gates Foundation, uses the event metaphor.
When you go to an event, you don't walk into a room and start chitchatting with a 1000 people all at once. That would be exhausting. That should not be replicated on the web.
Instead, you read about the speakers, view their bios, hear their talks - and then you network. Hopefully you have conversations with 10-20 people. These are the people that matter to you at that point in time.
Online forums - the standard community platform model - focus on the wrong end of the stick. Their model is about trying to create immediate engagement vs. long-standing knowledge. They see the crowd as having an equal voice, when in fact the community wants to learn from the experts and engage with questions, comments and conversations in the context of that knowledge.
And so during the All-Hands meeting, I got on the whiteboard and produced this pretty badly drawn picture of a pyramid. The Brand is at the top, the advocates (the experts) sit alongside the brand and they help deliver knowledge and learning to the audience. In our model, the experts are defined by the brand. That's not to say that expertise can't be shared within the community in a very open way. But curation, editorial ownership and community management are a key element to the recipe for success.
However once you get over 500 people in the community, noise and distractions can ensue. Expertise is earned, not driven by algorithms, gamification and other gimmicks.
This rough sketch of what we consider the key differentiating factor in what we do, sometimes gets lost in the feature discussions when we are up against competitors.
We have forum-like features (Q&A, conversations, commenting) and we believe knowledge sharing that happens through content, networking, courses and video panels is what counts when it comes to our feature-focus. Learning, networking and then collaborating are the right order.
When we see a client wanting just a forum model, we try to educate them. This doesn't mean we are always right. Sometimes pure forums are a good thing. But useful forums that drive true engagement and collective intelligence are very rare and can take years to build. Usually they are built outside a trusted brand.
Knowledge Communities, on the other hand, are much easier to develop because the brand is creating value in the form of knowledge and learning via their true experts.
The job is not done for us. It's an ongoing journey to get that mix right. If we were to choose between a Knowledge Community with staying power, and a noisy forum, we choose the former every time.