The time is now for expert networks and micro-consulting

The opportunity for trusted brands to leverage their 'experts on-demand' is there for the taking.

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In 2018, we were talking about the rise of the expert network and if established brands were taking advantage of the opportunity. 

Since then, the nascent industry grew to reach $1.3Bn by late 2019, after some years of double-digit growth. Of course, like many industries, the coronavirus pandemic has had an impact, but several factors suggest that the industry will rise again to greater strengths.

Expert networks consist of groups of professionals who are experts in their field, who are connected with businesses for micro-consultations. They were traditionally built to share investment and financial expertise where knowledge is (quite literally) money and the sector’s leaders are the people with the most up-to-date intel.

Definitions:

When people ask me, what is the difference between an expert network and a community (and sometimes an audience), I have this simple response. An audience is a large group of people having typically a push experience with a brand. This means that their voice is that of a consumer of information.

A community, in my definition, is a smaller group that has a common purpose and interests and has a two-way experience with a brand. Their voice is part of that experience but limited to the size of the community.

And finally, an Expert Network is a set of much smaller groups that interconnect as peers. The way our model works is that these categories aren’t mutually exclusive. This is the power of the platform.

Experts on demand

As clients graduate to the expert network mindset, there is the opportunity to build an experts-on-demand model that acts like a match-maker service that connects your requirements with the exact people who can help. It offers a way for business leaders to connect with recognized and experienced experts in a wide range of areas, to work on short projects, or for individual consultations.

A community, in my definition, is a smaller group that has a common purpose and interests and has a two-way experience with a brand.

One example comes in the form of Inex One. A relatively new entrant to the expert advisory space, Inex One offers a SaaS platform that aggregates expert networks across the world into one place. Offering a simplified client experience that focuses on investment research. 

Another example is ProSapient, an expert network designed to facilitate research, connecting users with industry executives using machine learning tools. They tout the idea that they are the next generation surpassing GLG and Alphasights. But let's be clear, building an expert network as a new brand is hard. This is the opportunity. Any trusted brand that brings experts together, can pivot to also be an expert network. Why let new entrants take that opportunity?

Since our article in 2018, few brands have leveraged an ‘experts on-demand’ model. In October 2019, Microsoft launched a security consulting service as part of its Threat Experts service. The service provides customers with direct access to Mircosoft expert threat analysts, further building out their offering and leveraging the expertise within the organization. Though other trusted brands have been slow to develop their own networks of experts. 

Cost and time-efficient

This model, like other gig economy set-ups, provides significant benefits in terms of cost efficiencies. You end up paying for only the information that’s needed, with no loss of hours training or researching a subject that you know very little about. You can go directly to the source, to get the answers to your pressing questions immediately. 

And with today’s expert networks, you can select the precise person you need, with verification and credentials that you can clearly see. 

Increasing access to experts

We’re seeing a major evolution in how business is done. As recently explained in Forbes, freelance expertise is now available by the minute - and at precisely the right time, given the economic pressure on many organizations today. Technology is increasing our access to bonafide, trusted expertise. 

Expert network platforms allow independent experts to work from anywhere, with clients anywhere in the world, with relative ease. It helps resource-strapped start-ups and SMEs to get the expertise they need, without the potentially hefty price-tag of a consultant. This offers a win-win for everyone, supporting the knowledge-sharing economy and, crucially, giving organizations a way forward in recovery with an expert helping to navigate. 

Growth in corporate expert networks

The largest, and fastest growing, of the expert networks is consulting. Large firms like GLG and Alphasights are bringing back former consultants to offer their expertise to corporations. They act as the curator and coordinator between experts and those that need them. This model has its limits because the relationship rarely continues with the experts and the GLG’s and Alphasights own that workflow as a proprietary and sometimes questionable model

Concurrently, more start-ups and SMEs are recognizing the edge that expertise offers them, so more are beginning to tap into expert networks. It’s worth consulting leaders noting this, as, if large consultancies don’t recognize this and adapt, they will lose out on a lucrative, growing market. 

Intellectual overhead = potential expert-driven model

As we all start to emerge, eyes blinking, into the light of our ‘new normal’, brands can be certain that strong customer relationships and loyalty is as important as suspected. More so. Expert networks and micro consulting expand a brand’s offering and value and strengthens relationships. 

Of course, any organization with intellectual overhead could adopt a experts-on-demand model. Membership models, publishers, consultancies and advisory boards are all well-positioned to benefit from such an approach. 

Offering micro-consulting opportunities can diversify a revenue stream, build on an existing product and service offering, and provide greater brand value. It also means becoming more embedded in customers’ businesses, moving from being just ‘helpful’ to business-critical.

Real experts needed

On the other side of the coin, decision-makers need expert advice and guidance right now, at a time when every business decision needs to be ultra-informed. The market is simply too competitive and volatile to be making blind or blinkered decisions. Instead, business leaders need specialist insights in order to make complex decisions. At the same time, budgets are tighter and unlikely to stretch to consultancy fees. Expert networks and niche micro-consulting opportunities bridge this gap.

Digital transformation creating opportunity

Simultaneously, the pandemic has elevated society’s acceptance of flexible, remote working. Making us more tech-savvy than before, more accepting of new ways of working and doing business. Indeed, Microsoft has found that the crisis has accelerated digital transformation by two years in just two months. It is likely that organizations are now more open to the idea of micro-consulting and outsourcing expertise than ever. 

The expert-driven era

The crisis has caused a resurrection in our reliance on expert-driven knowledge. We may have been in the post-truth era before, but in the post-Covid era, organizations that can leverage and offer the insights of their experts stand to prosper.

So, think of the expertise you have within your organization. What could happen if you leverage this to your customers via experts-on-demand and micro consulting?

As we traverse the next normal, we need experts more than ever. We need organizations to bring together experts and clients, in micro-consulting activities that lead us towards a better future. 

Go to the profile of Charles Thiede

Charles Thiede

CEO and Co-Founder, Zapnito Ltd.

My background is in technology, professional services and digital media. I co-founded Zapnito due to a number of related observations from my time in these sectors: 1) the social web is creating a huge amount of noise 2) expertise that brands have built up over decades is being drowned out and hidden from those that need it 3) these brands are therefore losing their audience to often undeserving and unhelpful sources, and 4) people are finding it harder to access the expertise that they truly value. I therefore decided to create Zapnito, a white-label platform to help trusted brands reclaim their audiences via expert-driven knowledge networks.

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