August 2011
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Day 08/30/2011

Hi there. I'm a Partner at Undercurrent, where I lead a team focused on helping ambitious organizations operate in ways that are beneficial to all their users.

Integrated Loyalty: Creating Collective Action

Part two of five in a series about loyalty. Breaking it down! Come back tomorrow, yes? – Clay

One of the big, important pieces of my approach to marketing strategy (more on that next week) is a belief that brands should do really amazing things for people. This can take the form of a delightful piece of short-format cinema, or it could be some interesting interconnected system of digital things.

But if we’re talking about things on the internet – and what doesn’t fall into that category in some way? – ultimately those things should be designed to create action. But like most things that reverberate in the strategy twittersphere, “designed to create action” is pretty easy to agree to.

It’s the “How?” question that’s really difficult to answer.

Dueling Approaches
Our dear leader, Aaron, has a great book on getting people to do things that they might not necessarily want to do, or that they don’t have the skills to do on their own. I’ve seen this done exceptionally well, but it’s definitely an advanced move.

In my experience, success comes from aligning the thing you want people to do with something people are already doing. For me, it’s the easy pickings, the foundation upon which everyone should be building.

Sidebar: Ad Spending
To that end, I’ll never recommend buying an ad on a site where people just read shit, even if that shit is wonderful, engaging and superbly written shit. If it’s a place where people go to DO things? Yeah, give them all your (ad) money.

Last year, my delightful and brilliant colleague Mike Arauz put together something he called the Community-Centered Collective Action Design Framework (CCCADF?), a synthesis of the following:

These four things are why people “play”, but in my mind, they’re why people do anything they don’t have to do. We use this all the time. Mix one part of the above with…

These are from a paper about why people use Threadless, (PDF) and are pretty spot-on. Add to that some core elements from MIT research on collective intelligence, and you get…

Click the image to enlarge.

The Collective Action Design framework is, to me, the fundamental tool that strategists should use to test and validate their recommendations when those recommendations hinge on creating action in a group of people. Nice work, Mike.

It’s pretty straightforward to use: do your homework, and fill in all the bubbles.

Sidebar: Interest vs. Demographic Groups
Demographics and psychographics are tough. I’m not sure they do much of anything in the digital world. So when it comes to answering the “who” question, work on defining the thing that holds the community together. On the internet, “Who” is defined by interest and nothing else.

Need a glossary? Here you go, stolen from Mike’s post on the topic:

What is the shared interest that brings these people together and defines their collective identity? (Hint: the answer is not “our brand”)

What is an aspect of our world that this community would be inspired to help change? (Hint: it can be big or small, as long as it’s a specific outcome that is inspiring to the community)

What are the beliefs that guide this community’s decisions? (Hint: look at the kinds of information that strengthen bonds between members and gives members status within the group)

What are the common modes of interaction and communication within the community? (Hint: pay closer attention to what people do, than to the platforms that enable it)

Goal: What specific collective action is the group contributing to?
Create – the group needs to create something new
Decide – the group needs to choose

Participants: Who is the group of people who will be working together?
Crowd – a loosely organized, widely distributed group of people, typically unrestrained by place or time
Hierarchy – a group organized by a management structure, with specific roles and responsibilities for each participant

Motivations: Why will each person within this network be compelled to participate?
Money – in exchange for a monetary reward
Glory – for the opportunity to gain public recognition
Expertise – to hone their skills and get better at what they do
Social – to spend time with people they like
Satisfying work – the feeling of accomplishing meaningful tasks
Be part of something bigger – the sense that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves
Personal passion – because this is something that they love to do

Tools/Methods: How will the group be enabled to participate?
Collection – each participant contributes in small pieces on their own
Contest – used when there is a limit on how much needs to be created
Collaboration – used when individual contributions necessarily affect each other
Voting – each participant votes for their favorite choice, most votes wins
Averaging – each participant rates independently, and the aggregate ratings are averaged for a final rating
Consensus – participants engage in direct dialogue with each other to agree on a precise outcome
Prediction Market – participants place bets on what they expect to happen
Market – participants spend money to express their choices
Social Network – participants trade in social currency to guide and express their choices

This is a model, and as such it’ll break sometimes, but in my usage it works more than it doesn’t.

So, what to do with all this? And who’s doing it well?

There are a few companies doing collective action well, but by and large their efforts are disconnected from their customer masters on the back end. And if the company is doing collective action really well, it’s likely that they’re a born-digital company that has CRM/Loyalty built in to the soul of the company (Quirky, Foursquare, OkCupid, Amazon, etc.)

So how about an old fogey doing well in the new world?

Amex + Flyertalk = Top Flyer

This is great. Or at least, mostly great.

If I were an airline, I’d be doing what American Express is doing with the Flyertalk forums, where participation in Top Flyer group discussions earns you points, and the top point earner gets Membership Rewards points or cash. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to log in to Flyertalk with my Delta SkyMiles number and rack up points for participating.

The Top Flyer activation probably shouldn’t be its own forum and could be more complex in its scoring mechanisms, but…

  • It’s well-connected to the interests of the group (improving travel experiences)
  • It creates some interesting hierarchy structures that absolutely align to the way forums work (mods, etc. …this could be blown out more, though)
  • It would be nice if it weren’t just about “travel know-how” and was more about making decisions for a company (which is why an airline would be perfect for this)
  • Its tools and methods are exactly aligned with what’s already happening on Flyertalk

Focus on Action and Connect the Tubes
All of that was a long way of saying two things: when it comes to loyalty, you should focus your digital efforts on creating engagement that’s built on existing motivations, interests, behaviors, and tools; those efforts should connect back to a customer master so you can incentivize valuable behaviors.

Otherwise, two things are happening.

  • You’re buying impressions and you really ought to be buying something more efficient for that.
  • You’re creating action for action’s sake, which is cool engagement but inherently disconnected from the sale.

Both of which are a bummer, right?

Comments appreciated. See you tomorrow, loyal readers.