In the year 1996, when India just started opening up internet access to its citizens, I happened to join one of the first online CIO communities. It was a small group of about 100, with global representation, and it stayed that way for a long time. The community was promoted by an IT services company who mostly stayed off from influencing any discussion or attempt to sell. The moderators were professional and provoked thought from the community who responded with mirrored passion. With the dotcom boom, the community transferred ownership to an online giant with commercial interests; en mass the CIOs moved on and created their own community that continued to focus on learning.
Recent times have seen an explosion of online communities that are generic, specific, niche, community, profession, or domain based, and a lot of ‘me too’ with hopeful intent to provide many things to members. A few [of them] have become hot properties with stratospheric valuations and a large member-base. Corporates joined in to understand what the communities are saying about them or their competitors; some started targeted messaging with little success. Industries have mushroomed selling strategy, analytics, and a lot more from the mass of posts and unstructured data.
Consolidation is imminent
A shakeout has begun in this space, leaving the individual confused on the choices made; corporate entities are beginning to wonder how to generate revenue from all the investments made in the height of euphoria. Every intervention requires effort and resource commitment to bind the members. Whether you are an individual or an enterprise, how does one decide which community to join?
For individuals, the choice is largely made by following Connectors (Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell) within their groups or when friends invite them to join new communities with an expectation to stay in touch, to share knowledge, emotions, or happenings within their friends and family circles, and a lot more. As the numbers start stacking up over a period of time, the activity level falls off from most. The winning communities are the ones that offer a bit of something to everyone, freshness, content, features, etc.
Enterprises have followed the crowd and the hype around the communities with hope of understanding their customers, stakeholders, and influencers who potentially impact business outcomes, even if indirectly. ‘Crowd-sourcing’ and ‘networked innovation’ became the buzz words with significant investments pouring in. The few success stories added fuel to the fire. But a large amount of efforts has not yielded the desired outcome. Even though the starting point for most was Marketing or other functions with no ROI or business case, the online nature of such interactions put the CIO and IT in the middle of the discussion.
A reality check is needed
CIOs have struggled to moderate expectations and make sense of the noise. Combining these with the relatively clean, structured data remains a challenge, though multiple service providers and consultants tout the next level of competitive differentiation. These are early days where a lot of investment is a leap of faith or hit in the dark, until the haze lifts and clarity emerges, the worry for the enterprise is not to be left behind in the race to the unknown.
As for me, accepting every new invite that comes my way, I think, I will pass them for now and stick to a couple of them that offer me personal and professional connectivity. The direction for enterprise and peers remains: “keep a watch on the horizon, stay invested, but be focused on what matters.”