CMR as a Precursor of VRM

May 28, 2009

Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) is a term used by Doc Searls and other members of ProjectVRM to distinguish market relationships between vendors and consumers where the latter gain increased control over that commercial relationship. Building on the VRM concept, Jeremiah Owyang recently noted that VRM offers a potential future for public relations agencies in which the future of PR is in representing communities rather than brands. As Doc recently declared,

We therefore resolve to avoid all relationships in which the privileges of loyalty are determined entirely by the seller, and to construct new terms and means of engagement that will work in mutually constructive ways for both customers and sellers, for the good of all.

 So, in the spirit of the Declaration of Customer Independence recently outlined by Doc, I offer the following turn of the century anecdote for thinking about Customer Managed Relationships (CMR).

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Social Software, Community, and Organization: Where Practice Meets Process

September 18, 2008

Ross Mayfield of SocialText recently pointed to a longstanding issue involving the relationship of organizational practices and organizational processes. He offered a discussion of distributed collaboration and community, specifically on the question of which organizational stakeholder is the most effective leader of community (internal and external) initiatives. Ross suggests that even though we may see the emergence of a Chief Community Officer to align and coordinate internal and external communities, communities are more likely to arise around organizational processes as 360 degree process communities.

In my view, approaching distributed collaboration from the standpoint of community alone, especially communities internal to the enterprise, is overly restrictive. Collective understanding and collaborative understanding, as Thomas Vander Wahl makes clear, are different parts of what he refers to as the social sofware stack. Without getting overly picky, let me agree with Ross’ point that the development of internal communities in enterprises will most likely occur around the way process owners manage routine work and its exceptions. Nevertheless, the distinction Ross makes, following Mike Gotta, about the difference between processes (how work is supposed to get done) and practices (how work actually gets done) really indicates a need to keep in focus the range of connections and interactions that social software enables.

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How Not to Build a Customer Community

May 15, 2008

I’ve discussed the importance of customer communities to innovation, customer experience, and customer dialogue as an antidote to self-orientation by companies. David Weinberger recently posted about the Community 2.0 conference, pointing out the Starbucks suggestion box as a good example of customer community. David also pointed approvingly to the arms-length participation of Tivo in the independent forum,, speaking to the point that communities of customers often form on their own.

Coincidentally, I received an email recently soliciting me to join a community of Best Buy customers. I’m not an especially enthusiastic customer of Best Buy, but since CompUSA closed its doors in St. Louis, most of my electronic purchases are at Best Buy. The first thing I took note of in the invitation was its blatant point that Best Buy is selecting members for its community. The email stated:

If you are selected to join the online community, you will discuss and share opinions on a variety of topics, react to questions posed by Best Buy and provide insight into your lifestyle. In addition, you will build rewarding friendships with other members, and receive periodic rewards in exchange for your participation. This is a unique opportunity for you to share your thoughts and ideas with Best Buy – only about three hundred people will be chosen.

To see if you qualify, please click on the link below to complete a 10-minute questionnaire.

The email solicitation sparked my curiosity and I clicked on the links to check out the survey it requires you to complete before learning whether you qualify. At the end of a lengthy sequence of questions, I learned that I just don’t fit into their community plans. Probably because I didn’t answer all the questions, such as what is your family income and other fairly personal items. It seems obvious to me that Best Buy doesn’t really want a community. Rather, they are selecting people for the equivalent of an online focus group representing one marketing segment. I’d suggest Best Buy rethink its strategy.

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