Customer Competencies, Co-Creation, and Brand Communities

October 20, 2009
Courtesy of Wonderfully Complex's photostream on flickr.

Courtesy of Wonderfully Complex’s photostream on flickr.

Word of mouth communities and networks using social software are increasingly spread over regional, national, and international borders, making them much more important to those who market branded products and services, online and off. The recent buzz around the concept of social business points to the growing importance of social networks and communities to the evolution of business practice. Whether companies are in fact closing the community gap or the engagement gap remains an open question though.

As Rachael Happe of the Community Roundtable notes in commentary on the Community Maturity Model:

in the stages before a company becomes truly networked, metrics are isolated to supporting one business process vs. in a networked business the whole business becomes social and the communities are set up to support cross-functional goals.

In other words, customer communities approaching maturity produce value for the business, or organizational enterprise, rather than only a specific functional area — such as research and development, product management, customer support, or marketing. Rachel’s overall point receives validation in a recent article in the September (2009) issue of the Journal of Marketing that reports on long term ethnographic research on brand communities by Professors Hope Jensen Schau, Albert M. Muniz, Jr., and Eric J. Arnould, “How Brand Community Practices Create Value .”  The most interesting thought in the article for me is their point that customer competencies are a valuable resource for building co-creation opportunities in brand communities.

Unlike earlier discussions of customer competence, Schau, Muniz, and Arnould contend trying to co-opt customer competencies is the wrong strategy. Rather, their research findings suggest community management benefits from developing opportunities for customers to grow their competencies with the brand. They make it clear that their research indicates,

Companies wishing to encourage co-creation should foster a broad array of practices, not merely customization.” In other words, don’t try to keep the community focus only on what benefits the brand as you define it. The important point to keep in mind when discussing value in brand communities is that members create value for themselves through producing cultural capital distinguishing their status relative to the community, aside from the ROI and business value gained by the company owning the brand. Making sure members are provided opportunities to grow their competencies encourages them to reinvest their cultural capital in the brand community.

I discussed co-creation in several posts this past year in relation to eLearning 2.0 generally as well as Nokia and, back in 2005, its overall importance to the challenge of creating successful innovation, including the relevance of customer communities to innovation outcomes. The concept of customer competencies captures the overall significance of co-creation for efforts to produce value through engaging customers. However, Schau, Muniz, and Arnould offer the additional insight that the competencies critical to brand communities are developed through community practices. By practice they mean the linked, implicit way people understand, say, and do things. The term is further used to refer to the activities, performances, and representations (video, graphics, etc.) or talk of community members.  

Experience designers can use the concept of customer competencies  to inform choices about how to manage practices in customer communities.
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Scalable Learning and Learnscapes in Social Business Design

August 10, 2009

 learnscapeAbout a month ago I read What Would Andrew Do?, an unbook by Jay Cross and friends. I’ve mentioned Jay’s work in previous posts dealing with elearning 2.0 and collaboration in informal learning. In particular, its important to remember that focusing on informal learning doesn’t mean we must disregard the relevance of formal learning because learning is never 100% formal or informal.

However, the term scalable learning probably does require a bit of clarification. After all, isn’t elearning supposed to scale to the size of the learning group and remain available when they need it, where they need it, as long as they are connected to the Web? Well, yes–and it does pretty much. Nevertheless, instructional designers too often fail to incorporate emergent learning requirements of the organization, the enterprise, into  their learning architecture largely because the approaches used to evaluate learning content (whether elearning, blended, or instructor-led) do not incorporate assumptions about the larger ecosystem’s need for the co-creation of knowledge.

The concern for whether the learner is exposed to every thread of content in every course, and assessed for mastery of the information, tends to predominate design thinking about learning, and for compliance training sometimes this is required.  However, too often, instructional design fails to focus on whether the learning scales to support the learner’s ability on-the-job to recognize a problem as a particular kind of problem, much less provide the ability to find the learning content that provides a solution.

I don’t intend to delve here into the minutiae of distinction possible between types of learning. Suffice it to say that when a learning architecture supports all types of learning along the range of formal, non-formal, and informal experience, it must design formal learning in small enough chunks to serve as resources for non-formal and informal learning activities. It also means that the knowledge created using non-formal learning (whether mentored or accomplished in collaboration with peers), or informal learning taken on its own, needs to become a performance resource in developing new formal learning content.

Jay contends that the performance challenges facing organizations are most aptly conceptualized as a learnscape, a concept initially articulated by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid. In the August 2009 issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine, Jay offers the following synopsis.

Learnscapes are the factory floor of knowledge organizations. The “scape” part underscores the need to deal at the level of the learning environment or ecology…The “learn” part highlights the importance of baking the principles of sound learning into that environment rather than leaving it to chance.

 John Hagel sees learnscapes as part of a global transformation of industrial society that he, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison call the Big Shift: the move from institutions designed for scalable efficiency to institutions designed for scalable learning. Hagel’s thinking is relevant since, as I explain below, Jay uses the Push/Pull distinction to demarcate formal and informal learning. The basic insight is conveyed by Hagel, Brown, and Davison in their thoughts on Measuring the Big Shift:

Companies must move beyond their fixation on getting bigger and more cost-effective to make the institutional innovations necessary to accelerate performance improvement as they add participants to their ecosystems, expanding learning and innovation in collaboration curves and creation spaces. Companies must move, in other words, from scalable efficiency to scalable learning and performance. Only then will they make the most of our new era’s fast-moving digital infrastructure.

The participants that Hagel, Brown, and Davison refer to consist of consumers, customers, partners, and employees using social media to talk about, talk to, and engage the products and services, i.e. brands, that an enterprise markets. Don’t misunderstand the focus on performance in the discussion of scalable learning. It isn’t about the traditional focus on efficiency, pursuing ever leaner processes for the sake of officially recognized best practices. Rather, the focus is on creating the knowledge needed to adapt to emergent challenges and manage the flow of that adaptation through the enterprise’s ecosystem. For learning architecture it begins with understanding the importance of keeping the focus on distinctions between push and pull learning.

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SharePoint is not Enterprise 2.0 or Social Networking

March 18, 2009
social_stack1

Social Software Stack

The title for this post is drawn from a recent assessment of SharePoint 2007 offered on Thomas Vander Wal’s bog, Personal InfoCloud. Thomas’ post, as always, offers a unique point of view on what Enterprise 2.0 consists and, specifically, how SharePoint measures up. He isn’t offering his own formal assessment as much as reporting the stories clients and potential clients shared with him over the past couple of years. The social software stack, in particular the difference between collective understanding and collaborative understanding, frames Vander Wal’s perspective.

Given SharePoint’s widespread use, and the growing interest in applying social media applications to collaboration challenges in organizations, Thomas’ discussion deserves wider attention. His overall impression is well summarized in the following point.

SharePoint does some things rather well, but it is not a great tool (or even passable tool) for broad social interaction inside [the] enterprise related to the focus of Enterprise 2.0. SharePoint works well for organization prescribed groups that live in hierarchies and are focussed on strict processes and defined sign-offs. Most organizations have a need for a tool that does what SharePoint does well.

This older, prescribed category of enterprise tool needs is where we have been in the past, but this is not where organizations are moving to and trying to get to with Enterprise 2.0 mindsets and tools. The new approach is toward embracing the shift toward horizontal organizations, open sharing, self-organizing groups around subjects that matter to individuals as well as the organization. These new approaches are filling gaps that have long existed and need resolution.

In other words, SharePoint works well for situations in which defined groups need to reach a collaborative understanding of project requirements, their role in achieving those objectives, and what success means for the project. It works less well in providing resources allowing people across the enterprise, and across teams or departments, to discover connections with others and develop social relationships for networking together in ways that meet both personal and organizational challenges.

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eLearning 2.0, Social Media, and Co-Creation of Learning Content

December 29, 2008

openbook2As a previous post noted, assessing the business value of instructional design involves more than measuring the contribution of formal training to Level 3 and Level 4 outcomes defined in the Kirkpatrick model. Training professionals also need to understand and support informal learning processes, on-the-job and off, that enhance performance.  Most of the learning that produces business value occurs informally, dealing with exceptions to formal business processes, yet most of the attention paid to learning is focused on formal training.

One can reasonably say that Web 2.0 applications, such as social software and social media, are changing the relationships between instructional designers and subject matter experts much like those between customer communities and product designers. Both increasingly involve situations of co-creation.

The emerging recognition of eLearning 2.0’s importance to enhancing collaboration and performance means that training professionals, especially instructional designers, can add value to their employer/client’s business by learning to facilitate and manage the co-creation of learning content with employees, or even customers. Anyone experienced in instructional design in recent years is familiar with the general challenge of co-creation whenever they use information content for course design ( slide shows, documents, etc.) that subject matter experts originally created as a resource for a presentation. The presentation content too often is substituted for observation and in-depth interviewing as a first step in analysis. 

Such Rapid eLearning, though shifting content development toward the subject matter expert’s control, maintains the traditional role of training in incorporating design principles. The process of co-creation in eLearning 2.0, on the other hand, shifts control over development and distribution of learning content toward subject matter experts willing and able to share what they know, especially when they see other people who need to solve familiar problems.

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Informal Learning, Collaboration, and the Kirkpatrick Model

December 22, 2008
kirkpatrick1

Kirkpatrick Model

I recently attended a meeting of the St. Louis Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) to listen to a presentation on the Kirkpatrick model of training assessment, offered by Jim Kirkpatrick, the son of the model’s creator — Don Kirkpatrick. Jim’s major point was that most training departments fail to measure learning outcomes at Levels 3 and 4 of the model. Without detailing the Kirkpatrick model’s four levels of analysis, the following are Jim’s definitions:

Reaction: involves what training participants thought of the training

 Learning: the knowledge, skills, and attitudes gained through the training

Behavior: the degree participants apply what they learned on the job

Results: the business results gained

Suffice it to say that the model provides a unique framework on how to assess the  learning outcomes of training. However, practitioners are prone to overlook a key issue in measuring learning. I previously noted the following about the Kirkpatrick model.

It is not a stretch to contend that Level 4 measurement is as much about organizational learning and change management as it is about individual learning. In the e-Learning Guild survey on measurement practices, Roy Pollock characterizes this situation as the “Catch-22” for training and development. He notes that, “assessment of on-the-job application and results is as much or more an assessment of the transfer climate…as it is of the quality of the instruction” (p. 167).

Based on what I heard from Jim Kirkpatrick as well as Nick Denardo, a presenter from Edward Jones’ strategic learning services group, the point about organizational learning also applies to Level 3 measurement, to the extent that existing organizational practices either facilitate or impede application of competencies and sharing of knowledge learned from formal training, whether on-the-job, or just informally

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E-Learning 2.0 and Employee Access to Social Network Sites

September 26, 2008

Peter Kim offers an interesting observation on the way social networking relates to the qualities of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon and the insight offered by Michel Foucault that Bentham’s design served as an exemplar for organizational discipline in the industrial age. Peter notes that Bentham’s design made prisoners uncertain whether the prison guards were watching their behavior at any particular moment. He also points out that the design of modern cube farms in offices not only foster collaboration but also afford observation by managers and peers.

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