When I write about customer conversations I hold the memory not just of my experiences, but those of the customer service professionals I've had the privilege of working with and meeting during my career. It's only fair to make the conversation balanced from the start. This is very personal.
In August 2000, a group of 101 passionate, vocal, curious, interested people gathered in Denver, Colorado for what is to this day the most remarkable community @ work experience I've ever had. Consider that my education was based on group-work from a very early age. It was the defining moment on community.
For me to explain on this blog how one creates a community - which I will do in the coming weeks - I need to start from this moment in time. What I'm about to share is probably the simplest and most influential manifesto on community I've read to date. It was penned by Alan Webber and Bill Taylor, founding editors of Fast Company magazine.
Community.Most magazines think of themselves as publications. We think of Fast Company as a movement. Most magazines think of their readers as customers. We think of Fast Company readers as members of a community. Most magazines aspire to nothing more than maximum circulation. Our main aspiration at Fast Company is simple: Serving as trusted agent, we want to help as many people as possible play and win in the new economy.
To do that we must be as inclusive as possible, as welcoming as possible, and as supportive as possible And ultimately, we must introduce as many like-minded people as possible to each other so that, as a community, we can help each other live smarter, better, and more-satisfying work lives. We must work with, talk with, and listen to the Company of Friends - one of the most amazing grassroots organizations in the history of publishing. CoF takes the promise of the new economy and the heart of Fast Company - and makes it real. Its slogan could easily be: "We're all friends here. We just haven't been introduced yet." By joining together in communities and companies around the world, the CoF spreads the ideas and practices that are the taproot of the new economy.
How will the new economy evolve?
How will CoF grow and change over time?
How can Fast Company continue to spark valuable, instructive, and important conversations among the members of this rapidly growing community?
Together we'll find out! And the movement will continue to spread.
The Company of Friends (CoF) was supposed to have broken the mold of business as usual in magazine publishing. In 2002, the community counted 165 local groups in 35 countries for a total of 42,000 members (some say 44,000, I prefer to be conservative on the numbers). Thanks to the ability to meet each other online and off line, CoF members over the years have:
- gotten jobs (in Philadelphia we still have a thriving Career Transitions group that meets regularly)
- found employees
- started companies together
- built a social network in record time when moving to a new city
- obtained publishing contracts
- even got married with people met through the network
But it wasn't just beneficial to members. The magazine benefited from the connections - often members brought their friends and colleagues at events who did not know about or read Fast Company, thus helping gain new subscribers and fans. Our events with Wharton Business School, LeBow College of Business, and Fox School of Business were attended by CEOs and executive vice presidents - they were at that level.
We had a good mix of in person events and online discussions. It does sound a lot like the conversations we're having on social media today, doesn't it? Pity that Fast Company ultimately decided it wanted to be a magazine, just when the rest of the world was starting to vote in favor of community.
Reclaiming that place and consideration after inattention and neglect is a hard task indeed. Especially since many of the curators and known community members have moved on to other communities - and, ironically, other publications.
This is very personal because I was there - in Denver, and in the capacity of community curator - and so were most of the Fast Company editorial teams and many of the people I consider mentors. Bill Strickland (also see this post), Mike Abrashoff, Craig Newmark, Amy Jo Kim, and Dan Hanson. It worked because the idea was to join together and make something happen.
Why wouldn't your service providers do that? Why wouldn't they learn to work together? This is the question we're exploring today at Fast Company expert blog. The companies that will figure out how to do that will be getting ahead even in tight economic times.
If there is one promise that can be fulfilled is that of people taking the time to speak with other people so they can solve customer problems and elevate the customer experience. Does your FriendFeed work with your Twitter, with your blog RSS, with your bookmarking services? The tools are there. Can the people get on board? What do you think?