Tuesday, May 15, 2012

From communities to cohorts

Social networks are profoundly changing the nature of communications, dialogue and trust between clients and organisations. However businesses are failing to adapt to the disruptive nature of these developments, due to a continuing adherence to the recently adopted embracing of online communities.

Nowadays, people are much less likely to create distinctions between their social and professional contacts. As individuals, we no longer discriminate exclusively between them, and we’ll happily call on either if they’re useful.

As such, the exchange of information between the individuals within any specific personal network (cohort) is regarded as more trustworthy or actionable. If one person is recommended to do something by another in their network (even if it’s just, read this article) it’s more likely to happen than if the request comes from the source itself.

This change doesn’t sit well with existing ways of doing business, which rely on structure and organisation to work efficiently. Traditionally, it makes sense to split the marketplace into distinct areas (communities) and target them through marketing, business development and sales activity.

But targeting these structured groups matches less and less with the ways people choose to find, consume and interact with content. It makes no sense to continue targeting content at clients based on such a narrow definition of their interests on it is almost inevitably going to fail. Secondly, as we now pull information as and when it is pertinent, the push model of “pay-attention” marketing is invariably mistimed.

As digital consumers, we now choose both our sources of information and where and when we choose to interact with them. Therefore two people connected through a cohort, even indirectly, are more likely to respond to the recommendations or referrals they get through that network at their own behest.

Businesses have to understand this shift and change how they do things because the information they distribute is vital for business decisions. They need to distribute their information through cohorts rather than to communities.

This is the first of three lead articles on the topic. 

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