The Arrival of the Ultimate Thought Leadership Vehicle: Online Communities

 

Several consulting firms recently have asked for our opinion of their management journals.  All of them are well-written, graphically appealing, and chock full of articles. But beyond that, they all fall quite short today because the very model on which they are based is obsolete.  They are akin to the automobiles at the turn of the century that continued to use the horse-and-buggy and bicycle technologies that preceded them.

Every professional services and other B2B firm that we know continues to optimize a print-publishing model – the management journal pioneered in B2B circles by McKinsey in 1964 -- rather than a Web model.  The management journal model misses the mark today because of its severe limitations in two areas that are important to readers:

1. The ability to get deep insights on a narrow issue that are continually updated as new facets of the issue crop up
2. The ability to engage in a discussion on the issue – with the content provider and their peers

A management journal is a collection of static articles on multiple topics – articles that catch the attention of an audience for a limited time.  A PDF of a printed journal is little different. It’s only easier and less costly to distribute.

A topic microsite, as we’ve written about here and in several blog posts, is a collection of articles and other content on the same topic – a deep but narrow exploration that can be continually updated.  Because a topic microsite gives viewers the ability to comment on articles, blog posts and other content, an audience can contribute to the exploration of a complex issue.

An online community takes content depth and audience engagement to an even higher level. For peers in any profession, such a community can offer even greater depth on a number of common issues, simply by featuring several content-deep topic microsites.  An online community can offer an even greater ability to engage the audience through discussion forums and other group-think technologies.  The online community model is just starting to evolve for B2B companies, as our online community guru friends at Leader Networks have said.  Nonetheless, we see online communities as the ultimate business model evolution of the management journal.

That it’s taken 20 years since the invention of the World Wide Web in a Swiss particle physics lab for the management journal to morph into a much more useful form should be no surprise.  Technique always lags technology, as Texas Tech business professor Jim Wetherbe puts it.

It took more than a half century for the automobile industry to adopt tubeless tires.  Car manufacturers had essentially followed the bicycle model for tires, using inner tubes to fill tires with air. But that changed in 1946, more than 50 years later, when Goodrich patented the tubeless tire.  By the 1950s, tubeless tires were used en masse.

It’s time to bring big-time innovation to the management journal. Will we keep mechanizing the horse and buggy or do something radically different and far more engaging for readers? And who will be the first?

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