Why community is the foundation of co-creation and innovation

A headshot of Steve Denning

by Steve Denning

An illustration of people-like figured being connected with lines and circles. In the background are lightbulbs and diamonds.

If you are looking to co-create with your customers, as opposed to crowdsourcing, then you likely already know of the number 1 rule of co-creation: that you need to form and sustain a community.

Putting the ‘co’ in co-creation means innovating in a joint, collaborative environment. There must be two-way communication, and the collaboration must be ongoing. Successful co-creation is a long-term game, not a short-term ideas contest or a publicity stunt. It requires a strategy to engage customers for continuous participation.

It also takes a real sense of community, technology that enables relationships to form, an environment that fosters reciprocity and a variety of things to do/participate in.

How to Get Started

If you’re overwhelmed by that checklist, never fear! At Chaordix, we help our clients lay the groundwork to form a community where members feel that they are truly part of the innovation process. If they’re going to co-create with the organization, they must feel that they’re among peers.

Read Next: The benefits of co-creation

The early days of a brand community can be tough because it is during this phase that it is essential to form a community, as opposed to a crowd. You cannot simply bring people together and expect them to innovate on the spot. You must nurture the community in order to innovate. The Collective Genius framework says that “Innovation demands a community that is willing and able to do the hard work of innovation.”

It’s All About Culture

The willingness of a community to innovate together lies in the culture that you build with its members. McMillan & Chavis’ Sense of Community Theory (1986) outlined four elements essential to the development and maintenance of a healthy sense of community:

  • Membership - feeling of belonging or of sharing a sense of personal relatedness
  • Influence - a sense of mattering, of making a difference to a group and the group mattering to its members
  • Reinforcement - integration and fulfillment of needs; feeling that members’ needs will be met by the resources received through their membership in the group
  • Shared emotional connection - the commitment and belief that members have shared and will share history, common places, time together and similar experiences

Build It and They Will (Not Necessarily) Come

The above four elements take care of the culture part of co-creation. Brands must nurture their relationship with members (in this case, superfans) to make them feel like they are part of a community – not a group. And although fans are very familiar with the brand, organizations must also work to make sure that the co-creation platform they choose is a natural extension of the brand.

In co-creation, “build it and they will come” does not apply. Your brand culture must extend to your community’s culture because trust is paramount to your fans wanting to co-create with your brand.

The second part of co-creation according to the Collective Genius framework, which is the ability to innovate, necessitates developing a strategy, building a framework and using technology that will encourage the flow of ideas. To build a strong, continuously engaged community for innovation you need:

  • Variety & frequency of activities
  • Structured activities to orient and build trust
  • Nurtured discussions – led by the brand
  • Unstructured discussions – led by the community

These four points take care of the capability part of co-creation. In a brand community, members are encouraged to fully participate in a meaningful way. Compared to social media accounts, where brands can talk at their fans and have very few chances for collaboration, fans are given opportunities to be part of the process.

Don't Miss: 6 key areas for co-creation and brand collaboration

The brand community should look and feel like the social platforms we’re used to and encourage repeat visits and participation/interactions – you know, like how you just keep checking your Twitter for news and exciting content!

The platform should enable your brand to provide personalized activities, recommendations and a regularly updated feed of content and things to do in a co-creative community that understands members’ preferences/interests, ideally following a practical workflow for creativity. It is also best to showcase submitted ideas in a news feed format so you never miss a good idea to support, engage with and capture.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

In order to create an environment that encourages creativity and participation, you must first take the time to let the group you have gathered develop into a community. How can you do this? By providing outlets for your members not only to express their creativity, but also to form relationships with each other, and to let them discover their shared values, mission and purpose. Here’s a no-brainer: interaction is key to transforming a group into a community – without it, the community will not be sustainable.

The Secret Sauce = Culture + Capability

Culture and capability create the conditions that encourage the community to come together and innovate: from coming up with new concepts or solutions, to sharing insights with one another. A community that is always on, engaged and trusting will be willing to collaborate with each other.

You May Also Like: Ultimate guide to product co-creation

Members of a true community will find the environment to be a safe space where they feel free to share direct concepts and tacit insights that your organization’s designers can draw from. A true community will also yield these benefits:

  • Data Quality - Trust, reciprocity, honesty and openness lead to high-quality data
  • Reduced Attrition - Members willingly make return visits to the community and invest time and effort, and even make friends in the process
  • Insights - the community is a great snapshot of your customers, providing data, deep perspective and rich segmentation
  • Content - Members identify with and trust with your brand; they also have an emotional connection with it, so they provide authentic contributions
  • Ambassadors - Fans feel valued by the brand, so they have a sense of ownership of the community, helping to police the community, give referrals, share outcomes and ultimately buy what they helped create

Organizations that take on co-creation start with a goal – and when they bring other people together to fulfill that goal, their shared purpose becomes the basis of the community.

Innovation is not easy, but when a community truly comes together, they become driven to do what it takes to innovate.

Want to learn more about what communities are capable of? Check out our customer stories!

This website is not optimized for Internet Explorer.

For the best experience, please use a newer browser such as Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.