it's a relationship


How to build a network (rocket ship not required)

February 1, 2012

So you’re trying to build a network to engage your community.
Where do you start?
And what do you need to be successful?

First, define your community. Is it your internal stakeholders? Your customers? Or a group even larger than that? Remind yourself that you’re acting as part of that community; find that all-important intersection of needs and wants. You’ll give yourself a huge head start with this mindset.

That said, communities are loose-knit and self-identifying, which means you won’t be able to ask everyone what they want before you take action. The good news: network theory shows that communities appreciate honesty and reward good intentions. Even if your idea isn’t 100% on the money, if you’re acting from a place of sincerity, purpose and progress, odds are good that the community will embrace you anyway.

Finally, there is the network structure:
Motivation – an inspiring goal that feeds the emotional needs of your community
Incentive – a big-picture vision that justifies peoples’ desire to participate
Transaction – the mechanism that enables participation, be it a contest, stated goal, etc
Reward – public recognition and/or monetary compensation

Let’s look at an example. The X Prize was driven by pure desire. People were motivated to solve the challenge of sending a rocket into space because it was a way to fulfill a childhood dream. X Prize founder Peter Diamandis understood this because he had always wanted to be an astronaut himself. And what he found when he started asking members of his community – in this case, billionaires – is that they did, too.

Of course, he also knew that pioneering a citizen-run space program would be a powerful business incentive for these lifelong entrepreneurs.

So the motivation was to fulfill a childhood dream.
The incentive was to start a highly profitable market of space tourism.
The transaction was a prize – a race to send a rocket into orbit twice within 48 hours.

Peter intuited his community’s needs and wants, lined those up against their motivations, and created a very powerful incentive structure (the ability to go to market). But he also knew that people needed a reward ($10M). It costs a lot of time and money to send a rocket into space twice in two days; in fact, the winner spent approximately $20 million. But it didn’t matter because he wanted to have this experience so badly, and it was worth it to his investors (Paul Allen and Richard Branson) because they could see the business opportunity. So those incentives and rewards balanced out the hurdles of participating.

On top of all that, the winning team is now famous. They lived their dream of going to space, recouped 50% of their investment, and are now publicly recognized as the industry leaders. The model of rising from idle billionaire to one who is revolutionizing the world – from citizen scientist to groundbreaking rocket ship builder – it’s wild. It captures people’s excitement.

And at the end of the day, that’s the real goal. You don’t need a rocket ship to do it. You just need a thoughtful approach and the right network structure.
Photo: Mayhem

How to build a network (rocket ship not required)

Charlie Brown

CEO & Founder


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