Turn Your Business Into a Community Building Platform

I believe the future of business and commitment building resides in the idea of viewing your business as a platform for your community.

The notion of a platform is one that receives a fair amount of play in various contexts.

An author is said to possess a platform when they have built a following. Consultants might work with a business owner to build a platform through speaking, writing, blogging and connecting in social media. And finally, many tech firms have built platforms by creating open source software, such as WordPress, that allows other 3rd party providers to build commerce and community on top of their framework.

Amazon sells lots of books, but in order to do that they needed to develop lots of file serving and storage capacity and get very, very good at delivering lightning quick web results in one of the highest traffic demand environments online.

Amazon took something that had little to do with their existing business, but which they had become incredibly proficient at, and created Amazon Web Services that allows thousands of business to build on the Amazon framework. I host and stream all of my product videos using Amazon S3 servers.

Airbnb is a community marketplace that allows property owners and travelers to connect with each other for the purpose of renting unique vacation spaces around the world. I use it frequently and love how simple the service is to use. Airbnb is built on Amazon Web Services and uses their database tools to build their community.

I would like to suggest that the notion of a platform is one that we can apply to almost any business.

What is a platform in this context?

A platform is a system that helps people create products, services, profits, businesses, communities, and networks of their own. The dynamics that must be present to create a platform environment are openness and collaboration.

So, the questions you need to ponder are:

  • How could you or your business act as a platform?
  • What could others build on top of your business or products?
  • How could you add more value through your platform approach?
  • How could you grow a network on your platform?
  • Are there other businesses that your platform could launch?
  • How could your community generate value for each other?
  • How could your platform learn from community members?
  • How could you create something open enough to attract your competitors?
  • What platforms already exist that you could build on?
  • Could you use your existing purpose, culture or community as a platform?
  • What could you acquire as a way to build a platform?
  • What could you extend as a way to build a platform?

When you start to think about your business in this manner you can move beyond the traditional applications of the term platform and blend platform type thinking into your business model, your culture and ultimately how you engage and communicate with your community.

Find your unique framework for openness

The key is to locate your unique framework as the foundation for the platform. Often times this requires thinking far outside of what your core business was designed to do and looking purely at things you can do, things you’ve gotten good at doing, even if they are simply things you do to support your core business.

AppleTree Answers is a call center business headquartered in Wilmington Delaware. The company has built a platform of sorts by figuring out how to change the paradigm of the call center culture. The company has received numerous awards for workplace excellence and is a frequent member of the Inc 500 and 5000.

AppleTree’s rapid growth then has come about by acquiring other small call centers and installing Appletree’s unique framework of openness. Appletree’s strong culture is the platform they’ve built all of their expansion on.

It’s all about building more value

A major dynamic of the platform component is value creation. No matter what your business does it will sink or swim based on the value (perceived or otherwise) it creates in someone’s life. This is extremely so when we talk about the community aspect of a platform.

Further, if you want to differentiate your business from others that are already providing value to a market, you’ve got to find a way to create more value as a competitive edge.

Many people default to adding features to products and services as a way to address value, but I think the real impact in value creation comes from strategically finding ways to add value in the way your business delivers a unique experience to its customer rather than through some sort of product enhancement.

The beauty of understanding value creation at the strategic level and then forcing that thinking into every tactical decision is that this is some of the most profitable work you can do. When a market comes to value what you have to offer as the “go to” choice you’re on your way to a premium pricing opportunity. People will pay dearly for an experience that helps them get more of what they want out of life.

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  • Philip Quintas

    Yes, our growth is about how we interact with and help each other.  It’s the “mutual” in mutually beneficial.

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      Amen Phillip

  • http://conversionchamp.com/ Adarsh Thampy

    While the idea of allowing someone to build on top of your framework is great, think from the other persons perspective. You are building your business based on another business. Whatever they decide to do with their business will impact you as well.

    For me, building on top of another business, is a huge business risk. Unless you have absolutely no other choice (or the other solution is completely free and open source), I’d never-ever recommend basing your business on another business.

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      You just need to expand how you’re thinking about this – what if you started a business and encouraged those that worked for you to innovate and create side businesses that supported your primary business and allowed them to do what they were destined to do – that would be okay wouldn’t it? Maybe you’re just one of those that needs to build something others can build on rather than the other way around. We need both.

      • http://conversionchamp.com/ Adarsh Thampy

        While what you are saying is true, look at many of the companies that built a business on top of Twitter. Twitter keeps making it more and more difficult for these companies to stay on business.

        When you build a business on top of another business, it’s always a gamble. Let’s take the case of WordPress. What if you build a premium theme business for wordpress and suddenly tomorrow WordPress decides not to allow premium themes and all should be open source? I am not sure about how practical that is or whether they would do that, but what if it’s possible?

        Take the case of Google. Many SEO guys (including me), rely on Google and religiously trying to study their algorithm changes to keep up with the trends. What if tomorrow they decide to offer SEO services on their own? (Not that they would do, but…)

        There are lot of examples that are really successful with the model you mention. Look at  Zynga. Their business model was solely built around Facebook when they launched. Then the premium theme market built around WordPress, Premium twitter apps built around Twitter and lot’s more.

        It’s definitely possible to succeed. But just as in any other case, there is a risk involved in this model.

        But as you said, WordPress would never have become successful without the community around it. Most people wouldn’t go to Facebook but for playing Mafia wars and Farmville.

        It’s a balanced ecosystem we need. I hope I made my point without coming off as offensive.

        Cheers :)

    • http://twitter.com/MRHYPERPCS Robert Greenawalt

       #agreed and I am by no means an expert. It may be somewhat more cost effective ie: no other choice. However the actions or failures of the one can dramatically affect the perceptions of you and yours whether intentional or not. Better to be responsible for your own successes or failures imho.

    • http://www.businessprosperitysecrets.com/ Stephanie Mojica

      I see your point of view, and agree. However, I think businesses can benefit from partnering with each other and exchanging referrals. 

  • http://twitter.com/MRHYPERPCS Robert Greenawalt

    John, unless I’m missing something here the remark how we interact and help each other is more of a business model remark (although very positive and accurate one)than one of agreement?. Adash as best as I can tell is referring to the liability of allowing it and again in my humble opinion his argument appears sound. The people we hired are there to support the primary business that is their function, if you want to expand and create a second business you can do that and hire people to manage that business. It’s companies that try to diverse and re-design their employees scopes of work daily who have the most unhappiest employees and that attitude gets expressed to your customers and looses them. There isn’t anything mutually or diverse in rethinking an established and sound concept of business. Do the job you do best, hire people to do what they do best and do it.

  • http://twitter.com/MRHYPERPCS Robert Greenawalt

    Amazon, the company you modeled this concept around created data centers because they could afford to and because it was more cost effective and practical. They now market those centers because they reflect state of the art facilities and can afford to market them. They didn’t allow anyone to build upon their platform? They built facilities capable of sustaining not only their needs but with enough storage to support the needs of other small businesses which they would most certainly prefer you help pay for rather than pay for them themselves.
    Amongst there other obvious accomplishments they are now web hosts as well plain and simple. The fact their name is associated with it just makes it all the more marketable. People with money can afford to be diverse John, and the mutuality of it can only be determined by ROI vs.cost and whether it’s Amazon your paying or some other hosting company is irrelevant. In conclusion I wanted to ask a question of you if I may please? Did you honestly think that being one of the largest online retailers on the planet wouldn’t have a need for servers? re: “They took something that had little to do with their business”? Really?
    I think blogs are a great opportunity to share thoughts,opinions and links but I don’t mind telling you in this instance that was a lengthy article for a single link or two pardon me without a single shred of merit. Feel free to delete the comment if you like, I just thought it was important to voice my disappointment hopefully without loosing a friend and mentor.   

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      Robert I never mind people disagreeing with me as long as that’s what they are actually doing. The “concept” as you call it not modeled at all around Amzon – I simply used them as they are an acknowledged platform.

      They have nothing to do with the point I was making and I could take that reference out completely.

      Use this example – a small law firm gets very good at internal planning and documenting efficient processes. While these have nothing to do with practicing law they decide they could benefit their small business clients in other ways so they begin to teach process development as a service for their community and allow their clients to use the internal tools they’ve developed.

      That’s the point of platform thinking – it really doesn’t have anything to do with the ability to create huge data centers.

  • http://twitter.com/neicolec Neicole Crepeau

    I think in the right circumstance, this is a great idea. It’s the kind of social offer that you might end up developing as you look at your business goals and your customers needs, or your larger business ecosystem. I actually just suggested something similar to a friend who started a wheel repair business that is struggling. I wondered if he could be a middleman in sales between customers, doing a kind of consignment business but acting as the quality control or doing repairs before selling. It might give him greater visibility of his website, WOM, and some of the people he helped to purchase used wheels might come back for repairs. Unconventional methods can present new opportunities.

  • Larry Bowditch

    This is a fantastic post John. By answering the questions you asked connected to platforms I came up with ideas that are certain to add value to the people and businesses I serve and to generate valuabualbe exchanges to me as well. I have been thinking about how to use the “creative mind” to co-create my business success along with creating successes for others. Building on platforms is the natural and logical way to do that. The examples you cited are great models of the principles you are teaching.
    Thanks for sharing your viewpoints with us.
    This is valuable knowledge.

  • http://www.kangahosting.com.au/ Business web hosting

    Terrific post!! Be Creative for successful business person.