The best thing about the move to closer relationships between businesses and their customers is the ability to disintermediate the myriad of middlemen that characterise traditional commerce. This interest isn’t purely intellectual – in one of my other lives I own and help run a business that (gasp) manufacturers real products in (bigger gasp) a first world (ie not Asian sweat shop) country.
We’re always looking at ways of bringing ourselves closer to our consumers, allowing them to take part in the design process and, in essence, become co-creators of the products we make.
Ponoko is a company with similar aims, it’s also one which is in keeping with the theme of CloudAve. Ponoko however takes the "data in the clouds" ethos and interfaces it with the physical world enabling, in their words, the move from "bits to atoms".
Ponoko is a three way marketplace – it’s a shop where consumers can find designer crafted goods, it’s a directory where consumers can find a designer to crate something specifically for them and it’s a platform for procreators to create something for themselves.
Having explained what Ponoko actually is, I wanted to get to the thrust of this post. Like other Start Ups, Ponoko understands that bringing together consumers and creators, while making for a potentially successful business, also brings along a number of obligations – most importantly the obligation to listen to their stakeholders, react to those stakeholder demands and regards the place they’ve built as a community space as much as a business space.
Social media company iJump recently interviewed the Ponoko community manager John Lewis about the role of community manager for a web-business.
What really interested me in this post was the obvious, but somewhat shifting tension between the two sides of a community manager’s role. On the one hand they’re the face of the business – pushing the business line, evangelising the service and so on. On the other however they’re the business facing advocate for the users – at times forced to be the internal critic so that their own stakeholders, their user community, feel that their community manager is actually empowering them within the business.
Check out the video below;
Yet again watching this video reminded me that my personal contention will come to bear. I honestly believe that the day of the corporation is over. Big business is simply too slow to react, too bureaucratic and sufficiently lacking in agility to react to the tectonic marketplace shifts that are occurring.
The recent Motrin debacle, while very much a storm in a teacup, highlights just how out of touch big business is. I’ve posted previously about the perils of big business and agility projects – watching this video reminded me, albeit indirectly, of just how attuned to its customers small business is.
So what do the readers think? Can big business be sufficiently responsive to grass roots users? Or does their scale created monopoly insulate them from the need to be responsive?