In interviewing a person in charge of communities at a Fortune 100 company as part of our community effectiveness study that we are doing with Deloitte and the Society for New Communications Research, I learned about a real neat side effect of business communities – the ability to sell products in the long tail.
Large companies typically cannot afford to pay attention to relatively small business opportunities. If your company has billions of dollars in revenue, and a goal of growing that revenue by 5% a year, and you identified a $50M new market opportunity, chances are that you will not be able to justify a business plan to tackle this new opportunity. Some of the more innovative companies have found ways to monetize those opportunities by selling or licensing the IP or partnering with companies for whom a $50M market makes sense.
With large business communities surrounding your company, you could potentially do it yourself, and in a profitable way. Say that you developed a software application that only has a tiny market potential relative to your company’s size. You could make that application available in your community, and rely on the community to deliver support, refine the documentation, etc. So in effect you developed a channel to enable your company to serve the long tail in a cost effective manner and in a way that is not defocussing. In the long run, leveraging business communities to serve the long tail could also increase your share of customer wallet as well as increase your customer switching costs for the bigger applications – all benefits that deliver dollars to the bottom line.