“You’re Just the Owner”

I once built a custom house in Colorado. My contractor – a highly skilled carpenter – seemed to care about the project as much as I did, with definite opinions as to how we should proceed. When I jokingly accused him of being as much a lobbyist as a carpenter, he said, “You don’t understand. It’s my house, you’re just the owner.”

Compare his justifiable sense of entitlement to the dialogue over at Save the Merc:

The owners of the Mercury News are not only those with a controlling interest in its shares; the owners are also all of us, citizens of the Silicon Valley, who, over many years, have seen “our” newspaper serve the public good. The Mercury News shone a light on our valley’s needs, especially helping us remember those who were left behind when our valley’s economy rocketed.

Tom Campbell
Dean, U.C. Berkeley
Haas School of Business

We need a new way to describe people who, like my carpenter and the readers of the San Jose Mercury News, are so engaged by an enterprise or a service or a product that they feel a sense of entitlement to its destiny, and therefore to a role so proactive that it mystifies the nominal owners of the enterprise or service or product. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about membership as a palpable driving force in our economy, ever since Doc and Jan Searls and I broke crema together in San Diego during Etech. Doc challenged Jan and me to come up with a compelling description of our ORGware initiative, and it flashed into my mind: Member Relationship Management – MRM. Sure, it’s a riff on CRM (which I consider a perfect scam by consultants hustling companies too big to know better), but MRM justifies itself because it must, by definition, facilitate relationships among the members, by the members and for the members. And Doc liked the meme, so I figure it can’t be too far off.

Consumers to Customers to Members: Up the Value Chain with Gun & Camera

Our favorite trainers have been cluing us for six years now, telling us we we are no longer passive consumers, but customers deserving customized treatment. It’s not clear that enterprises share that conceit, but at least the dialogue has started. I’d like to suggest that there is life after Customerism, and I call it Membership. 

How do you describe a member of a company? Like my carpenter, it’s anyone who so identifies with an enterprise’s products and services and future that they understand, more deeply and probably more expertly than the employees, the implications of a company’s actions and missteps. There are some industry niches or products or services with the right combination of utility and complexity that they attract members as much as customers. Blogging is such a phenomenon: We use various products and services and, in doing so, assume a sense of deep entitlement in the processes and artifacts of blogging. Operating systems and dog breeds and colleges and sports cars have the power to turn stakeholders into members. Hamburger chains and PC manufacturers and rental car companies and most politicans do not (though some do).

Obviously, the San Jose Mercury News has the same power over many of its readers. More accurately, I should say that its readers hold the same power over the San Jose Mercury News.

I’d like to develop mechanisms explicitly designed to empower people to act as members of enterprises that would rather not have members. I believe there is a finite set of tools that will so expose and amplify the collective voice of these newly-discovered and, likely, unwelcome members of such enterprises that they exert a force undreamed of prior to the blogosphere and Web 2.0.

Membership is a disruptor that’s as unwelcome as it is overdue.

12:23:33 AM    

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