UK09 061fbP2P

Skip this indented part if you’re in a hurry and you already know how the term P2P came to be:

Though I am sure that someone thought of it long before I did, I coined the term P2P in 2008 in response to a question someone asked me about the evolution of business. The individual was asking about differences between B2B and B2C (business-to-business vs. business-to-consumer for the uninitiated) and it occurred to me that the context of the question required that I remove those two categories from his line of thinking. I suggested that he might want to look at the way businesses communicate more in terms of P2P (People to People). Thus, the idea of P2P was born – at least in my world.

Fast forward to today: Dozens of presentations, trainings and speaking engagements later (and well into writing the book on this ), I thought it would be interesting to start outlining some of the characteristics of the type of business that thinks of itself more as being P2P than B2B or B2C. I was thinking about it so much this week that I actually had a dream that I was writing this post last night, which prompted me to write this in the real (awake) world this morning. So here we are.

By the way, what we are talking about here isn’t an evolution from B2B and B2C to P2P, but rather a cultural shift that allows businesses to – while still falling into a B2B or B2C category when it comes to their relationship to their markets – see themselves primarily as P2P organizations from a cultural and operational perspective. Does that make sense? In other words, businesses don’t cease to be B2B or B2C when they adopt a P2P “lifestyle”. They just get better at doing business, basically. MUCH better.

If you skipped ahead, welcome back. Start reading now.

What might a P2P business look like? Well, that may be  too long a topic to cover in a blog post – hence the book, but what I can share today is a short list of characteristics you might find when encountering (or looking for) such a business culture. Here are the first few that jumped to mind:

1. The P2P business doesn’t hire though job sites or advertising. It hires by inviting candidates already connected to the company through social networks, both online and offline. New hires rarely have more than two degrees of separation from their new boss and team, meaning they are either connected directly to at least one of them via a social network or came personally recommended by someone connected to a member of the team. In other words, the P2P business hires people it knows, respects, trusts, and has a relationship with instead of relying on a “human resources” bureaucrat to pluck complete strangers out of a resume pool.

2. The P2P business no longer has a Director of Social Media, just like traditional B2B and B2C businesses no longer have a Director of Telephones: Social Media is completely embedded in the organization from an operational standpoint. What does that mean? It means that every department, from HR to Marketing to Product Development to Customer Service to Community Management uses Social Media the way they use any other tools and channels to do their jobs. There is no longer a separation between “traditional” media, “digital” media, “telephonic” media, “Water Cooler” media, and “Social” media. The company uses Social Media fluently to communicate with people inside and outside the company. (Note that I did not utter the word “customer” once in this paragraph.

3. The P2P company doesn’t block FaceBook. The P2P company doesn’t block Twitter. The P2P company doesn’t block LinkedIn.  It doesn’t frown on access to community platforms like Ning. As a matter of fact, the P2P company helps its employees participate in online and offline networks more effectively through training and development instead of trying to insulate them from those “dangerous” online community platforms. As a bonus, since HR is no longer tasked with recruiting complete strangers, its staff manages this function beautifully.

4. Within the P2P business, the I.T. department no longer plays the role of cranky gatekeeper when it comes to adopting and deploying digital tools. The I.T. department has morphed into the T.E. department: Technology Enablement. Former I.T. professionals with passive-aggressive tendencies who get in the way of employees using the latest and most effective digital tools no longer have a place in the P2P Business. (Buh-bye. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way back to the ’90s.)

5. P2P Brand Managers are among the most sophisticated business strategists on the planet. No longer do they mostly be concerned with push messaging, self-serving marketing communications, trade dress and the ever ubiquitous logo redesigns. Their skillset has now exploded to meet the needs of an increasingly complex organization and marketplace.

  • They are now fluent in the four precepts of effective P2P program ownership: Development, integration, management (where monitoring lives) and measurement.
  • They are personally involved and invested in the communities that support and align themselves with the brand(s) they manage.
  • They are now equally involved in every step of the product lifecycle process, from ideation, design, development, manufacturing, testing, launch, and management.
  • They spend at least as much time in the world as they do inside the bubble of their corporate office, because they realize that is where their brand and products actually live.
  • Brand Managers are now mobile. They are cultural anthropologists as much as they are business managers. They look to free themselves from the corporate cocoon as much as possible to keep their perspective fresh and their insights untainted.
  • Brand Managers have become socio-cultural designers. Think about that for a minute and then think about it some more. This is key.

Why this change? Because the P2P business realizes that since everything touches the brand, the brand requires an advanced level of strategic, tactical and management sophistication not currently found in your average brand manager. These folks are highly connected, well traveled, intellectually curious, passionate leaders, not just mid-career marketing professionals with 3-5 years of product launch experience.

6. The P2P business understands how to smoothly blend campaigns with its daily mix of activities. Though it is naive to think that there is no longer a division between PR, Advertising, email marketing, web “marketing”, mobile marketing, customer support and community engagement, these roles and the deliverables they create work seamlessly together. Two reasons for this:

  • A structure now exists that both requires and enables  lateral communication through  real time collaborative tools between all deliverable owners. (Nice corporate-speak, right? Gotta love it. See (7) below.) In other words, the left hand talks to the right hand a) because they can and b) because they must.
  • Doing business any other way is just stupid and management at the P2P Business understands that all too well.
  • See (5) above: The Brand Manager and his staff are actually capable of managing this level of complexity now.

The P2P business knows how to integrate project teams from outside firms and agencies. They are now embedded in the business rather than treated as an external element.

7. The P2P business only uses corporate speak to make fun of corporate speak – and out of a sense of responsibility: Keeping that dying linguistic tradition alive will serve as a lesson to future generations that the world of gray cubicles, and cretinous business language almost destroyed business in the early 21st century. Footnote: For whatever reason, Bullshit Bingo meetings usually happen on Mondays and Thursdays. Don’t ask me why.

8. Employees of P2P businesses don’t hate their jobs. Why? Because they are empowered by their management team to collaborate with employees and the communities they touch. As a result of being  clearly aware of their operational boundaries and because they receive ongoing, multilateral support from their organization, they know how to act professionally when dealing with the public. While roles and org charts are still clearly defined for obvious reasons, employees enjoy a greater level of operational flexibility, working across silos/departments when their breadth of skills match the needs of a particular project or program.

For the organization, this interconnectivity helps break down silos, helps accelerate project completion time-lines, and reconnects the company organically with the outside world (their markets). From an employee perspective, it results in a dynamic ecosystem which fosters professional and personal development on a day-to-day basis. Empowered, engaged employees are usually happy employees. Happy employees usually create fantastic customer experiences and help make good companies great.

9. The P2P business no longer outsources its customer service. Period.

10. The P2P business partners with like-minds. Put simply, it understands that the partners it aligns itself with say at least as much about its brand(s) as it does on its own. Even when partnerships are meant to be purely strategic or tactical, they signal an alignment of values that the marketplace (the community) is quick to take note of and interpret. The P2P business understands that public opinion drives its brand. It no longer puts itself in a position of having to defend its choice of strategic partners. Cultural compatibility is now as important as strategic benefits. Call it a positive byproduct of transparency, and a welcome farewell to the corporate need for PR’s much maligned (and increasingly ineffective) spin function.

11. In case it wasn’t obvious: People would sell their grandmother to work there. Not just because the P2P company pays well (it might not) but because it is known to be a fantastic place to work, learn, and build lasting professional and personal relationships. People who work there are happier than most, professionally engaged and fulfilled, consider themselves successful (their definition may differ from yours), and wouldn’t dream of working anywhere else.

That ought to get the conversation started. 😉

Speaking of P2P implementation… Without revealing too much too soon, I would start planning to attend the February 2010 #Likeminds conference in Exeter, Devon, UK. Bring a thick notebook and a couple of extra pens. That’s all I can say for now.

Cheers. 😉