Monitoring and observing the behaviour of the community can lead us to the conclusion that we have something worth sharing with them, along the lines of the basic defining principles of these communities which are essentially “gift cultures” where one’s worth is not measured by what one owns, but by what one gives away.
The more valuable the gift, the more status is accrued to the giver.
Notice I used the weaker form “can lead”: this is because in many instances we came to the conclusion that the best way to leverage the knowledge accumulated in the monitoring phase IS NOT through direct engagement.
Obviously what we give away must be considered valuable by the community, which won’t necessarily use monetary criteria to evaluate it; it is important to remember that the accruing of goodwill and status building are perfectly compatible with commercial goals, provided the are carried out respecting the rules of the game.
Let’s take the example of a community of motorcycling enthusiasts; technical knowledge is very highly regarded there and members will consider extremely valuable if an expert mechanic takes time to respond to technical queries asked by other members; however, nobody would expect him to work for free if someone needs more than some advice.
Should that same mechanic desire to advertise its competence to attract members to patronize his shop, however, he will have to adhere to the rules of the community: in most cases it is considered acceptable and even welcome to place ads (whose revenue supports the community) but any posts which are blatantly self promotional would be judged harshly to the point they might be modded-out. The line between information and promotion is sometimes a very thin one: telling everyone that I am an expert in custom race-prepping Ducatis is information, inviting them to your new shop inauguration is not.
A smart member/marketeer might even elect to state openly that he’s about to post a promotional message, and if he has accrued sufficient goodwill, in most cases he will be able to get away with it – as any exception, this should not be abused.
Again, it is important to understand that all members understand that a professional giving away advice is doing this to promote his business – it’s almost as if there was no further need to re-state this obvious truth and any attempt to do so would be unwelcome.
The recent donation of 500 Patents by IBM Corp. to the Open Source movement is a clear example of such a Value Strategy, even though its less-than-enthusiastic reception gives an indication about how picky communities can be; at the end of the day the tale of the Trojan Horse is thousands years’ old, but still pretty vivid.