What Teens and Executives Have in Common


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What do executives and teenagers have in common? While this may seem like a trick question, the answer is the ability and desire to use online communities to make decisions. Research has proven that executives make strategic business decisions based upon peer information, much like their teenage counterparts. However, there are relatively few opportunities for executives to connect with each other online, other than via email. They often need to wait for a conference or in-person event to learn who is doing what with whom in business. Conversely, throughout the web, teenagers have a myriad of forums where they are talking about themselves and their experiences. They are sharing information and collaborating with each other in powerful ways.

Armed with their peers’ perspectives, they are using new tools to make decisions about what they buy, where they go, and what they do. In essence, they are changing the global economy through their online collaborative behaviors.

The potential for this opportunity exists for executives as well, as this constituent is also very driven by leveraging peer referral and experiences to shape future decisions. So, while teens are discussing which music to download or party to attend, executives need a means to discuss industry changes and trends, management issues, which product or service to buy for their company or how to best leverage their organization.

Accordingly, online communities are becoming the new strategic business mandate – especially in the business to business space. Effective customer relationships are the core to any successful B2B company and the strength of any organization is largely dependent upon the company’s ability to deliver the right products and services to its customers in a timely way. Knowing what the customer wants and understanding their current and future needs is paramount to increasing revenue and exceeding customer expectations. Communities provide a prime opportunity for B2B companies to get to know their customers more intimately and keep the finger on the pulse of their needs and behaviors.

The time is now for companies to embrace communities to help them serve their clients better, faster, and in more cost-efficient ways. Through the use of online communities, B2B companies now have an opportunity to forge a dialogue with their customers actively throughout the lifecycle — not just at the point of sale — to learn what they like and don’t like about a product or service.

There is nothing more dangerous to an organization’s lifeblood than a group of dissatisfied customers. Yet, often times, an organization may not even be aware of clients’ issues until they have incurred reputation damage or a trending loss in revenue. By cultivating meaningful relationships online, product development leaders can work with clients to share roadmaps and plans — and to get early input from the people who would be their buyers at a later stage. Marketing can learn what messages are most effective with their constituents and have greater opportunities to educate and inform the customer, not just with shiny whitepapers and marketing newsletters but by bringing them into the discussion and process of product and content co-creation. Online communities also offer opportunities to make heroes out of users, enabling them to share best practice stories and to connect with other clients. This is especially effective with enterprise level support when the key buyer is a C-level executive: information sharing could result in strategic growth opportunities for all involved.

So, although teenagers and executives do have their differences – and it is unlikely that many C-level executives will be submitting YouTube videos of their weekend activities any time soon – B2B online communities are well within reach. And they are an extremely viable medium that can be harnessed for substantial gain.

Vanessa DiMauro
Vanessa DiMauro is CEO of Leader Networks, a research and strategy consulting company that helps organizations succeed in social business and B2B online community building. DiMauro is a popular speaker, researcher and author. She has founded numerous online communities, and has developed award winning social business strategies for some of the most influential organizations in the world. Her work is frequently covered by leading publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes.


  1. Vanessa, When I read the headline of your article on the Customer Think eMail message, what came to mind was that what they both share is that they are naive about some aspect of business. For teenagers, it is almost all aspects of business; with executives it is that many make decisions about selling for themselves without any experience of selling by being “behind the counter” or knocking on doors.

    As I read your article, I see that I was taking the wrong track on what your article is about. So, I’ll make my comments on what you wrote rather than what I originally thought.

    Over the years I’ve been on several “list server” programs with peers on several different aspects of business. It was in the days when someone could start a thread and each of the memembers on the list got the message, could comment etc. and that went out to all the members as a eMail message. It was simple to participate in.

    Now, we’ve gotten fancy with programs such as Linkedin where you get a notice of a post, then have to sign in, read the post and/or commens of other, etc. So, what has been added is the time it takes to get to the messages, etc. It is wasted time and, since time is money, it takes away from more important things such as doing thing that being in money.

    For example, I am on a group in Linkedin that has 7 sub-groups, each with its own part of the particular industry. Where this type of setup is less than efficient is that with one central group dicussing many aspects of the group interest, it eliminates learning about all the aspects or, if one wanted to learn this, it means going through each supgroup and that takes more time.

    From the beginning it got started off wrong by being called “social networking” when it should have been called “business networking.” While not with all programs or groups, many of those making posts are not doing it to have a discussion, it is to try to get business. These programs have the ills as many business networking meetings had, that of everyone looking for business but not giving others business or being part of a discussion of commone interests other than golf, sports, etc.

    I know of several “excel” type groups where up to 8 or 10 diverse businesses meet to discuss business problems and offer solutions. Where it was once done over coffee, it is now done on-line much like the theme of your article.

    Many years ago when I was in retailing, we belonged to a “buying office” whose real function was to facilitate get members to have a place to start a discussion. When I went into consulting I took this idea to some of my clients to set up “skull” groups where the businesses were selling similar products or services but were not in each others’ area. For some of them this has been very helpful as they could trade merchandise if needed or could buy as a group to get better pricing from vendors. As much as possible, once these groups were set up, I tried to stay out of the way.

    Thank you for your article. I’ll keep it on file so that if the topic comes up, I will have it at hand.

    Alan J. Zell, Ambassador of Selling, Attitudes for Selling
    [email protected] http://www.sellingselling.com
    Accredited Counselor for SCORE Cyberchapter and Portland, OR SCORE Chapter 11

    You are invited to suggest to your associates, acquaintances, family, friends, customers/clients to read the business articles on http://www.sellingselling.com to learn why they, like you and I, have something to sell.

  2. Alan,
    thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. You raise very important issues here – the idea of blurring online and offline channels is key. Too often we put into buckets the kinds of interactions we have – “now is online networking time” and, to your point, we are constantly reminded of that activity due to the technical challenges to do so. What you describe with setting up “skull group” is really a good practice – it sounds like the goal was to grow the relationships (both online and offline) and you served to facilitate collaboration rather than control or dominate it as so many endeavor.

    It is a pleasure to meet a fellow “old school” community builder as there are actually very few of us who have been doing this before it became fashionable. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    – Vanessa


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