The platform economy is growing more robust than ever. According to McKinsey, in 2025, digital platforms will be accountable for over 30% of the whole economy. In their 2018 article, they mention that by 2025 “an emerging set of digital ecosystems could account for more than $60 trillion in revenue.” However, only about 3% of global companies have already adopted a platform strategy. The big players are not sleeping and have already been investing in building their platforms. Companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft already have their businesses on top of platform models. Overall, platforms are already driving seven of the most valuable companies in the world. It’s clear that the platform economy is a critical driver in business growth. Companies that haven’t yet adopted a platform business model should be making their move sooner rather than later. So, what exactly is a platform?
Sangeet Paul Choudary Sangeet Paul Choudary is the co-author of the book “Platform Revolution” and the author of “Platform Scale”. Sangeet has been working on platform economics and network effects. defines a platform as a “new business model that uses technology to connect people, organizations, and resources in an interactive ecosystem.” Tim O’Reilly Tim O’Reilly is the founder of O’Reilly Media a book publisher and conference producer behind most of the popular technical books available. Tim helped popularize the terms Open Source and Web 2.0. goes further and suggests that the health of a platform depends heavily on the health of the ecosystem of its contributing makers. O’Reilly calls those makers partners because they establish a partnership with the company to provide things that the platform customers will then use.
(…) platform companies must commit themselves to the health and sustainability of their partner ecosystems.—WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us by Tim O’Reilly
If an ecosystem is a community that consists of actors playing inside a shared environment, then what’s important is to understand how to foster a healthy community. One way to do that is to learn from what McMillan and Chavis have written on the topic David McMillan and D.M. Chavis are two psychologists who have spent a big part of their careers devoted to the study of communities. In particular, in 1986, they co-authored the article “Sense of Community: A Definition and Theory”, which is still a reference on the topic today. . According to those two authors, a sense of community can be attributed to four ingredients: membership, influence, integration, and shared connection. Let’s take a look at each of those elements in detail.
Membership requires the community to have a well-defined territory. The territory, or boundary, doesn’t have to be physical. It can be flexible and change over time as the community evolves. However, it has to represent something familiar to all the members of the community. In the end, the goal of the boundary is to identify who belongs to the community and who doesn’t.
A boundary makes the community members feel emotionally safe. Members are free to safely communicate with other members, establish relationships, and express their emotions without the fear of being criticized. Feeling safe makes members feel more inclined to invest more of their time in the community. Members invest by spending more time in the community and by being active participants in any activities. Therefore, having a boundary contributes directly to an increase in active participation in a community, reducing membership churn.
Another way to identify membership is to use a symbol to create meaning. A symbol can be anything—visual or not—and can assume any shape. However, it needs to be something that is easily represented by any community member and is perceived by everyone as a representation of the community itself.
If a symbol is considered a suitable identifier of a community, there are other things that can help members feel that they’re considered part of the larger group. Growing a loosely coupled group of individuals into a community starts by making sure that there are values shared among all the participants. Those shared values will help people bind together and participate in something familiar to everyone. Another way of fostering integration is by providing a shared community economy where different members can easily exchange resources. People want to be a part of a community so they can meet their needs, whatever they are. Trading, or exchanging goods and services, is an excellent way to meet people’s needs inside a community. Every member will want to have something and is willing to give something back in exchange. The result is that the community as a whole will become more valuable over time as members exchange more and more items. For each community member, the result is that their wealth will increase the more they participate.
The value of the community has to be high enough for its members to change and grow following the community rules. This act of conforming to the community norms helps members feel like they earned being a part of the community and increases their willingness to contribute. The exciting thing is that no one is required to conform to the community rules. Instead, members influence each other and grow together, adapting the community along the way.
The community can be considered elastic in the sense that it adjusts to the power of influence coming from its members. In turn, each member has to earn the trust of the community as a whole. Without trust, members are not able to exercise any influence and are instead seen as a threat. This game of balance is what generates what is commonly called a sense of community. The more the balance leans toward your ability to influence, the more you feel attracted to the community. On the other hand, the more power to influence you have, the more trust the community needs to have in you, so it’s a balancing act.
Finding the right spot in the balance between power and trust is not an easy task and can be seen as one of the motivational factors that make members feel attracted to the community. The more a member is trusted by caring about other members and the community as a whole, the more they can exercise their influence. The more a member tries to be influential without being trusted, the less they are seen as a prominent member.
Trust and influence help community members reach a state of shared connection where members feel that they are all part of a bigger whole. McMillan and Chavis consider this shared connection the “definitive element for true community” as it involves the creation of an emotional bond between all community members. Communities that reach the state of shared connection are much harder to break apart than the ones that don’t. This state of shared connection is hard to describe to community outsiders and is often interpreted as a sense of love between all the members. However, to be effective, the shared connection has to come from something fundamental to all the participants.
Some things help reach this state of shared connection. The first thing to consider is the quality of the interactions between community members. People join and become a part of a community to get something in return, and if interactions are not perceived as valuable, then members leave. Another thing that helps reach a state of shared connection is making sure that all the community events—time that members spend together reaching a common goal—have closure. Closure brings trust among the involved participants and fosters a sense of accomplishment and purpose, which makes members feel that they’re all sharing something bigger than themselves. Finally, making sure that there’s an agreed-upon mechanism of honor will help foster the state of shared connection. When members feel that they can be publicly rewarded for their actions, they will have a stronger sense of belonging.
Now that you know how to foster a healthy community, let’s walk back into what initially brought you here. A community is a vital part of any platform. You’re building your platform, and you want to make sure that it’s driving the growth of your business, so you need to start by looking at the community. With a healthy and growing community, you’ll have a growing platform that will make your business grow. The four elements that constitute a healthy community are membership, influence, integration, and shared connection.