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IN SUMMARY (don’t feel the need to read anything else than this!)
Coop Data Club is a new platform coop that helps coops to promote each other. We want to especially focus on email - many coops have an email newsletter, and it would cost nothing and require very little effort for them to include promotions of other coops in their newsletters.
The reason this is not happening isn’t because coops would not want to do this. We (me and @Oliver Sylvester-Bradley) asked a dozen coops if they would like to promote other coops in their email newsletters, and all of them said yes. This also reveals an underutilised cooperative advantage: had we asked a bunch of shareholder owned firms if they would like to promote other shareholder owned firms in their email newsletters, they would have replied by asking why the hell would they want to do that.
Coop Data Club channels this sense of solidarity into a competitive advantage with a simple directory of (currently 13) co-ops that want to promote other co-ops. Any co-op can join - it costs nothing, and does not require promoting anything. You will be added to our Loomio group, where members can connect with each other.
Individuals can also join by simply signing-up to the clubs own email list. Your information is not shared or sold, and you won’t be spammed.
PLANS FOR THE NEAR FUTURE
One of our ideas is to build some sort of a point system. You can read my blog post about the governance and point system here. We have not set anything in stone yet, but here are four possible steps to take - starting with the most minimalistically simple one and gradually developing it towards something more sophisticated.
Co-ops earn a point every time they promote another co-op. There is no financial incentive: just a simple “Hall Of Fame” scoreboard and “Coop Of The Year” award for co-ops that have earned the most points.
Individuals who sign-up to the club’s email newsletter can earn points by opening emails the club sends them. There is no financial incentive: but to become a club member with voting rights, they must have opened a certain number of emails the club has sent them. Individuals could also provide more information about themselves if they want to - for example, where they live and what their interests are, so that they could be better connected with coops they are interested in.
Co-ops can earn additional points by recruiting people to the clubs newsletter. These points earn them promotions in the newsletter: if they promote the newsletter, they get promoted in the newsletter.
Co-ops can pay the club to be promoted in the clubs newsletter. The earnings are distributed to members as a dividend according to how many points they have earned.
Alongside a simple point system, there are countless ideas to develop the club in the long term. Here are just some:
Reciprocal promotions - “We promote your co-op, you promote our co-op” type of arrangements. Perhaps “promotion circles” where, say, 13 co-ops commit to promoting another co-op in the circle in each of their monthly newsletter until everyone in the circle has promoted everyone else after a year?
Coupon codes - would love to see coops provide their members more value by giving coupon codes for other coops to them. Ideally Coop Data Club itself could also act as a sort of cooperatively owned co-op coupon code platform. The clubs newsletter could advertise coupon codes of co-ops to the individual members, and the more coupon codes the member uses, the larger portion of the advertising earnings they receive as a dividend. This would be almost like a “cross-cooperative” dividend system where members could earn money (or perhaps access to more exclusive offers?) by purchasing from many different co-ops.
Exchanging points to gift cards for coops instead of money - having the Coop Data Club act almost like a “purchasing coop” by enabling members to joint-purchase gift cards for coops of their choice for a discount. So for example, an individual member could choose between receiving either a $10 dividend or a $12 gift card to buy coffee from Equal Exchange. The points would almost act like a sort of “currency” that has a higher value in the cooperative economy than in the broader economy.
Reviewing goods and services. Coops could use the club to send people free samples or give them a free trial on a service if they commit to answering a survey to review the product.
Co-op members could use the points they earn from promoting other coops and the coop club to trade with each other. I don’t know exactly how this would work - but think there could be some cool possibilities. Perhaps you earn points by promoting other co-ops, and could use the points to “pay” other co-ops to promote your co-op? Perhaps each year, every co-op has to give their points to other co-ops of their choice, with the co-op that has received the most points from others getting an award?
Google Adsense type of a banner that cooperatives could add to their website, that would display advertisements of other co-ops.
If you have ideas, thoughts, questions, feedback (do you think we could improve the website somehow?), etc. we would love to hear them!
The Coop Data Club is based on a simple reasoning.
Identify something that many cooperatives are already doing a lot. In this case, it’s sending emails.
Identify how they could do it in a way that requires the tiniest possible additional effort, costs or risk to produce most value to the wider cooperative economy. In this case, it is including promotions of other coops in the emails they are sending.
To do this, we have established a directory of co-ops that want to promote other co-ops - it’s almost like a “phonebook” that costs practically nothing to build and maintain. Even though it’s minimalistic, it’s capable of providing substantial and tangible value to co-ops that need help with promoting themselves to an audience of tens if not hundreds of thousands for free.
WHY CO-OP DATA CLUB WILL BECOME INCREASINGLY USEFUL IN THE FUTURE?
This sort of a tool will become more useful in the future. Increasing number of co-ops have an online shop that delivers goods across entire countries. Whereas a food co-op can only benefit from being promoted by credit unions near-by, Equal Exchange cooperative is selling coffee and chocolate online with delivery across the US, and could therefore benefit from being promoted by any or all credit unions across the country.
There is also a recently emerged phenomenon of platform cooperatives providing online services that can be used regardless of location. We have also witnessed in the last few years examples of cooperatives like the Drivers Co-op that have crowdfunded investment through a campaign that people across the world can contribute. A food co-op in Korea can mention the campaign in its newsletter and attract more investment towards Drivers Co-op.
Here the benefits of the Coop Data Club are even greater. Cooperatives that enable global participation can “call every number” in the Co-op Data Club “phonebook”, making it more useful for them. Ideally, the Coop Data Club will foster cross-promotion between cooperatives, and as a result subscribers are embedded into a virtuous cycle where receiving emails from one cooperative leads them becoming customers of more cooperatives, that also send emails promoting other cooperatives, etc.
Coop Data Club itself is an example of a cooperative that enables global participation. Any cooperative in the world can participate by simply filling a short sign-up form online. While it is minimalistic with conventional economic measures like revenue or assets, by raw membership numbers it could grow into a large secondary cooperative owned by hundreds if not thousands of cooperatives exactly because the effort required to join is so minimal.
BUILDING A CO-OPERATIVELY OWNED SHARED EMAIL NEWSLETTER FOR PROMOTING CO-OPS
In addition to the club enabling cooperatives to promote each other on their email newsletters, it also helps the cooperatives to build a shared email newsletter. Individual people can simply subscribe to a Coop Data Club newsletter. The newsletter will promote cooperatives and not any other businesses.
This sort of a shared email list taps into a cooperative advantage - people like cooperatives but are indifferent or hostile towards capitalist firms. Surveys across the world show that most consumers would prefer to spend more of their money in cooperatives. Building an email newsletter for people who want to spend more of their money in cooperatives might only attract a minority of people, but an email mailing list whose idea would be to promote firms on the basis that they are conventional shareholder firms would not attract anyone.
What could this look like in practice? For example, in addition to a credit union mentioning a food cooperative in its newsletter, both the food cooperative and the credit union could mention the Coop Data Club email newsletter. The expectation would not be for all the members to find it interesting enough to subscribe. The goal would be for many cooperatives to connect a small portion of their members with the strongest preference for cooperatives to join an email newsletter promoting cooperatives regularly to them. It would not require much effort to participate. For example, if a credit union sends a monthly newsletter to its members, during October it might choose to send it on the international credit union day and tell about their cooperative difference. This credit union day email could simply have a brief mention with a link to the Coop Data Club shared email list, in case some members might be interested in joining to receive offers from other cooperatives. The effort required by the credit union would be only a few additional clicks to copy-paste a paragraph to a newsletter they are sending every month anyway. It would not need to attract a large portion of the members to join to be worth the effort. Perhaps only 1% of credit unions in the US would decide to inform their members about the Coop Data Club shared email list, and as a result only 1% of their members would decide to join it. That would be far from a failure. It would organise 10,000 people into an email list that could provide valuable help to countless cooperatives over time.
For example, the Equal Exchange is a worker cooperative that sells mostly coffee, sourced from farmer cooperatives in the global south. They recently had a coupon code campaign for people who buy more than 5 lbs of coffee to receive another bag for a 50% discount. The ability to email the offer to 10,000 people who have explicitly told they want to receive emails about offers from cooperatives could be very valuable, exceeding even an expensive and sophisticated targeting in Facebook and Google advertisement. The same is true for crowdfunding campaigns, events, etc,
The shared email list would be almost like a costless side-product that cooperatives could generate from the “business-as-usual” emails they send anyway, with little to no additional effort. Many cooperatives could direct a small portion of their members to enrich a shared resource, a community of people organised into an email list that generates compounding returns for the cooperative ecosystem as a whole by helping future cooperatives to reach a receptive and growing audience with less effort and costs.
TOWARDS BUILDING A GLOBAL COOPERATIVE "BRAND"
Co-op Data Club resembles one of countless opportunities in building a global cooperative brand. To illustrate what makes these opportunities unprecedented, let’s use the example of documentary films that mention cooperatives.
There are already notable examples of this. For example, both Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” and Ross Ashcroft’s “Four Horsemen” have a segment specifically about worker cooperatives. The Four Horsemen has 9.4 million views on YouTube alone and Moore’s film had risen to the 16th most popular documentary film of all time just five years after its release in 2014.
However, the films provide viewers with little help on how to participate in the cooperative movement, apart from perhaps convincing some of the most inspired viewers to start a worker cooperative. On the other hand, if a documentary were to include a mention of a global online cooperative that all viewers can join by making only a few clicks, a magnitudes higher portion of the viewers will become part of the movement as a result of watching the film.
Global online cooperation removes and reduces barriers for participation for people who hear about the cooperative movement, and it creates new incentives for cross-cooperation in telling more people about the movement. For example, let’s imagine that two people, one in Tokyo and another in California watch a documentary film that mentions two restaurant co-ops, one in California and another in Delhi. Even if both are inspired by the film, only the Californian can visit one of the restaurants, and neither can visit the one in Delhi. However, if they watch a film about Resonate and Coop Data Club, both can join and start using the services of both of the cooperatives by making only a few clicks. This creates unprecedented incentives for cooperatives to cooperate on creating such films.
To foster the creation of this sort of content, the cooperative movement should release as much of its archival material as possible to be used by content creators. Video creators should have easy access to historical film footage about cooperatives to use in segments about the topic. In addition, the wider cooperative movement could help by promoting the films or shorter videos in email newsletters of cooperatives around the world and perhaps even by giving out awards to exceptional productions. There is an abundance of cooperatives in related creative industries, from actors agencies to film-makers collectives, and even an online marketplace for stock photos and videos owned by the artists.
To illustrate this dynamic, I used the example of documentary films, but this applies to other types of content as well, including podcasts and blogs. Global online cooperatives possess unprecedented incentives to cooperate with each other on creating and sponsoring online content with a global reach. There are new exciting opportunities in building “brand”, “narrative” or “label” common to cooperatives globally. Compared to other businesses, cooperatives are in a unique position to pursue this, because they do not have to start from scratch. International Cooperative Alliance is already the largest democratic membership organisation in the world, with member cooperatives being part of the everyday life of countless ordinary people across the world.
However, it can be far greater than simply a “brand” that generates positive connotation in the mind of the consumer - it can become a mass movement that makes a tangible positive contribution by shaping the economic, material reality towards our shared ideals as moral human beings.
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