There’s no denying that a powerful, engaged community is a force to be reckoned with. Communities demand excellence, drive innovation, and force companies to think outside of an internal lens. We have watched community-sourced companies like Etsy and Airbnb grow like wildfire in the past few years. Everything from how you get around to where you stay on vacation has been influenced by these disruptor organizations.

In short: community-sourced companies are platforms you want to keep an eye on—you never know what industry they’ll be making waves in next.

We held a panel discussion at 500px HQ this month and asked the question, “is harnessing the power of community the next big trend for 2016?” Daryna Kulya, Manager of Deloitte Innovation Labs and Founder of Product Hunt TO moderated the discussion between Bowie Cheung, General Manager of UberEverything, Andy Yang, CEO of 500px, Allen Lau, CEO and co-founder of Wattpad and Rebecca Brown, Executive Director of Social Media at J Walter Thompson.

Watch the panel in the video below or read on to see what we learned. The panelists weighed in on their experience working for and with community sourced companies, and how they are driving innovation in 2016.

What is community sourcing?

The panel kicked off by establishing the two types of community sourced companies. One is a community that is monetarily driven and very transactional. They are the Ubers of the world. The other is a community driven by the desire to share and join a movement. Think 500px and Product Hunt.

It is an important distinction to keep in mind when evaluating this model that is connecting people through technology. When a company puts the community’s best interests first, it’s a sign that they will have a strong and engaged community. If the community’s best interests aren’t put first, the users will quickly move on and find another community that will. A diverse community is also a sign of success for a community.

5 reasons why you should care

Small and medium business are embracing the shared economy and technology

Community sourcing is giving way to the rise of ecommerce for these smaller businesses and giving them the reach that larger partners have. This means new players and a whole new world of opportunity.

“It opens up your business in a way that previously wasn’t a reality,” Cheung said of Uber and their community sourced model. Shopify is one of their national partners. Partnering with Uber gives vendors on the platform a way to compete with the Amazons and Walmarts of the world.

2016 is going to be all about originality

2015 was all about authenticity. The term “Authenticity” has become so mainstream that it is no longer genuine or meaningful. Yang feels 2016 is going to be about originality in telling a story, as it relates to both an individual and to a company.

Communities embody and embrace originality. 500px encourages originality in the imagery its community shares. “It doesn’t have to be something totally new, just something that you take and evolve,” he explains. “People will want to share that ‘I’m living my life in a way that is original to me’.” Airbnb was also mentioned as a community platform that is sharing its story in a way that is very original to them.

In the spirit of originality, Lau believes that there will be a rise in native advertising and predicts the death of the 30 second TV spot. Brown added to his point that she strongly believes advertisers will look for ways to immerse themselves in communities. “Brands will be looking for ways to leverage communities of passion on behalf of the brand,” she said, “or figuring out how to activate community around their brand.”

Community sourcing is bringing disruption and forcing change

Many established industries are heavily ingrained in process and structure; jumping through so many hoops can often stifle innovation with a lot of inefficiency. Many community sourced companies are finding a way around this and lowering the barrier to entry. These platforms have the desire to disrupt a process, where the established companies might not have the desire to challenge the status quo.

“Successful companies don’t automate the system,” Lau went on to explain. “Disruptors find a way to work around the system from the bottom-up to find ways to make the system more efficient.” He shared that Wattpad is disrupting big publishers, 500px is disrupting Getty Images, and Uber is disrupting the taxi industry.

The availability of alternatives encourages excellence and transparency

Lau discussed the importance of excellence in a platform. To keep a community thriving, you must be customer obsessed and always put the community first. “As a community based company, you don’t have as much control as you think,” said Lau. “We can influence, but we cannot guarantee.”

In essence, you can’t force community users to stick around. If you don’t put excellence and the community’s best interests first, they will jump to another platform that does.

Because there are often several options for platforms in the community space, it also sets a standard for transparency. Yang discussed his experience working with a passionate community of photographers. He explained how, even if you think you have said something to your community, you need to say it again. You can’t be too clear with your community, and if you aren’t always clear there’s the chance that they will leave.

It’s a win-win for all parties

Yang really said it best: “We believe we win when our community wins.” A company with a passionate community that feels appreciated is going to succeed and excel.

Many community sourced companies are platforms that aren’t necessarily a full-time job. Many of them can be used simultaneously, presenting even more opportunity for users to make money and giving them the ability to choose their own lifestyle. Or, as Lau put it, “these communities are great because one person can allocate time to many different platforms and not be tied to just one. User can benefit financially from this.”

And that’s a wrap. Check out our Marketplace to see the power of our photographer community for yourself!