20th December 2007

15 years at Microsoft, coming to an end…mixed emotions

Today I formally announced that I’ve decided to leave Microsoft.  I love this company…always have - it has been amazing to me.  I’ve had great opportunities for growth and worked with really incredible people both inside and outside the company.  Microsoft supported me through a difficult time medically - time off, benefits, security and genuine care and concern I’ll never forget.  To be clear, I’m not leaving Microsoft to get away.  Nor am I going off to some other company with a "grass is greener" dream.  That isn’t it. 

I’m leaving because I see an opportunity to follow a dream I’ve had for a long time.  In the weeks ahead, I’ll be a bit more specific about what is next, but you can expect me to use the year ahead to immerse myself in the intersection of social media, influencers and business.  I look forward to writing, speaking and consulting to grow my experience in this exciting space that promises to radically change the face of business and transform how innovation, service and support, and sales and marketing are done. 

I couldn’t be more excited about the time ahead, the opportunity to learn and the chance to demonstrate to my kids that risk-taking and uncertainty are a great part of life. 

Rather than go on too long, I thought it appropriate that I share the personal announcement I sent today to MVPs around the world.  For those who don’t know, I’ve led this effort at Microsoft for the last 5 years.   From our own website:

"Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) are exceptional technical community leaders from around the world who are awarded for voluntarily sharing their high quality, real world expertise in offline and online technical communities. Microsoft MVPs are a highly select group of experts that represents the technical community’s best and brightest, and they share a deep commitment to community and a willingness to help others."

But it’s more than that.  Today there are over 4000 MVPs in 90 countries around the world.  In recent years, I’ve personally met more than 75% of them and logged over 1M air miles connecting with them.  Given the step I’m taking, I owe them a deep thanks.  They were the catalyst, the inspiration and the source of most of what I’ve learned over the years about community.

Here’s what I shared with them today:



In my 15 years at Microsoft, I estimate I’ve sent nearly 500,000 emails, but without question this will be the most personal email I’ve ever written.  I’ve asked the MVP leads around the world to share this with you and I’m also posting it in the lounge and announcement private Newsgroups - given how global we are, I’m certain this won’t arrive at the same time for all of you.

Some of you I’ve known for years, others I’ve met more recently, and some I have yet to meet, but I wanted to share with all of you that I’ve made a very personal decision to leave Microsoft.  I can hardly begin to thank you for the past 5 years during which I’ve led the MVP Award program.  Your passion for community has inspired me more deeply than you can ever know.  Microsoft has been an amazing place and one I find difficult to step away from. I leave behind a deeply supportive and committed MVP team and thousands of fellow employees across the company who have come to appreciate the importance of communities and the incredible voluntary spirit of the world’s MVPs. 

So where am I going?  I hope what you’ll see is that I’m not leaving you, but joining you.  Communities, Social Media and Web 2.0 are transforming the way users connect with businesses and with one another.   I’ve seen, with you, that we are pioneers on the edge of what I believe will be a radical transformation across communities and ALL industries.  In the years ahead, we will see the arrival of the Chief Customer Officer, or more specifically, the Chief User Experience Officer – and great companies will differentiate around their ability to connect with their users in increasingly transparent ways.  I’m proud of my time at Microsoft as I think we are a leader in this transformation and that community and MVPs have been central to the evolution. 

There’s no question that there is more work to be done, but I’ve decided that I want to take on a different role in the industry as a catalyst for helping more companies make this change.  In order to follow this dream, I need to be independent – like each of you.  I won’t be joining another company, but forming one of my own, a company of one for now.  I’m beginning work on a book and over the next 12 months will focus my energy on writing, speaking and consulting in the emerging space of social media and communities.  You are most welcome to follow this journey at my blog (grab the feed), on , via , or via good old fashioned .

I’m sure you may be wondering what this means to the MVP Program.  In the immediate term, I’m still hereJ  You should see relatively little to no difference – it’s “business as usual.”  In my time here, the thing I’m most proud of is the talent we’ve grown to support our long term belief in community – I know this team and the conviction of the leaders around me will assure a seamless transition. We have not yet determined when my last day will be at Microsoft and frankly that is far less important than ensuring a smooth handoff.  The reality is that the people you talk to most often and who are really the ones that make our community efforts work are all still here – your MVP Lead and our global community team. The future of the MVP program simply couldn’t be more secure.  As soon as we have something more concrete to share with you, we will, but in the spirit of transparency, we wanted to share that this change was coming.

Regardless of where I am officially, I am looking forward to seeing you at the MVP Summit as I’m committed to joining you – no matter where I am – for your annual festivities!

Thank you again for the trust and support you’ve given to me, I know this work has changed my path and I deeply appreciate your contributions.


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15th December 2007

Podcast on Social Media, Communities and Influencers…


Stephen Ibaraki of the Canadian Information Processing Society recently asked me to participate in a podcast after seeing a speech I gave on the business implications of social media.  Stephen’s awfully generous to me to provide the opportunity.  I don’t really like to go back and listen to these after I’ve done them, but I thought I’d share the link here…it’s a bit long, but Stephen has index of topics to give some idea of the flow.  I thought someone here might give it a listen, I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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20th October 2007

Will I see you at WOMMA?

November 13-15 is the annual Word of Mouth Marketing Summit & Research Symposium.  More information and registration information here.  I got involved with WOMMA less than a year ago, but the relationship has really been beneficial to me in expanding my thinking on the implications of communities, social media and influencers.  I have the pleasure this year of both speaking on the topic of influentials and co-chairing the launch of a new Influencer Council with Peter Hershberger and Brad Fay.

The topic of influentials has really taken off this year and I’m excited to present and help launch a council focused on thinking through the discipline of finding, thanking and engaging the enthusiasts that are radically changing the conversation on the web about products, brands and services.  Whether you’re a customer service/support, product development or marketing leader with robust communities or staring at the cold start problem, there’s no more important place to begin than with the enthusiasts.  Far to often our functional silos are disconnected from one another, but this is a critical place to bring these groups together.  Marketers often talk about the conversation starters.  Find those starting brand/product conversations and work to reach and engage these word of mouth leaders.  I prefer to think about finding the conversation stoppers.  Why are your users in your communities?  A substantial number of conversations started on the web (in forums, blogs, newsgroups…) are actually questions - requests for help.  This means I want to capture two things…what are people commonly asking for (feeding a voice of the customer process- a post for a later date) and who are the people giving all the best answers - the conversation stoppers!  And guess where word of mouth (both positive and negative) usually comes from?  Someone requests help and gets either exceptionally good service or exceptionally poor service.  You know who talks more about a brand than someone who loves it?  Someone who has a bad experience.  Any idea who talks even more than that person?  Someone who had a bad experience that the company shows up and makes it right.  Take a look at this well known example from Dell.

Such a rich topic to debate and discuss and a core place to tear down organizational silos as you think about flat companies!  I hope you join us in Las Vegas or at least stay tuned here for more on the topic from me.

One final thought on WOMMA.  Ultimately, I judge the value of my participation in events and associations pretty simply.  I take a one year view and as I get close to that anniversary, I ask myself about the quality of learning and people I have met through the activity and it’s likelihood to continue to impact me professionally, personally and/or academically. By this measure, consider this post to be positive word of mouth on the Word of Mouth Marketing Association

WOMMA Facebook group here: 

WOMMA Blog: http://www.womma.com/blog/ 


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13th October 2007

Busy week ahead (actually 2 weeks…)

I’m really looking forward to the next few weeks.  I’m off Monday to the Bay area where I’ll be meeting Monday with Support Space and going onsite with the online team at Tivo.  To say I’m a fan of Tivo as a user would be an understatement and their community is legendary, so I’m anxious to learn about any secret sauce they might share.  I’ll have some 1:1 time Monday driving from Tivo to Downtown San Fran with peers from the LA Times, Citrix and Weather.com.

Tuesday and Wednesday I’ll be participating in a two day event hosted by Creative Good.  This event brings together senior leaders from a wide range of companies to discuss best practices, current challenges and networking for ongoing business collaboration.  Looking at the list of my fellow attendees, it promises to be an amazing 48 hrs.

I close my trip to the bay area Wednesday night with Dinner with Bright Ideas.  I’m anxious to learn more about what they are doing to productize innovation via the "wisdom of the crowds."

On Thursday I’m off to Orlando to attend and speak at the Consortium Member Summit put on by the Consortium for Service Innovation. 

I’ll be happy to get back home to Seattle for the weekend ahead of leaving for MVP Events in South America the following week.

I’m sure I’ll have some insights to share from these visits in the weeks ahead.


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11th October 2007

15 years is a milestone worth a quick blog post…

15 years ago I joined Microsoft.  I’d like to say I was 12 at the time as the milestone makes me feel a little old!  What an amazing 15 years.  When I started we were still selling DOS.

My first job was in the call center - I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said: "Thank you for calling Microsoft, this is Sean, how can I help you."  I remember once answering my home phone like that on accident!

I’ll save trips down memory lane, but I will say "thank you" to Microsoft.  I know for me, this place has been incredible and I’ve had the opportunity to work on amazing projects and with incredible people.  It’s also a place that responded to my personal moment of truth - having to step out for almost 3 months due to my own medical emergency without once being concerned about my job or how I would pay bills or even when I had to be back - that part was simple: "come back when you are ready."

So, for all of that…Thank you MS.

At a group meeting this week a photo was taken to commemorate the moment…that’s me just to he right of center.

DSC00141 (3)


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13th September 2007

The Age of Individualism…

I was in a session today with colleagues across the industry put on by the Consortium for Service Innovation.  Much of our agenda was around the impact of online communities and social media on knowledge centered support environments.  As you dig into the impact of web2.0 in this space, the dialog naturally branched in many interesting directions including:

  • Community segmentation
  • The role of emotions and conflict in online communities
  • The impact on call centers and traditional knowledge management
  • Tools and technologies
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Organizational change management
  • …and more

It was on this last point of organizational change management where we discussed what the indicators of a "flat company" might be (related recent post).  The more we discussed, the more it seemed we were discussing a new business age…what seemed to me to be an "Age of Individualism."  I’ve talked about something related as consumerism meaning "consumer empowerment," but this term really has a different definition and doesn’t work well globally.

I liked the phrase "Age of Individualism" when I said it.  I wrote it down and thought, ah, there’s a blog post.  Turns out, I’m hardly the first (once again) to have this particular thought.  A quick online search found a nicely written piece by Micro Persuasion blogger Steve Rubel I recommend reading.

At any rate, nice piece Steve.



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11th August 2007

Busy fall of speaking engagements..

Wow, it’s going to be a fun and busy fall - lots of speaking to do!  Thought I’d share the plans in case I can connect with anyone who might read this.

Sept. 12-13:  Service Innovation Fall Meeting (Austin)

Sept. 23rd:  MVP Central & Eastern Europe Open Day (Dubrovnik, Croatia)

Sept. 26th:  Advertising Week (NY)

Oct. 4-5:  Online Community Summit (Sonoma)

Oct. 16-17:  Creative Good Fall Council meeting (San Francisco)

Oct. 18-19:  Service Consortium Summit (Orlando)

Oct. ~25-30:  MVP Open Days (Santiago, Chile & Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Nov. 14-15:  Word of Mouth Marketing Summit (Las Vegas)


Let me know if you’ll be there!


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7th June 2007

Thank you Forum One for organizing the Community Unconference…

I had a great time yesterday "peering" with a lot of super passionate people focused on online communities at the Forum One Unconference.  This was my first unconference and I really liked the semi-structured approach of open space events.  Not familiar with unconferences, check out this .

There were lots of good sessions, but as usual the best take-aways were meeting people doing what I do from lots of other companies.  I got to lead a spirited session on Engaging Influencers through Recognition programs.  It was great fun to talk about some of what we are doing and talk with so many others interested in creating their own programs focused on community leaders.  This session included a great conversation in particular about the benefits and challenges of reputation management systems.  I owe a post on my overall views on this topic soon…so stay tuned.  ROI was another very spirited session…and I guess a hot topic based on traffic here to my recent blog post on ROI.

The session we didn’t have, that I will host next time, is to gather those of us doing this work at large scale.  It was great to meet people from Cisco, Amazon, Ebay, Yahoo, Disney and Intuit - I think we could have really benefited from grabbing a room and wallowing - this is a must do for next time.

That’s it for today!


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7th May 2007

Speech Abstract: Enhancing Online and Community Support Models

On Tuesday, May 8th, I’m presenting a breakout with the above title at SSPA in San Diego.  I’ve put together an abstract of my talk below.  Knowing me, it will be interesting to compare what comes out of my mouth, with my in advance prepared content.  I have a hard time not free wheeling a bit on my content as I go:)

Here’s the abstract:

Where’s the first place you go for help, support and advice on all the products and services you use in your daily life? www.company.com?”  That’s probably not your first stop.  Most of us go to “our community.”  That is, the personal network we are connected with:  friends, family, neighbors, etc.  Why?  Our personal networks offer a lot of benefits.  They have diverse areas of expertise, they are trusted, they are accessible, and they generally “speak our language” – not linguistically, but like a user verses a sales person or support professional. 

The challenge with our “personal networks” is that they are finite.  They may not be deep enough on a topic or broad enough across new areas of interest.  Enter online or virtual communities.  The proliferation of online communities in recent years has democratized access to information, experiences and expertise on virtually every subject and in nearly every language in the world.  As a user, you now have a choice between your personal network, vast online communities (peer users), and your suppliers for help and support.  Each of these sources provides certain advantages (credibility, authority, camaraderie, indemnification/quality assurance, accessibility, timeliness, guaranteed answer, etc) and disadvantages (scope, trust, cost, etc.) 

Given this new dynamic, how are you defining your approach to online help and support to balance both traditional online support experiences and integrating communities into the assistance workflow?  Our objective is to deliver the best of both worlds.  This means migrating your customers from “trusting your content” to a model where customers “trust the experience” you deliver.  In other words, the content you will now deliver will be a superset of the content you author, so how will you assure your users that this user generated content is easy to use, easy to trust and easy to find?

At Microsoft, online communities offer the single largest opportunity to dramatically increase the breadth and depth of available content on our products and services.  While we are not in the “content business,” we are in the answer business from a customer support experience standpoint.  Integrating the value of the vast repository of user generated content and independent answerers is no simple task. 

As a starting point, let’s set a context for what we mean by communities.  The industry today is awash in community buzz words:  “virtual, online, web 2.0, social networking, peering, participative web, etc.”  For Microsoft, communities represent anywhere users go online to interact with one another to gain knowledge and/or expertise.  As you set the landscape for your communities a few key principles emerge:

  • Communities are User Driven.  The best communities have you as a participant, but not as the driver.
  • Communities are not just about forums or Question & Answer pairs.  While forums are a great starting point, user participation can come in many other ways:  Blogs, Wikis, podcasts, videocasts, content rating, tagging, RSS subscriptions, “user Gen-next?”  Content authoring and forum answering may be exceptionally valuable today, but other, lighter weight participation models may be equally important over time.
  • Communities are a combination of venues/destinations, relationships, tools and processes.  Without adequate planning across all these pillars, challenging roadblocks will emerge.
  • Our communities are not confined to destinations across www.Microsoft.com.

While there is an explosion in social networking technologies that enable many of these community models, there are also a set of industry and social trends driving this evolution.  Take developers for example, our experience is that developers dramatically prefer to self-solve issues versus calling for support.  This is a reflection of evolving preferred work-styles.  At the same time, those entering the workforce today are by-products of the “MySpace” generation – a generation of social and peer networkers.  In the years to come, it seems clear this will emerge as a dominate model for help and support.

The next issue to address is affirming the business purpose for investing in community work. This will define whether you check the community box or ingrain it into your long term online support strategy.  Online communities can benefit the support function, the marketing function and the product development function.  Establishing priority will drive one of the key challenges for communities:  landing the right near and longer term KPIs. 

At Microsoft, I would set the priorities as Support and Product insight with little direct investments in marketing via community.  This drives how we think about KPIs:  Reach, Success/answer rate, Satisfaction and cost. 

Integrating community and online can be described as a 3 step process.

1)      Understand the community demographics:  What communities already exist around your products?  Are they communities you host and/or 3rd party.  How big are they?  How are you going to approach the legal and policy issues to ensure you have a framework for risk management that doesn’t unrealistically constrain your support of community content?  If you haven’t already, when are you going to join the community?  Do you have a credible presence there already?  If not, that is a natural and necessary starting point.  Who are the influencers?  You need to identify them, thank them AND engage with them.

2)      Integrate community and support workflows:  This speaks to the preferred work style of our users.  Do the phone, the web and community feel like 3 distinct support options and workflows, or is it one integrated end to end experience?  The theme we are targeting here is “search-ability” – of support AND user generated content.  These initiatives include online workflow & search, online submission, rapid publishing, supported communities and expanded influencer recognition programs with a focus on service delivery mix-shift from phone, online reach, answer rate and satisfaction.

3)      Leveraging the Wisdom of the Crowds:  In the future state, the aspiration shifts from “search-ability” to “find-ability.”  At this point you’re not just looking at the sum of user generated content, but you are deploying specific strategies for filtering, rating and rendering that proactively presents that content to your users based on their profile and/or past support interactions.  A key indicator here will be progressively “stickier” community participation.

This road to online and community is not without its “potholes.”  Two film metaphors apply to this business, “Field of Dreams” and “Pay it Forward.”  Remember, “Field of Dreams” was just a movie – if you build a community, that doesn’t mean customers will come.  Furthermore, the legal construct can derail your plans and progress. So engage legal advice early and often in determining how you implement (not whether or not you should). 

I would also highlight that your communities are not YOUR communities; they belong to your customers.  You should be a purposeful and engaged neighbor in that community, but there is great danger in overpowering the community.  A topic that often comes up is controlling the community and I’d note that the effort spent to control a community and your ability to control it are inversely related.  And lastly, landing metrics is not easy.  The reporting and analytics in this space are still immature and require considerable planning and internal negotiations to gain alignment.

In summary, the 3 steps above take us from a support value proposition, to a Support, Enable and User Participative value proposition.  It’s important to acknowledge that your community likely already exists (if this is not the case, you may have a different problem.)  Earning the right to participate in that community as a credible peer is a key and non-trivial opportunity. 

PS:  If you’d like the slides that go with this, drop me an email:  and I’ll forward.

Sorry for the long post:)


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4th May 2007

"Hi Mac, I’m PC"

Today at the Online Community Business Summit I had the good fortune of jointly presenting with my counterpart from Apple.  It gave us an intimidating opportunity to talk with a group of our industry peers about the work we are doing with online communities and in particular the roles we play in our respective companies focused on enthusiasts.  I’ve blogged before about corporate transparency and the opportunity you have to change the way people see your company - to humanize your company.  After all, it’s not that hard to dislike a company, but it is hard to dislike good people once you’ve met them.  Offline events are always a great reminder of this and for those of you who are doing online community work…do NOT ignore the importance of offline connection.

Beyond Apple, I also met passionate people from EBay, Dell, Yahoo, Lithium, Solidworks, Autodesk…and on and on.  Meeting people always changes the way you think about what you do, the business you’re in and the way you want to relate with others.  I had a great time.  I think a few attendees were genuinely surprised to see Me and Mac get along so well - for the record, both Mac and I thought that was weird - we are support and community people…not marketers.  We had fun opening the session with "Hi PC, Hi Mac."  I couldn’t resist going on to say the following:  "Mac and I agreed not to have slides as he really wanted to show a creative video he made and I just want to show Excel cost models for Community ROI."  Thanks to our fellow attendees for letting us have fun.

So, in the spirit of community, let’s not think about what separates, but what binds:

  • Mac and I both make a living thinking and working hard on communities
  • We both focus on support, help and how-to communities
  • We both think and talk daily with the most active enthusiasts that are a part of our communities
  • We both love technology and what it empowers people to do
  • We’ve both been at our respective companies for over 10 years
  • We both think the Zune is the best music device on the market…oops, nope…
  • We are both the same age, and….
  • We both love pork….and in particular are passionate about bacon!!

So Mac, great to meet you and looking forward to the next time!

Sean, I mean, "PC"

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