14th January 2008

Influencer in Chicago - Tribune picks up the local story

This is a nice article about local technical community contributor (and Microsoft MVP) Darren Liu in Chicago - hobby blends with career blends with “flat earth” help and support of users in native China.

Thought I’d share.


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posted in Examples, Influencers, MVP | 1 Comment

2nd January 2008

Update on How-to content model…

A few days ago I blogged about the User Generated Help and How-to Content model.  Part of the challenging is managing the transition from static content forward into more dynamic or user generated content.  Today, this blog post was shared with me. This was written by a Directory Services Support Engineer at Microsoft and posted to the Directory Services team blog.  In this example, the experts behind the support scenes are using their blog as a tool to help organize and improve discoverability of the best knowledgebase content available on their topic. 

Nice, simple idea to start bridging these two content worlds.


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28th December 2007

User Generated Help and How-to Content Model

Occasionally it feels like those of us focused on the social media phenomena live a little bit in a vacuum.  While the circle seems to be growing, there are times where it feels like we are all preaching to the choir - to the already converted.  We read each others blogs, follow each other on , friend each other in , attend many of the same conferences, etc.  Most of this is great!  Heck, it is a bit of the theme of how I named this blog - "group therapy."  There’s a lot of value in those of us with common interests and challenges getting together and sharing experiences, ideas and new learning.  I do wonder how we all measure whether we are broadening the circle of those embracing social media.  It struck me at a recent conference (that was great by the way) that everyone in the room was essentially bought in on the topic in a significant way.  This is good in that it gathered really amazing people and inspired focused conversations, and we need that.  It was bad in that it didn’t feel like the circle really grew that day.  Out of that conference, I committed that in 2008, I will focus more of my conference time on industry events where social media is a track, vs THE TRACK - for example, I just committed to speak at SSPA in May. 

What gets missed sometimes in our swarming with each other is capturing the simple examples that help illustrate how the business and user engagement model changes in a web 2.0 world.  Content is one of my favorite illustrations of this.  Many companies spend extraordinary amounts of money on content for their users - for this post, let’s focus on help and support content.  Here are a few examples:

Once the investment is made in an authoring model (in house or vendor), more money is spent to localize the content - all of which, at best, serves the fat part of the long tail of help and support content needed to really assist the breadth and depth of users.  There’s nothing unique about this model, this has been in place for many years and as we know, changing the model is not simple.  This is obvious ground for community models (Q&A support forums and wikis).  Most are doing this, though in very few cases are these different models integrated - look at the sites and it’s clear these are silo’d efforts.  If your users can draw your org chart just by navigating your web pages - you have an integration problem…ok, opportunity:)  Does a single search crawl both in-house and user generated content?  What about user generated content beyond the bounds of yourcompany.com.  For example, look at this 6 minute video on Youtube of   Note the # of views, stars, favorites and the two most recent comments!


How should Microsoft (Disclosure - I work at Microsoft right now) treat this content on Youtube?  What are the processes to discover content like this?  How do you decide what to include or not?  How much risk do you take with dead links to external content that can vanish?  What should be done about the video creator - this is an influencer - probably should thank him at a minimum - but much more should be done (another day, other posts on influencer program development). 

A more radical view of this would be the following question:  When do you stop authoring content in house? (and re-deploy that investment to drive a user generated content model?)

Before I go further, let’s be realistic. You probably can’t just stop authoring content.  There will be some content you may always need to author.  Security content for example - where many users will expect vendor created (and legally indemnified content).  You may also find that this enables a shift in which content you write - more pre-release and deployment/training content and less help and how-to content.  Likewise, there is a business scorecard problem.  Businesses measure results on a monthly/quarterly/annual basis - particularly when we are talking about investments like content.  So, how can you achieve a breakthrough in results from a new, user driven model, when your scorecard is assuming continuous quarter over quarter improvement.  This conflict quickly converts companies from being risk takers to risk averse. 

What would happen if you stopped writing content and converted your entire KB/FAQ process to a wiki?  In the near term?  There’s a high probability the quality of your content would initially go down (at least that is the right expectation to set).  User generated content is not the holy grail, it won’t solve world peace.  This is where the scorecard conflict is key - you need executive patience in longer term goals than quarterly results.  Look at Wikipedia…a few years ago there was plenty of debate about its accuracy - now it is generally accepted (and research has supported) to be as accurate, or more than, commercially published encyclopedias.  In fact, a simple example is to look at how current it is.  When will that old school publishing model be updated with yesterdays assassination of Benazir Bhutto.  Wikipedia took less than 24 hrs and it’s not just in English, but here in French, Spanish, Dutch…and many more. 

The real answer is more about percentage of content authored in-house vs via community - move from 80-90% internal to 80-90% user generated.  While the quality might initially go down, there is little question that ultimately a user generated content model will be more complete (topic and language) and at least  as good (likely far better) than anything that can be done in house.  Depending on your business, you need to forecast how long this transition might take - will it exceed the old model in 6 months, 1 year, 3 years?  What’s the bet?  What’s the tolerance for the duration?  How do you risk mitigate the potential quality dip?  You know you will have resisters who on day 1 will email around links to some user submitted piece that is terrible - are you prepared - is the corporate culture ready to withstand these bumps?

By now you should also be thinking about the revised scorecard.  Why are you doing all this?  To save cost on content?  Deflect calls from your call center?  Reach more users?  Increase satisfaction (users find what they want)?  All valid goals, but with only these elements, it’s likely a richer scorecard than what most organizations have today around help and how-to content.

Practical social media for business.  I like it, wonder what you think?


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posted in Business Strategy, Examples, Influencers, Microsoft, Social Media, Why Community Matters, online communities | 4 Comments

4th December 2007

Bad example of engaging with Influencers…

Ok, on the heals of my recent discussions on the topic of good models vs bad models with influencers, a friend shared with me a story brewing regarding Target’s efforts on their "Rounder’s" program - an attempted "stealth influencer" program. 

Have a read of "Bloggers seeing red over Target’s little secret"

Here’s my favorite nugget from the story:

The hubbub began in early October after Siman received a Rounders newsletter as Target was launching a new Facebook page. Like many companies now setting up sites on Facebook and MySpace, Target hoped to get people talking about new products, get feedback and continue to find ways to promote its hip image.

"Your Mission: Try not to let on in the Facebook group that you are a Rounder," the newsletter read.

"We love your enthusiasm for the Rounders, and I know it can be hard not to want to sing it from the mountaintops [and in the shower, and on the bus]. However, we want to get other members of the Facebook group excited about Target, too! And we don’t want the Rounders program to steal the show from the real star here: Target and Target’s rockin’ Facebook group. So keep it like a secret!"

The vendor running the Rounder’s program quickly took the fall for Target and to everyone’s credit the response and apology seems swift.  Good job there, I’ll assume sincere.  One piece of advice:  shouldn’t have deleted the posts!

Need we all be reminded of the logic behind stealth anything in social media.  I think the best thing to keep secret is the one thing you most want people to know - that way you can be assured of the word getting out!


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20th November 2007

Co-created Soft Drink…Join the "DEWmocracy"! (?)

Hmmm.  I’m not really a Mountain Dew guy, but why not, everyone seems to be experimenting with co-creation concepts, let’s see how it goes.  (updated: this is the link, but a error on the page tonight)

Help create the new Mountain Dew, complete with game oriented Back Story:

Help create the next Mountain Dew.

Starting November 2007, you are invited to join the movement to create the next Mountain Dew. Your journey will give you the power to select the flavor, color, name, logo, label, and tagline for the next Mountain Dew.

Your journey will take you through seven Chambers, where you will meet mythical characters, answer questions, and play games.

  • Upon entering each Chamber, you will be tasked to create a specific feature of the next Mountain Dew. For example, in the first Chamber, you will select your Drink’s flavor.
  • Creating the individual features of your Drink will be the first task of each Chamber. Once completed, you can wait for the next Chamber to open or can continue exploring the world of DEWmocracy by playing a series of games.
  • Your decisions in the first three Chambers will lead you to join 1 of the 3 Teams that will ultimately create the next Mountain Dew. After the 3 most popular combinations of features are determined, you’ll be aligned with the Team whose drink most closely matches your own.
  • Once aligned with a Team, you will be responsible for creating the logo, label, and ultimately the tag-line of the next Mountain Dew. Each Team will vote on which Drink candidate from those submitted by all Team members will be put forth for a national vote.
  • Points earned in the game get you higher visibility for your drink, increasing its chances of being selected as your Team’s candidate. Accruing the most points does not directly result in your drink being one of the 3 final selections.
  • In the final Chamber, your team will vote to determine the Drink candidate that you collectively would like to bring into the real world.

Ok, I’m not really sure this is all that good an idea, but I’ll bite for awhile. 

Note:  Some things they could have done to make this easier to blog about.


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20th July 2007

Netflix: Good example of transparency on development…

Take a look at this post on the Netflix blog.  It’s a great example of transparency and direct conversation from the developers/product planners for the Netflix site to their users.  I don’t regularly follow the blog, but I take this as a response to some criticism they were taking on the Netflixspeed of innovation/change on the site.  Makes for a good read - also read the comments in response which lean fairly strongly positive.

Thanks to Bokardo blogger Josh for getting me to take a regular look at what Netflix is doing.

Well done.


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9th July 2007

Reputation Management - more on social networking WMDs…

This came back to me today with an article from the Washington Post (reprinted in the Seattle Times):  Defending Virtual Reputations. 

A few months ago I blogged about a local Seattle company called Visible Technologies (Online Brand Management:  Good, Bad or it depends).  In my post, I made a comparison to a weapons manufacturer where the weapons were neither good or bad, it depended on how they were used.  I’ve since had the opportunity to spend some time with Visible and owed a follow up.  First off, I was pretty impressed by what I saw…in particular the work they are doing around a product/service they call Trucast.  To be fair, I’ve not been a customer of this service, so this is not an endorsement, but the concept is right up my alley.  Here’s a run down on key capabilities for Trucast:

  • Monitor for new, relevant content and sort it into specific topics so you can make intelligent and timely business decisions.
  • Generate in-depth analytic reports via easy-to-use, web-based charts and graphs. Dashboards help identify influencers, interpret positive and negative conversations, and track the impact of key issues and trends.
  • Participate in online conversations and understand the impact of ongoing online discussions–a unique feature of our system.
  • Receive alert notifications when important new content is posted online.

So, they have created and automated technology for use as a listening system. To me, this sort of business intelligence is a must have on the roadmap for developing an effective community engagement model.

They also have a product called TruView. Here’s a except from my earlier post regarding TruView:

TruView:  Reputation management service for organizations, brands, companies and/or people designed to “ensure that fair and accurate information is correctly ranked among the top 20 results on each site when people search for your company, products and services, or executive management team.”

hmmm.  Well, I can’t help but think that “fair and accurate” is often NOT aligned with what an org, brand, company or people want discovered first.  Who decides what is “fair and accurate?” - the users or the company?  And what steps does the service take to deliver on this product promise?  Dangerous but interesting ground.  I could sure see politicians and celebrities using a service like this and potentially with fair intent.  I could also see this used to the extreme in ways that really damage the utility of independent user communities - critical voices marginalized.

In Defending virtual reputations, the Wash Post reports on a growing trend to utilize 3rd party firms to "help improve clients’ Google results by creating links and burying negative ones." The story shares some painful, real world examples, of individuals who as victims of blog attacks saw very negative content dominate the search results associated with their names.  This is very interesting ground the plow.  Michael Fertick of ReputationDefender comments that "Google’s not in the business to give you the truth, it’s in business to give what you think is relevant."

I wonder, had all this social media been in place when I was in high school or college, how might search impact my resume (or perceptions of potential employers)?  Or is Search now my resume - for good or for bad.  I’m glad these companies/services exist as I think this is an important service when warranted and used with good intent (particularly when that involves protecting children)…I guess the philosophical question is how do you define "warranted" or "good intent?" 

It won’t be long (I think) before we hear stories of people/organizations using these sorts of services in disruptive/dishonest ways.  It’s hard to blame the manufacturer/service provider in this as they are providing the tools, but they are also profit motivated.  To me, this will be an exciting space to watch and I’m glad I’m getting to know some of the players in this space.  Love to hear your thoughts on this.


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8th July 2007

Microsoft MVP names daughter "Vista Avalon"

As I came home from vacation and found this in my inbox I was once again surprised by the passion within the community for the products, brands and/or companies they follow.  Information Week reported that MVP Bil Simser (and spouse) named their newborn daughter "Vista Avalon."  Here you can read Bil’s account of the thought process including the first naming idea where the initials spelled "DOS."

Showing his good nature, Bil leads off the inevitable jokes with a few of his own thoughts:

  • Her blog will contain the largest number of search hits with people looking for information about Vista
  • She has her very own carrying case (a laptop bag) and other personalized "logoware", most of which I can buy from the Microsoft store or any geek conference for the next 10 years
  • She’ll be the only one at her school with a service pack (or two, or three, …) named after her
  • If she’s hot (and she will be) boys will make many crazy jokes about "starting her up" and "rebooting her" to which I will pummel them upside the head with an XPS laptop that I’ll carry around to "interview" any potential suitors.

Well Bil, here’s the bottom line.  Beautiful baby!  Congratulations and glad everyone is home and doing well.


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posted in Examples, Influencers, MVP, Microsoft | 1 Comment

1st July 2007

More behind the scenes with the MVP Program…

Part 2 of 4 part series on Channel 9 about the MVP program…this time with Insiders Ben Miller and April Spence.  Hear the podcast here.



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23rd June 2007

Lessons from a "Blog Post gone wild…"

Well, I’ve blown the relevance of the web metrics on my blog for the foreseeable future.   I thought I’d share a few observations from this weeks T-mobile blog post gone wild.

In no particular order:

  • Page views vs comments:  Less than .05% of all readers (I should say pageviews) commented on the blog post.  This seems pretty typical for blog posts (communities) in general, but it was interesting to see it applied to a post that had over 20K pageviews. 
  • The Digg Effect: About 1 in 20 viewers, "Dugg" it - this became a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It became clear very quickly that users who use Digg, Digg.  It’s difficult from the metrics I have to peel this back further, but my rough estimate would be that Digg readers Digg with 4-5 times the promiscuity of other readers.  This makes sense, but is an odd sort of swarming.
  • Digg’s impact on traffic:  Digg is largely a non-issue in terms of views until you’ve crossed 50 or so Diggs, from there it curved quickly.  This post took about 14 hrs to get to that point….14 hrs after that, it was at 1000 Diggs.
  • Good news vs Bad news:  Like regular news, everyone cares about bad news, no one cares about the follow-up (follow up post closing the loop is tracking to about 1/50 the Pageviews of the original).
  • Digg is a social network.  I never really thought of Digg as a social network, but it seems clear to me that there are prolific Diggers/commenter’s who have loose tie connections.  If you follow the comments, many commenter’s "know" each other and frequently swarm together.  I’m not sure what this says about Digg as a news source, but this changed how I think about Digg.  If I was a PR agency, I’d crawl Digg on behalf of my clients and look for opportunities for response (for good or bad stories). 
  • Thick/Thin community contributors:  I once blogged here about thick vs thin community contributors.  Digg proved their example from the previous post.  Prolific "Diggers" are the kind of "thin" contributors I wrote about.  It takes little effort to Digg, but the effort can drive dramatic influence on the visibility of a topic.
  • Tone & manner.  This might be the most important lesson.  Most blogs start with readers who actually know you on some level and blog traffic grows gradually, not exponentially.  Those who know you (follow you), know your writing style and generally know something about your personality.  With gradual growth to your blog, this stays normalized.  When you suddenly introduce large volumes of new users who don’t know you or your writing style, the reactions can be very different.  The example in this case were a handful of commenter’s (and maybe other readers) who thought, based on my post, that I was "yelling" at the CS agent at T-Mobile.  Re-reading my post with this in mind, I guess I can understand the misconception, but those who know me probably can’t remember me raising my voice about anything (except maybe trying to get my Dog not to run in our creek).  It simply isn’t in my character to yell at anyone about anything.
  • Comments moderation:  I have never turned on comment moderation on my blog.  At about comment 125 on the thread I did as I started getting some comments that were truly inappropriate.  In general, I don’t think moderation is good, but you’ve got to have your own standard for this.  I approved all comments except those with really outrageous profanity. 

Overall, the influence and reach of the citizen blogger was amazing, even disturbing.  I’ve read stories and followed other events, but this one was closer to home.  It certainly has me thinking through the importance of using brand management tools/services for trending community conversations on the web as a part of a customer listening system.  The problem isn’t that customers will complain about you (that’s ok and likely they have good reasons), the issue is how quickly you see it and how effective you are at engaging in and responding to the complaint.  I hope I can influence this in my own company.


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posted in Blogging, Examples, Social Media, web 2.0 | 2 Comments

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