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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Popularity: 90% [?]

posted in Examples, Influencers, MVP | 1 Comment

31st December 2007

Satisfaction, Loyalty and Affinity…

I had the good fortune to eat Sushi, have some 1:1 discussion and participate in a short video for Jeremiah this past month while he was in Seattle attending the Web Community Forum.  The video gave me a chance to talk a bit more about finding, thanking and engaging influential’s as part of developing a more effective advocacy and user listening strategy.  Ultimately, I like to think of engagement in the following lifecycle:


  • Satisfaction is really just "brushing your teeth" - basic hygiene.  You have users who believe what you provide meets their needs.  Nothing more or less.  The barrier to be replaced here is pretty low.  And realistically, few mature companies have large scale customer dissatisfaction issues - they more likely have large scale customer apathy issues.
  • Loyalty is obviously a higher achievement.  At this point, you’ve earned users who show up in your Net Promoter scores and exhibit behaviors of likelihood to recommend. 

In my experience, this is where a lot of the measurement ends.  However, this is short of the destination that brands we envy elicit from their customers.  Does loyalty really capture the essence of the Harley Davidson or Four Seasons customers?  It doesn’t capture how I feel about Cookshack! The word "customer" is probably not even the right word in these cases!

  • Affinity is an even stronger measure of alignment with a brand, product or service.  What does it look like?  The behavior I look for is "likelihood to defend."  If someone "attacks" your product, service or brand, does someone show up to defend it?  We all know the credibility that the brand itself has in defending its products or services - pretty limited.  I’m not advocating the brand doesn’t participate here, I’m merely making the point that other users are generally more credible advocates. 

Note:  Overly supportive/pushy/argumentative "fanboys" can be counterproductive in this, so take care with the extremes.

A few questions for brand/product managers are:

  • What are the drivers that move users across this continuum?
  • What is the cost model for the drivers?
  • What is a healthy distribution in my relative industry and competitive market?  If I was Marriott, would the same distribution goal make sense as the Four Seasons?  Probably not. 
  • What is the my current vs desired state distribution?

Thanks again Jeremiah for taking the time for the video and here’s a link to watch.


Popularity: 90% [?]

posted in Business Strategy, Influencers, Social Media, Voice of Customer, Word of Mouth, web 2.0 | 4 Comments

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?


Popularity: 86% [?]

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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Popularity: 58% [?]

posted in Examples, Influencers, Social Media, marketing | 0 Comments

1st December 2007

"Who’s on First - The role of Early Adopters…"

I talk to a lot of people and invariably I’m talking about a lot the same things all the time - Web 2.0, Social Media, Influencers…  To be honest, all to often I lose track of many of these conversations - not the people - I’m good at tracking that…but it’s a lot of conversations.

Last week I picked up my mail at work and on my desk was the Nov. edition of Marketing News with a little note of thanks on the cover.  It didn’t really register, I just put in my to-read pile.  Today, I picked it up and tore off the outer wrapper and saw the headline story was "Who’s on First? Early Adopters spend more, share more and can make or break your product.  Rather than fear them, marketers today are building relationships with them."  (by )

Ok, that sounds right up my alley - I know instantly I’m either going to like this article or hate it for over simplifying the influencer model.  So, I sit down to read…

Page 1:  The set up - citizen marketers driving brand awareness and purchase influence through their conversations.  Relative authority of influencers increasing over historical rates.  Ok - I’m good, I certainly think this is true.  I find myself thinking about recent time I’ve shared with and Duncan Watts on either side of this position - debating the role of the influential.  I believe strongly in the influence model, but I fear its failure through over simplification (I blogged this recently).

Page 2:  Industry quotes and data/research supporting the concepts.  Low and behold, data and quotes from WOMMA co-presenter Ed Keller.  Cool, he’s one of THE guys on the topic.  A good warning from Charles Golvin at Forrester: "You have to be a bit more clever and thoughtful and engaging in developing your approach to this audience; the in-your-face, can’t-avoid-it advertising won’t fly."

Page 3: Wrapping it up with a b-2-b example…wait a minute, I know that guy.  The story turns to how Microsoft (disclosure - that’s where I work) engages with influentials (MVPs - disclosure - that’s the program I have global responsibility for) around the world to gather feedback on future products.  Suddenly I remember the conversation with the journalist as I’m reading my quotes.  Kind of a funny moment to be reading something and find yourself in it having forgotten the discussion:) 

Anyway, I like the article (good thing!) and was happy to see one of my signature statements included: "An important part of the ethos [of our program] is that MVP’s don’t do what they do in their communities to help Microsoft–they do it to help other users."

Thanks Daniel for sending me the mag or this is one I probably would have missed.


Popularity: 60% [?]

posted in Influencers, MVP | 1 Comment

18th November 2007

Influencer Marketing: An Oxymoron?

I recently found myself in a roomful of Brand marketers, Agencies and Boutique consultancies discussing the growing authority of influencers.  As social media has amped and marketing eyes a mixshift of investments to new media and Word of Mouth, the importance and debate around the role of Influencers has exploded. 

Just last week, Ad Age reported on research by PQ media that Word of Mouth Marketing crossed $1B in 2006…up from $76M 5 years earlier, in route to $3.7B by 2011. 

…in 2006, according to an independent research report on the field that will be unveiled during a session at the annual Word Of Mouth Marketing Association conference in Las Vegas today. The analysis, believed to be first in-depth look at word of mouth, reports that spending on the emerging discipline has increased from $76 million in 2001 to $981 million in 2006 and is expected to grow to approximately $3.7 billion by 2011.

These influencer conversations generally fall into a couple of buckets:

  • Data and examples designed to convince you that Influencers matter
  • How to find and "activate" them in the brand conversation
  • How to measure

I find myself invited to participate in a lot of these discussions as I have pretty strong views on the topic after 5 years of building one of the largest Influencer programs (www.microsoft.com/mvp).  Probably more important than the strong views, is the practical lessons learned from operationalizing a global program designed to find, thank and engage influencers both online and offline.  Like most things, the best way to learn about something is to go and personally engage in it.  I estimate that I’ve talked to over 3000 influencers of our brands from over 50 countries during the past few years. 

So, back to the conversation at the conference…As we sat in the room having the discussion, several people used the term "Influencer Marketing."  Each time I heard it, I cringed.  Something about this phrase seemed wrong.  In the moment, I couldn’t articulate why this phrase dug so deep, but by my afternoon presentation I had to discuss this topic.  I like to keep the following core assumption in mind:  Influencers don’t do what they do in order to help you (the brand)…they do what they do to help other users.  Forgetting this core point is probably the fastest path to a failed influencer initiative.  The term "Influencer Marketing" to me feels like it is attempting to get a direct response from an influencer.  Find the right people, tell them about "A" and they will go tell everyone about "A."  In my experience, it just doesn’t work this way.  There are a few "influencers" with whom this works - but they rarely influence much or sustain over the long term - they may just be loud.  Perhaps my issue with this is that most marketing feels very one way.  If you really want to get influencers talking, it’s about a two way, trust based conversation. 

Wrong model (marketing dream):  I tell you about "A," you tell everyone you know about "A"

Right model:  I tell you about "A," you tell me about "A1, B and C."  I listen, I make some changes or I don’t make changes but I tell you why.  This creates outbound conversation - but it’s a by-product of a relationship, not a channel for push communications.

In truth there probably isn’t anything wrong with the term itself.  There are influencers and brands will invariably market to them - and that’s not evil.  What might be "evil" is thinking there is a shortcut here - forgetting that this really only works when social media is creating a conversation between a brand and the users…and remember, "listening is not just waiting for your turn to talk!"

And finally, the right model makes another strong point - that the conversation isn’t just between your influencers and the marketing department - it’s the influencers and your company - cross functions.


Popularity: 100% [?]

posted in Business Strategy, Influencers, MVP, Microsoft, Social Media, Voice of Customer, web 2.0 | 7 Comments

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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Popularity: 48% [?]

posted in Events, Influencers, Word of Mouth | 2 Comments

18th October 2007

Real Influencers - Profiles in Action…

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to meet Patty Seybold and Matthew Lees of the Patricia Seybold Group, at the Forum One Online Community Business Summit.  Patty has long been a thought leader on customer experience and more deeply connecting the voice of users with business innovation.

Recently, I was contacted by Matt who was working on some research titled:  Active Community Members:  What Makes them Tick?

Given the work I’ve done the last several years leading the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Award program, I’m often asked about the DNA of community influentials.  In the 4+ years I’ve been leading this program, I suspect I’ve met personally more than 3000 Community leaders from well over 50 countries.  Whenever I meet with press, analysts or peers from other companies, a common interest is why do these community leaders do what they do??  Sometimes I just want to say: "if you have to ask, you just don’t get it."  (that of course is not a very helpful answer.)

In some ways it’s easier to just be really explicit about what isn’t the reason.  It really starts with one which I think is key to the ethos of understanding communities:  Community leaders don’t do what they do to help you - the company.  They do what they do to help their fellow users.  The benefits to you (the company/brand) are by-products, not motivations.  Failure to understand this difference is one of the most common errors I see in how companies try to engage in communities focused on their products.

When Matt contacted me, he was anxious to talk to one of our MVP’s as part of pulling together some profiles of real community leaders.  He connected with Bharat Suneja, Principal Exchange Architect at Zenprise; Microsoft MVP and member of the Microsoft Exchange Server Community. 

You can read a synopsis of Matt’s research outputs here which includes not only the outputs of his interview with Bharat, but several other community leaders as well.

On a side note, I’m honored to be joining a group known as Patty’s Visionaries for an upcoming event November 6th-7th in Santa Monica California.  Another great chance to connect and learn from others!


Popularity: 30% [?]

posted in Influencers | 1 Comment

2nd October 2007

A fun way to see our brand…

Japanese Digital Media MVP Satoru Koshiba did some really cool work with the MVP logo I thought I’d share.  Awesome work in a really fun format!

Thank you Satoru-san!

Watch the video here.


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Popularity: 40% [?]

posted in Influencers, MVP | 1 Comment

29th July 2007

Citizen Marketer on "Citizen Marketers: When People Are the Message"

When People are the MessageMy book pile has grown faster than I can deplete it.  I’ve done what I rarely do…started reading multiple books at the same time.  Some people can do that, it’s not for me.

While traveling this week, I finish Citizen Marketers by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba of Church of the Customer.

It’s one of the better books on the changing face of marketing and influence in the post read/write web world and I certainly recommend adding it to your pile.  If you are already in a web 2.0 role, Citizen Marketers is a warm blank of reassurance and if you are just considering the implications, it’s an excellent primer for pulling together your business case.

Here’s what I liked:

  • Good story telling - it’s just a good, entertaining, well written book - notable in that so many business audience books simply are not.
  • Examples galore - I wouldn’t necessarily call them best practices, but a range of examples that span industries and company sizes.  Selling the benefits of community in a company is in part good story telling with examples.
  • Approachability - If you are "web 2.0 literate" already, this is one of the books to drop on the desk of your boss. 
  • Structures:
    • Personas: The Four F’s:  Filters, Fanatics, Facilitators, and Firecrackers
    • Programs: Contests, Co-creation, and Communities

Enjoy the book…next up, finishing The Influentials.


Popularity: 17% [?]

posted in Book Reviews, Influencers, Social Media | 0 Comments

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