4th June 2007

Another Podcast goes live…how I got started on community…

Eventually maybe I’ll do some of my own podcasts here, but for now, I’m enjoying the opportunities to do so for others.  Sue Waters with Mobile TAFE recently asked me to do a podcast (link here) and took a bit different approach than others I’ve done.  I hope you’ll give it a listen and give me your feedback the bits that worked and areas I should expand on.


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23rd May 2007

Podcast on Communities…

I recently was introduced to Paul Dunay of by Mukund of Best Engaging Communities.  Paul and I set up time for a phone call to talk with one another.  As sometimes happens, what started as a hello, let’s chat, quickly turned into a spur of the moment Podcast - welcome to the web 2.0 world that allows us to go from 1:1 conversation to public - push button!

I had a great time talking with Paul about communities…below were the topics we ranged across and to the podcast.  I know I didn’t give all these their due justice, but thanks Paul for suggesting we share the conversation!

  • Communities in a wikinomics world
  • Using the Pay it Forward model
  • How do you know when to build community
  • The problem with websites today
  • Goal of a support community
  • Create a sense of maternity for your users
  • Give them access, not tools!
  • How many communities does Microsoft have
  • Connecting with your Most Valuable contributors
  • Using Communities in integrated marketing
  • Communities role in launching Vista
  • Day to day mgmt of many communities
  • Negative is the new positive
  • Digg’s efforts to delete a post
  • Web 2.0 vs Web 2.0 apologies


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22nd May 2007

Public Props for Community Leaders…

Came to my desk today…

As a HUGE believer in communities and fundamentally living from the bias that it’s the most active core enthusiasts that make communities great, I love it when the stories get picked up!  Not often we get a such a good local connection story on this level - another lesson here in the value of community engagement.

In the Sri Lanka Daily Mirror today, front of the Financial Times section:

Microsoft identifies Sri Lanka’s Most Valuable Persons in IT

The Most Valuable (Professionals) from left: (L-R) Merill Fernando, Manoj Matchado, Prasanna Amirthalingam and Jinath Premaratne. Pic. By Daminda Harsha Perera.

Hope you’ll give the article a read.


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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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26th April 2007

Community interview posted…

I was recently interviewed about Community by Jonny Chambers for Solshare.net.  We talked about the following:

  • what’s my definition of ‘community’ 
  • supporting community volunteers to foster better community results
  • do communities make an organization cool? 
  • aligning organizational goals with community outputs
  • who should ‘own’ community in an organization
  • technology trends that assist in the success of online communities 
  • measuring the success of a community
  • tag-drafting as a way to follow the thinking of the great information mavens


    I don’t like seeing myself in video, so I haven’t actually viewed the output, but I thought I’d share the link here.

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13th April 2007

Video from the Past…."I Feel Great!!"

A few years ago we produced a "humorous" - ok, you be the judge of that - video remake of a Nutrigrain Web commercial that we used at the Annual MVP Summit.  I recently came back across the old video and thought it was time it saw the public.  See the original Nutrigrain commercial for a reminder of context at the time.

Then, watch the remake below…including my own "acting" debute near the end.  Have fun and like prior "You might be an MVP if…," please ensure tougue is in cheek.  Not sure it really stands the test of time, but if it gives you a chuckle, so be it.


I heard of some issues with Soapbox, so I added to Youtube as well:  .  


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posted in Influencers, MVP, Microsoft | 5 Comments

31st March 2007

Community helping Community: SBSMigration…

Well, I simply can’t resist this great story.  Check out this personal invitation from Small Business Server MVP and New Orleans resident, Jeff Middleton.  Jeff is hosting a conference focused on his community which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.  Certainly every resident suffered from this event, but perhaps no group as devastated as small businesses; the long term life blood of every community.  New Orleans and the legacy of Katrina seems an ideal backdrop for talking about IT responsibilities in crisis planning, business continuity and disaster recovery.

I’ve known Jeff for several years.  He and I spoke many times immediately following Katrina as I tracked his efforts to both personally recover and contribute to his fellow residents.  While too many of us have moved on and news coverage has abated, those in New Orleans are still living with the realities of what is a very long term recovery.

I was inspired to see so many of Jeff’s fellow MVP’s volunteering their time to this worthy event.  So, I encourage you to check out the links and help re-ignite some attention on this topic, this part of our community, and the event itself.

Welcome from Jeff


A little help from friends




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20th March 2007

Finally revealed!!! The secret criteria for the Microsoft MVP Award!!

Ok, this may be my last post for a little while on anything explicitly MVP as that is not the point of this blog.  But, on the heals of the MVP summit, I’ve decided it’s finally time to come clean on the "official" criteria for the MVP Award program.  I’ve revealed these super TOP SECRET criteria only privately to some of the MVP’s in the past, but at some urging and with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I give you the following.

Before proceeding, please put on your best Jeff Foxworthy voice…now, here goes:

  • If you have more computers than rooms in your house…you might be an MVP
  • If your family members learn about your life from your blog…you might be an MVP
  • If you’ve ever synchronized your smartphone in a bathroom…you might be an MVP
  • If you don’t think of Starbucks when someone says to meet you in the coffeehouse…you might be an MVP (only MVP’s will get this)
  • If you’ve ever been introduced at a party by your online name…you might be an MVP
  • If you’ve ever "thrown down" in a bar over which developer language is the best…you might be an MVP
  • If you plan your day around wireless hotspots…you might be an MVP
  • If your wardrobe prominently features computer industry logos…you might be an MVP
  • If your spouse gets jealous of your laptop…you might be an MVP
  • If you spent more money on hardware than the car you drive…you might be an MVP
  • If you can quote a KB article, but have no idea who won the last season of Survivor…you might be an MVP

:)  hope you enjoy and thanks to all the MVP’s and Microsoft personnel that made this years MVP Summit the most interactive summit ever with over 1700 MVP’s and over 1000 Microsoft personnel involved.

If you’d like a little more formal take the program and background, read here.


ps…for the record, 7 of 11 apply to me (if you substitute BBQs for Hardware on one - well, not quite, but disturbingly close enough!!)

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18th March 2007

MVP Summit Opening video…

For those that asked…here you go…

MVP Summit 2007 Opening

Popularity: 15% [?]

posted in Influencers, MVP, Microsoft | 13 Comments

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