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

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.


Popularity: 83% [?]

posted in Events, MVP, Social Media | 73 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

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: 39% [?]

posted in Influencers, MVP | 1 Comment

4th August 2007

MVP Program In-depth…Part 3 of 4…

Part 3 is now live on Channel 9 here.  This edition features 2 long time members of my team (April and Mike) talking about what the MVP awards are really all about.  Hearing it first hand from two who have been at this for a long time is worth the listen.



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Popularity: 38% [?]

posted in MVP, Microsoft | 1 Comment

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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Popularity: 44% [?]

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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Popularity: 41% [?]

posted in Examples, Influencers, MVP, Microsoft | 0 Comments

20th June 2007

Learn about how the MVP Program really works…

Couple a cool guys from my team (Ed Hickey and Brian Boston) Podcasting on the MVP Program.  While I get to run the program, these guys work hand in hand with our community every day!

Give it a listen:  http://channel9.msdn.com/Showpost.aspx?postid=317571



Popularity: 37% [?]

posted in Influencers, MVP, Microsoft | 1 Comment

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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Popularity: 33% [?]

posted in Influencers, Interviews & Speeches, MVP, Microsoft, Social Media, web 2.0 | 1 Comment

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