19th March 2008

Can NOT participating in communities = Participation

I’m ignoring for this post that NOT participating would always be better than bad, negative, dishonest, undisclosed, paid, etc. participation.

I often hear (in fact I’ve said it myself in the past) that when it comes to community conversations about your products/services/company that it’s happening with or without you.  Therefore the question is not about whether that conversation is a good thing or not, it is whether you will participate in the conversation or not.  Further, I’ve suggested that in the future you WILL participate - it’s only a matter of time.  Therefore, stop sitting on the fence and decide how to dive in and be a participant in conversations about you. 

With this, I realized I haven’t talked about what participation means.  Typically, when the topic of social media comes up, participation means taking explicit external engagement actions.  Start a blog, comment on others blogs, launch an ideation site, answer questions in your own forums, contribute content to a wiki, tag, rate, etc, etc, etc.  This is often a sticking point for companies - jumping in head first! 

On the whole, I still say this is a reasonably good idea, but I’d like to suggest an even better place to start:  Listen, categorize, inventory and review.  Whether you use manual labor, Google alerts, or sophisticated sentiment analysis tools to crawl conversations might be determined by your size, ambition, budget or other constraints, but they are all good places to start. 

Ask yourself through this process:

  • What are people saying about you?
  • What else do they talk about when they talk about you? (associations)
  • Where are the conversations taking place?
  • Who are the “most interesting” talkers? note:  Define “most interesting” for you. Who talks the most and who is listened to the most are often not the same person! 
  • How big is the sphere of conversation?

This isn’t comprehensive, it’s just a primer.  I’m sure others have good suggestions for questions to ask.  The point is that listening actually is a form of participation and likely the smartest place to begin.  Allow the listening phase to inform your approach to participation.  Listening will actually answer many of the questions that have people on the fence about more active community participation.

So, still on the fence about “participation?”  Ok, at least launch a listening process!


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22nd February 2008

Join me at SAP in Palo Alto for a talk on Social Media and Influencers

I’m spending the day with SAP on the 26th.  One of cool things they do are the SAP Salon events which are open to the public talks.  I have the pleasure of presenting next week…get the details and register here:

Here’s an abstract of the session:

Social Media and Online Communities: If you could only leverage what your customers know.

We’ve been inundated with a wave of new buzz words…Web 2.0, Social Media, Communities, Social Productivity, Influencers, Marketing 2.0…This session will provide a business explanation of what Social Media is, why it matters to a business and most importantly how to operationalize it in a global business environment. We’ll explore a strategy development model for engaging with Social Media and a framework for establishing a long term approach to ROI. And finally, we’ll look at the Microsoft MVP program as a best practice and framework for tapping into the influencer/enthusiast population to drive word of mouth, brand affinity, product quality and online success.

Hope to see you!


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11th February 2008

Joint Podcast with Andy Sernovitz on Paul Dunay’s Buzz Marketing blog

It was a pleasure to join Andy for a Podcast with Paul on his well know site.  Give a listen .


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2nd February 2008

Aberdeen releases research paper on Social Media Monitoring and Analysis

Ok, I’m featured a bit in this as I was interviewed, but even without that built-in bias I think this is one of the better pieces I’ve read.  I particularly appreciate that it articulates a broad set of values across corporate silos to developing and engaging in social media strategies.  Overall the analysis as well as guidance make this a recommended read.

Social Media Monitoring and Analysis:  Generating Consumer Insights from Online Conversation


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31st January 2008

Debating the Influencer model: Fast Company debates the "Un-Tipping Point"

Several people sent me this article recently knowing my interest on the topic of influentials and their role in networks.

[Ironically, reading some of the discussion this article has spurred makes me think that the article that de-bunks the influencer model actually re-enforces the influencer effect on the topic of how information flows.]

I haven’t made it a secret that I have my own effort underway to author a book on the topic.  In my role the past 5 years at Microsoft I’ve been a central figure in developing, leading and advocating for the importance of finding, thanking and engaging influentials/mavens/experts/advocates/enthusiasts.  I’m guilty of co-mingling these terms which is, I think, contributing to the hubbub about this topic.  The practical side of me resists the semantic debate of tearing these terms apart and trying to define the parameters of each.  For one thing, it’s been done before and didn’t seem to resolve the debate.  For another, it adds complexity which makes understanding the principles and the actions to be taken more difficult.  Now, I’m not advocating laziness here!  This is a complex topic - the issue is in “making it simple, but not simplistic.”

The article focuses on the seemingly opposite views of experts on either side of the influencer debate…and in all fairness, an article that supported the influencer model would hardly be worth publishing - as the prevailing view, writing in favor would hardly be newsworthy.  The primary focus of the article revolves around a profile of Duncan Watts (recent Yahoo researcher and network-theory scientist on sabbatical from Columbia University).  The net of it (which is overly simplified) is that networks matter, but influencers within the network have at best a random impact on adoption/trend launching.  And giving the choice between trying to target market to influentials vs mass marketing that mass marketing is the right choice.   Duncan provides a fair amount of research and simulations to back up his views and I’d say his research is worth reading and understanding.  Not to mention he is colorful in his disagreement with Gladwell.  Find more on Duncan here.

On the “other side” of the debate, the columnist interviewed Ed Keller of Keller Fay and co-author of The Influentials.  This portion of the article highlights a “heated rebuttal” between Keller and Watt’s that occurred last fall at an ARF event. 

Before I go on…some disclosure:  I was at that ARF event as a panelist who followed Ed and Duncan’s “heated debate.”  I’m not sure how or who characterized this as a heated debate.  I think that was part of the intent of the organizers - but it was hardly heated.  It wasn’t heated by west coast standards, much less for New York!  Further disclosure, I have met and co-presented with Ed a few times and have met and talked with Duncan.  I’m also a co-chair of an influencer council recently started by WOMMA - so I have intersected with these individuals and the topic many times.  I was also interviewed for this article by Clive Thompson, but didn’t make the story - I understand why - I wasn’t talking about marketing.

My panelist response to the debate was essentially that I disagree with both of them (which also means I agree with both on some points).  For those that have read my blog for awhile, none of this will come as a surprise. 

Here’s the deal.  Defining influencer strategy with the narrow end-benefit of driving trends/adoption with push based marketing I think is the wrong thing to do.  Whether that alone will work or not probably depends more on how good the product is than on who or how you target.  This is not what interests me around the topic of influentials and I think constrains the research parameters in ways that generate multiple truths.  For example - in Duncan’s simulations, the assumptions are around what I’ll call untouched consumers (they had no previous interaction with the product).  In this scenario, I think Duncan is right, it is luck if you get something to go viral.  Influencers (even in Duncan’s research) can extend the reach, but can’t guarantee success - there are too many other variables in the system so all you can prove is that success is random.  (Note:  Nothing guarantees success, it’s about increasing probability). 

In Ed’s extensive research, he’s demonstrated (and documented in a recommended read:  The Influentials) that an elite 10% of participants in communities are 2-5 times more likely to engage in advice-giving conversations.  Thus, given limited investment dollars to drive word of mouth, influencer based outreach should be a fundamental part of any thoughtful campaign.  Ed also rightfully reminds us that in business there are no guarantees and that strategies that increase probability are generally good business choices vs research simulations looking to pave the final mile. 

The research I’ve been a part of certainly supports a core part of Ed’s conclusion about the most engaged 10%.  We’ve seen time and again what I’d simplistically describe in the following taxonomy for participation in technical communities (1/9/90):

  • <1% of unique participants in a community are essentially “answer people” and contribute in extremely disproportionate quantity (both pure volume and average days active per month).  The side bar here would be that quantity does not always = quality, but again, statistically those that are not contributing quality don’t sustain at this level over time - it is largely self governing and not difficult to parse the noise from the value based contributors.
  • ~9% of unique participants demonstrate similar behaviors as the above elite answerers, but at more modest levels.  This correlates reasonably with Ed’s 10%.
  • ~90 of unique participants lurk/contribute.
  • note:  This taxonomy is admittedly a bit simplified.  I blogged a deeper opinion on taxonomy some months back here.

While the majority of my experience is with tech communities, fellow community managers across many different areas have reported the same general distribution.

This is where I’ll circle back to the trouble with semantics.  What does an influencer influence?  Product awareness/sales?  Product usage?  Product innovation?  An influencer strategy that is designed for maximum benefit has to encompass all of these functions.  As a I wrote earlier, I’m not a fan of the term “influencer marketing” as it generally is used to describe a catalyst for Word of Mouth that assumes information/communication flows in one direction from A to B to C, etc.  This may or may not be the case, but if you want to increase probability (as well as many other business benefits) the flow has to be bi-directional. 

Specific example:  What if your engaged influencers never told anyone about your products, but gave you 10X the feedback on how to improve the quality or relevance of your products.  Is the influencer model wrong?  No - the business goal was different - or at least more complex than one dimension focus on buzz generation.

Net net:  Duncan’s research is interesting and I plan to continue to follow it, but it feels apples to oranges to compare that research to the world of influencer engagement that I support.

Sorry for the long post, I doubt I have yet simplified this topic as of yet…more to consider.


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14th January 2008

Not so much "Lovin it"


This was sent to me today:





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13th January 2008

Been to an Unconference Lately? Try NYC Feb. 21st

I went to a lot of conferences last year - this year I’m cutting back (at least I’m planning to).  Rarely do the sessions stand up to the value of connecting with peers.  That’s a big part of why I enjoy unconferences.  Unconferences are built around the concept of Open Space (if you’re new to the idea).  I like this format in that it allows for owning your own level of participation, areas of interest and contributions.  Often, it’s people in the audience that really have the most value to add, but traditional conferences with prescribed agendas can limit the contributions of the expertise that gathers. 

Forum One puts on a number of events throughout the year (see schedule).  I like the smaller venues and intimacy of these discussions.  Unfortunately, this year a calendar conflict means I can’t make it to Santa Fe in April for the Online Community Business Forum - recommended! 

So, having primarily attended West Coast events, I’m heading to New York!  I’ll be attending the Online Community Unconference East in NYC on Feb. 21st.  I’m looking forward to connecting with the east coast crowd I don’t see as often and/or haven’t met yet.  If you’re looking at your calendar and considering conferences, I hope you’ll take a look at this one.

I have discount code for this event as well!  Drop me a message in , DM me on or email: and I’ll send it along.

Hope to see you,


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9th January 2008

Podcast on communities up on "We are Smarter" blog…

Thanks Aaron Strout over at the We are Smarter than Me blog for hosting a recent podcast.  It went up today, so I thought I’d share the pointer.  Give a listen and let me know your thoughts.


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16th November 2007

A new look and feel for this blog…

If you’re new to this blog…welcome, likely the only thing new you see is this post. If you’ve been with me for awhile, welcome to the “new look” Community Group Therapy. If you blog, you may be like me and just get visually tired of the same look and feel after awhile. Not to mention that I frankly didn’t give it a lot of thought the first time around. I still have a fair amount of work to clean up some of my older content and get things appropriately categorized.

For those interested, I thought it might be worth explaining a little of what changed. Here goes:

  • New header image: Hopefully it captures the spirit of conversation. If you’re looking for images, I purchased the rights to this one on istockphoto.
  • Navigation bar: Added Upcoming Events. While most of my event activity I now track in Facebook, I wanted a place to start to capture where I’ve been and where I’m going. There’s nothing better than meeting people at events that I follow or who have followed me. I had more than one occasion at WOMMA this week where I “met” people and I literally could not remember if I knew them (had met them face to face before) or if I just know them “digitally.” It was both awkward and great to see this blurring.
  • Search…search :)
  • Find me at: I was looking for a way to bring together the disparate places I “live.” Wink seemed a good choice and I like the public profile I can manage at Wink. The widget seemed pretty flexible - check it out and tell me what you think.
  • Recent posts: Just for navigation alternatives - it’s particularly useful for me when I write as I can quickly find things I’ve been referencing lately.
  • Subscribe: I added A LOT of options
  • Categories: I’ve done a poor job in my history of writing here of consistently using categories, but I like this view on other blogs I read so I’ve committed myself to improve.
  • What others are reading: Another item I like from blogs I read - quickly see what is getting traffic right now! Unfortunately, since I moved my blog, my historical click data didn’t come with so this won’t reflect all time most read for now and will take a little time to be all that interesting.
  • Delicious cloud: I really liked this. As a fan of tag drafting, I wanted to bring back a cloud to my site of everything I’m tagging in delicious. You can of course just subscribe to my tags in delicious if you really want to read what I read, but hopefully this is another way to share what I’ve found most interesting on the web.
  • Share and Enjoy: I’ve added buttons at the end of every post to share via digg, reddit, delicious, stumbleupon, technorati and Facebook - as well as an option to just email it to others. As a fan of word of mouth, I wanted to make it easy to share.

Finally, a shout out for all the help on this to Heidi. I met Heidi through a friend in Facebook that I follow (thanks to you too Connie). Heidi did all the heavy lifting behind the scenes to move to a new host as well as re-design and migrate content. If you’re looking for similar help, I’d certainly endorse! (hey, that’s Word of Mouth!)


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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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