Posts filed under ‘Community Development Business Case’

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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March 20, 2007 at 8:32 pm 21 comments

Does your company support employee blogging?

To blog or not to blog?  That is the question. 

Do you know a company still having this debate? (are YOU a company still having this debate?)

Beyond the borders of companies that have embraced communities, I hear this debate about blogging all the time.  There are usually a couple of common objections to employee blogging:

1)  Productivity – My employees have full time jobs, I can’t afford to have them out blogging.

2)  Quality – Are you crazy – content unscrubbed by marketing?

3)  Legal – Are you crazy – content unscrubbed by legal?

4)  Over transparency?

Just so we’ve covered it, let’s talk briefly about these objections.  The first two are largely emotional, but the 3rd can really stop you in your tracks.  The 4th is one you need to debate internally and be intentional about.

Productivity:  How to even begin with this legacy thinking?  What could possibly be more important than having your employees engage in conversations with the people that use your products and/or services.  Are you kidding me?  I’m keeping this one simple, but I can’t believe how much I’ve heard this.  If this sounds familiar, I’m sorry – maybe my post on insights can help.  I’m actually waiting to be challenged on this one in my own role – I will let you know if it happens.  I know people will wonder, how can Sean have time to do all this blogging AND his day job with driving community work at Microsoft?  Perhaps some of my own employees may even wonder?  My simple response is the same…what is more important than the insights I can gather externally to help guide our thinking around communities.  How do you ensure you step out of silo’d thinking that assumes we already know what we need to know?  This is part of my “thinking time” – something everyone, especially business leaders, should make sure they do more of.

Quality:  Fair enough, but unrealistic.  The world is already authoring content about you, your products, your policies, etc and search engines are blurring the source of who authored it.  You need to participate in this.  You have an opportunity here to change and personalize your “corporate voice.”  This is nothing but positive.  Stop scrubbing content and using corporate marketing “speak.”  It’s time for your customers to really know you, which means knowing your people.  Let go….. Further, there is an economic case here the “bean counters” (sorry finance:)) will like.  Depending on the business you’re in, authoring content is a tough part of the business.  There are always gaps, you can’t localize fast enough.  It doesn’t cover a broad enough set of topics.  It’s written for the wrong type of user.  By allowing blogging, more of your employees from much more diverse perspectives can participate in this creation.  You’re taking the first step to open sourcing your content and knowledge – (don’t get excited, your not done…you have to push this farthur to user to user voices embraced on your properties). 

Legal:  This is the toughest one…and legal is not totally wrong.  Do not do this without legal, that would be a serious mistake.  But, remember, the job of legal (my opinion) is to tell you HOW to do things…not just to tell you NOT to do things!!  See the assumptive close for a refresher.  They have genuine concerns about how IP gets shared and how IP is gathered.  What outward facing guidance is “vetted” (you indemnify) and what is user to user advice.  These issues need to be worked through, but the point is they are resolvable.

Over transparency:  Is there such a thing as too much transparency?  Actually, yes there is.  Remember, you may know the difference between brain storming and commitments, but your readers may not.  Talking about futures when futures are uncertain may create implied expectations that you simply cannot meet.  This is unfair to you and unfair to your users.  This doesn’t mean you can’t talk about futures, but you need to be smart about this and not make implied commitments that you can’t deliver (your company can’t deliver).  In being more transparent, you will gain the trust of your users, but implied commits you can’t deliver leads to distrust – so discuss openly inside your organization what those guidelines need to be and then live with the policy.

Note:  For tips to overcome, go back to Convincing the Unconverted, Parts 1 -4.

I came across many helpful links on guides/tips for corporate blogging on the Diva Marketing Blog I wanted to share…Thanks Diva!!

Also, a “shout out” to Shel at a shel of my former self who also posted this week on the flaws and risks of corporate blogging.  Appropriate props to those he also cross referenced:  Kami Huyse and Randish who have lots of great insights on this topic.   Interesting the topic struck each of us around the same time.

Any of this sound familiar?  What objections do you hear? 


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March 5, 2007 at 3:34 pm 16 comments

A little discussion on "Corporate Transparency"…

In Convincing the Unconverted, Part 3, I shared a list of reasons, or motivations, for businesses to engage in community development.  One of the topics I mentioned was Image or the “humanization” of your company.  I thought this topic deserved a bit more exploration. 

To me, we reached this point through natural evolution (The Evolution of Consumer Empowerment) aided by a cocktail of recent catalysts driving corporate transparency.

  • A new generation (Gen “Y”)
  • Sarbanes-Oxley
  • Web 2.0

A New Generation:

Let’s start with a short discussion on Generation Y (roughly those born between 1981 and 1999) and “why” I think this is important.  A quick review of Gen Y is helpful and wikipedia provides a good baseline.   

Note:  There is considerable controversy on the naming of this generation, including “net gen, millenials, google gen (I hate this one – oops, bias slipped in), gen next,” etc. 

The point of this post is not to dive into these inherently controversial topics, but to talk about how these generational differences are leading to Corporate Transparency.  I think anyone who has ever had parents or children (I’m hoping that gets everyone here) can agree that there are significant differences between the generations.  While our parents might look at us and think we should behave more like them and we look at them thinking they should behave like us, the reality is neither will happen – the same will be true for our children.  The example that brought this home for me in a business context was a colleague who said the following: 

Today’s 22 year old coming out of college into the workforce will have the expectation that they can just walk into the CEO’s office and present and defend their ideas.

It was a simple anecdote, but it struck me that I think it’s generally true.  Now, I’m not judging this as good or bad, right or wrong, only substantially different than the way most traditional companies function today – you “earn the right” vs “expect the right,” so to speak.  This is the generation of interaction.  Not the gen that watched TV as much as they played online.  Not the gen that watched the evening news, but the gen that created the news in the blogosphere.  The traditional company will think these “kids” should behave like their “parents” and these new “kids” will not understand why their “parents” aren’t behaving like them.  (In a future post I will explore this further in the context of how communities could impact the traditional corporate HR functions.)  In the end, businesses are people-driven and will need to evolve to learn from and leverage these generational changes, or you can be sure they will suffer from talent retention.  This new generation will bring with it a fundamental shift in how knowledge within companies, with users and across partners is shared.  Strap on your seatbelt, they may well know something you don’t.


I look at Sarbanes-Oxley as another catalyst driving corporate transparency (albeit the stick vs the carrot..).  This legislation was passed in response to several scandals involving accounting irregularities – most notably with Enron, Tyco and Worldcom. These scandals ushered in a new era of corporate distrust.  Suddenly, we not only wanted increase corporate accountability and transparency, but we wanted it for much more basic reasons.  Enter Maslow’s Hierarchy on needs.  We didn’t want this transparency for reasons of belonging, esteem, or self-actualization (strong drivers I would associate deeply with Gen Y), but for very fundamental reasons of Safety.  People, a lot of people, got hurt in what can only be describes as outrageously offensive corporate acts. 

Read/Write Web:

Enter Web 2.0.  A new, highly engaged and interactive generation born in the age of online gaming, facebook, myspace and youtube is driving a wave of participative-culture change, fueled by an environment of corporate distrust.  A great cocktail for re-inventing how business gets done in the social web.  In this new business reality, static or non-interactive web pages offer little value to a generation looking for interaction and discussion.  This is where your company, or more specifically your employees (who, by the way, are more and more represented by Gen Y) come in.  I may not know what your company does, but I know what most of your web pages say without ever visiting them.  What I want is a relationship and I can’t have a relationship with a Web 1.0 portal.  I want to interact with your employees through employee blogs.  I want to connect with and read content written by other users.  I want to participate in product feedback and discussions.  I want to help myself and I’d rather not talk to you on the phone (in your call center).  These are my new expectations.   How you as a company choose to engage in this new openness is your opportunity for transparency and your opportunity to re-invent your image and humanize your company through personal connections.  Remember, it’s easy to dislike a company – it is harder to dislike the people, once you know and relate with them.

Sure, there are lots of other catalysts contributing to this evolution, including Moore’s law, broadband proliferation, mobile phone penetration, etc – but I see these more as enablers of change vs agents of change. 

Any thoughts on this?



February 26, 2007 at 4:09 pm 12 comments

The Evolution of Consumer Empowerment…

Alright, this is all about how online communities, web 2.0, read/write web are really nothing new!  But wait, haven’t I been blogging about how they are new and different?  Time to un-wrap this just a little. 

Everyday, we all make a lot of decisions…Where to eat?  What movie to watch? What mobile phone to buy?  What cell carrier to use?  What school to send our kids to?  What camera to buy?  What plumber to use?  Which computer to buy?  Where to go on vacation?  How to properly BBQ a steak:)?  How to get the moss out of my lawn?  You get the idea.  The bigger question is, how do we make all these decisions?  Well, generally, we make them the same way we have always made them. 

A Look Back…

We’ve always used and been very heavily influenced by our friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and or others in our personal networks.  The problem with “personal” or physical networks is that they are by definition finite.  Most people’s personal networks are regrettably full of people who share common demographics, opinions, preferences and experiences.  This is just the way it is.  So, when it comes to influence, that personal network is powerful, but relatively limited in its breadth and depth of knowledge and experiences. 

When our need for knowledge exceeded our personal networks, what did we do?  Often, that’s where we went to retailers or direct to manufacturers.  The manufacturers bought premium shelf space and invested in training sales staff in retailers to win influence at the point of purchase.   We’d go to multiple suppliers to check the advice we were getting and ultimately we made a selection – but, in the end, the supply chain wielded a lot of influence over our choices. 

In our personal networks, we might have referred to this process as word of mouth.  Marketers tapped into new tactics to influence word and mouth and then the web ultimately gave explosive growth to the formal discipline of  word of mouth marketing.  (note:  today, this is stretched even further through the online evolution of guerilla marketing – gone horribly wrong recently by Turner Broadcasting.)

Present day…

What the web has changed in this equation is the massive proliferation and democratization of information and access to peer expertise.  Across every topic, language, culture, product, service, opinion… Not only are we no longer bound by the limitations of our personal networks, but our access to information and peer insights is nearly limitless.  Consumers will have more knowledge as part of their decision processes than ever before. They will be in the driver’s seat.  They will even be invited into the innovation cycle.  Consumer to consumer conversation as part of the consumption cycle has become an expectation and is driving an obligation for corporate transparency (see future post).  If the consumer goes into a store at all, who will know more, the consumer?  Or the person behind the counter?  I think it’s clear the trend here favors the consumer.

So, if user-to-user conversation is not part of your business model, then you may have a “going out of business,” business model – get on the community bus! (Still working on your community business case…read “convincing.”)

Yes, all these conversations will add a lot more “noise” into the system and we will ebb and flow out of information overload, but innovations (Digg for example) will help manage that noise to the fringes.

So, while there was a time when manufacturers held the influence, then the channel/retailers took over, so now the baton is passed to the consumer, leaving retailers and manufacturers to re-invent themselves to this new user-centric authority. 

My 2 cents anyway:)

And if you liked it…don’t forget to Digg it!



February 24, 2007 at 4:54 pm 1 comment

Online Discussions – Insights you could use!

In the series I wrote on Convincing the unconverted, Part 3, I talked about using the data/evidence approach to convincing your business of the value of communities.  It often feels to me like many of the investments being made in communities by businesses are first and foremost about brand and brand marketing.  That is not inherently wrong, but I do feel it is too limited a purpose for communities and in fact if done in isolation to other motivations may be perceived as insincere by your users – (and, they might be right!).  I guess I tend the see marketing benefits as a good by-product of why you do communities, not the reason you do it.  I thought in this post I’d talk a little more about “insights.”  This can be broken down into a number of areas:

1.     Product feedback (both current and future) – Important:  Don’t assume you know everything you need to know from your call centers!!  That is a “going out of business feedback model.”

2.     Policy, program or content feedback

3.     Demographic insights – better understanding who uses your products

4.     Preference information – Why people use your products or why not

5.     Companion information – people who use your product also use _____?

6.     Competitive insights – whose products do they use instead of yours

7.     Unexpected insights – users often do what you didn’t intend with your products – this might indicate new markets or avenues of sales/development

8.     <insert your additions here>  

Now, realistically, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to do all of this – particularly in a short time frame.   Just collecting all these insights is non-trivial to say the least – it could be a massive amount of data (unstructured data)!  And taking action on it, which your users expect, is even more challenging.  Not all of it is actionable and you can’t be all things to everyone.  So deciding how to manage this is a complex, but important task. 

Perhaps, together we can share some thoughts on who we think is doing this particularly well and what we think about the approach is effective.

I’ll start with a couple of examples: Now, I’m not hiding that I work at Microsoft, but I don’t work on this project and either way, I still think this is very good.  The concept of connect is to provide an engagement, feedback and voting mechanism on Microsoft products.  On the splash screen, you can see connect has over 800,000 members who have registered over 225,000 bugs and over 30,000 product suggestions.  You can quickly view a list of connection opportunities, manage your participation and join others in publicly contributing and/or voting on others contributions.  Imagine, a public database of everything that is wrong with your products – this would be heresy for many companies.  But communities are all about transparency. This is pretty new, but is another interesting engine for gathering insights.  After registering, you get a quick idea of the size of the community and some light reputation based on top participants.  More importantly, you can quickly navigate user provided insights and either add to the insights or vote on existing.  As a company that brands itself on user customization, this is an interesting way to extend their customer research process.  Just so I’m not accused of any Microsoft biasJ  The level of activity here doesn’t seem very high yet (I think this is fairly new), but the idea is quite similar to those mentioned above.

As the collector of insights, knowing how to think about the thresholds for when you take actions and how you close the loop back will be an important part of your planning process…but the first step toward collection and transparency seems to have some obvious long term benefits.  A big challenge of feedback systems is that they can add so much noise to the system that you don’t know what to do.  That’s what I love about these examples with voting models implementing.  With nuturing, the community will manage the noise out by voting for what is good and marginalizing what isn’t most important. 

Imaging how your users will feel when they “see” their feedback in your product!!  This ain’t easy!!  But, that should be the core principle. 

Now, who do YOU think is doing this well!  (yes you, this means now you post a comment) 

Feeling informed? Digg it!



February 19, 2007 at 9:59 am 9 comments

Convincing the unconverted, Part 4

Now for my favorite approach to convincing the unconverted on the importance of community. I call it the assumptive close.

#4 The Assumptive Close
I have to admit, I really like this one. It’s almost a version of guilt combined with the already mentioned techniques. It essentially goes like this: “You are going to do it anyway. Why do you want to be last?” Users are going to talk about your products, policies, licensing, people, everything! You really don’t get to decide this. The only decision you get to make is whether or not to participate in that conversation. You must also accept the fact that you CANNOT control the conversation. In fact, the harder you try the more impossible it is. So, what I’m saying is that you (your company) are eventually going to get involved in community (it’s not some fad). Stop selling the company on whether or not to engage and tell them that it is a foregone conclusion that they will. You are here to discuss not the “if,” but the when and the how. Got it? Good luck.


February 17, 2007 at 7:57 am 4 comments

More on Metrics and Community Measurement…

I stumbled across this today and thought I’d share the link as it related to my most recent post.  Have a look, tell me what you think.


February 15, 2007 at 9:12 pm Leave a comment

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