Microsoft at Blogwell 3 : listening in the social media era

The first presentation at BlogWell number three in New York, was that of Nestor Portillo, worldwide director of community and online support for Microsoft. There are hundreds of products and services at Microsoft, and by global operations, Microsoft means that it has direct presence in 80 countries. There are many forums in which one can answer questions and initiate conversations, and to be honest, this is not really new to Microsoft. 
Internally, there are more than 5000 blogs at Microsoft already, which are aimed at tackling various subjects such as technology, products and services. Some are team blogs, some individual blogs some are Corporate blogs and so on and there are even blogs for some of Microsoft's VP's. Mr. Portillo was involved in social media three years ago are, which means actually working on blogs, twitter etc.
Nestor's main presentation topic was focused on listening in the social media era. The two main issues facing that Microsoft is facing with regard to listening to its clients are 
  1. getting to grips with local languages, 
  2. how to implement solutions proactively.
One of Nestor's points is that if one is sometimes lost trying to get to grips with social media and understanding where it starts and where it ends (see a selection of social media maps here) one may argue whether social media in itself is something new (see slide 13 of my Budapest Social Media presentation on slideshare). 
Nestor's main challenge was to find out how to listen to millions of people carrying out conversations and seeing what they were doing "out there". He then decided to go to Dell and learn and share best practice with them (and I have this opportunity to remind you that Bob Pearson, former Dell Executive in charge of social media is now the president of the blog Council). He then devised the concept of "integrated listening". 
This actually meant that he was carrying out listening beyond Microsoft's own products, including services, policies, and even licensing models. Now the real question was "how do you manage these conversations"? This meant that Nestor Portillo had to harvest data from Microsoft and non-Microsoft sources, and decide what were the top issues and what were the main signals?
Nestor Portillo's set of tools for carrying this task are threefold:
  1. social bookmarking (reddit, Digg, delicious, etc.) had to be established in order to filter and determine whether blogs and what blogs were influential,
  2. some useful tools had to be established to analyse conversations and analyse trends: sentiment analysis for PR marketing, targeting influencers, and pinpointing famous developers' sites for instance. These tools were also useful in order to determine what were the key leading sites,
  3. microsoft-mvp.jpgThe flagging of who were the influencing social media users, and then the creation of a programme to engage with these bloggers physically. This worldwide programme is entitled "Microsoft MVP" (most valuable professionals). It was set in place in order to recognise the efforts which are produced by these people, a specific logo/badge was designed for these particular sites, and dedicated extranets were set up for them with special access. These people were particularly important because as Nestor described: "they are the voice of the community and they speak their language. And they also speak the end user language". "Our main challenge is how fast we can localise our software" and this is why the programme is global. According to Nestor, this programme has wide industry recognition as well. This programme didn't start with social media however, it was launched 15 years ago and began with forums and then moved into social media.
The most difficult thing according to Nestor is to "close the loop", that is to say that when the "send information to Microsoft" button is hit by users, this is not going to a black hole. Opening up to dialogue is indeed raising expectations, it's a cultural change. "if a bunch of guys are saying in twitter we should delay launching a product, we had better do it if they are serious people" said Nestor. They had this issue on December 31 while everybody else was on vacation, Nestor got the feeling that there was something wrong based on the signals he was getting from Twitter and the blogs. He was able to reach is VP and the latter reacted very well. And it was required because worldwide discussions were going in all languages and attention had to be paid to those important discussions (i.e. important not because they were numerous but because they were issued by some influential folks from within the community).
Questions and answers session
Q: how do you evaluate the accuracy of a comment? And what approach is taken if inaccurate?
  1. the community will self regulate. The best moderator is the community itself
  2. reputation is everything ("three years of communication is analysed before membership is granted")
Q: do you have a policy with regard to employee blogging? And mainly SEC compliance?
  1. one rule only at Microsoft is in force and it is "blog smart" (beyond policy, this was instrumental in self policing members),
  2. evangelism is something we don't do. In technical markets all you'll get is backfiring. So Microsoft "doesn't use social media to evangelise". "Sometimes the feedback that you get online is very hard", Nestor Portillo added.
Q: what do you have to do right to succeed in social media?
  1. you have to set expectations very clear and reasonably
  2. you have to think in advance about how you will be "closing the loop")
Q: how do you measure results?
  1. We measure results with regard to the number of feedback we have received which has led to fix. 
  2. We also measure the content which has been created. 
  3. (Not much more can be said because of confidentiality)
Yann Gourvennec

I specialize in information systems, HighTech marketing and Web marketing. I am author and contributor to numerous books and the CEO of Visionary Marketing. As such, I contribute regularly on this blog for Orange Business account on cloud computing and cloud storage topics.