Tag Archive | "engagement"

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How Microsoft’s Director of Innovative Engagement Designs Meaningful Experiences


This post was originally published on the PivotCon blog on April 6, 2013.

Guest post written by Mark Drapeau, Director of Innovative Engagement (Public Sector), Microsoft, @cheeky_geeky


Adam Conner of Facebook dances “Gagnam Style” at the DC show in Fall 2012.

Have you ever made your Facebook profile pic a photo of you laughing with friends at a Microsoft event?

For most people the answer to this question would be “no.” However, a novel social engagement I began for Microsoft in 2010 named Geek 2 Chic has slowly but surely begun to change that answer to a resounding “yes” for a modest number of highly influential people.

One of the nuggets of wisdom I like to drop on corporate folks who ask me for advice about social media is the following: Social media is 20% about what you say you do, and 80% about what other people say about what you do. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule or anything, but it’s a good enough approximation to be an eye-opener.

You see, most large corporations think that talking about themselves and measuring how many hits a corporate blog post received or how many media outlets regurgitate the headline with a modicum of opinion attached is equivalent to “landing the message.” Sometimes it is, but in many cases it’s easy to overestimate its value.


Eric Kuhn of United Talent Agency rocks the hoodie in a Spring 2012 show in Los Angeles.

The reason for this is that even people who see the IMPORTANT CORPORATE MESSAGE do not necessarily experience it – interactively, physically, or emotionally. Thus, there’s a good chance that they don’t retain it in a meaningful way. And therefore there’s a very good chance that they don’t share it by spreading authentic, personalized word-of-mouth to people who trust them.

Geek 2 Chic is a charity fashion series collaboration between Microsoft and Bloomingdale’s which raises money for and awareness of a wonderful nonprofit called the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, or NFTE, which provides mentoring and resources for at-risk youth to start their own businesses while they’re in high school. We produce a true fashion show, featuring high-end designers from Bloomingdale’s clothing racks, and we charge for tickets. But there are no professional models in our show; everyone on the catwalk is a “geek” representing big tech companies, hot new startups, government agencies, academic institutions, and more.

Stylish guests attend a recent Washington, DC show

Our event is most likely the only time that these techies, scientists, and innovators will ever be on a catwalk, so people from the community come out to experience the event, see their friends and acquaintances, take photos, and share. Spouses, employees, and gawkers alike are not immune to the draw of seeing someone transformed from a hoodie-wearing programmer to a tuxedo-wearing stud for one night only. And what we’ve found in cities across the country – Washington DC, Chicago, Los Angeles – is that people in the geek community share photos from the events enthusiastically, on Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, and Instagram. They tag them. They become Facebook profile photos, sometimes for months and even years.

Don’t misunderstand my earlier comments about traditional PR metrics – We love mainstream media stories. Geek 2 Chic has received coverage from Vanity Fair, Bloomberg, BBC News, the Washington Post, a host of local news outlets, and a bevy of glossy magazines and fashion bloggers.


Jabious Williams, a recent NFTE program recipient, walks the runway in a tuxedo

But while it’s tempting to point to a slide show on VanityFair.com, pat ourselves on the back, and conclude “we done good,” the real value is not the quantitative fact that we landed a headline in a particular publication, but the underlying qualitative story that the photos tell – people smiling, having fun, celebrating geek culture, highlighting a good cause. And the reason people far away from the cities where we actually do the events know about them is mainly because someone they know was tagged in an interesting photo on Facebook, not because they read a recap of the event on a fashion blog.

Think about it this way. Seeing a headline or a retweet or reading an article quickly forms a short-term memory in your brain: I am temporarily aware that something happened. After 20 minutes or so, you start to forget. Other information infiltrates your brain’s frontal lobe. The details of that headline suddenly…become…fuzzy.

Experiencing something remarkable, interactive and pleasurable, however, forms long-term memories, deeply implanted memories, things you think about while you’re sleeping, facts that literally rewire the neural connections in your brain resulting in a semi-permanent state of change. Microsoft could merely write blog posts about the opportunities we’re providing for youth around the world with our YouthSpark initiative, or about the support we provide for new startups with our BizSpark program, but events like Geek 2 Chic take the storytelling about these topics to a deeper, more meaningful and memorable level.

The next Geek 2 Chic show will be in San Francisco on May 15th. Tickets now on sale.

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How Kate Upton Would Sell Snow to an Eskimo: An Analysis


This was originally published on Huffington Post Celebrity on May 10, 2012, roughly the time of “Peak Kate Upton.” Her people got in touch with me after this. We met for coffee in New York.

Kate Upton’s rise from unknown young model to Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue rookie to authentic social media rockstar to SI cover girl to advertising and product endorsement mogul didn’t occur by accident, and it did not occur undeservedly; It occurred because she leveraged a unique array of qualities in order for it to happen. Here are six things Kate Upton did, and does, to authentically engage audiences and promote whatever messages she wants to:

1. Have the right personality for the job. Not everyone is cut out for marketing, whether it’s in the written word, on television, or in social media. Kate Upton is. She has a bubbly, friendly personality that shows through in her interviews, candid videos taken of her, and her tweets. She has the right personality to be matched up with promoting a magazine, a new product, or a hobby or cause of hers. And her vibrant personality stands out very far from most or all of her peers — it is in fact difficult to think of the personality of most of her peers (and thus, they effectively have none).

2. Let your personality shine through authenticity. It’s one thing to have the right personality for the job. The next step though, equally necessary, is to let it show by being more transparent about your life, and expressing yourself authentically. Kate Upton has been increasingly transparent in interviews, and using social media to for example tweet behind-the-scenes photos like this one from events and jobs. She doesn’t reveal everything about herself of course — she famously denied Ellen an answer about who/if she is romantically involved with — but nobody cares. People are just curious enough to want more. And for the most part, she is controlling the message through her own channels and appearances.

3. Master one thing really well. Having a great personality and a willingness to be authentic are certainly not enough to make loads of people care about you. You have to have a core activity that you do very well. As it happens, Kate Upton is a really great swimsuit model with a unique look that people really, really want to see. The bottom line is that without this particular skill, barely anyone would care about her tweets or product endorsements or want to interview her about anything. When you ask, What does Kate Upton do? there is a simple answer: “swimsuit model.” If you don’t have a similarly simple phrase following someone asking this about you, your outreach is a little lost.

4. Diversify your engagement. Once you’ve established a “core” activity which you’re excellent at (in Kate Upton’s case, swimsuit modeling), people may notice this and encourage your personal or organizational brand engagement in other activities and realms and topics, or want your comments on more strategic ideas or the topic-of-the-day. In Kate Upton’s case, this has largely manifested itself as a series of product endorsements with television advertisements featuring her prominently. Smartly, they are not too different from her core, particularly with regard to the core audience (men, and especially younger men), yet clearly these actvities broaden her appeal and her audience; they include being a face of Guess, a bikini appearance in the Three Stooges mainstream movie, endorsements for Carl’s Jr. burgers, Skullcandy headphones, and a sports videogame by 2KSports, and a comedic guest appearance on the geek-savvy show Tosh.0.

5. Make appearances in person. It’s easy to count pageviews and retweets from the safety of your home office and rest satisfied that your social media marketing is working. In my experience, this trap is especially easy for tech-savvy marketers to fall into, and especially easy for the non-socially-adept to get trapped in. But the reality is that in-person meetings, lunches, events, and so forth have two very important qualities that tweets, videos, and the like lack: intimacy and strength. They are intimate because sitting right next to someone is a very emotional act, and they are strong because the power of in-person word-of-mouth is much greater than that of online, or hearing something in a radio or TV interview. Say what you want about “small talk” — it’s really big talk, actually. Kate Upton recently attended the high-profile White House Correspondents Dinner (guest of Bloomberg News) and the Met’s Costume Institute Gala (guest of Michael Kors). (It goes without saying that Kate Upton is visually appealing and that people like to see her in person, as well.)

6. Repeat. All of the above steps need to be repeated, constantly. They also need to be recombinated. For example, if Kate Upton begins filming a commercial for a new endorsement, she can tweet a slightly revealing behind-the-scenes photo about it. Then she can upload a YouTube video with a commercial teaser. Later, she makes an appearance at an event promoting the brand she’s endorsing, and so forth. The more cross-promotion, cross-platform, and synergistic one can get, the better (within limits).

There are other good examples of people who have shot to fame through multi-platform engagement. One is the rise of Jimmy Fallon from average comedian on SNL to below average talk show host to multimedia talk show host god over the past few years. Another, more intellectual example, is space and exploration evangelist Neil deGrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium.

Lauren Weisberger, famously the author of The Devil Wears Prada, also wrote a book called Everyone Worth Knowing. In it, she describes the evolution of a young woman from being a virtual “nobody” to being a PR professional being mentioned on Page Six and dating a heartthrob. These things don’t happen accidentally, just as Kate Upton didn’t accidentally end up on the SI Swimsuit Issue cover at 19 years old.

There is a formula.

And differently applied, it can help you find and engage an audience for a TV show like Jimmy Fallon (or, as I’ve previously written, as HBO’s Girls could be doing), or promote government funding of space exploration like Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Or promote clean energy reform. Or swine flu awareness. Or raise awareness of a worthy cause.

It’s not who you know. It’s who knows you.

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Corporate Public Diplomacy: Engaging and Improving Stakeholder Communities


This post was originally published in Public Diplomacy Magazine (a publication of the University of Southern California) on July 14, 2010.

Usually, when someone hears the word “diplomacy,” they think of the government. Who can blame them? Diplomacy has long been the province of old men in dark suits and red ties, and before that of elite members of society trusted by presidents, emperors, and kings. But now, particularly with the rise of inexpensive personal communications technology, vast changes in the mainstream and other kinds of media, and an evolution in how consumers interact with and make decisions about “brands,” this is changing.

Public diplomacy is the formal and proactive practice of governments communicating with citizens in foreign countries through diverse forms of media, events, and other engagement. Such activities may include broadcast radio, specially tailored films, and educational programs. But while public diplomacy is still widely thought of as being performed only by governments, there is a good deal of value in applying many of its principles to corporations and indeed other entities like non-profits. It especially makes sense when a brand (broadly defined) could be perceived as large, monolithic, and out of touch with the common person.

While my job title is not formally “public diplomat,” I have been incorporating some of these ideals into my new role at the Microsoft Corporation, by any standard a large entity with a global reach into science and technology, research and development, jobs and commerce, a wide range of government policy and related issues, and numerous philanthropies, causes, and movements. Yet despite this influence, while the company has a tremendous number of customers and fans, at the same time a fair amount of other consumers have a negative perception of the company for a variety of reasons, or they simply don’t think about it very much. One of my roles is to conduct positive activities of value for communities of consumers in order to, yes, change the perception of Microsoft – but also to improve those communities in the process.

Diverse Backgrounds Yield Good Public Diplomats

For a good part of my career, I was a scientist researching how animal behavior is controlled by genes and neurons. Building on that foundation of critical thinking and an understanding of complex behavioral systems, I received a fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2006 and was able to conduct science and technology policy research at the Department of Defense for a few years. That experience opened my eyes to everything from the inner workings of military organizational behavior to how social technology is changing how the government conducts its operations.

After my three year stint at the Defense Department, I did a lot of thinking, reading, and writing. I taught a university class about “entrepreneurial journalism,” and consulted some private sector clients about how emerging technologies are changing and democratizing media, marketing, and other specialties. During that period, I also consulted with Microsoft about what I now see as a public diplomacy effort run out of their U.S. Public Sector division based in Washington, D.C.. The division is responsible for Microsoft business across federal, state and local government, higher education and K-12 markets, as well as a significant portion of the U.S. healthcare market.

In my role as Director of U.S. Public Sector Social Engagement, I conduct a number of activities, not all of which are germane to this article. But with regard to my public-facing activities, I think of much of it as corporate public diplomacy. From a business point of view, my role differs in many ways from traditional public relations or public affairs, which despite a recent influx of new technologies still mainly involves “providing information for the public” at its core. Corporate public diplomacy, on the other hand, involves actively shaping the communications environment within which corporate activities are performed, and reducing the degree to which misperceptions complicate relations between the company and its customers. In my view, this complex mission is conducted using what I call “innovative social engagement.”

I don’t think I could have arrived at this role through more traditional routes like studying technology, business, journalism, or marketing. None of those routes provide the skill set that, in my opinion, are required for corporate public diplomacy. One must understand enough business to work within one, but not so much that one loses empathy for outsiders. One must have enough knowledge of technology to use it for various purposes, but not so much that one is unable to speak to people at a basic level about it. One must have public speaking and writing skills, but also be able to adapt those to company goals. A corporate public diplomat should be an insider and outsider, independent and dependent, creative and conservative, all at once. And they must above all be agile enough to know when to switch between behavioral states.

When people ask me how I got where I am with a doctorate in animal behavior, I often think, “Really?” – It’s all animal behavior.

What is Innovative Social Engagement?

When people ask me to explain my job, I often tell them that they can get the 30 second version, or the 30 minute version. That’s largely because corporate public diplomacy, as I see it, amalgamates many aspects of other people’s jobs, re-packages them in novel ways, and then adds some unique skills on top of that. Simple, no?

The simple way to start is to tell you what it is not. After observing many people whose jobs variously involve public relations, marketing, communications, advertising, technology, sales, and “being digital natives,” let me describe what corporate public diplomacy is not “merely”:

  • It’s not merely leveraging my personal brand to promote a corporate brand, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely using social media platforms to connect with audiences in the public sector, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely making social connections with influential people in real life, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely engaging people complaining about the company online and conducting after-the-fact customer service, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely creating public relations events to get people’s attention, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely developing word-of-mouth marketing campaigns or helping the company go against type and poke fun at itself, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely chasing the coolest, latest trends and incorporating them into strategies, nor reviewing cutting-edge tech gadgetry, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely reporting live from events nor interviewing people inside the company on video (something like what Robert Scoble famously did for Microsoft), though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely being a product evangelist, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely measuring the effect of online communications on customers, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely creating a blog and writing about the best ideas or latest news or providing the most value to the most people, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely creating new online opportunities for product sales, though that’s part of it.

My vision of corporate public diplomacy via innovative social engagement includes many if not all of these things, but it is not simply one or a few of these things. My charges include creating lasting and meaningful experiences for audiences, engaging willing participants in my work-related social activities, creating emotional responses with Microsoft brands of relevance to the public sector, volunteer sector, and general public good, transcending brand expectations to add value to people’s lives, and generally being remarkable (in the vein of Seth Godin) to specific people I desire to engage with and even influence.

Some Examples of Corporate Public Diplomacy

About a year ago when I wrote a blog post announcing and describing my new Microsoft role, I wrote that I’d be doing at least seven things immediately:

(1)  Interacting with and socially empowering the other members of the seven-person Applied Innovations Team;

(2)  Discussing my opinions about science and technology in the public sector and continuing to be a thought leader there;

(3)  Experimenting with new pre-sale information and social technology, often beta or free products that potentially have a public sector role;

(4)  Showing the human side of Microsoft and engaging audiences through multimedia channel content production and other online activities;

(5)  Participating actively in the public sector communities of government, education, and healthcare;

(6)  Measuring and understanding public sentiment about Microsoft using innovative techniques;

(7)  Acting as a competent resource for senior Microsoft decision makers, corporate partners, and customers, and public sector decision makers.

To some degree or another, I have been doing all of these things. But life in a newly-created role is always a bit different than you imagine after you take time to understand what is, and is not, happening inside a huge organization, and figure out your role within it. Thus, during the past 10 months or so, in something akin to a “think-and-do tank” mode, I’ve been creating and promoting fresh, innovative ways of engaging different audiences. These engagements – online and offline – tend to leverage Microsoft’s existing strengths, applied in novel ways. Here are three examples, in brief.

An online magazine, SECTOR: PUBLIC

While there is certainly some good writing on different aspects of new technology and the public and volunteer sectors, I recognized a need for an overarching publication that leveraged Microsoft’s natural intellectual assets to provide thought leadership on all aspects of technology and innovation, and how they are changing the business of the public and volunteer sectors and empowering new forms of public service and social change. I edit this online magazine, named SECTOR: PUBLIC, and manage a group of writers from the company. We are obviously pro-Microsoft, but the stories are written with the audience in mind, and encompass ideas that go beyond strictly Microsoft products and initiatives.

An event series, Geek 2 Chic

This initiative recognizes that while Microsoft is very good at reaching certain kinds of customers – mainly very large, complicated institutions – we don’t necessarily do a good job of reaching out to certain types of influential communities, artists and fashion mavens, for example. Geek 2 Chic began as a fashion show to attract Washington, D.C. fashionistas to us in a genuine way – by showing off great styles in partnership with Bloomingdales, and having a fun social event around that (which also raised money for a good cause). But the trick was that all the models were “geeks” and we were able to highlight their terrific work during the show. This is evolving into a more general series that may involve cocktail hours, fashion shows, and intimate workshops, all designed to help “chic” people learn how to be more geeky in ways that help them with their careers. Here, our natural strength is that through Microsoft networks, we know many of the geeks that can give advice to chic people; thus we can structure creative networking opportunities for all involved that are also fun.

A networking space, Project Pivot

Another need I recognized is that entrepreneurially spirited people often don’t have great places to work. These people are also often interested in public good and social change, and are tech-savvy to some degree. In a few cities like San Francisco and New York, this group is better catered to, but in many others like Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles, they are less so. Leveraging the excess office space and wi-fi that Microsoft has in many of its buildings, I am just about ready to launch something I’ve tentatively named Project Pivot, which is a private, invite-only entrepreneurial co-working space (starting in Washington, D.C.) that also has members-only benefits like luncheon speakers and a private discussion board. Not only does this provide great things for this community – office space, networking opportunities, free coffee – but it also helps Microsoft better understand what this group of talented young people is doing in their communities, and how our technologies might help them as well.

Corporate Public Diplomacy: One Year In

It’s a little too early to say how successful these efforts will be. But I have been forming a set of mental “design principles” which govern how I decide what a given engagement might be. I’m not prepared to write them up at the moment (and they’re outside the scope of this article), but one of them certainly is that I think about what the audience needs before I think about what Microsoft needs. Once I know who an audience is, and understand what their needs are, I look at how Microsoft’s assets – financial, human, other – might be deployed to serve those needs.

It’s one thing to talk to audiences and try to influence them. Anyone can say whatever they want. But the way to gradually change the communications environment around a brand that many people already have an opinion about, is to be somewhat selfless and provide genuine value which resonates with that audience. Actions speak louder than words.

Mark D. Drapeau, Ph.D. is the Director of U.S. Public Sector Social Engagement for Microsoft Corporation, where he engages audiences at the intersection of technology and innovation and the public and volunteer sectors. He is the editor-in-chief of the online magazine SECTOR: PUBLIC, which provides thought leadership on these topics. Prior to joining Microsoft, Dr. Drapeau was an adjunct professor at The George Washington University, an Associate Fellow at the National Defense University, and a Postdoctoral Fellow at New York University. He has a B.S. and Ph.D. in animal behavior from the University of Rochester and the University of California – Irvine, respectively.

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Mark Drapeau’s New Job: Corporate Public Diplomacy via Innovative Social Engagement


This post was originally published on BrianSolis.com on January 19th, 2010, shortly after I started working for Microsoft.

Guest post by Mark Drapeau

For a good part of my career, I was a scientist researching how animal behavior is controlled by genes and neurons. Desiring something more, I got a terrific fellowship from the scientific society AAAS in 2006 and was able to conduct science and technology policy research at the Department of Defense for a few years. That experience opened my eyes to everything from the inner workings of the military, to how the government purchases goods and services, to how social technology is changing how the government conducts its operations.

Since I left the Defense Department a few months ago, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, reading, and writing, teaching a class at The George Washington University about what could be called “entrepreneurial journalism,” and consulting some private sector clients about how emerging technologies are changing and democratizing media, marketing, and other specialties. I’ve gone fairly far afield from watching fruit flies have sex, but what the hell – It’s as good a background as any, and it shows I have education, patience, and a certain sense of self-loathing (wink).

But many people have asked me what my next “big move” was going to be. Today, I am happy to announce that I will be joining Microsoft as Director of Innovative Social Engagement for the company’s U.S. Public Sector division, based in Washington, DC. I’ll be part of its new Applied Innovations Team that has a recently appointed Director of Innovation, who in reports to the division’s Vice President. The organization is responsible for Microsoft business across federal and state & local government; higher education and K-12 markets, as well as a significant portion of the U.S. healthcare market.

So what does that long job title of mine ultimately mean? What’s the overall goal of this newly-created position? I think of it as “public diplomacy” for a corporate unit. This role differs in many ways from traditional public relations or public affairs, which despite a recent influx of new technologies still mainly involves “providing information for the public” at its core. Corporate public diplomacy, on the other hand, involves actively shaping the communications environment within which corporate activities are performed, and reducing the degree to which misperceptions complicate relations between the company and its customers. In my view, this complex mission is conducted using what I call innovative social engagement.

What’s Innovative Social Engagement?

Let me tell you what it is not, first. After observing many people whose jobs variously involve public relations, marketing, communications, advertising, technology, sales, and being digital natives, let me reveal the “anti-vision” for my new position:

* It’s not merely leveraging my personal brand to promote a corporate brand, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely using social media platforms to connect with audiences in the public sector, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely making social connections with influential people in real life, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely engaging people complaining about the company online and conducting after-the-fact customer service, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely creating public relations events to get people’s attention, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely developing word-of-mouth marketing campaigns or helping the company go against type and poke fun at itself, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely chasing the coolest, latest trends and incorporating them into strategies, nor reviewing cutting-edge tech gadgetry, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely reporting live from events nor interviewing people inside the company on video (something like what Robert Scoble famously did for Microsoft), though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely being a product evangelist, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely measuring the effect of online communications on customers, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely creating a blog and writing about the best ideas or latest news or providing the most value to the most people, though that’s part of it.

* It’s not merely creating new online opportunities for product sales, though that’s part of it.

My vision of corporate public diplomacy via innovative social engagement includes many if not all of these things, but it is not simply one or a few of these things. My charges include creating lasting and meaningful experiences for audiences, engaging willing participants in my work-related social activities, creating emotional responses with Microsoft brands of relevance to the public sector, transcending brand expectations to add value to people’s lives, and generally being remarkable (in the vein of Seth Godin) to specific people I desire to engage with and even influence.

Returning to the notion of conducting corporate public diplomacy via innovative social engagement, I think that the U.S. State Department’s new Democracy Video Challenge is an excellent example of the multi-faceted, engaging, and remarkable storytelling and influencing that can be accomplished with clear goals, true strategic thinking, and a holistic view of the suite of available tactics and opportunities. As the movement of Government 2.0 progresses, I think that I’ll be able to learn a lot from the best practices in it. In return they will learn from me and likeminded people working at commercial organizations, NGOs, and any other entities engaged in public sector and public service activities.

So What Will I Actually Be Doing?

Someone who is charged with directing innovative social engagement for an entity needs to be visible, agile, adaptable, innovative, social, engaging, passionate, empathetic, fun, and disruptive. They should be pervasive or restricted, overt or subtle, traveling or stationary, and leading or listening as a given situation calls for. They must be a master storyteller, understanding what performance they need to give, what actual or digital stage they’re performing on, and what audience is in the house to watch them.

In my new position with Microsoft U.S. Public Sector (MSPS), I’ll play the role of storyteller. I won’t just be using MarkDrapeau.com, and I won’t just be using Microsoft.com either. I won’t just be blogging on my own or other platforms, I won’t just be tweeting and using social networks, and I won’t just be planning events in DC and across the country. I won’t just discuss Microsoft technology, and I won’t even just discuss technology. Rather, in something akin to a “think-and-do tank” role, I’ll be creating and promoting a fresh, innovative way of thinking about engaging different audiences with corporate and personal storytelling – and then I’ll be acting on many of my own ideas, too. I’ll also largely be maintaining my autonomy to write a personal blog and conduct other activities that benefit larger communities, and I’ll have explicit permission to talk not just about Microsoft but also about other companies and products, and use them too. I may even try to “monetize the hate” à la blogger Heather “dooce” Armstrong.

More specifically, I’ll be doing at least seven things immediately: (1) Interacting with and socially empowering the other members of the seven-person Applied Innovations Team; (2) Discussing my opinions about science and technology in the public sector and continuing to be a thought leader there; (3) Experimenting with new pre-sale information and social technology, often beta or free products that potentially have a public sector role; (4) Showing the human side of MSPS and engaging audiences through multimedia channel content production and other online activities; (5) Participating actively in the public sector communities of government, education, and healthcare; (6) Measuring and understanding public sentiment about MSPS using innovative techniques; (7) Acting as a competent resource for senior Microsoft decision makers, corporate partners, and customers, and public sector decision makers.

The Bottom Line

I’m not a fanatic. I don’t think that Microsoft makes all the right products, develops all the best solutions, or generates all the most awesome innovations. And I refuse to pretend that I do. But while I think they do in fact do a lot of that, I don’t think they always relate those facts well to their active or potential customers. What currently has me excited is the opportunity to act as “The Official Taste Tester of the Microsoft Kool-Aid” (as one employee put it), and tell the MSPS story to people using innovative methods. Simultaneously, I also hope to create a new model for how brands engage their various constituent communities. Finally, I plan to continue being both cheeky and geeky in 2010, which many people seemed to like in 2009.

That’s a lot to be responsible for, and I’m admittedly taking on a big personal and professional challenge. But that’s why I’m doing it. If it were straightforward and easy, I’d already be bored.

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What Does Innovative Social Engagement Look Like For Businesses and Governments?


This post was originally published on O’Reilly Radar on November 17, 2009.

I’ve been thinking about the topic of Government 2.0 a lot lately. Part of this topic deals with the multi-directional engagement between government and citizens. This is what the White House and others have termed a more transparent, collaborative, and participatory government.

Unfortunately, the engagement for the most part is not very authentic nor meaningful. Boring “fan pages” on Facebook are one example I’ve written about, but there are many others. Often, engagement, when it does happen has so many rules associated with it, or such a high barrier to entry, or such a limited window as to be practically meaningless.

It seems to me that everyone can celebrate the fact that government entities merely have a YouTube channel here, a Twitter account there, or a Blogger profile some other place (the so-called “TGIF revolution“), or we can think a little harder about what the goals of citizen engagement really might be, and how to go about achieving them. But first, a personal example of responsiveness and engagement from the private sector.

On the evening of Nov 2nd, I tweeted from my phone about a local DC restaurant, Co Co Sala, just as I was leaving. We had a nice experience, but the hostess had been a little, shall we say, disinterested in helping us? So I commented as much.

Less than a week later, the co-owner of Co Co Sala sent me an email and cc’d his general manager. He apologized for the treatment I experienced, assured me it was not policy, introduced me to the manager, and said he’d talk to his staff. It was a four-paragraph email. I’ve never met him before, and furthermore, my personal email is discoverable but not the most easy thing to find.

This is what real social innovation looks like. This is what customer service looks like. This is what true engagement with stakeholders looks like. I want to give this great lounge Co Co Sala a hearty shout-out for not only having a great product, but also really caring about their customers.

Now, imagine we weren’t talking about a restaurant here. Imagine we are talking about the Department of Motor Vehicles, or the Patent and Trademark Office, or your Congressman. If you tweeted, would they see it? Would they care? Would they react in any way? I think the answer in many cases is no. And when was the last time you gave the DMV a shout-out for a job well done?

Let’s look at a sliver of data. According to TweetStats.com, the people behind the White House Twitter account reply to individuals less than 2% of the time, and seem to have never @ replied to any single more than once (i.e., they have never come close to a conversation). They re-tweet others’ tweets about 6.5% of the time, but they only seem to re-tweet other government accounts and the New York Times. Granted, there are more people tweeting about White House issues than Co Co Sala, but does the above data represent any caring in any way, shape or form?

The terrific techPresident blog recently noted that actor Vin Diesel is the single most followed living person on Facebook – and that he recently passed up President Obama. Perhaps that’s because Vin Diesel’s Facebook fan page is awesome. He is engaged, his fans are engaged, and the tone is informal and fun. There are also many other high-profile people who have taken the plunge into innovative social engagement; my favorite at the moment is Alyssa Milano.

So when exactly did “serious and formal” become a substitute for “informative and meaningful” in government circles? And why is everyone scared of letting their guard down in public? People and entities that innovate and use new social networking tools to engage with stakeholders will be winners. The ones that don’t will be losers in the long run. It’s that simple.

If a goal of Government 2.0 is to provide citizens better services, and a strategy towards reaching that goal is to use social media tools to communicate better with citizens on multiple channels, it seems to me that listening and responding better to comments and complaints would be a great tactic.

The reason why people still cite the TSA’s blog as a good example of citizen engagement is because few other outstanding examples of federal government social media engagement seem to have emerged in 2009. What does 2010 have in store?

It is somewhat outside the scope of this post, but my guess is that more and more local government responsiveness and engagement is happening. We heard some of those stories at the Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase in September. What are some new ones that the feds should hear about?

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Quarantined Conferences: Claustrophobic Technophiles or Attentive Audiences?


This post was originally published on O’Reilly Radar on November 11, 2009. It’s still one of my favorites – I like the notion of a “quarantined” event during which you’re not allowed to use social media and are forced to enjoy the performance in the moment (like watching the opera or a symphony or something).

Loren Feldman. 1938 Media. Audience Conference.

That’s about as much of a summary as you’ll find about the Audience Conference held in New York last Friday. That’s because there were no open laptops allowed during the performances. There was also no Wi-Fi, no video streaming, no tweeting, and no blogging. Something akin to omertà joined the members of the Audience Conference together.

This bond of silence was at the core of the Audience Conference, and it goes against everything that technology and Web 2.0 events normally stand for: openness, transparency, and participation. You would be hard-pressed to find any information anywhere on the web about any of the Audience Conference content. Tweets during the event were generic (“just arrived at the Audience Conference”) and posts after the event were vague (“loved the conference, got to meet Calacanis”). Nobody knows what happened unless you were a genuine member of the audience.

Many other features of the event were also unfamiliar. There were no sponsor booths, banners, and signs all over the place, the speakers had no slideshows, internet connections, or videos to keep us interested, and there were no press or even questions from the audience allowed. No problem.

That’s because the content and experience was so damn good. It was technology. It was performance. It was even culinary. Loren Feldman, our MC for the day, treated the event not as a conference so much as a 20-act play that he directed from start to finish. Inside the historic Hudson Theatre in New York, the members of the audience acted like precisely that – an audience. We watched, listened, and learned. We didn’t talk, text, or tweet. We sat in comfortable chairs facing the stage, not at round tables facing at all different angles to it. We retained the information we heard instead of regurgitating it for our own audiences. We learned that the essence of having an audience is performing for them on a stage – perhaps a digital one – and telling great stories.

What was the Audience Conference? From the website: “Audience is a conference aimed at those who recognize the need to reach engage and influence audiences of all kinds, an investigation into how this is changing, and a look at how technology has in the past and is now, through new media tools and the social web, changing audience participation and interaction.” I would love to tell you about what I learned from Jason Calacanis and Rachel Marsden and Rae Hoffman and Andrew Keen and Jeremy Schoemaker and Joe Jaffe and Melanie Notkin and others. But I won’t. Half the philosophy of the Audience Conference was that events are ephemeral experiences that people attending can share with each other – and people not there cannot experience.

In my opinion, casually live-tweeting conferences is overrated because to a large degree it doesn’t serve an external audience very well. When 30 people are tweeting 10 times during each of 10 talks at a conference, and then people re-tweet the tweets (on a delay, naturally), the hashtag stream is a jumbled mess of disjointed quotations that don’t tell a coherent story. I’ve written about why I think tools like Posterous might be better for summarizing thoughts from events; they serve the audience better.

That said, I disagree with the notion that everything needs to be live streamed, live blogged, and live tweeted merely because we can. I recently attended a conference that was about the size of the Audience Conference, and I had a fine experience there so there’s no need to call them out. But strange to me in hindsight was that the audience’s tables were arranged at 90 degrees to the stage, and furthermore that nearly everybody at the tables was staring into a laptop nearly the entire event. Who is that a great experience for?

Now, I am not going to start calling for a ban on Twitter at conferences. I do it sometimes when I think it provides unique value and perspective. I’ve live-blogged some events myself. Furthermore, banning these technologies at an event like the upcoming Gov 2.0 Expo would probably result in an all-out revolt. But what Audience Conference taught me was a new perspective on the actual value that all of the technology adds; if you’re planning an event and you’re more worried about power strips and Wi-Fi than content and experience, you’ve got a problem in my opinion.

The comments on Nicole Ferraro’s blog about Audience Conference might lead you to believe that being able to film and tweet from a private, closed door event was some God-given right of Those Who Possess An iPhone. Sorry, it’s not. Loren Feldman took video of the entire event from six different angles (including a small cam pointed at, you guessed it, the audience) and he will decide how and what and when you get to see anything. Why not? It’s his show, not yours. Can you stream video from a live production of Wicked?

The other half of the philosophy of the Audience Conference was that it’s okay that people are better than you at something. And it’s perfectly alright to just sit back and watch them perform. And we watched performances, to be sure – not just tech talks but also personal stories, poetry readings, and musical acts. (Yeah, musical acts.) Not everyone is good enough to be the best financial blogger, or best personality, or best musical act – that’s a dream. Maybe you’re great at something, but can’t you sit back and relax the rest of the time?

I liked this too. With all the talk about how everyone is a citizen journalist and everyone is a content producer and everyone needs a digital media strategy it’s easy to forget that most people are horrible at all of this stuff. And that’s not necessarily because people don’t understand whatever shiny object has come along, it’s because many people are not gifted communicators. New media, at its core, is old-fashioned because the instinct to communicate with other individuals predates man. But some are way better than others at it. And that’s okay.

So are quarantined conferences more likely to result in claustrophobic technophiles or attentive audiences? While some in the tech community clearly think that a lack of engagement is a violation of some imaginary social media code and in an age where even live music isn’t sacred it may seem like heresy to sequester people participating in your event away from their new media toolbox. And maybe sometimes it is. But having experienced the Audience Conference myself, I can also say that in some situations people are not entitled to break out the social media toolbox, because they will genuinely gain a more valuable experience without it. In my opinion, if one event wants to encourage new media use and another discourages it, who are we to argue? We’re only the audience.

What do you think? Were people at the Audience Conference correct to obey Loren Feldman’s requests? Should they deliberately continue “hiding” the content of the event from people that chose not to attend? Should other Web 2.0 events disallow Web 2.0 usage in real time??

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Does Government Create Incredible Experiences Or Avoid Bad Outcomes?


This morning, marketing blogger Seth Godin asked the question, “How much of time, staffing and money does your organization spend on creating incredible experiences (vs. avoiding bad outcomes)?” This really hit home to me as someone who spends time thinking about how marketing broadly defined fits into government missions.

Under the framework of what we call Government 2.0, I’ve written a bit lately about how government can use social networking and new marketing to tell citizens and other stakeholders about the great things they’re doing. I think that proactively putting out compelling content is a great tactic, and how small, innovative, engaging events can create very memorable brand experiences. I’ve also been publicly critical of the lame Facebook Fan pages that Federal government agencies have, among other “lame” aspects of Gov 2.0 – From my vantage point, a lot of effort seems to go into avoiding bad outcomes, rather than creating incredible experiences.

There are good reasons for some of the “avoiding downsides” stuff, but where are the limits? No one ever seems to know how to answer that question for me. People tell me to praise them because, well, at least they have a Facebook Fan page – it’s new media! But at what date am I allowed to criticize you because you never took the slightest risk with it? To quote Godin:

“Here’s a rule that’s so inevitable that it’s almost a law: As an organization grows and succeeds, it sows the seeds of its own demise by getting boring. With more to lose and more people to lose it, meetings and policies become more about avoiding risk than providing joy.”

I avoid meetings like the plague (unless they’re at happy hour), but I know a lot of people who have to attend lots of them as part of their jobs in Washington, DC. So I ask, particularly to those who are interested in “change” and Gov 2.0 and participatory government and all these other related topics: How often is the topic of your meetings about creating an incredible citizen experience?

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Why Don’t Social Media Companies Have Good Blogs?


For all the talk of how every person is a brand that needs a blog, how
marketers need to be part of the conversation, and how even the White
House needs to be more authentic and transparent and participatory, it
strikes me that one major group of organizations is not really like
that at all – the social media companies.

Why aren’t companies like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, StumbleUpon,
MySpace, YouTube, and so forth blogging? Why don’t they have short
podcasts or vlogs that are must-watch and generate lots of word of
mouth? Isn’t that the “new marketing” I keep hearing about? I guess
Kevin Rose of Digg has Diggnation; I’ll give that credit as a
corporate-branded video blog. But where are the others? Seriously,
how much would people love a once-a-week post from Zuckerburg? Or
someone walking around Twitter with a Flip doing quick interviews?

No, I think the people that control the very tools that empower us to
be open and transparent communicators are themselves largely closed
and obscured from the public. What are the implications of that for
us? And who am I missing? Which social media companies have truly
informative, transparent, valuable blogs for their communities?

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Putting the Public Back in Public Relations: Crooked Monkey Style


This post was originally published on BrianSolis.com on October 21, 2009.

Guest Post by Dr. Mark Drapeau – read his blog, follow him on Twitter


I hadn’t heard of the popular t-shirt company Crooked Monkey until I was invited to an exclusive party they recently held. You see, even though they get great press from actors wearing their shirts in movies and magazines talking about their fashion styles, Crooked Monkey is based in Washington, DC not widely known as the fashion capital of the country. And they wanted to do some local brand building.

This wasn’t just any party. Sure, there were attractive guests in a cool setting with great drinks and music all the usual stuff. It was what they did differently that made it the most memorable event Ive been to in a long time.

Lets start with how I even found out about the event a secretive email from someone I didn’t know telling me that my friend recommended me as a guest for the event. This is somewhere in between Facebook and Eyes Wide Shut.  Then, a request for my home address, to which was mailed a package containing an envelope with a paper invitation, and also a sparsely decorated white t-shirt, which I was required to save for the party two months later and bring with me to gain admittance. Finally, a bag of tart banana candies finished the package.

Further inspection revealed that the event was on a Sunday night (no night is safe from parties! ) at a secret location to be given to us later. Keep in mind that I dont know the person behind the party, nor the other guests, and now also not the location. Still later I discovered by email invitation that the event would be in a warehouse in a not-so-savory part of Washington, DC and that we MUST bring our white t-shirts because wed be doing something with them on the night of the event.

When the day of the event came, I really couldn’t stand not knowing anything! I texted the contacts I had for the event to ask questions, but they revealed little. I emailed some socialite friends to try to figure out who else would be there we knew it would be all tastemakers of different sorts, but no one really knew who was going, which was exciting. I used Google Maps to investigate the location of the warehouse. I stressed about what one wears to such events (I think I chose well! ).

Even the party itself was very engaging. An artist created a mural from our white t-shirts that we used for entry right in front of our eyes. An old-fashioned photo booth let us take pictures with each other, and the photo strips had (what else?) a Crooked Monkey logo on them.  Even the name of the event Photoshoot at the Warehouse gave the party an active quality.

Do you detect a pattern here? Crooked Monkey kept busy, elite attendees who get invited to tons of events mentally engaged with their event for weeks. They made us part of telling their story. They got us to talk about their brand before, during, and after the event.  And in the end, the event delivered with a cool venue, outstanding bar, fun atmosphere, and lots of fashion.

Photoshoot at the Warehouse is a great example of putting the public back in public relations and brand engagement. How great? Im writing an entire post about them – and I dont even like wearing t-shirts!

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Government Ambassadors For Citizen Engagement


This post was originally published on O’Reilly Radar on October 13, 2009.

To the average person, government is represented by an anonymous person on the other end of the phone, a pile of mandatory paperwork, and perhaps at best a friendly neighborhood postal carrier. If you ask the average American not living inside the Beltway to name a single individual who works in the federal government, how would they reply? My guess is that the broad majority of them couldn’t give you the first and last name of a federal government employee; In reality they would find it much easier to name their local pharmacist, garage owner, or supermarket manager. And from the perspective of the government, this is a shame. How might emerging social technologies help to bridge that gap, in combination with a modification in thinking about government public relations?

The ideal end state when a citizen is asked to name a government employee would be that a person working in a micro-niche of interest to them – finance, farming, foot-and-mouth disease – immediately comes to mind. Unfortunately though, interesting and talented people working at Treasury, USDA, NIH and other places are not well-known to the public, despite the great effects their work has on everyday life in America. Why is this? Partly, it is a vestige from the days when communications were controlled by professionally trained public relations staff and mainstream journalism teams. This was understandable – equipment was expensive, channels were few, and citizens trusted authenticated, official sources for their information. But this media structure that worked well for 40 years is now outdated.

In the Web 2.0 world, every individual is empowered to be not only a consumer of information, but a producer of it. Writing is searchable, discoverable, sharable, usable, and yes, even alterable. The proverbial “pajama mafia” of bloggers has morphed into a powerful society class of listeners, questioners, writers, editors, publishers, and distributors. And in some outlying examples from the federal government, such as the TSA’s blog, we see this same power being harnessed by individual employees (with their agency’s approval, naturally) – Individuals from the TSA not only blog, but interact with citizens who comment on the articles. But this form of government-citizen interaction is, honestly, a primitive version of how social technologies can empower citizen engagement with government.

The modern citizen is not a vessel waiting to receive press releases and government website updates. Even a sophisticated government website like the White House’s new blog can only expect to attract a subset of citizens a subset of the time. Why? Simply, there are simply too many avenues of information flowing towards these people formerly known as a captive audience. No matter how compelling your government information, they are not waiting to hear from you about it. Nor are they necessarily waiting to hear from the New York Times, MSNBC, or any other mainstream organization.

How to reach the modern citizen? It is more productive to imagine them, in the parlance of “new marketing,” as networks of individuals having conversations with each other – during dinner with their families, at the proverbial water cooler, and on popular social media sites. Increasingly, people’s online and offline social networks are an important and powerful force in their lives. Trusted people within communities of interest have become filters for the multimedia vying for citizens’ attention. So to answer the question, you have to hunt down the places they’re already talking about the topic you work on.

Acknowledging that citizens have (sub)consciously formed networks of conversations that filter the information available to them, what’s next? Logically, the government would like to be a part of those conversations. But bureaucracies can’t have conversations with people – only people who work within bureaucracies can. Government employees who wish for better public relations need to find people talking about a topic of interest, listen to what they’re saying, participate in the conversation, and then start new topics of conversation. But this is not as easy as it may seem.

A poll of government employees about whether or not part of their job was “marketing and sales” would probably reveal a lot of negative responses. But when every person can be a writer, publisher, and distributor, is anyone immune from some marketing and sales responsibility in their job? Granted, the government has certain rules about what you can write about your job, and not everyone would like to participate. But some government employees already publish blogs using WordPress, belong to social networks like Facebook, and share real-time information on Twitter. How best to use them?

There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel. The existing human capital in government employees already engaging an audience with social technologies should be harnessed, not punished. Such engaged persons may very well be more in touch with grassroots conversations than the public affairs office of an agency, which can tend more towards unidirectional information flow. They may also be trusted members of a community of interest, generous with help and information. It’s hard to think of a good reason to not use such pre-adapted social engagement to the government’s advantage.

Whether you’re talking about the White House, a Marine in dress uniform, or the image of NASA’s space shuttle lifting off, micro-niches within the federal government have brands, which in turn have reputations. Who’s defending them? It may now be the case that a formal public affairs office is not enough. Conversations among citizens occur at such a high velocity that a bureaucracy cannot respond nimbly enough. But empowered individuals can. Government “social ambassadors” should be fully accessible, transparent, authentic, and collaborative leaders that inspire people to cooperate and engage with their government and with each other for the sake of common concerns. As part of their missions, government brand ambassadors should conduct community-based research to better understand the grassroots interests of the average person, which are sometimes misunderstood or overlooked. Listening to online conversations is the new snap poll.

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