Microsoft's MVP program is broadly recognized and certainly well regarded in the industry, so naturally I was delighted to welcome a growing number of MVPs into the Lenovo community. Several members, like Aryeh Goretsky have been with us since virtually the begining, and have exerted a postitive influence not only within Lenovo's community, but in multiple venues across the web. Recently, I was able to connect with Aryeh, and he was kind enough to answer some of my questions and share a bit of his exceptional story about how he got started with PCs, the online world, and the MVP program. As we consider how Lenovo's customer community continues to grow in size and diversity, I find his experience and perspective valuable and appreciate his membership, along with that of his peers, all the more each passing day.
Mark: What first drew you to online communities and how long have you been participating in them?
Aryeh: It seems like I've been online forever, Mark. My first foray into online communities was in the early 1980s, with dial-up BBSes. Growing up in Silicon Valley, I had ample opportunity to go online, where I could talk and learn about computers and just socialize. Since the BBS systems I called were locally focused, a number of them had periodic meet ups, whether as part of a user group meeting or just going out for pizza. It was through these that I met people who worked as programmers and engineers at the companies around the valley and had the opportunity to learn from them about computers. It was through this hybrid online/offline community of BBSes that I got my first real job. In 1989, John McAfee started his anti-virus company through his BBS and I was a user on the BBS and became his first employee. John recognized early on the importance of not just having a product but a community around it and the BBS became a hub for both support and virus researchers. In 1995, I followed John to his next company, which made instant messaging and chat software, around which all sorts of new types of communities were built. It was an amazing experience to watch people interact in real time across continents and around the globe. I had more time to answer questions on mailing lists and web forums, and started to share the experiences and expertise I had developed over the previous decade. In 2004 I received my first MVP Award from Microsoft.
Mark:From your experience in multiple communities, what factors do you think most influence the long term success of the community?
Aryeh: For a community to be successful over the long-term, I think it has to have a very keen focus around its users' expectations and adjust itself accordingly. This means not just adding new features and functionality as they become available, but also maintaining and not removing things they like and expect, as well. This can be a little tricky because customers rarely give positive feedback, instead focusing on negatives. Analytics can be helpful in determining general usage patterns, but they are not a replacement or a substitute for monitoring your own community's activities. Community has moved from something really at the periphery to a core tenet of some businesses, and when that kind of refocusing happens, it becomes important for the people who make decisions about the community to be participants, otherwise they may be making decisions based on abstractions, which may not be representative of the community's needs. I think this is actually easier at a company like Lenovo, where the community is built in large part around a model of user-mediated support, e.g., how the product line is organized parallels how the discussions are organized around them. When a new product appears, a new area for discussions can be opened for it. Likewise, when a product is retired, its discussions can be moved to an area for legacy products or archived. Identifying and rewarding (and, sometimes, recruiting) contributors from your community is a fantastic way to ensure continuity. In the case of a product support or other sponsored forums, volunteers may have an imperfect understanding of your business, so it is important to have people who can answer those types of questions available directly in the forum as well as available to your volunteers as an escalation path. Other than that, a lot of the success (or lack thereof) goes to routine administrative management of the community. Topics may need to be policed for thread drift, abusive behavior contained and the technical underpinnings of the community--the actual hardware and software which runs it--be administered properly to avoid downtime or data loss
Mark : To what extent do you think it's important for an enterprise to adopt a formalized, programmatic influencer recognition program ?
Aryeh: Lenovo is a great example of a company which is able to and has embraced community through its forum, blogs and through social media like Twitter. But there are enterprises where these types of interaction may not be appropriate: The financial services sector and the pharmaceutical sector are both heavily regulated industries and may not be able to embrace community in the same fashion as a hardware or a software company.
Service industries like logistics and transportation might find a great advantage to having a corporate blog or a Twitter account, but a forum would be inappropriate and burdensome to their business.That said, I think it is important for an enterprise to have an understanding of what community means to their business is as well as a plan for it, even if that plan is not to have one at the current time but monitor how conversations about them manifest on the Internet to determine when it is the right time to begin participating.
Mark:What aspects of the MVP program have you found most interesting ?
Aryeh: As a Microsoft MVP awardee I have been granted early access to some very interesting technologies, sometimes years before they are introduced to the public, and it is certainly very interesting to see those types of things. However, what I enjoy most about being an MVP are the engagements I have with Microsoft employees, as well as my fellow MVPs. For many computer users, Microsoft is an abstraction, a logo they see when their computer boots up, or perhaps when they run a program. Microsoft is a company, though, and like any other company is made up of people. What I have found is that those people are some of the most genuinely intelligent and passionate people I have ever met, and they have gathered people whom they feel represents technical expertise in their communities. Being in contact with both Microsoft's employees and my fellow MVPs allows me to learn a great deal. Although I left school behind many years ago, I think of myself as something of a lifelong student, and I learn quite a bit from my interactions with them