Every once in a while, things you’ve worked on for longer than you care to remember, but seemed for way too long to go nowhere fast, just kind of “gel.” This week, amid all sorts of pre-MMS, pre-Convergence madness, we had a moment like that, and I’d like to cap off the week by making sure that I don’t let it pass without remark.

As you may be aware, we’ve been building a program we call the “System Center Influencers Program.” For the record, I would’ve liked to come up with something far more interesting by way of a title, but I can only shrug and point my finger in the general direction of the brand police who have made it difficult to do anything at all that might reek of being “fanciful” or, dare I say, “creative.” That’s one of the reasons why you’ll often see that our product naming and general use of nomenclature has a tendency to a banal, descriptive literalism, Xbox and Bing perhaps notwithstanding. But I digress.

Vampires Among Us

One of the things we’ve been trying real hard to figure out is how it is that we help move our community from passive consumers to active contributors. Beyond the awesome contributions that the usual suspects have long made and are already making in the community, our challenge has been how to grow beyond that and help turn on new, and ever-expanding networks of people to the benefits of community engagement around our core offerings and solutions. But to be honest, it just ain’t easy. I’m like them, I’m not too proud to say: I generally like my Web served up to me with the information I want when I want it. I don’t have any time to actually go engage with someone online… like actually meet with them online and get to know them… Besides, that could give me unwanted exposure when I really just want to pass anonymously from site to site, forum to blog, sucking up all the information I need like a digital vampire prowling the byways of the Information Superhighway.

But the future and any chance of real value and meaning, alas, belong to those who build and connect and contribute, whatever the context, online or off. Of course there are risks, especially on this newfangled Series of Tubes of ours, as Danah Boyd reminds us very perspicaciously. But sally forth we must, making it up as we go along, taking risks, making mistakes, and learning from the whole lot of it. I’m gradually finding my own way into the bracing waters of the Online Social, though I mostly feel like a stumpy kid, dog-paddling his way from shallows to wall and back, as all his peers and family look on in amusement or horror. But I guess that’s what it takes: a willingness to be a bit foolish before the (virtual) eyes of others--to risk, simply, being known. This is not exactly, I think, the problem everyone has, but the more self-conscious and insecure among us may.

The Member, the Meeting, a Need

Anyhow, to get back to the main point of all this, let me tell you about an email we received earlier this week from one of the members of our Influencers Program, Ronnie Isherwood. Ronnie basically just needed a little support from us to help put together a presentation that he’d show to an audience of VIPs in his world. Apparently he’d come across a marketing demo on our Web site that contained a sequence that he really wanted to use to tell a story to his audience about the importance of investing in cloud computing, and System Center was to be part of that story. I honestly didn’t know if we’d be able to help out, and hesitated a moment and almost wrote back that we wouldn’t be able to get him what he needed because I had no idea where the original demo files were located (the content had been posted several months ago, and it seemed unlikely to me that they would’ve been stored in a place I could find them).

But then, I thought: one of our members is asking for something that he can use to tell a story and influence his audience, and the least I can do is check into it. By some miracle, I managed to locate the file in an obscure corner of one of our internal content repositories, and then cleared it with Paul, who runs the product marketing management team. We sent it off to Ronnie very shortly before his presentation and simply asked him to credit Microsoft for the content and then offer his content to the community for their benefit, as well.

Within a day, Ronnie wrote back that the talk was a success, and gave us details on his audience and message. You can get an idea of it from his blog post. To be clear, we didn’t in any way tell Ronnie what he had to say, or how to say it, or try to deliver us some fat, new licensing contracts. We just furnished him with some content and trusted him to make good use of it in informing his community and persuading them to consider the value of cloud computing to their businesses. That’s all.

Proof of the Pudding

And it was quite enough. What we originally envisioned our program doing, we now had proof positive that not only could it work, it was in fact working. While members were certainly downloading lots of the content we’ve been making available to them, we really haven’t been in a position yet to know how they’ve been using it, if at all, beyond just educating themselves (which is absolutely welcome as an end in itself, to be sure). It’s when they take a step or two further with it, and then use the content to extend the circle of knowledge or expertise, that we really sit up and take notice.

So, thank you, Ronnie! You made our day, and you confirmed for me that, when it’s all said and done, the only thing that matters in this business of ours is the free flow of information and knowledge among people, and the personal, professional, and synaptic connections we make as a result. That is, to my mind, fulfilling the true purpose of technology.

- dave //

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Dave Morehouse, Sr. Product Manager
System Center & Virtualization Outbound Marketing
Web & Communities

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