Extending the WPC12 Experience with Kat Tillman
From July 8-12, 16,000 Microsoft partners descended upon Toronto, Canada for the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2012 - the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group's flagship event at which partners are exposed to the company's roadmap for the following year in addition to major trends and best practices.
Interestingly, through the rich digital and social media flowing from the conference's media center, an additional 20,000 participants were able to take part in the conference this year and influence the way it unfolded in real time. With that in mind, Infusive Solutions sat down with Kat Tillman - the Community Strategist for the Worldwide Partner Group - to discuss how digital channels revolutionized the manner in which partners interact with the conference before, during and after the event.
Infusive Solutions (IS): To start, can you just tell me a little bit about yourself and your role with the partner network and with Microsoft?
Kat Tillman: For some background, a lot of companies are recognizing that there is a need to have marketing communications professionals really understanding the new paradigm of marketing and how to take advantage of interaction within the community – for us this is the Microsoft partner community.
And with the advent of digital communities and social media, we are able to make a community experience really tangible. So, we talk about the different communities that exist within the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN), and this really became a focus for the company, and specifically the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group (WPG), in bringing somebody in like me, who is looking at how strategically we’re taking advantage of this communication. This allows us to build relationships with our partners and help them feel good about the investment they’ve made in making their business focus Microsoft technology solutions. That’s really the role that I play and so my reason for being here is to facilitate community conversations.
IS: Can you touch on how social media was rolled out at the 2012 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC 2012) in Toronto?
Kat: With digital WPC, partners who could not attend the conference had the opportunity to virtually take part by watching what we were doing from a streaming perspective, through the keynotes streaming, and through the dialogues that were facilitated through MPN Live.
Naturally, we extend that and go to where our partners are, through Twitter, through LinkedIn and through Facebook, so that we can go to where they’re talking and engage with them there.
So we were supplementing what was happening at the event through that experience.
IS: I understand that WPC 2012 had 16,000 people attending in person and another 20,000 people participating online. With that in mind, what kind of feedback did you get from the community that wasn’t there, but was enabled to have a bird’s eye view of all the things that the in-person attendees were able to experience?
Kat: One thing is that, for a lot of the smaller businesses that are part of the MPN, we recognize that taking time to come to the event is expensive because you can’t do billable work when you’re at a conference. So it becomes advantageous in that the smaller companies have an opportunity to send someone there, but the team that stays back has an opportunity to still get access to that road map of information being shared.
So I think that for a lot of folks, the pattern that we have picked up on is, ‘wow we are getting an opportunity to hear what people are saying about some of the key investments that are now coming to fruition in this new era.’
And we know this to be true, because in our experience with Twitter this year we had four trending key words. The #WPC 12 trend was awesome and speaks to the enthusiasm around the event this year. #SteveBallmer was a trending topic that happened during the course of his keynote. #KevinTurner was also a trending keyword on Twitter during his keynote. And the power of what creates a trending topic on Twitter is fueled by the volume behind it. And we know, directionally, that a lot of that is going to be from the partner base that wasn’t at the event.
Kevin Turner during his keynote speech
There was a lot of positive feedback, a lot of ‘thank you for really creating this rich live streaming experience,’ so we’re just feeling really good about that and want to continue to look at how we can advance and expand what we are doing from that video streaming perspective in the future.
IS: Has the partner world always been this heavily involved in digital and social media?
Kat: I think that we really started seeing investments beginning in the late 2000s, with 2010 being the first really big year for social media as part of the whole community experience.
The other piece that has begun to happen recently is the idea of engagement. For us it’s natural. We recognize that the Microsoft Partner Network is founded on the relationship between Microsoft and partners.
And social media enables the building of relationships because you’re surpassing time and space, so what we’ve done is really made investments in not only sharing information but responding to our partner base.
In many cases, replying to our partner base is something as simple as someone asking a question around where they can find something on the partner portal to partners engaging with us during other real time programs that we have like MPN Live.
With that real time program, we’re connecting with partners, pushing the realization that we’re not just pushing information out, like a lot of maybe less seasoned brands might. What we’re doing here and doing differently is that we’re actually people behind the curtain. And many of them are folks like me and our executives out in social and on blogs in digital WPC.
During the event itself, Jon Roskill [Corporate Vice President of the Worldwide Partner Group] and Ross Brown [Worldwide Partner Group Vice President, Partner Strategy and Compete] and others were tweeting and sharing their thoughts and participating so that our partner base can see the engagement of the company in the community where there is a dialog and a back-and-forth that’s happening. So that’s the pivoter that we’re seeing that may have been the difference from earlier years.
Roskill addressing the WPC12 crowd
IS: It’s refreshing to know that these busy executives aren’t using “ghost tweeters,” and take the time to address the community themselves.
Kat: To be authentic, that’s the right way to do it and I think authenticity is something that we’re really focused on here. You’ll find that Jon is very much someone who’s approachable and that Ross is very much someone that’s approachable. At the event, they’re engaged with partners and having a dialogue because we recognize that those relationships are what truly make the MPN as strong as it is.
IS: How do you think the real-time feedback inflowing from digital and social media influenced the way the conference itself unfolded?
Kat: When MPN Live was born, we recognized a need to facilitate a dialog around the key messages that we have to share with the community. On one hand, we have a business agenda that we’re focused on communicating out to our business base … that’s what the keynotes do. And then with things like blogs, social media and MPN Live, that allows us to have that dialog, which is critical, because then we can get a sense of “okay, you guys love it” or “okay, you guys hate it.”
Then, one of the things that we do here internally, and we take very seriously, is looking at the feedback that’s coming in from partners and using that to make optimizations and tweaks to the program, so that we maintain positive relations with our partner base.
So we were taking that real time feedback from what we were seeing out in social media to help inform the dialog we would have in MPN Live. And that included then curating some of those key salient traits that captured the punctuation of what the partner community was thinking and feeling of what was said by executives in the keynotes.
So all of what we were doing around MNP Live was ensuring that we were taking what partners were thinking, saying and doing and allowing them to participate in that conversation. That meant we were working a lot and reading a lot but having a lot of fun along the way. It now no longer is about us just pushing an agenda; it’s about having the dialog around what we’re doing as a company and how the community is responding to that.
So [social media] really is in every single form a communications vehicle, a customer service vehicle, an editorial vehicle and an engagement vehicle.
IS: Can you comment on how this rich multi-directional communication allowed Microsoft to extend the experience before and after the event?
Kat: Absolutely, in fact, we internally were looking at how the journey begins. There’s a journey that happens and there’s definitely a life cycle [for the event], and that’s something we really looked at closely. And that journey is one that now we are looking to extend even further. In past years, the journey has really spanned the timing of registration in February/March and tends to go through September where we do replays. This year what we’re really excited and eager to be doing differently is making this a year round experience.
Because what we recognize to be true about our partner community is that the community always exists. The event is just the epicenter of the community coming together. So what we’re really focused now on is doing is making sure when we have registration open, our partners begin the dialogue around what they are looking forward to at the event.
And then the dialog between partners begins in the “Connect” platform when that comes out, because then the relationship building can happen long before partners are at the event location. That way, partners can lock in their calendar, define the sessions they’re going to, define the most important meetings with other partners and Microsoft, and then naturally making sure they’re getting the invites to all the fun parties. Because in the middle of all this, we are a very fun community and parties are a big part of the experience, which I imagine you were able to see from the tweets that were coming up toward the evening hours (laughs).
Now what we’re really looking to do is bridge the period between now - when people have gone back to their homes and companies looking at what they’ve learned and the relationships they’ve built - and Houston (the site for WPC 2013) by having further discussions around what was shared.
So what we’re really getting into now is strategy based on what we saw resonate and be most relevant based on partner feedback.
IS: Sounds like social media is like the comment box for Microsoft that people actually read.
Kat: We’re actually reading it! And we’re taking those comments to heart and we’re making things better. Last year for example, we heard through social media that people weren’t so happy with the food options we had for them. We put in a lot of effort to make the food better this year and made sure we had a good menu for our partners. So that’s a direct example of how we took the feedback and made a positive change.
IS: To conclude, you mentioned what a fun community Microsoft is. On that note, what’s the most fun you had at the conference?
Kat: The most fun part of the whole conference for me was reading the funny things that our partners were saying in the Twitterverse, because we’ve got a pretty good sense of humor amongst us. And I think that for me, humor is invaluable.
For those of us who came to Canada, we went through the customs process, so imagine customs all of the sudden getting descended upon by Microsoft and Microsoft partners. So this one partner went to come in to customs, and the customs officer said, “Oh, I can guess you’re with Microsoft, right?” And the partner tweeted, “yea, I guess he must have judged that by my lack of fashion sense and my geekiness.” I’m not doing justice on how he worded the tweet, but it just cracks me up and I called that one out on MNP Live.
So for me, it was just reading what partners have to say, because many of you make me laugh and I think at the end of the day, we all work hard but getting in a good laugh along the way is part of the human inside of us. Because people want to laugh and I think that’s the part that I have the most fun with … reading all of the crazy stuff people had to say … especially after hours.
IS: As the old adage goes, don’t drink and tweet.
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