New Bizspark program offers free Microsoft software to startups

If you are a new (less than three years old) startup or entrepreneur developing a software product there is a new program available from Microsoft you should know about. The program, called Bizspark, is designed to accelerate the success of early stage Startups by providing fast and easy access to current full-featured Microsoft development tools and productions licenses of server products, with no upfront costs and minimal requirements.

If you join the Bizspark program you will be provided with a MSDN Premiere license which gives you access to all of Microsoft development products including Visual Studio 2008 Team edition and production licenses for Windows Server 2003/2008, SQL Server 2005, Sharepoint Portal Server, and Biztalk server.
In order to be accepted into the Bizspark program you must be sponsored by a Microsoft Network Partner.  Last week I applied and was approved on behalf of my department at Georgia Tech to be a network partner for companies located in Georgia.  So if you are interested in participating in Bizspark send me an email or leave a comment (make sure you provide an email so I can contact you).

Jive Software seminar on social media strategy

Today I attend the Jive seminar on social media strategy and thought I would try blogging live during the event…taking notes directly into my blog just to see how well the approach works.
First the seminar  is packed with around 60 attendees. Just about every seat is taken so they managed a pretty good turnout for the event. The venue is Twelve Hotel on West Peachtree beside the Civic Center Marta station…a nice botique hotel that provides free wifi in the meeting rooms for a change. I’m so tired of those big downtown Atlanta hotels that do not provide free wifi. One observation…people are dressed very “upscale” compared to the typical IT event I’m used to attending. Not sure what this means just an observation. Also there are as many women attending as men…another difference from the typical IT event. Social media is not like traditional IT maybe?
The presentation is being led by Barry Tallis. Starting off with a hilarious video of a couple spliting up because they don’t communiate one on one but instead the guy uses traditional marketing communication channels like a web site and brochure.  Barry says social media is about taking your normal everyday social interactions and putting them online. He isn’t talking specifically about Jive Software but instead is keeping the disucssion focused on how to build a social media strategy for your organization…off to a great start.
I like the idea that people find your site via searches on content that is generated in conversations. It’s all about the content and specifically content generated by site members NOT by the corporate marketing department.
Here’s one excellent reason to encourage your site visitor to become site members…survey shows members purchase twice as often and 5X more than the average visitor. So you want to turn those visitors into members ASAP.
I like the case studies portion of the seminar especially when Premier Global Services discussed issues around creation of their new social media community, PGiConnect. Their biggest challenge is one I am faced with often, asking internal staff to began posting community content to the site. They gave a number of useful tips on how to get internal staff engaged such as using rewards based profiling with expertise searching. Results so far are the staff is posting and are even somewhat competitive about posting…who has highest number of posts for example. One of the major concerns they had to overcome was “we’re gonna let people drive up and have conversations with us without controls” which is a major concern I hear from people considering implementing a social media site. The answer to the question, Why launch PGiConnect? is that it’s going to make it easier for customers to do business with us. Something every business or government agency would aspire to I’m guessing. The biggest risk is “what if they don’t show up?” (customers that is).
One thing they did to help insure success is creation of an editorial calendar and tying mbo’s to the internal core team with expectations for contributing content. They also identified other sites where core team members are expected to contribute content with expectations that these external sites will link back to pgiconnect.
Some tips for success are (1) If operations becomes the primary creator of content then subtantial training is needed.  (2) If someone starts a discussion it is really important to engage that person to reward them.  (3) Mandated usage by internal staff and also rewarded them for using the site.
One benefit discovered by internal staff is it allows them to speak directly with tech staff of customers thus bypassing marketing. How do you get non tech people to engage? By understanding your core business and putting the community right in the middle of the process stream. Have a very specific set of goals when you build your community. And you may have multiple communities.
Have a content plan…decide how to keep content coming in. When asking what and why are we building the first question is “what’s in it for them (the customer)?” Why would they come and why would they come back? 2nd question and focus is on the type of visitor…are they technology or business types for example. What activities are they doing or expected to do? Which demographic is most willing to create content and share?
There are five approaches to engaging the community. One approach is to sit back and lisetn. Another approach is where you are involved in the discussion. Third is energizing where you proactively push info to the community. 4th is where you provide learning and support. Last approach is embracing where you ask the question “what do you want us to do for you?”
Last thing to think about is the technology. What characteristics are most valuable in helping you achieve your goals and plans.
Different types of communities are Loyalty, Enthusiast, Innovation, and Partner.
Plan user workflows. People need to understand what to do and where to go. Make sure it’s clear and simple.  If a person comes in and they don’t know what to do then they are gone. You need a content programming schedule. Create Polls maybe every day or week.  Other good ideas include tech talk,  seeding the conversations, and establishment of a 3rd party blog.

Plan the lifecycle of a successful community by opening a step at a time to establish a certain tone and foundation up front.  You want people to understand the personality. Know that you will have peaks and valleys. Target the right people at the right time and constantly promote. Know that your community is going to evolve.
Evangelist, manager, moderator are the three key roles necessary to create a successful community. Evangelist represents to internal members…creates a governance model for communities within the organization. Communication manager is inward facing into the community…keeps track of pulse of the community…knows what’s going on. Moderator polices, removes inappropriate content, and contacts internal staff to respond to posts. The moderator should monitor content daily.
Finally you want employees to be visible and real to the community with real names and faces.