Paintball Anyone?

Team Building. That is what it’s called when a company has a sponsored outing. In order to partake in team building on this day you had to drive to the middle of nowhere, don camouflage from days gone by (ex-military) and pick up high-powered weapons that shoot plastic balls filled with paint at high rates of speed. Then divide the company into two sides, line up on the ends of the playing fields and wait for all hell to break loose.

That is exactly what transpired on Friday with Telligent’s soon to be inaugural paintball adventure. Imagine if you will a group of mild mannered developers, program managers and sales team members. All friends during the day, collaborating on multiple project initiatives, driving towards company goals… but when the masks drop down and the last of the air cartridges are full, they turn into lethal paintballing machines.

The battles had an ebb and flow to them. One side would gain control and then the other would push forward. Towards the end of the day the term “surrender” had no meaning. Many casualties were met on this day as some team members bravely charged into bunkers where automatic weapons lay in wait. There will be posthumous medal ceremonies for those brave souls. There was the occasional friendly-fire incident and many shrieks of pain as the impact and subsequent explosion of paint could be heard by anyone within ear shot.  

When it was all said and done: 20 boxes of paint, 1 neck shot, hundreds of whelps and countless chigger bites later the goal of the day had been accomplished. There were many that wore weary smiles as they painfully made their way to their cars. The next day the IM titles read like a list of honor… 15 whelps here, 12 whelps there, paintball recovery day 1, etc…

Battle brings the best and worst out of people. I hope on this day each individual caught a glimpse of themselves and were happy with what they saw.

On this day there was much team building indeed.   

tom-paintball

Tom-Sniper

The Next Gaming Platform & A Look Back

As most of you know by now I am an avid console gamer. I was hooked at an early age. First it was the Odyssey² in 1978. I loved that the Odyssey² cartridges looked like 8-tracks with handles… Then it was on to the Nintendo 8-bit explosion of the mid-80’s.

I was amazed by the graphics and as soon as I saw R.O.B. the Robot playing Gyromite I had to have it! Who says marketing doesn’t work. I remember many hours spent on Excitebike, Zelda and Metroid. You had to ensure you had a good supply of Q-tips and rubbing alcohol to make sure you could still fire up your favorite games. And how did we ever live with just two buttons to mash is beyond me.

Next for me came the 16-bit Sega Genesis, with its slick black design and innovative controller layout (3 buttons vs. 2!!!) and titles like Phantasy Star 2  I had to have it.  Plus my console came with a fun game that had a blue hedgehog that was lightning fast. On a side note, it amazes me that the same games I enjoyed are now available for my kids to play. My 5 year old son now loves all things Sonic the Hedgehog. He has the Sonic Mega Collection for his PS2 that allows him to play the original port of Sonic. And don’t forget all the retro arcade titles on Xbox Live Arcade…Like father, like son.

I had a bit of a gap between the genesis and my next console. I bypassed a lot of the other options of the day, don’t get me wrong, I still played them with friends, The Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64 (Goldeneye is still a classic), Sega Saturn etc… It was not until the Sony Playstation came out that I got back into consoling gaming head first again.

Sony redefined mainstream gaming with its CD only media and a truly amazing controller. The basic design of the controller was so solid it is still in use through 3 versions of the product. The graphics were amazing and I remember friends demolishing their PS1’s as they tried to mod them. The library of games was also really impressive. I think that is one of the ways they gained market share as quickly as they did, that and it was a 32 bit console. (First console to reach the 100 million mark) and all of these factors turned me into a Sony fanboy. To this day the best games I have ever played are the 3 CD behemoth Final Fantasy VII & Xenogears on PS1. I absolutely love those games.

Of course I picked up a PS2, this sixth generation 128-bit console was impressive, I remember seeing the first videos of Madden and the realism of the players just blew me away. This is also when I became 100% addicted to the EA NCAA football franchise. I played it in 1999 and a few versions on the PS1, but nothing compared to taking over the University of Oklahoma and leading them to national championship domination year, after year, after year in dynasty mode. I have probably logged over 500+ games of NCAA football across platforms.

By this time I wanted to take my gaming with me, I was traveling a lot and decided to pick up a Gameboy Advanced SP (The PSP was still on the horizon but not yet available. I played everything from Dragonball Z and Megaman to SpyHunter but it was short lived. The PSP was finally released.

All I have to say about the PSP at the time was WOW. The size of the screen, the ability to hold my photos and music all in the same device was just too cool. I remember when it first came out hacking the browser in Wipeout and thought it was the greatest thing that I was online with my PSP.  Alas, my PSP was stolen in Seattle and my desire to continue with the PSP went with it.

Which brings me to the here and now. Me being the Sony fanboy that I was means that I did not own an original Xbox. I was a member of the Sony Gamer Advisory Panel, I beta tested upcoming Sony titles and I could not wait for the PS3. With a brilliant move by Microsoft, instead of trying to cram everything into their console, they went to market first with a next-gen console that was just what the market could handle. I held out for a long time as many of my friends picked up the Xbox 360. I would passively sit back and just wait for the PS3 thinking it would be worth it.

At the Telligent office we began playing NHL2K6 on the Xbox 360 and things started to get really competitive. I wanted to get a leg up so I jumped head first into the realm of 360 gaming with very low expectations, I mainly bought the console to play the game and this was filler until the PS3 shipped. My gamerscore was zero, I casually played Halo and other Xbox titles with friends on their consoles so I was a true Noob when it came to the Xbox.

Fast-forward 14,000+ gamer points later and 50+ games played and I still do not own a PS3, nor do I see myself going that direction anytime soon. The biggest selling point to me besides achievement points was the way you can easily collaborate with your friends over Xbox Live. Granted it is not perfect, but I really like being able to see what games my friends are playing and the game specific leaderboards, how far they have progressed, or if I want to challenge someone or just co-op on the latest game it is easy to do.

I look forward to the eighth-generation consoles like the Xbox 720, Playstation 4 and Wii2 or whatever the future may bring. With amazing strides being made with the game engines (Look at the upcoming Mass Effect and Unreal Tournament 3 titles) and consoles like the Wii changing the way people interact with games, it is going to be a fun ride.

 

 

San Francisco & EA’s Skate

For most of this week I will be in San Francisco, beautiful city btw. Today I am on-site at Electronic Arts in Redwood City. It is always good to see the EA team, the core group that we work with are a great bunch of guys. We are working on a community project tied to the upcoming Skate game that is very impressive. The marketing site done by Blast Radius is already up and running.

I played an alpha build of the game today and was very impressed. Not only is it a fun game, but it takes skateboarding to the edge in terms of the realism of the game compared to other titles that are out today (Tony Hawk series). The “Flickit” controls were very responsive (Think Fight Night 3’s analog controls), I was able to pull a number of tricks but the level of difficulty is there giving it a feeling of real skating and not an arcade simulation. It is not simply hit a button perform a trick. There is a flow to the moves and a seamless transition between tricks if done well. The graphics were impressive and it has a real sandbox feel in terms of roaming the different cityscapes in freeskate.

One of the great features of the upcoming Skate game will be the ability to record in-game footage and upload it to the upcoming community server based site. It will allow a level of Web/Game integration that we have yet to see in a next-gen title.

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What Do You Look For?

One of the most difficult tasks to undertake is adding a new member to a team. There are so many factors that you have to consider, the balance of personality types… strategic thinker vs. execution mindset… you have to factor in the dynamics of the existing team members and you want to ensure that the prospect has a clear understanding of the expectations of the position.

When I look to hire a new member to the team the main area I focus on is not necessarily their extensive skill set or the impressive list of previous positions on their resume. I look for both tangible and intangible traits. Does this individual possess the type of personality that can thrive in this environment. From my experience individuals can really thrive in an open/start-up type environment, others it can be a very uncomfortable place to be if they are not accustomed to fluid processes.

The other personality trait I focus on is ego. When hiring, especially in a sales type capacity you want someone who is confident in their abilities but at the same time recognize a sense of humility. This is very key as with this type of position the ability to develop and maintain relationships is such a key element.

To succeed within this culture attitudes and egos need to be checked at the door. I also look for signs from the individual that they have the ability to add value in multiple areas, be it experience in an area of interest or the desire to continue to develop professionally. Finally, is the individual an enabler. Can they bring the best not only from themselves but positively impacting the other members of the organization.

To summarize, it is not always about the resume and what you have done that get you in the door, it is more along the lines of highlighting the value that you can bring to the team and having just the right mix of personality that can take you all the way.

Fun on a Friday

Today was one of those rare days. It is Telligent’s 3rd Anniversary and it was a day when you have an opportunity to do something that is just plain funny! After a month of planning, today was the “unveiling” of Rob’s clone/Evil Rob/Rob2… In other words a life size cutout of Rob Howard, CEO of Telligent Systems.  When the group had gathered and Rob entered the room his reaction was the payoff that we were waiting for. For those of you that don’t know me, I am a bit of a prankster. I like to conduct “social experiments” to see how people respond. With today’s experiment we are testing Rob’s tolerance to literally laugh at himself.

The planning started a month ago. Rob had recently completed a photo shoot for a cross promotional ad with ComponentArt and our Community Server product. So a high-resolution image was floating around just waiting to be a part of a fun prank. When I initially, innocently inquired about said photo I was met with resistance, so an alternate path had to be taken. Once the photo was in hand it was time to find the perfect printer, and that came in the form of Advanced Graphics. AG specializes in life size cut outs and I highly recommend them. Then the waiting game for the item to arrive. So today the package arrived. We quickly unpacked and reviewed the item. The next thing you know an e-mail is sent out to meet in the ping pong conference room and the team showed up quickly. A camera was ready to capture the reaction and Rob did not disappoint. Once plenty of pictures were taken the “Rob Clone” found a home in the front lobby.

Why is a life size cutout of Rob so funny? Because if you know him you have to know that the last thing in the world that he would do would be to promote himself in that way. It so goes against his personality. So if you happen to catch him at TechEd next week, be sure to ask him how his “clone” is doing and which one is the good Rob and which is the evil one.

Rob and Evil Rob

The Three-Screen Universe

While flying to NYC today I read an interesting article talking about “the three-screen universe” (TV, PC, and cell phone/gaming gizmo/iPod). The basic premise was that we have so much information available to us that it is potentially causing a social breakdown by contributing to ADHD type behavior and actually isolating us from interacting with one another. The more I thought about this I began to apply the meaning of the article to myself. How many times a day do I check my smart phone? 10, 20, 30 times a day??? Knowing me it is probably more like 50-100 times a day. Then I think about all the time I spend gaming (granted the kiddos are asleep) but that time could be spent interacting (No co-oping with your buddy does not count) or sleeping and of course the weekly TV (LOST) and during football season the weekly Oklahoma Sooner game. Then I started thinking about potential disruptive behavior in meetings, laptop open and working during meetings, checking the smart phone 15 times during the meeting, etc… you know you do it or have done it at one point in time. The whole point is to just say every once in a while before you go to pick up that controller or smart phone/ipod/blackberry think about doing a little something for society and interact (positively) with your environment and don’t feed the e-mail monster. It will still be hungry in the morning.  

Community ROI

Changes have been in the works over the past few years, dramatic changes and challenges are beginning to have an effect on traditional business. You look at software as a service (SaaS), service oriented architecture, and especially Web 2.0 and how organizations are trying to define new strategies. From my perspective, I focus a lot of time around discussing Web 2.0 and the value to traditional business. 

Some of the common questions that are raised are: how do I calculate ROI around community? What are the contributing factors? How do I know that it is truly beneficial for me to have a community vs. not having one? The most common mistake when calculating ROI around community is to focus solely on the activity of the community. Things like unique visitors, page views, session time, community click throughs, read-to-post ratios, are all very useful in defining the health of a community, but they alone do not translate into a tangible business value that you can hang your hat on. When reviewing ROI you have to look at economic indicators such as the incremental value of the community and conversion rates.

Incremental Value is the difference between the value created by a business with an online community and the estimated value that the business would generate in the absence of community. There are a few guidelines that serve as baseline factors when calculating ROI. Research shows that Community members make up only 5% of the overall customer base, but this group accounts for 30% of the purchases and average transaction size is twice as large for community members as for non-community members. One of the biggest factors in calculating Incremental value is the referral factor. Community members are twice as likely to refer others to the site and the retention rates are 50% longer for community members than for non-community members.

With that in mind I began the process of creating a formula that took into consideration variables such as Advertising Dollars, Potential Market, Current Market Over Time and Direct and Indirect Growth to both Community and Non-community Members as well as accounting for retention and Word of Mouth. The end result is the following:

(A+(Nt/M) (b)) (M-Nt) = Community Member
(A’+(Nt‘/M’) (b’)) (M’-Nt‘) = Non-Community Member

Here are the variables
A= Advertising Dollars
M=Potential Market
Nt=Current Market over time
b= Direct Growth + Indirect Growth (CMs)
b’= Direct Growth + Indirect Growth (NCM)
r = Retention = 10% or .1
w= Word of Mouth Referral = 5% or .05
c= Content = 5% or .05

b = referral + 2(.005) = r + 0.0115
b’ = referral + (.005) = r + 0.01/2

So with this in mind you can look at this practical example:

Nt/M (M-Nt)

Nt= 10,000
M= 1,000,000

10,000/1,000,000 (b) (1,000,000 – 10,000)
b/10 (990,000)                                           

b=.1 + 2(.05) + .05 = .25                             b= r + 2w + c
b’= .1/2 + .05 = .1                                       b’ = r/2 + w

CM (10K, 1,000K) = (.25)(99,000) + 10,000 = 34,750
NCM (10K, 1,000K) = .1(99,000) + 10,000 = 19,900

Thus based on the criteria referenced above, having a community will yield a 74% increase over time as compared to not having a community based on the sample size.

In future posts I will look at another example of ROI calculation based on the average value of a Non-Community Member compared to the value of a Community Member. This will focus on monetizing the community and assumes a product based community. This requires an understanding of the average transaction per customer, total customers (projected or actual), potential market and the current conversion rates of the product. I will also review how Subject Matter Experts and Word of Mouth is calculated to come up with the 5% referenced above.

 

 

Viral Marketing & SMO

Viral Marketing is now one of the most powerful ways to market online. The key to viral success comes down to interruption vs. invitation. Traditional media such as television has the potential to reach hundreds of millions but the message may not resonate or be clearly discerned by the prospective target audience due to the “noise” and passive positioning associated with this type of delivery. The beauty of viral messaging is that it has a much better chance to get the users attention as the message is either coming from a trusted source, a recommendation, or meets the search criteria defined by the user.  Also, this type of message is available on-demand which gives the user ultimate control over when and where consumption occurs.

One viral aspect that is getting a lot of attention is online video. If you are reading this you have more than likely viewed a user created video on YouTube or some other site and you are not alone.  Online video is beginning to garner more attention from average viewers with 4% of people over the age of 18 watching videos daily and another 14% watching at least once a week. Research shows more organizations will be shifting marketing dollars to producing and positioning online videos. The reason for the shift is that video ads show a propensity to generate higher ad interaction and longer ad viewing (2/3 of the way through on average) this in turn leads to higher click-through rates.

So as an organization you may be thinking about focusing on online video or maybe you are looking to tie into user generated content and incorporate your advertising. If so, you need to focus on a few key factors. As with any type of marketing activity consistency is the key. Ensure that you are intrinsically linked to your brand, your video should require online interactivity and it needs to have synergy with offline marketing material. The other key factor revolves around the concept of Social Media Optimization or SMO.

SMO is the process of optimizing your online media presence by becoming more visible through searches within online communities and community web sites. The concept of SMO is to increase the chances of your video being distributed more widely through community search engines. This is very important as this is the key driver for this type of viral strategy.

As you consider your viral strategy it may become clear that you need a solid community presence associated with your brand. This is where branded community offerings can be applicable. Integrated platform (Blogs, Forums, File, Photo Galleries, Video & Podcast support, RSS) that streamline the positioning of an online community. Let me know if we can assist you with your community or viral marketing needs. We would be more than happy to assist. Feel free to contact me with questions at tedwards@blackfin360.com

Go Vikings?

It is official… Adrian Peterson is now a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Peterson was built for the NFL and should do very well, especially with the Minnesota O-line. I will be taking my son to the Minnesota vs. Cowboys game in October.

Draft time is one of my favorite times of year, I liken it to Christmas… I love the overcoverage of the event and the ebb and flow of the picks, especially when something happens that is unexpected… like a certain Notre Dame quarterback falling to the 22nd pick.

Speaking of the draft it was great to see the Madden08 commercials. It is a great feeling to know that you had a part in contributing to something that you are passionate about. Community Server powers the blogs of the Madden08 site as well as the forums for the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, and the NY Giants

I can’t wait for football to start!!!

10,000 points and the NFL draft

It took 7 months but I finally broke through the 10,000 point barrier (Xbox 360 achievement points). Let the celebration begin, okay on to 20,000! In another update to the never ending hockey series, Rob and I once again dropped 2 to the Scott Dockendorf and Kevin Cunningham combo (yesterday). Back to the drawing board.

I am really looking forward to the NFL draft tomorrow! For those of you that don’t know I am a big OU Sooner fan. I can’t wait to see where Adrian Peterson ends up, I just hope that the Bills don’t trade up (Eric Smith’s team). As that would mean I would have to root for Eric’s team and that just can’t happen.

Also, Telligent will play a part in the NFL draft tomorrow. When EA announces the cover athlete to Madden08, the blog portion of the Madden08 site will be powered by Community Server via an iframe!!! Great stuff!!!

 

1000 pts w00t!!!

Alright, I have finally broken the 1000 pt barrier on a game. Thanks to EA’s Fight Night 3 (Great game btw) and 5 nights of gaming and a very understanding wife (love you babe). In the latest news Rob Howard had a big collision during a pick up game of hockey yesterday… don’t worry Rob, scars are cool :). In other updates the never ending series with Scott Dockendorf and Kevin Cunningham took a turn for the worse after directly calling them out in a previous post, we dropped the best of three series 2-1. We will see who is feeling it today.

Being an avid gamer, I have a tendency to focus on vertical markets that I enjoy personally, so we have made significant traction in the gaming industry. From our relationship with the Xbox team, Community Server powers the Xbox forums, Major Nelson‘s blog, Gamerscoreblog, and the new Forza Community. We are doing some very cool work with Electronic Arts that will become public very soon, but one of the sites rhymes with “aladdin” hmmm. Also, we just rolled out a great new site for Ensemble Studios. The new Age of Empire III forums which are powered by Community Server. The real reason we do it is for the free games :P

Also, I have a few positions open in the Dallas area, I am looking for an account manager for CodeSmith Tools as well as a Partner Channel Manager for the Community Server sales team. 

Game On!

One of the great things about Telligent is that we work hard, but we also play hard. At any given time you will either see a heated game of ping pong, scooter races, WoW card games, (I call it adult pokemon others call it geek poker) numerous circular objects making there way towards someone’s head, nerf guns of various shapes and sizes or the all out competition of direct gaming, I am talking head to head, no holds barred Xbox 360 and PC gaming at it’s best. The game of choice for us Xbox guys is NHL 2K7, why? it is fast paced, takes about 15 mins for a game, and you can absolutely school your buddy when they go for the big hit. Scott D, you know who I am talking about :). At any given point in time you can catch me and Rob Howard taking on Scott Dockendorf and Kevin Cunningham in what seems to be a never ending series of games. There have been swings from one side to the other, but I do think that Rob and I hold the all time series lead in this one :). We will have to find out who has the hot hand tomorrow.

Outside of the office there are about 20 or so Telligenti, yes that is what we call ourselves, who are Xbox 360 gamers. We like to co-op or just try to see who can build up the most achievement points between us, FWIW, I am leading the way with 9000+ points. 

We also have what is affectionately known as frag night the first Tuesday of every month, it is our time to order pizza, and get our gaming on. We do need to look into getting an air hockey table or one of the old school hockey games with the guys that spin around. That would be a great addition! 

Why Telligent

One of the more frequent questions I get is why Telligent? I joined the Telligent team about a year and half ago. Previously I was a co-founder of a Professional Services firm that focuses on custom application development and works extensively with Microsoft. I was the VP of Sales & Marketing, a member of the Board of Directors and had equity in the organization. So why leave for Telligent? Two words, Vision and Collaboration. When I met with Rob Howard, Jason AlexanderScott Dockendorf and remotely with Scott Watermasysk one thing became very clear, this was a team that has the vision and domain knowledge to do something truly unique.

When you first meet Rob Howard one of the first things you will notice is the passion that he has for Telligent and Community Server. If you ever happen to catch him at a conference, or via webex demonstrating Community Server you will immediately recognize that Rob truly is a thought leader in terms of understanding the application of business intelligence, specifically around collaborative software and online community. More than that though, Rob understands the concept of the blue ocean. Mainly, don’t compete over minor scraps in the red ocean of over saturated products and competition, look for the blue ocean and ensure that the focus of the organization is to build something that provides value but may not be completely mainstream just yet. This is where the collaboration reference comes into play.

One of the big shifts over the past few years is the emergence of Web 2.0. Web 2.0 focuses on collaboration. From an organizational standpoint this trend is really gaining traction with traditional businesses. The move from traditional marketing to a more viral approach has accelerated the emergence of strategy aimed at bottom up marketing, whereas the end consumer either B2B or B2C has direct impact on the direction of marketing strategy for an organization. This was very key for me as it provided an opportunity to guide the marketing direction of a product that was still in the early adopter phase of the product lifecycle. The ability to ride the wave of collaboration combined with the vision and drive of the Telligent team were an easy sell for me. Over the past year we have made significant penetration into a number of great accounts, Disney, Conde Nast, MSNBC, Intel, Dell and Electronic Arts to name a few. What is really exciting is that enterprise level organizations are truly just scratching the surface of what is possible in terms of Web 2.0 marketing strategy and software solutions. This means that Telligent and Community Server will continue to be in very high demand.

This year has already started with a bang and with the release of Community Server 2007 which is the best Community Server release to date it just keeps getting better. The roadmap is defined and we are looking to do some very special things in upcoming releases. Look for the announcement of some very large initiatives that are in the works and will be launching later this year, one is just mind boggling and definitely affirm that Community Server can scale to meet the needs of almost any organization.

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Why The Black Fin

Hello and Welcome to the Black Fin Blog. I am Tom Edwards, VP, Sales & Marketing at Telligent Systems. The purpose of this blog is to provide additional insight into Telligent and Community Server as well as provide my perspective on sales & marketing. So why the Black Fin? It is a newly acquired nickname given to me by one my co-workers. He thought it would be funny to name my hair, so it stuck. Yes I choose to go with a more aerodynamic approach, but hey it can cut through water like nothing else. Anyway, I will try to keep it light and interesting moving forward.

I am an avid gamer (Xbox 360 is my platform of choice) gamertag – TheBlackFin. Look me up on either the http://www.360voice.com/ or anytime you are on Xbox live. I am always up to co-op on the latest game.

Take care,

Tom