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Technology evangelism

My research supervisor invited me to give a guest lecture on blogs,
wikis, podcasts, bookmarks, and other cool Web 2.0 stuff. I gave his
graduate class a whirlwind tour of all these cool things that are
driving the mass amateurization of the Web. I didn’t even mention all
the stuff I had planned. I just had so much fun talking about
everything that came to mind. I love doing technology evangelism, and
they appreciated my enthusiasm too! They were a terrific audience with
plenty of cool ideas and good back-and-forth. They chuckled at my
jokes and answered my questions – and asked quite a number of their
own. That was tons of fun!

I wanted to record it, but unfortunately (a) I forgot to hit the
record button, and (b) the batteries I bought just that afternoon
turned out to be dead. Pfft. Oh well. I’d love to do another whirlwind
tour again, though…

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OMG, Sun evangelized the Philippines!!

I’m at the first Global Network of Technology Evangelists conference,
and I’m practically bouncing out of my front-row seat. In front of a
hundred of Silicon Valley evangelists and other way cool people from
as far away as Beijing, Scott Thompson of Sun Microsystems talked about
JEDI as ultimate evangelism. Right. jedi.up.edu.ph. He even showed pictures of the Java teachers from all over. Glowing testimonials about the Philippines. Wheeeee!

I couldn’t help but whisper to Betsy Weber: “Psst! That guy in the blue shirt in the top photo – that’s one of my best friends!”

Yes, Mario Carreon, you are Internet-famous… ;)

I’ll look for the webcast ASAP. =D

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Creating Rainmakers

I spotted an intriguing book today. Creating Rainmakers: The Manager’s Guide to Training Professionals to Attract New Clients. The book is expensive, but I’ll go back and browse through it tomorrow to see if it’s worth buying.

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How to talk to execs and clients about social media

“Know the differences between Technology, Features, Benefits, and Value,” Jeremiah Owyang
 advises in his blog post about effectively talking to executives and clients about social media. He goes on to provide concrete examples of all four approaches, and suggests how to establish trust and respond to indicators of interest or disinterest. Good stuff.

I’m an emerging technologies evangelist focusing on social computing in the enterprise. Some people come to me with a technology focus. They want to use a blog or a wiki, but their objectives aren’t clear, and they don’t know where to start. Sometimes they start on their own, but they quickly lose interest in it when people don’t reply to their posts or update their wiki. Part of my role as a technology evangelist is to get them from focusing on the technology to focusing on at least the benefits as soon as possible. In order to do that, I need to know who they are and what matters to them. What are they looking for? What words do they use to describe what they do? Listening is a huge part of evangelism. (This makes me want to find another term, actually, as “evangelist” brings up images of people who just talk at other people.)

When I talk about benefits or value, I talk about WIIFM: “What’s in it for me.” It’s a good idea to lead with personal benefits, and let the social benefits follow. Blogs, social bookmarks, wikis… All of these things should pay off for you on a personal level, because the social benefits might not kick in for a while. When I talk to people who are new to blogging, for example, I emphasize how it’s useful as a professional notebook for recording lessons learned and questions to explore. I talk about how the practice I get in thinking about what I think makes it easier for me to talk to other people. I talk about how my blog helps me remember what I’m passionate and excited about. When the personal benefits are established, then I can talk about the social benefits: the unexpected connections, the deeper conversations, the online and offline interactions. But personal benefits have to come first. Otherwise, it becomes a chore and you won’t be able to appreciate the social benefits.

Kids are a great way to show some of those benefits, because kids pick up the technologies that have good WIIFM value. Here’s an example: At a recent kick-off meeting, one of the clients mentioned that he saw his daughter using del.icio.us to coordinate a school project with some of her classmates. Using del.icio.us, they could quickly put together and share relevant sites. And hey, if his daughter could do that, maybe people in his company could, too.

The caveat is that it’s also easy to get locked into thinking of social media as just for the kids, or just for our personal lives. That’s why it’s also important to tell stories about older people using social media. (My mom shares business tips on her blog!) It’s important to tell stories about the business benefits of social media. (I got my job because of my blog, my bookmarks, and my other social stuff!) We need to tell those stories so that we can help people see what’s in it for them and what’s in it for their company.

So how do you talk to people about social media?

  • Listen well. You need to pick up and use their vocabulary. You need to watch how they react. People give you plenty of cues; you just have to listen.
  • Focus on people and value, not the technology. The technical details come later, when you’re talking to IT for implementation.
  • Tell stories whenever possible. They make your benefit and value statements concrete.

(xpost: The Orange Chair (team blog), personal blog, personal internal blog; thanks to Stefano Pogliani for the link)

Sowing seeds: What is technology evangelism, anyway?

Today, I want to talk about grassroots adoption, when you’re trying to influence people around you to try out something new–a new tool, a new idea, a new way of working–without dictating to people. I hope that I can help you get a better sense of where other people are, what might be stopping them from moving forward, where you are, and how you can get better at helping other people learn.

I’m interested in this because as a technology evangelist, I’ve talked to a lot of people about social tools like blogging and wikis. Over the next few blog entries, I want to share some of the objections that I’ve come across. I also want to share some of the methods I’ve tried and observed.

But first, let’s talk about what technology evangelism is. You might be wondering why I use the term “evangelism”, considering its religious roots and sometimes negative connotations.

For me, evangelism has that hint of being more than just a dry list of facts. You want to inspire people to action, and you want to do this in a way that sticks even when you’re not around.

The technology you want to promote is not going to be a perfect fit for everyone or every time. Technology evangelism is not about convincing people that your way is the right way. It’s about showing people what their options are, helping them find something that fits them, and helping them learn how to make it part of their work or their lives. (I forget this sometimes, too.)

So if a technology isn’t going to be a perfect fit for everyone immediately, how can you encourage grassroots adoption?

One way is to scatter the seeds as widely as possible. If you reach out, you might find a lot of people who can benefit from the technology you want to promote. Help them, and their success stories and influence will help you reach out to even more people.

You might not have that option. You might have been asked to help a team get up to speed on a tool. You might want to explore a collaborative tool, but before you can take advantage of that tool, you’ll need to get other people on board too. (After all, you can’t collaborate on your own.)

This is where it can get frustrating.

Next post on Monday (or earlier =) ): Sowing seeds: Five common objections

Sowing seeds: Common objections to technology evangelism for collaborative tools

Whether you’re a team member trying to convince your coworkers to explore a new tool, or a manager trying to require everyone to use a new system, you know that influencing other people’s opinions and behavior is really difficult. You’re no stranger to rejection.

You know what rejection sounds like.  “I’m too busy.” “I don’t have the time to learn that right now.” Or–more frankly–”I don’t see the value in that.” If you’ve _never_ heard these phrases, e-mail me – I want to know how you do what you do. Chances are, you’ve heard them. Chances are, you’ve even said them.

When someone says these things to you, it’s not a rejection of you or of the idea. It’s a sign that there’s a deeper issue that hasn’t been addressed.

In some cases, people will be firmly against your idea, and there’s not much you can do to help them consider the options. Many times, though, people do want to learn more and try things out–but they’re held back by one thing or another. If you can help them get over those barriers, they’re open to trying things out.

Here are five of the barriers I often come across, and some ways to help people break through them. Think about people you’ve tried to help and see if you can identify them on this spectrum. You’ve probably thought about each of these items before, but it helps to be able to take a step back and think about what’s stopping people.

  1. I’m happy with the existing tools. It’s difficult to introduce something new when an existing way is good enough for the needs people currently have, particularly if the new tool doesn’t do everything the old tool does and more. People who were happy with horse-drawn carts simply didn’t see why they would need a “horseless carriage” that was complex and finicky. Likewise, it can be hard to introduce new collaborative tools when people have gotten used to their existing tools and workarounds. It’s not enough to say that something is new and interesting. Try to identify significant pain points that give people enough reason to try something out, or point out compelling opportunities to get new benefits.
  2. No one else is doing it. This is a chicken-and-egg problem: You can’t use a tool to collaborate with other people unless they use it too, and they won’t use it unless other people are using it. You can address this by looking for ways to get individual productivity benefits from these tools, and then drawing people in when they need help from you. Sometimes you won’t be able to introduce a tool gradually. In that case, you’ll probably need your entire team’s cooperation or at least willingness to give the new tool a try for a limited period of time. Be prepared to help your teammates learn how to use the new tool, and focus on efforts that will get quick results.
  3. I don’t think I can trust beta software. New tools may not be fully supported, and they may not be able to provide as much performance as your team needs. Unfortunately, this is another chicken-and-egg problem that’s probably outside your control. Your early adoption can help the tool development teams justify additional investment in the tool, but it’s difficult to get other people to trust something that may be discontinued or that does not have sufficient resources. Team members may also lack trust in their ability to use the tools effectively. Your best bet is probably to use established tools for mission-critical collaboration until your team has more confidence in the new tools and their ability to use them.
  4. I don’t know where to start. This is probably the easiest barrier to address. At this point your team members are interested in changing and are ready to take action. Show people small actions they can take to get immediate benefit.
  5. I can’t make it a habit. If you’ve ever made a New Year’s Resolution or tried to break or start a habit, you know how hard it is to change your routine. This is basically what you’re asking people to do when you ask them to try out a new collaborative tool–to make it a habit. It’s okay if people lapse. Just help them start again. One way to help is by identifying some behaviors people want to change, such as replacing e-mailed attachments with uploads to a team workspace. When you see the old behavior, remind people (gently! =) ) about the new behavior. Reinforce this by helping them see the benefits they’ve personally experienced. If the new tool is a good fit for people, they’ll eventually make it part of their habits.

Next: Sowing seeds: Five methods