SPTechCon 2013: Mark Miller Helps You Figure out “What’s Your Story?”

“This session is NOT about SharePoint.”

I realize that some people may hear a presenter say this and head straight for the door and onward to another session. For this blogger, ne’er were such sweet words spoken. For his presentation on “Community and Global Visibility,” Mark Miller, the self-proclaimed Senior Storyteller, addressed an issue far larger and much more interpersonal than SharePoint itself – Community. When it comes to a community, it’s not simply just about the technology itself (such as Microsoft SharePoint); but more so the story the technology has to tell and the emotional response that this response evokes.

Now that your interest has been piqued (and you’re okay with the fact that we’re not speaking exclusively about SharePoint), the question may come up: why should we build communities? Of course, there are a number of natural responses…To raise awareness, build trust, develop relationships, etc.  And of course, in the capitalist society we live in, there’s one more response that may come to mind…


The equation may seem surprisingly easy – Earn client’s trust -> Obtain credibility -> Sell a product. If only life were so simple.  Unfortunately, that’s not quite how community building works; in actuality, it’s a much more involved process that takes proper planning, initiative, and perseverance. For those of us who attended Mark’s session, we were lucky enough to have a seasoned community-building professional walk us through five key steps to building an effective – and influential – community.

The Five-Step Process

When it comes to creating your story, the end goal should be to focus on what you are about, what you are selling, and how to translate it in a way that elicits an emotional response from your audience. The message shouldn’t be just about the technology you offer; but rather how people recognize themselves in the story. To exemplify this, Mark shared a video from a TED Talk originally presented by Simon Sinek. In the clip, Simon explained how to truly be effective in selling our products, we need to “market from the inside out.” Specifically, he noted that “people don’t buy what you do, people buy why you do it.”  Mark further illustrated this point by looking at three different companies – Zappos, Amazon, and Apple – and asking the audience what we think of when we hear these companies’ names. Almost immediately, the audience was able to recognize not their products; but instead what they were “selling.” For Zappos, it was customer service. Amazon? Convenience and timing. And Apple? Lifestyle.

Let’s face it; no one likes getting hit over the head with product marketing and pushy sales pitches. So how then do we spread the word about how great our technology is? One of the simplest approaches is to leverage market influencers.  When it comes to market influencers, one of your key goals should be to engage your influencers so that they become a part of your conversation. Sounds easy, right? It can be if you plan properly and launch an effective “Influencer Campaign.” Some of the steps that Mark recommended in his presentation are as follows:

1. Learn who the Influencers are. Don’t just guess.

2. Create an Influencer Plan. Corporate-wide.

3. Embrace individuals. Engage their passions.

4. Track and monitor regularly.

I can probably guess what you’re thinking about now… “I have a story.  I have an audience. Now what?”

When it comes to advancing SharePoint, the answer is simple and can be described in one word: Microsoft.  So how do you get such a big pooch on your side?  In his example, Mark Miller discussed his approach when it came to connecting Global 360 and Microsoft. To begin, start small and gradually build the relationship and credibility by progressing step by step. Global 360 began by hitting the conference and event circuit; first locally – city by city – and once momentum had grown, nationally. It’s not something that will happen overnight, but with the proper planning and initiative, getting the big dog on your side is an attainable and realistic goal.

When it comes to driving awareness for your story, thanks to the advent of social networking, there are a number of different avenues that can be explored. This includes leveraging YouTube, webcasts, eBooks, Twitter, LinkedIn, and, the old brick-and-mortar, trade shows. However, spreading the message shouldn’t be just about you; as in any good relationship, it should be a two-way street. In his presentation, Mark used the recent work he has been doing on a DevOps Influencer project to show how not only was he able to market the DevOps collateral he created, but also the individuals involved in the project were able to reference back to his material and create awareness through their external sites. By driving activity around his story by utilizing external sites, you can effectively spread your story to not only your followers but also other influencers’ followers.

Think Betty in Accounting’s only job is to process invoices? Well, think again. When it comes to building a community, it is critical that everyone in your organization is involved, be it a lot or a little. Though not everyone’s role and influence may be the same. As Mark pointed out, there are many little things that anyone within an organization can do to make their messages mean something. In his example, Mark spoke about how in an organization he was working with, someone in AP included a handwritten note on an invoice that said “Thank you for saving a life.” For the hospital that received the invoice, the impact was touching and personal; it said that there’s a “real person” behind this piece of paper that cares. Whether it’s someone in HR, Accounting, or some other department, you’d be surprised at the impact that a personal message can make on building trust and brotherhood across organizations.

So not that I’ve had much to say about SharePoint in this blog, but I think it’s important to share one of Mark’s closing points now: Stop talking about SharePoint. When it comes to community, we shouldn’t be talking about a specific technology; rather, we should be discussing the problems we are facing and our pain points, as well as what we can do to solve these problems. And rooted in this discussion should be the topic of what is our story? After all, with our story as a foundation, it’s important to remember that if we don’t have a story, we don’t have anything to spread.

Check out our complete coverage of SPTechCon 2013 from Boston: