lunes, noviembre 09, 2009

Plex: Ramon Chen recuerda la importancia del Lava Lounge

En abril de este año, Ramon Chen publicó un buen análisis de la creación de la comunidad de usuarios de Synon, llamada Lava Lounge, asociándolo a su producto Obsydian, el que hoy es Plex. Destaca su importancia en la construcción de una fuerte comunidad en la que colaboran el dueño del producto (entonces Synon) y sus usuarios. Un modelo que algo más despersonalizado se ha mantenido a través del tiempo, en parte gracias a la energía puesta en juego por Bill Hunt, el actual responsable del producto en CA. Dice Ramon:
1. Some History and Background (skip to section 2 if you only care about the marketing part of it :-) )
Back in 1995, way before social networking, there were very limited ways to get your message out to a wide audience. Even full Internet access was somewhat restricted at many companies and corporate e-mails were just getting going outside of the “firewall”. I had just taken over product marketing at Synon, adding to my product management duties and had made up a list of high priority items for my next 90 days. One idea that had always been brewing in the back of my mind was the notion of an online Synon community. Synon at this time, was already a highly successful company with about 3000 companies using the app dev tool worldwide. We regularly held annual user conferences which averaged 600+ attendees and there were local regional chapters of user groups which met every few months. What was missing was a way of consistently distributing up to date information about our products and also to tap into the passion and evangilism of our customers.

I first discovered the WWW back in 1993 when I was an architect for our Unix product called Synon/Open. I soon got myself online at home via a service called Netcom which I later converted to AOL. Synon (and many other companies) were using CompuServe back then, and I also had an account for those purposes. AOL was rapidly gaining the market share of popularity, although it restricted usage within it’s “Walled Garden” and browsing of the WWW was done outside of the service via a TCP/IP tunnel. Nevertheless, I reasoned that many now had access to the Synon corporate website (either from work or from home), so I determined that it was the right time to launch a community for Synon online.

I approached my boss at the time Bill Yeack and made a proposal for the LavaLounge (so called because the new product that we had just launched was called Obsydian – a black lava rock). He gave his blessing, but not a budget. His challenge “Show me that there is interest and the dollars will follow”. Given this, I worked with Bill Harada, our excellent internal graphics and web designer, and asked him to create an area off the Synon corporate website with a set of template pages. I then got hold of a copy of Frontpage and built my first website, the LavaLounge was born!

2. If you build it will they come?
I had to find a way to encourage Synon users to “join and register” for the LavaLounge so that we could control access via login and pwd to restricted content. Being an ex-developer I reasoned that exclusivity was always a major selling point but the “cool factor” was being the first to get on board. In addition to the usual “pre-qualification, limited number of spots available” messaging, I used the concept of a Club (similar to the frequent flyer clubs and loyalty programs of consumer product companies). Dubbed “Club Lava”, I further used the only currency I had (with no budget), the sequential allocation of Club Lava IDs starting at 00001 allocated on a first submitted, first allocated basis. I also published an electronic membership card, which people could print out and put in their wallet to recognize their “status”.

November 1995 (there would later be a re-vamp of the site in Sept 2006), I launched the LavaLounge with my colleague Wasim Ahmad and began accepting Club Lava memberships (click for the registration form)
Intially registrations were slow, due to the limited ways we could get the word out, but registrations really began picking up and much to my delight, I could see on the CompuServe chat boards that people were comparing their Club Lava ID numbers to see who had the lowest ones! Word of mouth began to spread and within a week we had over 100 registrants.

3. Ok, they’re here, now what?
The next phase was to “make good” on the promises of Club Lava which included all of the benefits we advertised:

  • Access to Club Lava, a password protected area of the Lava Lounge where you will be able to chat and exchange messages with fellow Obsydian developers from around the World.
  • Access to tips and techniques from Dr O (who will be moving into and operating exclusively in Club Lava).
  • A unique membership number assigned in the order applications are submitted and approved, identifying you as a charter Club Lava member.
  • Your name and e-mail registered in the online Club Lava Directory (you will be automatically registered unless you specify otherwise) recognizing you as a leading edge Obsydian developer.
  • Opportunities to be interviewed for “Hot Rocks” (which will contain profiles of the hottest Obsydian projects on the planet)
  • Invitations to special Club Lava events at Synon International User Conferences.
  • The chance to win special Lava merchandise from the Lava Object Store (under construction & awaiting permits).
  • Regular “LavaLights” e-mails. Club Lava members news and views e-mail from Synon, keeping you informed of the latest developments in the World of Obsydian.
  • An official Club Lava Membership card, personalized with your name & company name

We made good on all of those benefits, through lots of hard nights. But the most important was our relentless postings on the LavaLounge and Club Lava. Just as it is today, CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT is key. Fresh, new, interesting, relevant and consistent (just like blogging :-) )

Also by this time, I had gone back to my boss and showed him the list of registrants and gotten some $$$ for future activities which I put to good use, producing the first round of Club Lava black t-shirts which I would distribute at Club Lava events at the Synon User Conferences and on my travels around the world at regional user groups. Each attendee would also have a special badge indicating their ID number and also be invited to present on their tips/best practices, they would also be lagter recognized online for their contributions to forum questions and their evangilism through reward points.

4. What ultimately was the point of Club Lava and the LavaLounge?
The formation of the Club achieved several objectives:

  1. It brought together the Synon customers and partners into an online forum so that they could exchange ideas, help each other and build long lasting relationships … some of which are still evident today even through 2 M&A of the Synon product line which is now owned by Computer Associates
  2. It allowed us to distribute customer only information through a secured medium using the web and supported opportunities for us to inform and upsell new offerings through roadmap updates
  3. We captured use cases and statistics from our customer base on a large scale which I would later use for product management interviews and further focus groups and requirements analysis
  4. We asked them “what do you most like about Obsydian?” on the registration form, and the answers were enlightening. We were later able to use those quotes with approval in outbound marketing materials
  5. We unleashed the pent up evangilism and expertise within our knowledgeable customer base to increase the implementation successes of our products as well as strengthening our external marketing perception of a happy customer base (which no doubt contributed towards our eventual acquisition by Sterling Software)
  6. In terms of stats and metrics: Over 18 months of the Club and Lounge’s existence:
    Approx 1000+ members by acquisition, 5 major and point releases previewed, 15 product focus groups initiated with 150 responses worldwide, over 20 major deals leveraging references from technical community and lots and lots of happy evangilising customers who are still dedicated to the product today.

Much of this probably seems obvious to many experienced marketers, but nearly 15 years ago, it was a little bit innovative.

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