Building Community

I haven’t posted on my blog for a while (or updated the software, ouch). So I thought I’d take some time toward the end of this year to open a topic that’s dear to my heart, community in the MultiValue / Pick industry, and what we can do to improve it.

The Pick User Group on LinkedIn recently crossed the 2500 member mark. While a number of those subscribers are recruiters and others who don’t really care about the industry, I believe most of the people in that group are connected to MV. We don’t get much more traffic there than in the MVDBMS Google Group, but I believe some cross-polination between these groups would be beneficial.

I welcome you to check out these groups, but even more, I encourage you to attract more people to online forums in general so that we can have more discussions about MV, and more substantive content. After a few years the MVDBMS group still has less than 500 people, with active participation from only a small number. I’m sure we can improve on that.

We need to attract more end-users who want to know what they can do with their systems. Invite people to ask questions and they will. Don’t ask and they often don’t bother to provide feedback. And I’m fascinated that there is a huge number of people in the LinkedIn group from countries where we almost never hear from MV users, particularly India and Indonesia. But while these folks register to view content, they almost never post questions or in any way interact with the group. I’d really like to relieve all end-users of their shyness and get them to participate more in groups.

We need more VARs who want to add more value to their offerings, and more resellers who are willing to share information about their successes or failures.

We need more developers asking and answering questions so that they can keep end-users happy. Some developers are prohibited from asking questions in public, or from “surfing” in forums, or they’re simply too embarrassed to ask questions. Many developers don’t have time to answer forum questions, but if you look at the huge success of Stack Overflow and related sites you’ll see that open Q&A is a valued culture of its own.

We need to encourage the MV DBMS providers to interact more with the community, in their own measured, moderate ways of course. They should be encouraged to get a couple technicians in the groups to answer deep questions, like we did when Mark Brown and I were representing Raining Data. I don’t mean anyone should provide free support. Just offer information that helps people to get more from their platform of choice. That occasionally does mean suggesting interaction with Support, or suggesting that an end-user should get setup with a value-add reseller or contractor. Martin Phillips is in groups to represent QM. Dan Ell is watching for jBase and other topics of interest. I know we have others from Rocket Software watching for discussions about D3, Universe, and Unidata. Mike Ruane of Revelation is out there, and Ed Clark from InterSystems. And employees from other companies lurk in various DBMS groups. It would be nice if technical and marketing people from these companies would survey these audiences about what features are used, what are not and why, and what features would be of value. Right now many features being discussed are not related to MV at all, and not with feedback from the MV industry but from observation of other groups.

The idea here is to try to revitalize these forums into more valuable resources, and for more people. All of you who sell to this industry have a list of end-users who you could invite to a group. All of you who work at an end-user site have colleagues and management who might be interested in a group. Many of you attend or host user group meetings where people are unaware of these online resources.

Show me an end-user in a forum and I’ll show you a company leaving MultiValue

I understand that many of you have perceived “community” as a threat to your business. You’re afraid of losing clients to other vendors. You’re afraid of exposing end-users to industry woe and bickering. You’re afraid of end-users getting products or technology that you’re not prepared to support. You’re afraid that you will need to learn a new language to support modern software that someone else writes. You’re afraid of sharing the meager revenue you get from your clients with others. You’re afraid of having to partner with someone else to satisfy demand, or just the idea of having to share revenue with someone. Queue up Billy Preston “Nothing From Nothing” and my blog titled Let Go.

While you enjoy that tune, ask yourself how this experiment in isolation over a period of decades is working for your business and for the industry in general. How many users have we lost from the industry (from your own client lists) because they thought no one used their platform? How many calls did you not get because end-users didn’t think you could provide them with a solution to a modern problem? How many Pick developers have been faced with the life-changing problem to retrain out of MV, or to quit a migrating company and look for employment with their existing skills? How many of you are praying that you’ll just be able to survive through retirement on the residuals from this small industry?

How many MV DBMS providers have had high level business meetings to discuss alternative products and audiences because this industry was too small compared to others that are obviously successful with huge user communities? I’d say All of them.

Think about that. How do we measure the success of a platform? We look at the size of the community, media buzz, and third-party offerings. As the reasoning goes, if there are a lot of people claiming to use some technology or service, then perhaps we should be integrating with them. But what happens when anyone looks at this community? Crickets. It’s time to reconsider the fear, and to consider measured approaches to drawing end-users to Their forums, Their user groups, and Their wiki.

Community ain’t just found in forums.

So far I’ve just been talking about forums here. But I have a series of five blogs where I discuss Social media in general for MV. Over the last two years since I wrote that I’ve helped companies to establish or improve their social media presence, and everything I wrote has been reinforced almost daily in business and with modern life in general. The term “Social” is now a thing all of its own. It’s no longer just people chatting in a vacuum. It’s no longer something you look at when your Marketing department finds time. Companies have Social strategies. They have Social managers, or they contract with companies that specialize in that specific vertical aspect of Marketing. In today’s world a Marketing Department manages a website, prints collateral material, attends trade shows, responds to email, they have a Social presence. None of these things are optional for a company that is serious about Marketing. And that should apply to an industry like MultiValue as well.

The goal of a Social strategy is to get your end-users and technical people talking about the platform on which your business is based. How tough can that be in this world where now everyone has a voice and a lot more people are listening? But while many companies claim to have a “social media” presence (still in lower case), it’s often nothing more than creating a channel on Twitter or Facebook and then wondering why no one visits. That often feeds the claims that this kind of marketing has no value. Any bad implementation has similar returns – people don’t buy poorly written books, and they don’t visit stores with dim lights and empty parking lots. You’re not going to get anyone to visit a community or participate in your Social initiative if you don’t actually tell people about it and reinforce it as being an integral part of your company presence. Community must be nurtured. It needs to be personal. It needs to be valuable. And while a lot of people don’t go to Twitter, they may be in LinkedIn. Or they might be in GooglePlus circles. We can’t always get people to go where we want, but:

Wherever people are, that’s where “we” need to be.

That’s a statement that everyone in this industry needs to embrace. If you don’t know where people (your clients) are going for their information, you need to at least make them aware of the resources that are available (resources where you can help to manage the messaging and provide solutions) – or they’ll get information about some other platform somewhere else.

Evangelism ain’t just about religion

In the absence of any other platform/industry evangelism, once in a while I try to step up and fill the gap. If you’d like to discuss how to do this, or if you need help, please drop me a line. I warn you though, these days with evangelism being a “thing” of its own now, and lots of companies offering professional Social management, I may ask for some time on the clock. Heck, I’ve even considered getting out of this industry and making a living just on that. Yeah, it’s that big a “thing”. With that in mind, I humbly request that if you value these industry-oriented notes of mine, please visit my LinkedIn profile and add your endorsement for my skills related to Marketing and Evangelism.

Can I go now?

I guess so. 🙂 For other resources, check out this PickWiki page. Feel free to make changes there or to contact me to post your changes.

Thanks for your time and interest.

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