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Carla Eid is head of Microsoft Mobile's Connects programme, its community of customers and advocates.
I asked her a few questions about what working with that community entails. How does the brand get involved and what benefits does it see across content production but also, of course, in sales.
Take a look and, in the community spirit, feel free to leave comments or further questions.
Is social a place you simply have to be, or do you see tangible benefits?
Both. It is a place all brands should be; however, the aim of our programme is to give people positive experiences of the brand with the aim of encouraging recommendations, which in turn leads to tangible benefits for the business.
Is content created by the community used in a broader context for Microsoft Mobile and its marketing?
Yes. One example of this is the Connects Instagram Takeovers initiative – which has now been running successfully for six months – where Connects members ‘takeover’ our Instagram feed for a weekend and are responsible for all content that is posted during that time.
It’s a fantastic way of hero-ing individuals from the community and giving them the chance to demonstrate their creativity via our official channel, whilst as a brand we are able to demonstrate the level of trust we place in our advocates to showcase the best of our products.
Another example of using content in a broader context is our Lumia Heroes project, which saw us invite five Lumia fans from around the world to trial a Lumia 630 and tell us what they loved about it.
The resulting content now sits on our website, with anyone looking for more info on Lumia 630 signposted towards it. It’s fantastic to be able to share such genuine, positive affirmations about our products with potential new customers, reinforcing the authenticity behind our marketing.
Can you give an example of the type of product feedback that Connects can surface?
Our community is passionate about photography, and before Instagram launched an app for our handsets a lot of our customers got in touch to see if there was anything we could do to bring it to Windows Phone.
We took this on board and were keen to give our fans what they wanted, so the #2InstaWithLove campaign was born. We created a simple photography app which allowed users to take photos using a classic Polaroid filter (with more filters added over time) and automatically added the hashtag #2InstaWithLove.
The campaign was designed to give our community a voice and demonstrate just how passionate they are about Instagram, with a view to encouraging Instagram to develop an app for Windows Phone.
It worked. Within six months, Instagram for Windows Phone was launched - demonstrating the power the Connects community has to impact our products.
Which brands, other than your own, do you see as poster children for creating advocacy?
I’m a huge fan of Nike and its ability to organise amazing events with people who love the company's brands, such as ‘We Own the Night’ for women who love to run.
I also admire brands that utilise social media to enact social good; the Toms One for One campaign is a simple idea which makes a real difference to the lives of people in need.
Advocacy is all about relationships, so great customer service is key. Zappos has done this very well, creating a huge global community of enthusiasts as a result of a focus on simply making the customer happy.
Being agile and ‘on’ is difficult. How has management had to change to allow this ceding of control to teams and even to customers?
What we’re looking to deliver is one-to-one relationships between our global community and the brand, so it’s essential to have the resource in place to be able to respond in an agile way.
I work with a large social team at Microsoft and with agency 1000heads to make this happen, but I also take responsibility myself and have my own personal relationships with Connects members.
Trust is vital too. We fully trust our community to create content on our behalf, as demonstrated through projects like our Instagram Takeovers.
How does the influencer-brand relationship work in 2014? Is it still about getting a free phone or does it mean more?
We don’t actually give out free phones. Our approach is genuine and honest and we are like a family with many close friends.
It is also about bringing like-minded people together through our technology; many friendships have been forged at our Connects events and meet-ups. We do everything we can to encourage and help our members develop their creativity. What’s more, when they do, we put their content first.
We do, of course, offer new product trials, but our programme is more about involving people closely with the brand, giving them positive experiences and developing one-to-one relationships – much more than simply sending them some freebies.
How heavily involved are your biggest advocates?
Many members of the community take a great deal of time and care developing content for our initiatives, as can be seen by the sheer quality of photos created for projects such as Instagram Takeovers.
We also invite advocates to be judges of our regular competitions; #ConnectsMVC (Most Valuable Connector) celebrates our community every month by awarding our most innovative, creative and proactive member the title, celebrating the diversity and passion of our fans.
#ConnectsChallenges provides challenges that encourage Lumia users to get creative with their devices. We want them to feel as heavily involved as possible so are always looking at ways to do this; earlier this year we took 30 people from all around the world to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to make them feel extra special.
How much does Connects pro-actively engage on social media with potential customers, as opposed to reacting to questions and broadcasting messaging?
We do lots of reactive and proactive engagement.
At Connects, we have a strong belief in our products so we’re not scared of offering out trials and asking people what they think. Each month we offer 50 people the chance to trial a Lumia device of their choice so they can experience the benefits for themselves.
We also seek out consumers hesitating between different devices and ask our community to share their opinions on our devices to help them come to a decision. In addition, we regularly engage people proactively to contribute to @Connects, either by contacting them directly via their blogs or Twitter, or even by creating personalised content for them sent via Instagram.