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Office Insider: Keeping product advocates engaged and motivated

COMPANY

Microsoft

MY ROLE

Content Project Manager

CONTRIBUTIONS

Content Strategy

Stakeholder Management

Voice and Tone

Customer Advocacy

Project Management

Challenge

Insider-program.jpg

Office Insiders are a small but influential segment of Office 365 users. From a release perspective, Insiders are the canaries in the coalmine. They see new features first and provide product teams with targeted feedback, early in the feature release cycle. Insiders also experience quality issues in new builds first. They can help our developers troubleshoot and resolve the issue before it affects all customers. 

 

Insiders love hearing from the people who build the products they use every day. We found that some product teams were nervous about interacting with Insiders and would leave this task to support staff or other intermediaries. Others thought of Insiders as passive “telemetry givers”—an org-first way of looking at things and a missed opportunity to engage this highly motivated group of users.

 

As Lead Content PM for the Office Insider program, my role was to support the Insider audience, understand their needs, and help foster a deeper, more mutually beneficial relationship between Insiders and Office product teams.

Managing content and community
Web content explaining benefits of Office Insider program

From program launch, I worked across content, product, and release teams to support this audience, leading efforts to grow the program, improve the quality of our monthly updates, and use content and connection to foster a sense of community.

 

For this role, I wore a few hats: 

 

  • Writer: I wrote all program-specific content, including web articles and product copy for Insider onboarding and offboarding flows. I also coordinated content deliverables for major product updates and feature launches.

  • Managing editor: I developed style guidelines, playbooks, and messaging frameworks to help product managers and other business stakeholders communicate effectively with our Insider audience.

  • Community manager: I managed the Office Insider forum and social channels with the help of my immediate team, later training vendors to take over this work.

 

My unstated role? Be an agent of change and sometime provocateur, helping our product teams understand and address Insider needs through increasingly personalized content and outreach. I needed our PMs to view Insiders as co-creators in the design process.

Helping teams connect with Insiders
Still from feature announcement video
Video guidelines for product partners

Early feedback revealed that Office Insiders had unique informational needs that weren't being met by most product teams. Insiders viewed themselves as a collaborative partner in the Office 365 development process, not just another user.

 

Product partners were initially apprehensive about engaging with Insiders affected by issues in early, untested builds. Some worried they'd say the wrong thing. Others weren't sure how detailed to get about sensitive topics, like release timelines. To alleviate these fears, I developed messaging frameworks, copy samples, and an ongoing coaching and consulting service.

 

I reiterated to internal teams that when working with frustrated customers, the best course of action was to acknowledge the pain. Insiders, especially, responded to authenticity, transparency, and straight talk. 

 

Through research, we knew that Insiders are motivated by a strong desire to help shape the products they use every day. To help get more feedback, I encouraged Product Managers to record short, informal videos to announce and promote new features. I reassured PMs that videos for the Insider audience didn't need to be particularly polished, just relatable and human. I sold them on three key benefits: 

  • Better connection with customers.

  • Earlier, more actionable feedback.

  • Faster design iterations.

The videos successfully helped product teams showcase their work, both externally, with customers, and internally, within the business itself.  

Advocating for Insider needs
Scorecard tracking content coverage for Office Insider program

While perhaps the least exciting content type imaginable, release notes are a non-negotiable for Office Insiders. They rely on this content type to understand what's new, improved, broken, or fixed in the latest Insider update. 

 

Unfortunately, most product teams didn't provide release notes for early Insider updates. These notes are challenging to compile for production releases; they are even harder to corral in a pre-production environment, when things are still settling. Still, the lack of release notes was a gap we needed to fill.

 

To overcome the challenge, I advocated for Insiders with product and release managers, making sure we were all aligned on priority needs and pain points. It was important that these partners understand the long-term implications (namely, Insider drop-off) of neglecting to address this core informational need.

A few conscientious teams did publish Insider release notes on their product blog. This was a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the content was available only in English. To make it accessible to worldwide Insiders, I encouraged these teams to move their release notes to Office.com, where article updates could be localized into 36 languages within 48 hours. I made sure the authoring process was simple, so teams could use a web-based editing tool to quickly update and publish release notes themselves. 

Results

Positive comments from satisfied Office Insiders

Ultimately, getting feedback as early as possible from Office Insiders allowed our product teams to validate design decisions and smooth out rough edges before releasing features to millions of Office users. 

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