Callan Carpenter interview 1 – Autodesk and social media

A couple of weeks ago, Angela Simoes from the Autodesk Corporate PR team invited me to interview Callan Carpenter, Autodesk’s Vice President of Global Subscription and Support. Callan is responsible for the sales, marketing operations and product support associated with Subscription. He is also Vice President in charge of Jim Quanci’s Autodesk Developer Network. This morning, we had a very extensive discussion about Subscription and other topics that I intend to publish in several parts over the next few days. Deelip has already published a Callan interview, but mine is quite different.

In this post, I will let Callan introduce himself and then move into some questions about social media that I asked at the end of the interview. In this post, both Callan Carpenter (CC) and Angela Simoes (AS) responded to my questions.

SJ: Callan, can you give me some background on yourself?

CC: I’ve been at Autodesk since November 2008. Prior to that, I spent 20-odd years in the semiconductor and semiconductor-CAD software business: technologies in many ways analogous to what we have for our manufacturing, civil and media/entertainment markets here. I was focused on semiconductor design, manufacturing, electrical properties and so forth. I’m an electrical engineer by training. I’ve spent about half of my time in startups and about half in big companies. Everything from designing silicon to sales and marketing to engineering to you-name-it.

SJ: It’s kind of unusual for me as a mere blogger to be approached by a Vice President, but I’ve had this happen twice in the past couple of weeks. Is there a move within Autodesk to engage more with bloggers and social media?

CC: We’re definitely more conscious of social media than we have been historically. We are becoming more cognisant of the power of social media, whether it’s tweets or blogs or other forms. Like any company we have to adapt to that, respond to that and participate in the conversation.

AS: There’s no doubt that the line between what you would call traditional media and social media or bloggers is really blurring, and has been blurring over the last 5 to 10 years. You can’t deny that there are some bloggers, like yourself, Steve, who are quite influential in their industries. So it’s a natural move for us to start engaging more closely with bloggers, especially the ones that are clearly using our product every day, have a very engaged audience, who are really discussing some meaty issues on their blogs. Because we want to ensure that you have just as much information and access to our executives as someone in the traditional media would. Yes, we’re absolutely engaging more closely with bloggers.

SJ: Is this a policy decision or has it just naturally happened?

AS: It just sort of naturally happened. I’ve been here for 4 years now and ever since I’ve been here we’ve always engaged with bloggers in some capacity. This has increased over the past 2 or 3 years, significantly.

CC: I think it’s fair to say that Carl, our CEO and Chris Bradshaw, our Chief Marketing Officer, are very cognisant, very sensitive to… we have to adapt to the way our customers, and our next generation and next generation of customers are using technology, using social networks. They challenge us to not stay stuck in the old paradigms. So there’s a lot of support from the top for engaging in social media.

AS: I think you’d be surprised how many people at the top actually read various blogs and follow what people are saying. They definitely pay attention.

SJ: I read an interesting article the other day about who should be running social media for a corporation; should they have a specific department for it or whatever? How is that happening in Autodesk? Is that a PR function or does everybody do it?

AS: We as a company across all departments have put a lot of effort into looking at what other companies are doing, what works for large companies, trying to find the model that fits best for us. We found that there were already a lot of people across departments participating in Twitter and Facebook, posting videos on YouTube, and so the coordinating functions will sit within marketing, but each department or industry division will have a representative on a social web council, where we are collectively making decisions together. But there isn’t one person doing all this.

CC: So for example, in my capacity with product support, there is an element of social media to our strategy there as well, starting with an improved set of forums and new methodology there that we will be unrolling there later this year as part of our new comprehensive remake of our self-help infrastructure. Then I don’t know where it’s going to evolve to, I think that’s one of the interesting things about social media is, who knows where this is going to end? But we’re definitely looking at it from a support perspective, a marketing perspective, a PR perspective, even from a sales perspective, so there’s so many different dimensions to it. It’s coordinated by marketing, but it’s starting to enthuse almost all aspects of the business and that’s a very interesting thing. Who could have predicted that 10 years ago?

AS: We want to make sure if someone is tweeting about a problem with a download, or somebody isn’t able to log in to the Subscription Center for some reason, or even can’t find information on a product they’re looking for, all of those are different problems to be solved by different groups, and so we are putting into place listening mechanisms so that we are listening to our customers and addressing their concerns and questions in a timely manner. And that does take a lot of coordination internally but we’re working hard at it.

CC: A good example was over a year ago, we did our first major software download for the upgrades in 3 trial countries. One of the feedback mechanisms we used to improve the design of the download experience was listening to tweets.

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