Microsoft Hires Michael Gartenberg as New Evangelist

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The Vista marketing challenge saw an interesting new development today with the announcement that Microsoft has hired Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg as Enthusiast Evangelist.  Gartenberg says in a blog post on his move that he will “find, engage and work with enthusiasts and other influencers and show them all the cool stuff that Microsoft is doing. In short, it’s our [department's] job to act as the bridge between Microsoft and end users.”

The experiment with Robert Scoble as Microsoft’s blogging point man must have worked well, as the company has now hired two very high profile commentators to carry out functions similar to what Scoble did.  Bringing Jon Udell over from InfoWorld in December was the first of two notable coups.

Gartenberg has served as the Jupiter Research vice president and research director for the Personal Technology & Access and Custom Research groups.  He’s a highly respected analyst who was quoted extensively by press upon the release of Vista.  “The challenge,” Gartenberg said about Vista two weeks ago, “is that it’s the only product on the market that has to appeal to the CIOs of Fortune 500 companies and my mother all at the same time.”  Presumably Gartenberg’s mother is now more favorably inclined than she might have been before.

The announcement has been received warmly but a few questions have been raised.  It’s a perfect example of one of today’s leading questions:  is the benefit of bringing a respected public figure onto the payroll greater than the potential loss of credibility that person risks?

Hiring social media power users to evangelize for your company’s product is becoming an increasingly common practice.  From Microsoft’s hiring Gartenberg and Udel to startups like Revver, who has Micki Krimmel, and Pluggd – who recently hired Drew Olanoff.  (Disclosure: post TechCrunch, I took a job doing similar work at SplashCast and I feel great about it.) The pioneer in this field, Robert Scoble, sometimes faces criticism for an alleged lack of clarity in the business model and editorial independence of the startup he joined, PodTech. Here’s one of Scoble’s responses.

Pure editorial independence may have always been an illusion.  Full disclosure may solve the problem all together.  What better way is there for a tech company, whose own executives are unlikely to be skilled in the use of new social media, to embrace the possibilities?  Consumers want corporate transparency but you’d better believe that companies are going to hired skilled practitioners if they are going to engage in the conversations that blogging and podcasting make possible.

Most pertinently perhaps, can an All-Star communications lineup make up for the PR mess and widely known problems that Microsoft and its software already face?  

Here’s some more of Gartenberg’s thoughts on the position.

Why Microsoft? There’s a revolution going on. A battle for the hearts and minds of consumers in terms of their digital lives. I firmly believe that Microsoft is the only company that will enable the seamless transition for users to move in and out of the different aspects of their lives. In short, no one else comes close to presenting a complete, unified and integrated view of the digital home of the 21st century.

Whether it’s work, school or home, Microsoft has the potential to change lives even more than they already have. Who else could deliver mission critical technology to the business world, create the best Smartphone operating system, build a successful platform for console games (and pioneer online and connected play) and take on the iPod. All at the same time.

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