Social Media and the SoftLayer Server Challenge

May 2, 2012

I've been working at SoftLayer for almost ten months now, in my relatively short tenure, I've written hundreds (if not thousands) of tweets covering a broad range of topics and events ... As a Social Media Coordinator, it's an integral part of my job. Given what I've learned about hosting in the past year, I'm constantly surprised by how second-nature this intimidatingly technical industry has become. I guess that's what happens when you're immersed in a technology-focused company like SoftLayer.

Beyond sharing technical news and content about what's happening in the world of cloud computing, I'm also responsible for keeping our customers in the loop about all of our trade shows, conferences and events. If you've been to a technology trade show in the past year, you probably saw SoftLayer. We sponsor, attend or exhibit at more than sixty events every year, and it feels like I have been to them all. I know the ins and outs of every event on our schedule well before it begins, regardless of whether that event's down the street or in an exotic location like Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, Amsterdam or London (Interesting fact: In the past week, we had events in all of those locations).

Social media is one of the ways our customers and followers can keep a pulse on SoftLayer's activity and growth. We travel the world to share how we help customers Build the Future, and as a part of the social media team, I get to help introduce that conversation. Let's use Internet World as an example.

Last week, a group of SLayers traveled to London to attend Internet World. To prepare for Internet World, I tried to schedule and share as much relevant content about SoftLayer with the #iwexpo audience to generate awareness and drive traffic to our booth. At larger shows like Internet World, we typically have a conference session or speaking engagement, and on the expo hall floor, you'll usually see a crowd like this one milling around our booth:

Internet World 2012

The Server Challenge generates its own social media — from word-of-mouth "you've gotta try this" conversations at the show to the typical "social media" channels like Twitter and Facebook. The gamifiction of rebuilding a miniature SoftLayer server rack is one of those interesting, entertaining and innovative ideas that seems to be unique to the mad scientists at SoftLayer. Invariably, the competition "ain't over 'til the fat lady sings," and at Internet World, we had the most dramatic competition conclusion ever ... But we'll get back to that in a minute.

From a social media perspective, the folks who stop by SoftLayer's booth want to watch the leader board as the show progresses. The expo hall may be open for several days, so it might be tough to keep an eye on the Server Challenge leader board ... Attendees then trust us to keep them informed via social media. Every day, we post the latest times to beat, and when we look at our analytics, it's wild to see the number of people clicking through to see the current top ten times. It doesn't seem like much, but a few hundred people at Internet World wanted to know what this table looked like throughout the whole show:

Internet World 2012

The top two times you see on the final leader board caused the late-show dramatics. Joseph Waite clocked a fantastic 1:03.68 to secure the top spot on the board in the middle of Day 3 at the show, and Rob McEwen stepped up to the challenge for his Day 3 attempts about 10 minutes prior to the scheduled close of the expo hall. With about 25 onlookers, Rob stopped the clock on his second attempt with a time of 1:02.14 ... Good enough for first place.

The problem: One of the drive trays was not installed all the way.

Because we want to make sure the winner has everything installed correctly in the fastest time, we had to add 5 seconds to his time for the mistake, and we gave him one more chance to complete the challenge to be fair to him. Unfortunately, the final attempt didn't beat Joseph's 1:03.68, so the new iPad was destined for Joseph. While Rob was a little bummed, he understood the reasoning for the decision, and he committed to stopping by our booth next year to win his iPad outright.

I was a few thousand miles away from all of this activity, but I felt like a major part of it given my social media involvement in tracking and sharing the latest updates. The best part of my job is when I get to interact with our customers, whether it be face to face or virtually. I want the messages you see on @SoftLayer and facebook.com/SoftLayer to be entertaining, interesting and helpful. We want you to feel connected to what's happening at SoftLayer and what we're all about.

Speaking of giving you insight into "what we're all about," I can't wrap up this blog about Internet World without sharing a little "insider" information about the SLayers at the booth: They're pretty competitive. They ran their own internal Server Challenge:

Internet World 2012

And if anyone is curious about the fastest time we've ever had in the Server Challenge, you can see it right there at the top of the list. Though to be fair, Kevin's probably done it a few thousand times.

-Rachel

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