Microsoft and Social Media – Setting the Pace for Big Brands?

Microsoft has the opportunity to set the pace for big brands and the use of social media. Is Microsoft late to the game? Yes. Will Microsoft be required to use their own tools? Probably, but that poses more than a few challenges that are not part of this blog post. Can Microsoft set the pace for the right way to implement a social media strategy? I think the answer is yes, but they need to get started … and soon. If Microsoft has already started they need to let people know.

This blog post was originally written as a comment that I posted to Marty Collins blog site and adapted here to add a few more details (and pictures). Marty is Group Marketing Manager for the Microsoft Windows consumer marketing team and has a focus on social media. Marty wrote a cogent and insightful response to what Microsoft is thinking in relation to social media. Which was inspired by a post on Mashable about “Why Big Brands Struggle With Social Media

My comment with a few edits
<start comment>

Microsoft and big brands have a definite challenge to overcome in the Social Media space. For the most part I recommend just getting started and doing something. Then as necessary make imageadjustments along the way. It’s kind of like sailing a boat — if you expect to never trim the sails the journey will not likely succeed. Even if the boat does reach the final destination it will be at a very slow and sub-optimal pace – coming in far behind the competition. Right now many big brands seem to exhibit a fear that perhaps someone won’t know how to trim the sails so the boat is kept tied to the dock.

Microsoft has a fairly unique challenge in the Social Media space. Partially because no matter what Microsoft does there will be criticism that Microsoft is either going too far or not far enough. Too far in the sense that there may be a perception that everything must be filtered and funneled thru a PR/AR engine. Not far enough in that everything must be filtered and funneled thru a PR/AR engine. Yes, the statement is the same. This is the dilemma Microsoft often finds itself in.

image image image

On the too far side people will complain that they can get the same information from websites and other public facing content. Meaning MS is only putting out “approved” content. On the not far enough side people will complain that they cannot get their specific questions addressed. I think there is a significant issue in relation to the legality of making what amounts to a public statement of fact when Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media sites are used to convey Microsoft information. In truth, Microsoft does need to be cautious on making public statements because there are legions of lawyers waiting to file the next multi-million dollar class action lawsuit.

How should Microsoft get past this?

How should Microsoft show authenticity while maintaining control of the message and to some extent the intellectual property that may be shared via Social Media technologies?

There are definitely a few ways to get started. First and foremost I think Microsoft (and other big brands) just need to jump in and get started. For example, Google started a new Twitter alias this week and had over 20,000 followers in 24 hours. I’m sure there was a lot of behind the scenes planning to make this happen, but in the end they got the word out and the followers arrived in droves. I would not be too surprised if at least one or two press articles come out — letting everyone know that Google is in the game.

Microsoft could do this too and perhaps on an even grander scale. While I do think there does need to be somewhat of a master plan and in a sense a clearing house for content the most important thing is that employees need to be empowered. Empowered to do the right thing (See what IBM’s Adam Clyde has to say about empowerment), to do their jobs (for which I’m sure they are paid quite handsomely), and to serve the customer and partner community. I think customers, partners, the press & analysts, and even the competition would take note and reward Microsoft for making the effort. I think it would serve as an example for other big brands.


My recommendation:

Pick a wave

Any Wave

Just Get Started

Microsoft has a unique set of challenges and Microsoft has a unique opportunity to set the pace for how big brands leverage Social Media technologies. I’d like to see the latter take place. I’d also like to see a few new Microsoft tools and technologies to create a social media experience.

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Where do Microsoft and Big Brands go from here?

There are numerous Big Brands making inroads in the social media space today. Using Twitter as a very specific lens for social media inroads just look at what Scott Monty at Ford is doing or at what Frank at Comcast is up to or how Tony the CEO of Zappos is leveraging this aspect of the social media experience. There have been numerous articles already written about their efforts so I will not recap them here. Social media is here to stay and the smart companies are already taking steps to maximize their brands. Will Microsoft follow suit? Will Microsoft take the lead and create new products and technologies?

Thinking Points:

  • Can Microsoft jump on Social Media in time to make a difference?
  • Can Microsoft set the pace for big brands in social media?
  • Do you see Microsoft as a player in Social Media?

I’d love to hear your comments. Please drop me a line here as a comment of contact me via Twitter, e-mail or Facebook.

My Public Service Announcement for the week:
Microsoft is hiring. Marty Collins is hiring. She posted a Social Media job on her blog.

Photo Credits: Brian Gable

clip_image002 About The Author:
I have spent the better part of the last 16 years working in various aspects of the ECM space. I spent time at
Kofax, Microsoft, FileNet, K2, and most recently Captaris (which was acquired by Open Text in Nov 2008). Prior to that I was a Unix VAR running my own company. Follow me on Twitter, check my blog, send email or find me on Facebook or LinkedIn.

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next_connect said…
I think Microsoft is a bit behind when it comes to enterprise social media. I'm disappointed by the lack of discussion on the subject in places like the SharePoint forums on MSDN/TechNet.

I think part of it is the speed that tools have been developed in the consumer space with relation to the longer running MS Office product cycles. Things have changed dramatically in the past 2-3 years!

I've been working on a blog post around this subject, but at the top of my wish list include tools to better handle:
* Micro-status
* Social Bookmarking w/ Tags
* Better support for integration with non-MS tools for IM and UC.
Brian Gable said…
Glad you liked my photo illustration enough to use it! Curious as to how you came across it.
Let's not forget another big brand that was very successful using social media - the Obama campaign. They had a short amount of time and there were only two possible outcomes- win or lose. Maybe Microsoft needs to chase down some of the leaders of that campaign to get Microsoft headed in a new direction, because honestly their ad / PR team hasn't done the brand any favors lately.
KarlSch said…
Microsoft's play in Social Media so far has been in partnering with Facebook and for a while it had MSN Communities (the latter having recently been disbanded).

Its important to remember that MS is a platform company. And as such its stake in FB is as a platform more than anything else.

The tools for building applets on Facebook is MS's foray into this space. But right now they are too busy fighting the battle against Google and Amazon in the Cloud space.

Where I see MS going in the "social networking" arena is in providing the cloud based infrastructure for mulitple of these communities (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) and benefitting that way
Jeff - Nice post. I would say Microsoft is a very large organization and many groups are quite involved in social media listening and outreach. I can say that because we work with many of them either directly or through an number of agency partners. Compared to clients in a number of other vertical spaces they are investing and understanding the value and impact that social media contains. I think the stories about what Microsoft is doing are just not as public ans some other organizations but that is starting to change.

Blake Cahill
SVP of Marketing
Visible Technologies
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