I have spent the last ten months working with great teams at Microsoft and Avenue A | Razorfish defining and executing a strategy for employing social media in marketing and engaging and empowering consumers to share their product insights and experiences. This effort culminated with with the re-launch of WindowsLive.com. With this strategy, and this site, Microsoft has made a giant leap of faith in Social Influence Marketing.
Consumers are blogging about Windows Live products and services, sharing their opinions and experiences, and offering guidance and tips to get the most from the products. That part is not unique to Microsoft. Many companies have added discussion forums or other community features to their sites. What is unique is that Microsoft is not segregating user content from marketing content. Rather, Microsoft is tightly integrating marketing content and user-generated content. Users and their blog posts are being featured right along side marketing content throughout the entire site.
Wanting to protect their brands, nearly all Fortune 500 companies (all that we researched, in fact) keep very distinct walls between marketing content and user-generated content. But social influence is quickly overtaking brand influence online. Microsoft is making a bet that integrating consumer content along side marketing content will elevate brand authenticity and trust. As Frederic Lardinois observes on ReadWriteWeb, this strategy is not without risk.
It is interesting to see that Microsoft is willing to experiment in this area. On WindowsLive, it allows Microsoft generated content to stand next to user generated content, which could potentially open Microsoft up for some embarrassments. At the same time though, if Microsoft holds true to its promise of not censoring legitimate content, then this represents an important step forward in how Microsoft interacts with its customers.
As one of the authors of that strategy, I obviously think it is a smart bet. I’ve blogged before about the contrast between Microsoft’s and Apple’s employee blogging policies and suggested that Microsoft’s open policy will help build stronger and more intimate relationships with customers. Microsoft gave its employees a voice through an open and encouraging blogging policy and by supporting blogs.msdn.com and a host of other community sites. With WindowsLive.com, Microsoft is giving its customers a voice, right along side its own.
In the coming days, I will write about various components of this strategy and the solution that was developed to execute it.