In my last post, I suggested that Microsoft embraced social influence marketing (which includes participatory marketing and word of mouth marketing) in a bold and unique way with the launch of www.windowslive.com. This post will provide some detail on the solution that was developed.
As demonstrated by the proliferation of Microsoft product team and employee blogs, the MSDN Community, XBox Live, and other social media outlets (including the Windows Live products, themselves), Microsoft has recognized the value of social media for some time. But, with the re-launch of www.windowslive.com, Microsoft is demonstrating a much stronger commitment to social media as a strategic interactive marketing channel. Led by Marty Collins, the Windows group assembled a dedicated team to focus exclusively on social media marketing. Along with the Windows Live marketing group, Marty engaged my team at Avenue A | Razorfish in late 2007 to help define the social media strategy for Windows Live and develop a web site and services platform to support it. Let’s start with the goal, as stated by Marty:
We really want to connect people who are doing cool things with Windows Live to other people who may be inspired to try creative things of their own. By giving engaged customers a place to share their experience and knowledge we hope to inspire others while recognizing those that have been great customers. In addition to inspiring people we will look to the community for product feedback to help us continually improve our products. The main goal is to simple: get closer to our customers.
To support this goal, we designed a custom solution enabling Microsoft to engage community members, aggregate, rate, and syndicate their blog content, and recognize and reward their contributions.
Engaging the Community
Through email invitations and posts on product team blogs, Microsoft initially invited over 10,000 of the most active Windows Live users to join the “Community Clubhouse”. The Community Clubhouse is the main hub for community interaction. Members of the clubhouse are asked to:
- Tell stories about how Windows Live makes their everyday life easier and more fun.
- Share tips & tricks for using Windows Live products and services.
- Help “newbies” (new users) learn how to connect and share with Windows Live.
- Respond to challenges to blog about specific topics, such as new beta products.
- Rate and tag each other’s posts.
In return, members are recognized for their contributions and rewarded by having their posts showcased in front of millions of users. Members activities and contributions are tracked by a reputation system and awarded clubhouse points and achievement badges.
A key objective of the clubhouse strategy was to make participation as easy as possible. Rather than requiring community members to maintain separate blogs and post content in multiple systems, members contribute content by adding posts to their existing blogs and including technorati-like tags in the post. Posts that are tagged appropriately are aggregated into the clubhouse through RSS feeds. Each clubhouse post must have at least three tags – the word ‘clubhouse‘, at least one Windows Live product/service name, and at least one content type (technical ‘how-to’ or inspirational ‘story’). Members are encouraged to add additional tags to identify other topics covered in the posts – whether they are product related or not. (Examples include ‘wedding planning’, ‘sports’, ‘college’, ‘photo stitching’, ‘red eye’, etc.)
Members visit the clubhouse site to read and rate all the content contributed by the community. Posts are rated three ways: they can be flagged as inappropriate, given a qualitative star rating, and given a content level. The content level suggests whether a post is appropriate for new users, everyday users, or power users.
Marketing with the Community
Many companies are, respectably, working to create or foster active communities. Most do so by appending a “Community” tab/menu to the primary navigation and sending users to a section of the site, or a separate site altogether, that is focused exclusively on community content. They maintain very clear and distinct barriers between their brand/marketing voice, and the community voice. This keeps the brand safe from “rogue” community members or content. However, with this approach, customers have to explicitly seek out the community perspective and navigate away from the more structured editorial content they might also be interested in. This barrier reinforces the “marketing-speak” mentality.
Microsoft, on the other hand, pushed to blur the lines between marketing and community perspectives. A fundamental component of the strategy was to tightly weave community and editorial content throughout the site. Recognizing that social influence is more powerful than marketing influence, incorporating relevant community content should elevate marketing message authenticity and trust. Community members control a good portion of the content that is displayed throughout the marketing site. In fact, there are only two pages on all of www.windowslive.com that do not include user-generated content (UGC).
The tags in the original posts and the ratings that were applied in the Clubhouse are used to dynamically route posts to various sections of the www.windowslive.com marketing site. While all community content is visible in the clubhouse, only content that has received a certain number of ratings and exceeds a minimum average rating threshold is promoted to the marketing site. This assures that the community content displayed on a marketing page is contextually relevant, appropriate and useful. As you can see from the image below, the tags also drive other parts of the UI, such as the “Featured in this post” module.
While Microsoft is engaged with the community, they are not moderating the content. The community is responsible for self-policing. Microsoft will not edit or remove valid content – even if it represents negative opinions. While that is a scary proposition, Microsoft has confidence in its products and respect for its community. In turn, Microsoft hopes to cultivate community trust and support. The value of that trust will outweigh the risk of occasional un-flattering posts. If there are legitimate concerns, Microsoft wants to know about them.
In addition to being integrated throughout the marketing site, community content is syndicated out through RSS, advertising placements on MSN and Live.com properties (Hotmail, Spaces, etc), Windows Newsletters, and Hotmail email footers. This provides reciprocal value for Microsoft and Clubhouse members. The community provides valuable content assets and generates word-of-mouth for Microsoft and, in turn, they get exposed to millions of users. One community member received over 10,000,000 views on their blog in one month from a single post that was featured on the www.windowslive.com home page and syndicated through ad placements. For bloggers looking to grow their readership, this is a great opportunity. And, obviously, we felt this was a great opportunity for Microsoft to generate positive social influence and word-of-mouth.
The response from the re-launched www.windowslive.com was much stronger than we expected. It exceeded the traffic projections and server capacity we had planned. So we had to struggle to support the load for the first month. But that is certainly one of the better problems to have. Marty has already announced that the program is being expanded to support www.windows.com, and the entire Windows family of operating systems and online services.