For the latest in our series of posts looking at how the world’s biggest brands use social I’ve turned the spotlight on Microsoft.
Bill Gates’ empire still looms large over the global software market, though its fortunes are often overshadowed by Apple’s astonishing level of success.
So it’s interesting to see how Microsoft makes use of other social networks to promote its products and maintain its fortunes.
Microsoft is both a B2B and B2C company, so its strategy and objectives for social will likely be quite different to the consumer brands that I’ve previously looked at.
But in keeping with the overall strategy adopted by most other businesses, Microsoft has created separate Facebook pages for its sub-brands and products alongside its main corporate account, including Office, Bing, Xbox, Internet Explorer, Windows and Windows Phone.
The main corporate page has 2.3m fans, a number that’s dwarfed by several of the other product pages, however it is the most active if you look at the ‘talking about this’ ratio. It also has some really eye-catching visual content and includes huge imagery on every update.
In fact the page actually benefits from the fact that it’s not tied to one specific product as it has the freedom to post a variety of content such as pictures of Finding Nemo, Friday trivia questions and bunny rabbit desktop themes, as well as more standard promos for Xbox and Windows.
In comparison, the dedicated pages for Windows Phone, Bing and Xbox just churn out product-related content, which in some cases (Office) can often be very tedious.
That said, all of the pages are updated frequently - several of them on a daily basis – and have a good mix of visual content and questions to keep people interested and drive traffic back to the company's ecommerce sites.
For example, the Xbox page frequently post links to its marketplace where users can buy game add-ons and updates.
Finally, Microsoft’s sub-brands have come up with some interesting Facebook apps. For example, Windows Phone has a ‘Social Hub’ that tracks all mentions of the products on the social web.
Similarly, Xbox has an app that allows user to access live support, international fan pages and Xbox entertainment, though admittedly none of them would actually load when I tried to use them.
Due to the scope of its product range and target markets, Microsoft has a ridiculous amount of different Twitter accounts.
The most popular feeds are for the mist high profile products (Xbox, Bing, Office, etc), but it also has also attracted a decent number of followers for things like Microsoft Cloud, Security, Channel 9, SQL Server and SMB.
I obviously don’t have the time or word count available to evaluate them all, so for the purposes of this post I thought it would be best to focus on the main corporate account and the hugely popular Xbox feed.
The main Microsoft feed has 455,000 followers and but it generally just retweets other official accounts or repurposes Facebook content. In fact it very rarely responds to @mentions as far as I can tell.
The Xbox feed is equally averse to responding to other users and sticks to pushing out marketing content, however the Xbox Support account is an altogether different story.
A report from Simply Measured shows that 30 of the Interbrand Top 100 Brands currently operate a dedicated customer service Twitter account, a number that has increased from 23 since December 2012, so it appears to be a strategy that works.
The Xbox Support feed has tweeted an astonishing 1.3m times and according to its bio it holds the world record for being the most responsive brand on Twitter (I’m not sure why that record even exists, but apparently it does).
The handlers adopt a very informal tone, often referring to customer as ‘mate’, and are extremely proactive at making sure that problems get resolved.
Further to this, Simply Measured found that another official customer support feed, Microsoft Support, responded to @mentions in an average of just 42 minutes.
I feel it’s a fantastic way of using social to both deliver customer service and drive brand loyalty, though it obviously requires a huge investment in staff and training.
Nike adopts a similar strategy to Microsoft and responds to more than 100 tweets per day regarding order queries, stock information and product details.
Microsoft appears to have several Pinterest accounts, though as yet none of them have been officially recognised by the social network.
The Microsoft Surface page is the only one to buck this trend with 2,295 followers, but it's the exception rather than the norm.
Assuming these accounts are all genuine (which I’m not convinced about), the reason for their lacklustre performance is that they’re rarely updated and mainly just pin Microsoft content.
This is a tactic followed by many other major brands and I’ve said before that I think it entirely misses the point of using Pinterest.
The Surface page is easily the most interesting page as it includes ‘photos that inspire the team at Surface’, and it’s not difficult to see why it has attracted the most followers.
It has 370 pins across 22 boards, including a broad selection of artwork, photography and images of products, travel destinations, sports and flowers.
It’s likely that Microsoft is unwilling to be seen to endorse one of its key competitors by joining its social network, particularly as Microsoft powers Facebook’s new Graph Search tool.
In fact Microsoft VP of corporate communications Frank Shaw recently took a dig at G+, saying:
If I'm going to have a party with my Facebook friends, it looks like a lot of fun. I have a lot of Facebook friends. And then a party with my Google+ friends, I could probably have in a rowboat.
Consequently, it’s not difficult to see why Microsoft isn’t on Google+.