Microsoft turns Windows Live into a social network
This week, Microsoft announced a slew of changes to its Windows Live site, adding a social layer to the existing communications services. As some commentators are claiming - they are turning the Windows Live site into a social network. Whilst stressing that this is not what they are doing, Microsoft are adding tools that for many define social networks, including central profiles and news and activity feeds.
The changes are part of an aim to give their existing services (Spaces, Windows Live Hotmail, and Windows Live Messenger) deeper ties with one another. As Brian Hall, the general manager for Windows Live, says:
The general thing people are trying to do in all of these services is keep in touch
As he goes on to explain, Microsoft are trying to increase the amount of time people spend on site (which already gets a reported 11% of internet minutes) and including news feeds from users other sites (such as Facebook or MySpace) will help to do this.
The other focus will be on photo sharing with Microsoft offering its own storage options as well as providing links to Flickr, Photobucket and the likes. Again, this will add a more social media element to the site, and bringing content from users' other communities will help to increase stickiness.
So what can we learn from this?
Windows Live wants to increase the amount of time spent on site and to increase the connections between their communications tool. I'm not sure that what they are doing is building a social network, rather they are doing what we at FreshNetworks see as a major trend - they are adding a social layer to their existing content and tools.
Some of the examples we have seen of brands using social media have been of them setting up online communities, co-creation sites or social networks. I think that what Microsoft are doing is different; they are taking their existing site and making it more social. For many brands this can be a much more successful strategy. You can take elements of online communities (photo sharing maybe, profiles or forums) and integrate them into your existing site. It works really well where the existing site is well used and so is perfect for Windows Live. It also works well when you already provide useful tools to users.
When you are adding a social layer you are just augmenting the user experience or adding new and useful tools for them to do what they are already doing more efficiently or better. You make their user experience better by bringing other content to your site, letting them collaborate with other or just by creating central profiles that connect users. You are not setting up a completely separate online community, nor are you adding a community onto your existing site. Rather you are weaving community elements into your existing site.
What Microsoft are doing is capitalising both on the strengths of their existing site and the ability to weave social and online community elements into this to enhance the user experience. You don't have to set up a separate online community to engage people online. You need to do it in the right way for you and for your users.
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