G. Oliver Young[Posted by Oliver Young. Cross-posed from Strategic heading.]

A few months ago I went looking for technology vendor Facebook applications and found one from Microsoft that had just launched: Microphone. At the time there was not much activity, but I recently checked back in and was impressed with (at least parts) of what I found there. Now, I should admit that I am grading on a curve here; most of the apps I found were miserable, like this one from HP. However all things considered there is a lot to like about what Microsoft has done, and they seem to be attracting an audience.

So what about the Microsoft app works?

First, the entire application has a gaming element to it and they award prizes to the most active users. Time and time again we see that these sorts of competitive games resonate with users and Microsoft has done a nice job of taking advantage — if you notice the leader board is monthly, so no one should feel completely frozen out. Microsoft Microphone App Home 5-21-09

Second, they have taken steps to incorporate other social networks and communications tools like Twitter. Microsoft has taken good advantage of a SocialEyes application to scrape Twitter and bring the conversation into Facebook (see below). Integrating both Facebook and Twitter gives Microsoft more opportunities to engage their audience, and saves them the trouble of reinventing their relationship with users on each platform. I've actually never heard of this company but LOVE the approach; has anyone out there worked with them in the past?

Twitter integration 6-10-09

Third, they have focused on tangible business functions like market research. A lot of companies have made forays into Facebook, Twitter, and other communities over the last few years and thus far few have real tangible business value to show for it. With this implementation Microsoft has done a great job of keeping their feet firmly planted on solid ground, focusing on customer care and market research. I am likely a bit biased by the fact that I am a market researcher, but this aspect of the application is especially well thought out. For example we see Microsoft measuring customer reaction to recent television ads (see below). Admittedly this is not a substitute for real quantitative market research, since anyone adding the Microsoft Microphone application is likely a bit biased in the first place, but if done right it can provide solid directional data at almost no cost. The poll question about joining a programming competition is spot on — you already have a group likely to participate and this can be a great way to get their input.

Apple ad Poll 5-21-09
PC ad Poll 5-21-09
Programming Poll 5-21-09

Now, I would lose my analyst card if I didn't lob at least one stone at Microsoft and this one (at least for me) is a doozy. Look closely at the Apple and PC TV ad questions. Notice anything? Oh yes, they inverted the scale from one to the other, starting the Apple ad scale at "Hate it" and forcing people to keep reading if they don't hate it. For the PC ad they start at "Love it" and head back the other direction. Subtle, but a MAJOR problem if you are looking for objective research! Then again, maybe the marketing guys were looking to show some success to management, in which case, carry on gentlemen.

All things considered this is one of the best vendor Facebook applications I've seen and it should serve as a pretty good model for others, even those selling B2B — know your audience, provide them some value, provide them an engaging experience, and keep it grounded in real business needs.