Microsoft Wants to Help Marketers Manage Messy Social Media

Tech Giant to Test Looking Glass Platform as Part of Business-Solution Strategy

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NEW YORK ( -- Microsoft wants marketers to see it in a different light -- not only as an ad seller but as a smart company full of geeks who can help it solve business problems. And the tech giant is using social media to prove it can do so.

Today Microsoft is taking the wraps off a new platform called Looking Glass, a social-media aggregator and monitoring tool that's still in "proof of concept" stage, meaning it's not yet in the market and will be open to a very small group of testers next month.

The idea is to connect social-media-monitoring tools to the rest of a marketer's organization -- customer databases, work orders, customer-service centers and sales data. Looking Glass will pull in a variety of feeds from platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr and work with third-party data sources as well (the folks behind it have already talked to some firms such as Meteor Solutions and Telligent). All of the data collected will connect into Microsoft's enterprise platforms, such as Outlook and Sharepoint.

Making social media actionable
What this also means for marketers is how all that social-media information they're drowning in becomes more actionable.

Here's how: A marketing manager can get an e-mail alert when there's a sudden surge of chatter about his or her brand on Twitter or Facebook, along with the sentiment of that chatter and the influence level of those blogging. That information can then be connected to a customer-relationship-management system to decide whether customer service or PR should respond. Or a cable operator's customer service rep could monitor Twitter for outage reports and send off a repair request straight from the tool. And Looking Glass will hook up to existing customer databases, so a pharmaceutical brand manager would be able to figure out if a person throwing a hissy fit on his blog is an influential doctor or current customer.

"Social isn't a web destination, it's an attribute and an application on some level," said Jamey Tisdale, group product marketing manager for Microsoft's platform strategy group, a small team that serves as a sort of intra-Microsoft incubator for ideas such as Looking Glass. He describes the product as a "bridge between IT and the marketing organization."

It also logs all activity within the tool so, for example, companies can keep track of who posts to their own Twitter feeds.

One of the best uses for Looking Glass, said Marty Taylor Collins, who heads social-media marketing for the Windows 7 team, is to catch a mini web crisis before ity erupts into full-scale disaster. She cites one of her first experiences with Looking Glass as an example.

In January, Windows 7 was opened up for beta testing. The Windows team and put in place a load-balancing plan, meant to control the number of downloads that could happen at a time so the system wouldn't crash, and opened up the beta-testing download period on a Friday at 9 a.m. By 9:30 a.m. a popular tech blogger had posted a way to bypass the load-balancing system and the operating system crashed under the weight.

Tweeting to the angst-ridden
"By monitoring the conversation we realized because we said there would be limited downloads, it created this angst," Ms. Collins said. Microsoft reached out to the angst-ridden beta testers, asking them to to watch its Twitter feed, and by Saturday morning it had alerted them the system was back up. Within 30 minutes it got another tweet -- that that download wasn't compatible with a certain browser. From Looking Glass Ms. Collins' team used the tweet to file a high-priority bug and it was fixed within the hour.

"There are so many stories that could have happened [during the beta launch]," said Ms. Collins. "And this was best story that never did."

While the tool is meant to be open and work with a variety for third-party social-media vendors and platforms, it's still meant to tie into and drive sales for Microsoft's Enterprise Group, meaning that its use could be limited for companies that don't use a suite of Microsoft products. As Mr. Tisdale explained, it purposely built something that requires multiple Microsoft teams -- ad sales and enterprise sales -- to do. "It's the only way for us to win," he said.

It also gives Microsoft ad sales reps something more to talk about than banner and search ads.

"We want to change the expectation advertisers have of Microsoft," said Mr. Tisdale. "We can do more than sell you advertising. We can help your business problems -- we're a bunch of geeks, let's see what the geeks can do."

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