Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Vista Blogger Campaign Misses Opportunity

Microsoft’s recent blogger relations campaign has created quite a stir. Here’s the quick background: With the help of PR agency, Edelman, Microsoft sent valuable laptops with the new Vista operating system to targeted influential bloggers. Segments included the obvious technology bloggers, but also parenting bloggers and Mac-lovers. This was a no-strings-attached kind of deal. No requirement to blog about Vista. Originally, the bloggers were not asked to return the laptops or to disclose anything in their blog posts. Apparently, some of the recipients have no idea why they were chosen to receive this “gift.”

Much of the debate has focused on the ethics involved: Was this a gift rather than a loaner for review (as would have been done with journalists)? Was it a bribe? Should bloggers be required to disclose the situation?

It’s been a healthy debate.

I personally don’t have a problem with the laptop distribution, but I believe mistakes were made in the planning and execution. As a result, much of the blogger debate has been on the campaign rather than on the merits of the product.

What I’m wondering is: What was Microsoft’s goal for this Vista blogger relations campaign? How are they measuring success?

There are lots of things they can be counting:

• Number of blog posts that mention Vista.
• Number of blog posts related to Vista by targeted bloggers.
• Number of positive blog posts that mention Vista.
• Number of negative blog posts that mention Vista.
• Number of blog posts related to Vista that don’t use the name Vista.
• Number of blog posts related to Vista that don’t use the name Microsoft.Number of blog posts related to Vista that only use the name Edelman.
• Etc., etc.

I’m sure Microsoft and Edelman are pretty sophisticated with this stuff and that what they are measuring is directly related to their goal, which likely is purchases of Vista. But what was the goal of their blogger relations portion of the campaign? They’re not looking for input into how to make Vista better since that occurred during the beta phase. They may have been listening for how bloggers describe certain features so they can incorporate that language into their marketing.

But I suspect a main goal was simply to generate awareness. There are lots of Windows users who have no idea what Vista is or that it’s coming soon. I generally avoid campaigns that are limited to awareness, but for someone as big as Microsoft, awareness may be all it takes for many consumers to spend some money.

Ironically, by counting an increase in blog posts and comments this month about Vista, Microsoft could rule this campaign a success. That would be a mistake.

They’ve missed a big opportunity. Lack of awareness isn’t the only barrier to OS or software adoption. Perceptions of bugs and compatibility troubles are a huge barrier. Many of these issues have been blogged about during the beta phase. Even if the issues have been resolved in the final release version, the blog posts are still out there. Other concerns are based solely on rumor. Plus, Microsoft has been our main teacher of the lesson that it’s dangerous to install the first version of anything.

Here was an opportunity to initiate a conversation that would dispel myths and resolve concerns that are keeping individuals and businesses from buying this product. Awareness would grow as well.

So how could Microsoft and Edelman have done this blogger relations campaign in a way that addressed these consumer concerns?

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