Social Product Development

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Microsoft is getting its groove on

The introduction of social networking capabilities into the world of product development is not without some challenges. Not the least of these is overcoming the stigma that social networking has developed, fostered by either our own personal experiences with online communities or hearing news stories about teens doing something stupid online. Sometimes when I introduce social product development, I get a little snicker or a cynical smirk from the audience. Someone invariably says, "Oh yeah, like we're gonna use Facebook to run our business... right?!"

The perspective that social networking is the playground of teens and twenty-somethings is ridiculous. Peel back the fa├žade and you'll find a portfolio of capabilities that are tailor-made for improving collaboration, innovation, and productivity in product development. To date, most of these capabilities live in consumer-focused web applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Xing, etc. And while big business has started to use these sites for marketing purposes, they're obviously not viable for running critical business processes like product development.

Enter Microsoft. Who better to "industrialize" these social networking capabilities into a business-ready portfolio of applications? They've got scale. They've got ubiquity. And they've got their sights set on being the company that brings social networking to the enterprise. SharePoint is already licensed on 100 million machines, and is one of the fastest growing businesses within Microsoft. And while the current version of SharePoint is lacking some of the more advanced social networking capabilities, Microsoft is promising big improvements in SharePoint 2010.

I think there will always be niche applications with more advanced features than what we find in SharePoint. But - whether you love them or hate them - Microsoft desktop and productivity tools are what 99% of us use everyday to crank out work. Having our professional social networking tools tightly integrated into the app's that are so ingrained in our daily professional lives will carry the day.


  1. Great post Rob. I laughed when I read "Oh yeah, like we're gonna use Facebook to run our business. .. right?!"
    My post today was "What I Learned: We are not Going to Build an Airplane on Facebook!"
    It sounds like we are talking to some of the same people!
    That comment really stuck with me because on one hand it's true (Facebook is not the right application for aerospace production). But it also points out that even really smart people are willing to discount the value of a hugely important trend (the use of social computing technologies in business) because the examples they have don’t quite fit the way the currently work.

  2. Skeptics might be interested to learn that Procter & Gamble is among those who believe in the strength of social media.

    P&G owns and operates a site called Tremor (, for word-of-mouth marketing through social connectors (teens and tweens who are active on- and offline). They've also run a branding campaign for Tide detergent using social networks.

    I do agree with critics who point out P&G is going about it the wrong way ("Advertisers Face Hurdles on Social Networking Sites," Randall Stroll, New York Times, Dec 13, 2008). Using social media for marketing purpose generally backfires.

    Nevertheless, I give P&G credit for recognizing the influence and strength of social media.