Microsoft, Community Engagement and Being an Underdog


Here’s a good example of what Microsoft should be doing more of – constructively engaging with the ‘haters’ on a prominent The Verge post about the recent Bing for Schools initiative. Watch and learn from Matt Wallaert as he skilfully changes the whole tone of the comment stream from what could have turned into the usual MS hate-fest.

Read the story, and then read the comments. If you’re like me, then perhaps your first thought was that Microsoft, by giving away Surface RTs to schools (or, more correctly, allowing schools to ‘earn’ them), had found a neat way to hide even more Surface RT losses – just pop them in the Bing ‘promotions expense’ bucket. I mean, Bing makes such a huge loss anyway, so a bump in the size of the losses probably won’t raise too may eyebrows.

But, that’s just me being cynical. Reading the comments Matt Wallaert clearly states that’s not the case:

Glad you like the program; as the guy who owns it, I can tell you that it isn’t about avoiding a write down. How do I know? Because I designed the program six months ago and had only been here about three months, so had no clue about how many RTs we might have sitting around. I just looked around and said “OK, what do we have that I can use?”

Matt Wallaert comment on The Verge

It’s worth reading all his comments and replies to people. Although he gets drawn into criticising Google a few times (which is a mistake IMO – it distracts from the main point and only ends up making him seem overly defensive) for the most part he does an excellent job of engaging. There’s honestly, warmth and a little humour too. But most of all, he’s putting himself out there – taking it on personally, instead of leaving it to the clowns in the marketing departments. After reading his comments I went and followed him on Twitter, and actually had a higher view of Bing than I did before.

And it’s this kind of thing Microsoft should be doing more of. It’s clear their shitty ads aren’t working – I really hate those ads that try to make out that users of one product are superior to another. I hated it when Apple did it with their Mac vs PC campaign, and I hate it when companies do it now. (I realise the Apple campaign was wildly successful, but I still hated it.)

Part of the problem with criticising competitors is that you set yourself up to look like idiots. Microsoft’s Bing comparison (Bing It On) was an example – claiming that a majority of users preferred Bing over Google in a taste test just looks silly, when  the market has clearly shown that Google is an order of magnitude more popular in most countries. Likewise Windows Phone speed tests, and silly Surface versus iPad functionality comparisons just raise a trust issue in consumers’ minds: effectively Microsoft is telling people that their product is better than that competitor product… but the overwhelming data on every single market statistic is saying that people don’t agree – which only serves to create a further lack of confidence in Microsoft.

Ditch the crappy ‘we’re better’ attempts, and instead go for the humble, hardworking, underdog approach like Matt demonstrates – people love an underdog who’s trying.


By Craig Bailey