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Microsoft quietly launches its So.cl social network

Author's avatar By Dave Chaffey 21 May, 2012
Essential Essential topic

What are the implications of Microsoft’s So.cl?

Importance: [rating=1] (currently)

Recommended link: Previous announcement of So.cl launch

Our commentary on So.cl

So.cl was launched over the last weekend. It's a strange time to launch a product, particularly following the big Facebook IPO announcement. Apparently Microsoft wasn’t looking to make a big bang and are still refining their new service and how to position it.

Still, Microsoft is still a major provider of search, so we think it warrants an alert since you may be asked about it by colleagues or clients. You may need to say “it’s not relevant to our digital strategy”. This post explains why.

What is So.cl?

So what is So.cl? Is it a social network? Well no, not really, despite the headline that's what it will be called... The main welcome page carousel doesn't clearly show any differentiation - we have many ways to "connect with people" already!

But if you take a look at the panels bottom left: "Share your Search" and "Discover New Interests"; these hint at how Microsoft are trying to differentiate this new service.

If you sign up for the service how this works is clearer - you can see searches and comments being shared - or added to in a "riff" and tagging is also possible.

On their Help page, Microsoft describes it as:

“So.cl (pronounced “social”) combines web browsing, search and social networking”

It’s not clear what this means in practice without using the service, but it does show where Microsoft see the emphasis - it’s a combination of search and social where searches are shared. Is this a differentiated value proposition? I’m not sure - I can do these all already, but they are separate activities. If Microsoft can combine these in an effective way it may be. For now I can’t tell - as of Monday morning the service is overloaded with people trying to work out its relevance so attempts to post are failing!

However, I did work through the signup process which is straightforward if you're already registered with Hotmail. This again shows the connection with search.

Although posts aren't currently shown within Bing - it's a separate service which incorporates Bing's results. As you join you're also encouraged to follow interests (but not people although this is possible).

Marketing implications of So.cl

If you’re asked by colleagues “how important is this?” I think the main point to say after explaining the low share of searches that Microsoft has in most countries, is there aren’t any brand pages currently. I think until there are this So.cl should be classed as a “wait and see” before involving it in your social media marketing strategy.

It’s also worth noting that this is branded as part of “Microsoft Research” so Microsoft want to position it as a research initiative. Some commentators have said this shows a lack of commitment to the service quite different to when Google+ was launched last year.

In the original announcement we link to at the start of this post, Microsoft Research focused on the student audience, saying that “So.cl Gives Students a New Way to Learn”. Again this suggests a limited mainstream for the audience.

How do you see it? Is it something to ignore, to "wait and see" or are there benefits for early adopters?

Author's avatar

By Dave Chaffey

Digital strategist Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of online marketing training platform and publisher Smart Insights. 'Dr Dave' is known for his strategic, but practical, data-driven advice. He has trained and consulted with many business of all sizes in most sectors. These include large international B2B and B2C brands including 3M, BP, Barclaycard, Dell, Confused.com, HSBC, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, M&G Investment, Rentokil Initial, O2, Royal Canin (Mars Group) plus many smaller businesses. Dave is editor of the templates, guides and courses in our digital marketing resource library used by our Business members to plan, manage and optimize their marketing. Free members can access our free sample templates here. Dave is also keynote speaker, trainer and consultant who is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Digital Marketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing. My personal site, DaveChaffey.com, lists my latest Digital marketing and E-commerce books and support materials including a digital marketing glossary. Please connect on LinkedIn to receive updates or ask me a question.

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