On May 20, Microsoft officially entered the social media arena with the public launch of so.cl. Just over a month later, the network has largely failed to gain initial momentum and has seen only minimal growth. Despite backing from Microsoft and extensive integration into both Windows Live and Facebook, so.cl (pronounced "social") has not experienced early rapid expansion. Recently, networks such as Google+ and even the still-in-beta-phase Pinterest have achieved impressive followings in a relatively short time span. Although so.cl has only been widely available for five weeks, its underwhelming presence is somewhat surprising. However, so.cl does have potential and could succeed with the development and implementation of Internet marketing initiatives.
How to Succeed in the Social Space
Rather than utilizing ad campaigns, press releases and marketing efforts, Microsoft opted to quietly roll out so.cl. While some may argue that this was due to Facebook's IPO launching only three days prior, it is unlikely that Microsoft was concerned about being overshadowed by a "competitor". In fact, so.cl is intended to be a supplement to Facebook; not a direct competitor.
However, Microsoft's choice to keep so.cl's release low-key was not necessarily a misstep in marketing logic. Other social networks have debuted under similar circumstances and experienced exponential growth without requiring substantial marketing efforts. Therein lies the most significant flaw with so.cl's model: It doesn't dare to be different. Success in social media is dependent upon innovative and unique offerings. Unfortunately, so.cl does little to stand out in the social crowd.
Lost in the Shuffle?
Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Pinterest each offer different functions and features that are designed to appeal to their particular demographics and user base. So.cl, on the other hand, is more of an amalgamation of those networks and their offerings. Microsoft touts so.cl as "an experiment in open search." The network allows users to search and share content from the Web and the aforementioned networks on their so.cl profile. While this service may attract a niche audience; it lacks the broad appeal of other networks and is likely to remain in the background of the social space rather than at the forefront.
The Future of so.cl
With the impending release of Windows 8 and its "People" application, it is assumed that SO.CL is a set up from Microsoft for future integration, which ties in directly to the operating system itself. Microsoft should consider marketing so.cl as a standalone network with a unique and useful feature set. Like Google+, Microsoft could emphasize further integration of so.cl into its other services, as well.
Although Microsoft may be unwilling to compete directly with Google+ and Facebook, such an investment may actually prove to be a prudent one for the company. Additionally, as social media continues to play a more prominent role in digital marketing, so.cl may become a valuable investment for marketers, as well.