Posted December 28, 2006 11:00 pm by with 11 comments

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I’ve been giving some thought to why Microsoft’s attempt to reach out to bloggers, by sending them free Vista-loaded laptops, went horribly wrong.

I know that hindsight is 20/20, but as a business blogging consultant, here’s the five mistakes that I believe led to such a negative response from the blogosphere.

  1. Microsoft (and Edelman) was not clear in its message to bloggers. They sent out these fully-loaded, top of the line laptops to bloggers without being clear what exactly they expected from them. Did they want bloggers to review Vista? Were they expecting bloggers to disclose the gift? Would there be a follow-up from MSFT to learn flaws about Vista on laptops? The message was clearly too ambiguous as some bloggers shared news of the “gift” with their readers, while others didn’t.
  2. The “gift” was far too extravagant. If you want to send someone a copy of Vista to test, ask them if they already have a computer to test it on! Sending bloggers a $2,000+ laptop smacks of bribery. What’s next, Goodyear sending auto bloggers their latest tires fitted to a brand new Porsche?
  3. They targeted the elite and the masses revolted. When you send out an expensive gift to a small selection of bloggers, those left out are the ones who tend to hold you the most accountable. The recipients of the expensive laptops were not the ones criticizing Microsoft, it was the bloggers who were left out that turned this initiative sour. Why? One reason may be because they didn’t get a $2k laptop, so felt it their duty to hold the recipients to a high standard. The blogosphere sees all and knows all. They are quick to judge and if something smells like a bribe, they’ll let you know.
  4. Microsoft (Edelman) panicked in their follow-up. Once the blogosphere passed judgement, Microsoft tried to back-track on the gift. It was now no longer something that the recipient could keep. They had to either give it away or send it back. There’s so many things wrong with this response:
    • It suggests you did send the gift as a bribe and are now trying to back-track because you were caught.
    • It alienates the bloggers you sent the gift to in the first place. You’ve made them look like schmucks.
    • The same blogosphere that questioned the gift, now smells blood. MSFT’s weakness, and failure to explain the outreach, adds fuel to the questions being raised.
  5. They failed to realize you can’t control the blogosphere. I mentioned this in my earlier post, but it’s worth repeating – PR firms should not try and control the blogosphere. When you get too clever in your PR efforts, you risk this kind of backlash. Certainly you should look to reach out to bloggers and ask for their input, opinion and critique, but you should never try and manipulate them. Bloggers know that their peers are holding them to the highest levels of transparency and credibility. A $2,000 laptop is not enough for most bloggers to risk losing the respect and trust of their readers and their fellow bloggers.

So, there’s my thoughts on where Microsoft and Edelman went wrong. Would I have done things differently? As I said, hindsight is easy, but I’d like to think I would have avoided most of the problems I’ve outlined above.

Now over to you. What other errors did MSFT make along the way. Maybe if we all share our thoughts, they (and other companies) can learn from this fiasco.

  • I personally don’t see anything wrong with Microsoft sending out the laptops. I agree that they did a lot of things wrong which you highlighted above but product reviews have been around forever. As long as companies insist on full disclosure and honest opinions it should be up to that blogger.

    Take car magazines as an example… A lot of the cars they review and test drive are provided by the manufacturers at no cost.

  • I’m going to respectfully disagree. The onus of providing accurate and unbiased information to my readers is my responsibility – not Microsoft’s.

    How is this different from Shaq getting a new pair of sneakers or Tiger getting a new set of clubs? It’s not! We don’t scream at Nike or Big Bertha when they provide their material to influencers for free. Should Shaq have a disclaimer before every game? Tiger? I play golf, why didn’t I get free clubs? Waaaaaaah.

    This entire thing is ridiculous. Any good Marketer recognizes who the influencers are and caters to them so that the word spreads. The only mistake in this entire situation was Microsoft’s back-peddling.

    I’m not a politician, I’m not a journalist, I am a blogger. I didn’t take an oath. Example: I happened to have gotten some Colts tickets a couple months ago… could have been for all the help I’ve been giving Pat Coyle at Should I have turned them down? “I’m sorry Pat… my readers wouldn’t want me to accept these.” Huh?

    The only mistake in this entire thing was Microsoft’s back-peddling. When asked, “Did you give those expensive laptops to bloggers so that you could ‘buy’ influence”, they should have said one thing…


  • Giving out some freebies as promotion isn’t a bad idea. As they other commenters mentioned it happens all the time and nobody cares.

    I wonder if these current “promoters” are going to stay promoters after getting screwed like this. Wouldn’t be surprised if one or two of these people got offended and is off to Mac Country.

  • I agree with you guys, sending out gifts to bloggers is not the problem. I think it’s a smart idea to offer an incentive to bloggers – free trial, loan of equipment, “goodie bag” etc – in order to get their attention. However, the blogosphere is not happy with the way MSFT handled this – and I agree with them – and that is what is leading to the negative feedback. I think step 2 and 4 are key to this mess.

  • I think that the blogosphere needs to lighten the hell up. 🙂 Seriously, what everyone is missing is that this is all part of a game as well … Microsoft is using these to promote Vista, yes, but also to jumpstart the alternate reality game Vanishing Point. The entire point of the game is that Loki gives out extravagant gifts, and if she’s giving these as gifts at the beginning, what does the ultimate winner get? Sometimes, people just need to relax and have a little fun with it.

    Besides, anyone who went to college knows that being able to critically evaluate the source of information is always the first step, and I don’t see how this changes it. So what if people aren’t disclosing what they’ve received? Sounds like the vast majority were Microsoft and Windows supporters to begin with, so that doesn’t change. We know what “gifts” are floating around out there, so discounting any “reviews” of that stuff is pretty easy.

  • Bloggers often tend to put an idiotic spin on everything. Is anyone actually going to say anything nice about Microsoft just because they received a free PC? Hmm maybe, but if they disclose it, there is nothing wrong with it, and readers would think a blogger was foolish not to accept the freebie.

    For these tech companies to be giving away free hardware and software is absolutely nothing new.

    I used to work doing business development in the games industry, and whilst NDAs probably still prevent me from mentioning specifics, there once was a time when games development outfits could have half their development hardware paid for by one company, and half by another, depending on their prominence and support for new technology.

    All these A list bloggers opening up their mac laptops at key events makes them a very attractive target.

    In my opinion the biggest mistake was backing down

  • Since I’m a recipient of a Ferrari 5000 from Acer, I’m obviously biased towards Microsoft’s motives. I personally began blogging on Microsoft technologies to refrain from sending my clients too many emails – or emails that were not pertinent to them at the time.

    I’m not a “journalist” – but even professional IT consultants have “ethics” too. I could not be successful without telling the truth, being fair, doing my own research, verifying my research, and creating original content.

    As a Microsoft consultant it’s my job to be familiar with technology BEFORE my client sees it. Or more importantly, BEFORE they have a problem with it!

    My TechNet subscription provided me access to the betas of Windows Vista (along with the many incremental upgrades). For almost two years, I’ve participated and provided feedback in Windows Vista forums, webcasts, training and labs.

    I’m pleased and humbled that my blog is “popular” beyond the people that I personally support. Microsoft named me MVP for providing technical assistance beyond my normal professional responsibilities. Being provided an evaluation computer from Acer is not a “bribe” and it simply allows me to accelerate my evaluations, documentation and demonstrations of Windows Vista.

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  • Nazu

    Doug Karr:

    The difference between this and Shaq getting a new pair of sneakers, is that Shaq doesn’t have to give them back when the other basketball players start getting angry about being left out.

    They’re asking for them back?

    Why should they be given back?

    They were given these Laptops without any agreement, they have no obligation to return them.

    Good going Microsoft ~