Microsoft Grows IM Through Philanthropic Campaign

Microsoft’s “i’m Making A Difference” campaign looks to get college students using Windows Live Messenger by donating a share of ad revenues generated by the instant messaging client. A word of mouth component of the campaign was executed by RepNation to target college students.

Causes and college campuses go hand-in-hand, which made it a natural venue for Microsoft’s “i’m Making a Difference” campaign, where users of Windows Live Messenger can select one of nine charitable organizations to give a share of ad revenues. To gain students’ attention, word of mouth marketing firm RepNation enlisted 70 college students as ambassadors on 35 campuses to craft their own campaigns under the i’m initiative.

The nine causes are the American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, National AIDS Fund, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, ninemillion.org, Sierra Club, Stopglobalwarming.org, Susan G. Komen for the cure, and U.S. Fund for UNICEF. The designated charity will receive a portion of ad revenues each time a person in the program has a conversation using Windows Live Messenger. Microsoft has pledged to donate at least $100,000 to each participating organization, though donations may exceed the minimum amount depending on the success of the program.

Each ambassador was given a budget and asked to craft a strategy or marketing plan targeting individuals or groups of people. “College students are activists, and are really able to pinpoint [student] interests whether they be on Facebook, or meetings on campus,” said Brandon Evans, managing director and partner at RepNation Media. “It taps into an interpersonal communication network.”

Some ambassadors chose to partner with the campus chapters of the organizations benefiting from the program. One partnered with a Stopglobalwarming.org event; a representative at University of Pennsylvania teamed up with the efforts of a walk for the Susan G. Komen foundation; and another took part in a Red Cross blood drive. Apart from partnering with beneficiary events, ambassadors organized campus and local radio promotions using Windows Live Messenger, and one held a contest in select dormitories with RA sponsorship. Evans reported ambassadors gave class presentations.

“Each student came back with really great programs,” said Tara Kriese, senior product manager of Windows Live Messenger at Microsoft. “It really helps, because instant messenger is a social tool, a way to communicate with other individuals. It makes sense for the Repnation [ambassadors] to be working with groups and individuals, having conversations with their friends to help great causes.”

The college focus of the campaign executed by RepNation, which runs through the end of the current semester, is part of a larger campaign created by McCann Erickson, Microsoft’s agency of record. The i’m Making a Difference campaign is about 80 percent online.

While Microsoft’s community affairs group, which is responsible for a portion of the corporation’s philanthropic activities, didn’t have a direct affect on the campaign’s charitable goals, the Windows Live Messenger department did work closely with community affairs to pull off the mission.

Microsoft recently announced a separate initiative to give University of Pennsylvania students access to certain Live programs to promote usage and adoption of its platform while aiding students with their studies and social life.

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