Photo Credit: Microsoft
Quick – name the biggest social media company in the world. Chances are, you’d probably name Facebook, which is quickly approaching 2 billion monthly active users in the world. Or, if you take a truly global perspective, you might name a Chinese social media company like Weibo. But what about the biggest social media company that nobody talks about? Yes, we’re talking about Microsoft here.
LinkedIn and Microsoft
In many ways, Microsoft is the forgotten social media company, despite the fact that it continues to innovate in the social media space. And don’t forget – Microsoft did acquire LinkedIn for a reported value of $26.2 billion in June 2016. Many people assumed that Microsoft would just fold LinkedIn into many of its small business tools, and that the social network as a standalone entity would largely fade away.
But there’s actually some really interesting developments coming out of Microsoft and LinkedIn recently. One of them is the continued experimentation with bots within LinkedIn. In one scenario, Microsoft found that LinkedIn might be able to increase the amount of social interaction within the network by using clever little bots to seed conversations. And LinkedIn is now focused on using messaging as a way to drive future platform growth.
Skype as a social network?
The latest news about Microsoft and social media actually concerns Skype, the longtime video calling service that Microsoft is now re-inventing as a quasi-Snapchat competitor. On June 1, Microsoft unveiled “the next generation of Skype,” with many of the features designed to resemble features you can already find in Snapchat. The Verge called the new redesign “a radical change.”
For example, Skype will now include “Highlights,” which function very similar to Snapchat Stories. The idea here is that you will be able to share highlights from your life with your Skype contacts – including the ability to add some personalized text, stickers or drawings. And there will be a new feature called “Capture,” which will enable you to shift to your smartphone camera, snap photos and send them out as you’re making a call. Skype is also beefing up its messaging capabilities, including a new group chat page.
Also, you’ll now be able to use all kinds of emoticons, GIFs and stickers on your Skype calls. If you think about many livestreaming features that Periscope first made famous – like the ability to send out hearts to someone doing a particularly great live stream – it sounds like Skype is now following that lead. You’ll now be able to react with emoticons during Skype phone calls. Just imagine what corporate conference calls are going to look like, if you can start sending out little heart emoticons to your boss!
Microsoft’s work with virtual social networks
Finally, don’t forget about Microsoft’s push into augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) via its much anticipated new HoloLens technology. That’s already leading to new thinking about the ways that social interactions will take place within virtual worlds. Whereas Facebook is moving from social networking to virtual reality, Microsoft is reverse-engineering the process, moving from virtual reality to social networking. Interesting, right?
It might be easy to dismiss Microsoft as a tired has-been (especially if you’re firmly locked into the Apple ecosystem of products). But it’s clear that Microsoft is innovating with new developments in the social media space. It’s all leading to a blurring of the line between “pure” social media sites like Facebook and tools like Skype, which is now trying to combine functionality you might find with messaging apps and social networks.
So the next time your colleagues are having a spirited conversation about the features of the best social networking sites, here’s one way to make a lot of people uncomfortable – just ask the question: “Yes, but what about Microsoft?” It might make them re-think what exactly a social network is today.