Corporate Eye

Microsoft Asks Employees to Spam Friends and Family

internet-explorer-8It’s not a secret that employees can be some of a company’s most powerful brand advocates.  However, that brand advocacy can’t be forced.  In a move that hinges on unethical, Microsoft leaders asked each of the company’s employees to send email messages to at least 10 friends urging them to download the latest beta version of Internet Explorer 8 (and supposedly last before the official launch of IE8). 

But wait.  There’s more.  Microsoft didn’t just ask employees to annoy their friends with useless email.  For some bizarre reason, the leaders of Microsoft thought it would be a good idea to write the spam email message for employees, so they could simply cut and paste it into a new message then spam away!

The Register got to see the email in all its glory when a Microsoft employee did as he was told and spammed his friends with it.  Seems the recipient of the IE8 spam email message could tell his friend didn’t write it based on the writing style.  Wonder why?  Let’s take a look at a snippet from the email courtesy of The Register:

“You know I work at Microsoft, and that I love technology.  Sometimes I love Microsoft technology so much that I can’t wait to tell people about it, and this is one of those times. Microsoft has just released the Release Candidate 1 for Internet Explorer 8, and I think you should install it and use it today.”

Now, I ask – what would you do with this message if a friend sent it to you?  I’d imagine many people would simply delete it.  Many others might reply to their friend and ask them what the you know what?  Still others might quickly pick up the phone and ask their friend what kind of drugs he’s taking.  The question is whether or not any of them would actually jump over to the IE8 site and download the beta version of a product that was wrought with problems in the early days of its prior incarnation (i.e., IE7).  I’d imagine many of them are very happy with their Firefox. 

The only thing that seems to be missing from the Microsoft chain mail is that part at the end that usually says something like, “send this email to ten of your friends and your wish will come true.”

The lesson to learn – treat your employees well and they’ll believe in your company and your products and become vocal brand advocates without being strong-armed into sending out spam email.

Your thoughts?

Image: Flickr

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.

Remember when firefox launched a campaign to get a million downloads? If this message had come from firefox, or google, or the obama campaign you would probably say that it’s a great idea to use email and social media to spread the word.

I’m sure the employees were not forced to do anything and wanted to spread it because they want to help their company and their product.

Why pick on the big guy for trying just because he’s not a media darling?

Brianne, I completely disagree. If Google or Firefox or anyone other brand had used this tactic, I would have disliked it equally. Heavy-handed push marketing tactics like this one are not going to work to build relationships. I just had a conversation with Alan Siegel of Siegel & Gale about this and posted some of our discussion on my personal blog. I’m not picking on Microsoft, I’m calling out a marketing tactic that leaves much to be desired and works against the call for transparency that consumers want, particularly during an economic downturn. I have nothing against Microsoft, but there’s a reason the brand is in a decline stage. Marketing efforts like this one aren’t going to change that.

Here’s a link to my discussion with Alan Siegel.

I’m pleased that in the comments section of the original article on The Register that someone explained the term “Astroturfing”:

Counterfeiting a “grassroots” campaign, or at least trying to.

I’ve been using Microsoft products for most of my 20-year career in IT, but this just seems a bit sleazy.

I’m not certain that the term”spam” is appropriate here. Employees are asked to forwarding selectively to friends and family. Perhaps the complaint should be with the employee who took no time to personalize the email.

I’m struggling to see how this is different than a band manager who hands a bunch of postcards about an upcoming show to bandmates and asks them to hand them to family and friends and plaster them in bars and coffee shops or a restaurant owner who ask his employees to send links to the proposed new menu to friends and family to collect feedback?

Is asking your employees to spread the word about something only appropriate if you are a small company?

Brianne, Asking employees to advocate your brand is never a bad idea, however, Microsoft’s heavy-handed push marketing effort supported with boilerplate copy is missing the shift in marketing strategy again. The company is consistently behind in terms of developing marketing programs that organically create brand advocates internally and externally by developing a strong relationship brand. There is a reason why Apple has been eating away at Microsoft’s market share on one end and Firefox and Google have been eating away at it from other ends. I also think that rallying employees behind a new product launch and suggesting that they spread the word in a way that adds value to the relationship between the consumer, the employee, and the brand is a more effective approach than the solicitous boilerplate copy in that chain email. And yes, I do think the way it was written and the way delivery was suggested is akin to spam. I think that sending a link to a new menu in order to receive feedback is quite different if in fact, the restaurant owner plans to analyze and act on the information gathered. I also think that a band that uses ambient advertising is different. Had Microsoft not provided the boilerplate copy (or provided it as a letter to be forwarded from a Microsoft executive), my opinion might be very different.


I’ve often read that “word of mouth” marketing is the most valued/trusted by customers and sought after by companies, but they’re not supposed to PUT the words in the mouths of anyone and that appears to be exactly what they’ve done here.

According to statistics from Yale, up to 85-95% of e-mail traversing the Internet last year was spam. Do we really need more useless messages in our inboxes?

So it would be more widely recieved if it were a “send 10 postcards” to your friends campaign or a “looks like it’s released key information too early” PR release curculated amongst key technology or business bloggers like yourselves? Is the bottom line that email marketing through employees is passe?

Is it the message or the medium that is being criticised? Why not say that an email had bad-cookie cutter-corporate copy instead of saying that it was spam?

What would you recommend from your experience that Microsoft do instead next time the opportunity arises to beta test a highly anticipated product with a tough competitor?

No matter how you try to rephrase it, “send this to 10 of your friends,” sounds like spam to me. In the book I’m writing right now, I do talk about the Microsoft brand in comparison to Apple and some of its other competitors. The key is building relationships through pull marketing and allowing consumers to take control. Push marketing tactics are what’s passe, particularly as it applies to email. That’s exactly what Alan Siegel and I discussed in the interview that I referenced above. Consumers are bored of corporate rhetoric, and filling in boxes with more of it is not going to get the job done anymore. The fact that Microsoft’s brand is in the decline stage with no sign of near-term turnaround further demonstrates that point.

Here is another example just from this month:

And another from this month:

Just curious why you’re defending Microsoft so strongly, Brianne. That might help me gain better insight on your position in the debate What aspects of the tactic do you think are effective in repositioning Microsoft in relation to its current placement in the brand lifecycle? Do you disagree that developing societal brands and relationships is more effective in leveraging the social web and building internal brand ambassadors than push marketing? Microsoft has fallen into the classic trap that so many pioneer brands have been guilty of before them. Do you disagree? How then do you explain the market share shift? I don’t want to keep disagreeing just to disagree. I’d like to get a better understanding of your side of the debate.

No, I don’t work for Miscrosoft, I only feel that your use of the work “spam” is inappropriate and to say that push marketing is past it’s prime at the expense of Microsoft when it’s alive and well for hunderds of other companies is unfair.

I would agree that Microsoft marketing can be heavy-handed at times, but you’ll find that viral marketing and guerilla grass roots campaigns apply much more to smaller companies or underdogs than to large established companies. If you can identify what they are doing wrong, you hsould also be able to make a positive recommendation for improvement.

Also, to compare Apple to Microsoft is apples to oranges. Apple is an end-to-end niche shop and Microsoft is a widely used operating system and software platform. That would be like comparing Hot Topic to

I think from a marketing perspective, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, Brianne.

All I have to say on this issue is that none of the Fortune 500 companies I’ve worked for in the past 20 years has ever requested that I send e-mail to my friends about one of their products.

If I suddenly got a marketing pitch via e-mail from a friend; I’d probably assume my friend’s e-mail address had been harvested spammers or their computer had been compromised, was now part of a botnet and being used to send spam.

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