Thursday, August 2, 2012

Microsoft gets Social - Outlook Connectors for social and business networks

Social networks have a wealth of information just waiting to be harnessed, but I personally have two big issues with them:
  • I do not want to be logging into multiple networks and going back and forth to collate data
  • I want contextual information rather that a fire hose deluge 
Social Connectors to the rescue!
If you are using Outlook, and especially if you are a Sales person using Outlook with CRM, there is a cool new way to get information on specific contacts using the social networks. I see this being particularly useful in the social selling arena, as you get a bigger and better picture into customer connections, preferences, behaviors and sentiments, presented to you in one place.

The social connector for Microsoft Outlook page  has a listing of the popular social networks that can be linked to your Outlook account. Once installed, clicking on a contact's name will provide details of their activities in the mapped social networks. The connector is supported on Outlook 2003, 2007 and 2010 versions.

Outlook Connector Install and Setup (for Outlook 2007):
1. Download the Microsoft Outlook Social Connector 32-bit edition
2.Run the executable that was downloaded. Once installation is complete, you will have to restart Outlook to see the changes.
3. When Outlook 2007 reopens, you will see a dialog like the one below. Ciick Next.

4. Notice that the dialog you will see (similar to the screenshot below) does not have any partner listed! That is because each social network requires its own social network provider for Outlook.

So if you want LinkedIn and Facebook mapped to outlook, you will need download each of them seperately. Click on the "View social network providers available online" link.

5. Select the LinkedIn icon from the partner list. Notice that it takes you to a LinkedIn site , with the Outlook connector being one of LinkedIn's suite of productivity tools. Select the Download it Now button, and go through the install steps. Once install is complete, restart Outlook.

6. In the Social Networks Accounts dialog (similar to step 4 screenshot), you will now see LinkedIn listed. Selecting the checkbox will display the authentication section. Enter your LinkedIn credentials and select "Connect". Use the Settings button to define how the data is being pulled into Outlook.

Using the Connector:

The information about the contact is available at the bottom of the Reading Pane called the People Pane. The screenshot below has a sample People Pane, with connection to both LinkedIn and Facebook.

To see different information for the person in the People Pane, click any of the tabs at the left side of the list window. There are six default tabs:

  1. All items - This includes all activity and messages from the selected person.
  2. Activities - This displays activity posted on the selected person's social network sites, such as alerts, comments or messages.
  3. Mail - A list appears of recent e-mail messages that you have exchanged with the selected person.
  4. Attachments - Attachments that you have sent to or received from the selected person appear.
  5. Calendar - Past and future meetings or appointments including both you and the selected person appear.
  6. Status updates -This displays the most recent status updates that the selected person has posted.

To hide the Outlook Social Connector from all Outlook views, go to View menu, click People Pane, and then click Off.

Final thoughts:
Microsoft is going big on Social this year, and this is very nice move indeed. I like the clean interface and the ability to pull in details from other social networks. Your contact's status updates, comments, messages and alerts from the social network sites, are now all available in one location in Outlook.
I am not a social (network) animal, but I am pretty sure folks use more social networks than the ones listed. Thus I would like to see more partners added, which should happen over time.

Keeping with the social storyline, a nice whitepaper by Microsoft called the Connected Enterprise is a worthwhile read. You will see some cool stuff like Analytics for Twitter app and FUSE Labs Montage. Lets also not forget the Activity Feeds feature, the native CRM solution available since Update Rollup 5, to listen and follow important business events and activities.

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