Microsoft gives behind-the-scenes look at internal "YouTube" network

Microsoft has been exploiting its SharePoint collaboration software over the past three years to support an internal podcasting network called Academy Mobile.

Not that Microsoft has anything against e-mail – after all, it's made a killing on Outlook over the years – but the company realizes being too addicted to traditional messaging can bog you down.

In an effort to make its global 92,000-person workforce more productive through better internal communications and knowledge sharing, Microsoft has been exploiting its SharePoint collaboration software over the past three years to support an internal podcasting network called Academy Mobile. Christian Finn, Microsoft's director of collaboration and enterprise social computing, shared lessons learned at Wednesday's opening keynote at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston.

Also check out our SharePoint 2010 test

Academy Mobile had humble beginnings, with Microsoft enticing early adopters with cameras, software and other free tools as long as they pledged to upload a certain number of podcasts to the network.

Microsoft used viral/guerilla approaches to spread the word about the program, showing up with whiteboards and T-shirts at company meetings, offering contests and holding live "cast-ins" at company events so that employees could see people creating podcasts live. Over time, Microsoft kicked internal marketing up a notch, producing splashy banners for big company meetings, Finn said.

Microsoft also came up with a rewards system for those most involved in producing podcasts and otherwise participating in Academy Mobile. Fancy headphones, golf clubs and other prizes could be had for turning in "points". Reward recipients can also convert points into charitable gifts, matched by Microsoft. Rating systems allow users to vote up the best podcasts, giving those podcasters further recognition.

While early "stars" of Mobile Academy came largely from the field and elsewhere, as Academy Mobile grew it wasn't long before Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, CIO Tony Scott and other top execs got into the act with podcasts of their own. Still Finn says the system has been largely a grassroots effort that has grown through the ideas that have bubbled up from lower levels of the company.

Microsoft has gauged the success of its program not so much in terms of a typical ROI measurement but through such indicators as number of podcasts uploaded (from 2,000 in fiscal year 2008 to 9,000 in fiscal year 2010) and viewed (from 100,000 in FY 2008 to about a million in FY 2010). More than half of Microsoft employees have viewed podcasts and that number increases to better than 95% among sales employees, who it was originally designed for. Microsoft figures if people are participating then they are getting something out of it, as is the company, Finn said.

One benefit of the podcast network is that it provides training in niche areas that even a company with Microsoft's financial resources wouldn't otherwise fund, Finn said.

Another benefit is that Academy Mobile has fostered interaction across departmental silos.

Finn acknowledged that building a podcast network -- or at least one along the lines of what Microsoft has done – isn't for every organization. "Mileage will vary," Finn said, noting that more or less screening/editing of podcasts might be in order at some organizations.

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