Many college students viewed Microsoft as their parents’ software brand, with none of the cool factor of Apple. With its 2012 launch of Windows 8, the company wanted to convince them otherwise—and the best way to do so, it felt, was to have these 18- to 24-year-olds try out the new features of the operating system for themselves.
Working with agency Fluent, Microsoft hired 714 influential, tech-savvy students across 500 universities nationwide to create the UCrew. These reps were tasked with giving their peers hands-on trials of Windows 8.
The UCrew was outfitted with laptops, tablets, Xboxes, games, and software and encouraged to set up campus events and work with school organizations to show off the Microsoft’s new capabilities. Some reps held Xbox parties; others showed classmates how to use apps to create custom artwork for their dorms or to store all their school documents.
The reps had access to a dedicated website where they could log all their trials, post videos and photos, and communicate with fellowUCrew members as well as with the site’s full-time “social editor,” who worked with other Microsoft staff to provide content. Microsoft also came up with weekly contests to drive engagement, such as the Missing Microsoft Super Bowl Ad, in which students were invited to create their own commercials—using Windows technology, of course.
During the 14-week program, the UCrew logged more than 421,000 hands-on trials. The program generated more than 21,000 Facebook posts (nearly 17.8 million direct impressions) and more than 14,000 Twitter posts (more than 3.2 million direct impressions).
And online tracking showed that student preference for Apple dropped from 34% before the trials to 20% after, while preference for Windows climbed from 43% to 59%, with half of the students likely to recommend Windows 8, compared with just 16% before the UCrew came to campus.