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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Make Microsoft Outlook More Social

While my first impressions of the next version of Microsoft Office, Office 2010, were quite positive, I did have one major disappointment. Why didn’t Microsoft make Outlook 2010 more social? I was hoping that the venerable email application would gain support for social media.

While email is still king in many organizations, it would be useful to be able to access Twitter, LinkedIn ,and even Facebook directly from Outlook.

Even though Microsoft hasn’t officially added support for social media to the next version of the app, you can customize Outlook 2007 and add social features yourself. Here is a quick overview of some add-ins that can help you make Outlook more social.

TwInbox. I’ve just started running TwInbox from TechHit to keep up with Twitter through Outlook 2007 (previously called OutTwit; Simon has written about it previously). It has a really simple install routine. However, I do recommend you setup a new folder for tweets before you log in into TwInbox and pay attention to the options menu and specify that folder for your tweets otherwise Twinbox will flood your Outlook inbox with tweets. While Twitter clients like Twhirl are popular, web workers who live in Microsoft Outlook should appreciate this add-in’s clean integration and toolbar that makes all Twitter commands easily accessible. My initial experience with TwInbox is favorable and I look forward to exercising more of its features. It is available as a free download.


FBLook. I was looking for an add-in to view Facebook from Outlook, because I find myself using Facebook a lot more lately. I found FBLook (also from TechHit). It enables you to update your Facebook status directly from an Outlook toolbar. You also have the option to view your friends status updates, and view notifications of new friend requests, messages, invites and pokes. FBLook is a free download. It requires you to log in to your Facebook account via a web browser during the installation process.


LinkedIn Outlook Toolbar. If you manage your contacts from Outlook, LinkedIn offers the LinkedIn Outlook Toolbar as a free download. I give high marks to this Outlook add-in for its ease of setup and directed approach for integrating LinkedIn contact management. The Build Network wizard enables you to specify where to search in your folders and email for possible contacts. You can search for contacts you communicate with frequently, create Outlook contacts from your LinkedIn connections, and select contacts to invite from your Outlook contact list to your LinkedIn network. The dashboard is another powerful feature of this toolbar, because it publishes updates from your LinkedIn network to Outlook 2007′s main window. There are also communications reminders for keeping in touch with contacts, emails that potentially needs a reply, and follow-up reminders.


While people are always going to need the core Outlook features of email, calendar, to-do list and task management, Microsoft has yet to embrace social media as an important online communications medium. The developers behind the tools surveyed in this post have provided some valuable features I would have expected to see in the new Outlook 2010.


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