I’m initiative produces 25% growth for Windows Live Messenger

Back at the beginning of March, Microsoft launched the “I’m Initiative,” a new charity program carried out through Windows Live Messenger. At the homepage, you can learn more about the charities that are recieving donations and how by putting one of the special “I’m” emoticons in your display name, you can help them out. In the 5 months so far over $35,000 has been raised, which is a pretty good total considering that only users in the US are able to raise money. However as each of the ten charities is guaranteed to received $100,000 at the end of the first year, this potentially leaves Microsoft another $900,000 or so to meet (based on the current rates).

So what else is in it for Microsoft that makes it worth paying this much? The gain is not only the brand benefits associated with charity giving, but service benefits too. The effect this charity program has had on the number of US Messenger users since it started is somewhat surprising – up almost 25%. While the release of Windows Live Messenger 8.1 may have contributed in part to this (it was launched at the end of Janary), the image below compares the Windows Live growth against the average Yahoo!, AIM and AOL growth for the same period, and shows just how good a performance this has been.

(Image provided by Microsoft with numbers in thousands of unique users coming from ComScore)

No obvious explanation was available for the April figures, however the growth trend for this month is similar for both Windows Live Messenger and the other IM services. So if charity giving can work for instant messaging, maybe it can work for Search too. Microsoft tried it before with the “click4thecause” program, however this suggests they should give it another go and take it completely mainstream.