When Artists Take the Wheel And Embrace Innovation…. Singer Lily Allen on “Twitter Hunt”

May 6, 2009

The following is a guest post by Christie LaBarca.  Christie is an avid music fan.  She attends Hunter College in NYC and hopes to one day work as a lawyer in the music and entertainment industry.

It’s no secret that the music industry has been highly resistant towards technology.   We all know that if record companies spent as much time embracing the internet as they did fighting it, they would be in a lot better shape than they are right now.  It’s not just about the piracy and the p2p networks, but also about communication methods.  Music artists and fans can now connect in a way that was not possible before.  Social media networks are the key.  Facebook, MySpace, Twitter….they allow a reciprocal relationship between the artist and the fan.

1760769-1British singer Lily Allen is a prime example. Through MySpace, the singer successfully established herself to an audience that might not have heard her music otherwise.   In fact, when she was first signed to her record label, they had other priorities.  They were catering to Coldplay and other big named artists.  Meanwhile Allen was busy setting up her MySpace account and posting the demos she created with the little money the label gave to her.  MySpace users quickly caught onto her music and before a few months she developed a fan base.  By keeping in contact with fans and responding to them regularly, this fan base grew even larger.   This, obviously, caught the attention of her label.   Her fan base was already established.

Allen has continued to use social networks to connect with fans and generate buzz.   During her U.S. tour, that ended two weeks ago, she organized scavenger hunts via Twitter.  Before each show she hid three pairs of tickets in the vicinity of the venue she was playing.  She sent clues out on Twitter, which allowed fans to access the clues from the mobile phone and quickly attempt to figure out where the tickets were hidden.   The clues were written mostly in clever riddles that would be familiar to locals.  Clearly, the singer did her research for each city….for Washington DC, one of the clues was, “A gate made of water, but where will we fix em? A bed made of flowers where they f***ed it for nixon .”

In Los Angeles, Allen hung two on a tree tickets outside of Victoria’s Secret at the Grove.  As soon as she posted the tweet, a guy walking by on his iPhone stopped in his tracks and looked up at her.  He asked when she wrote it, and she responded “thirty-seconds ago.” This type of endeavor is really something unique that artists were unable to do before.  Fan interaction has been taken to an entire new level due to social media and this is essential for artists.  Music isn’t selling as well as it used to, now music fans are looking for more than the music itself, they are looking for an experience, and this is how the music industry will make money in the future.

How did the Twitter Hunt help Lily Allen? It’s responsive.  It got people talking, it got her fans talking…word of mouth is the strongest promotion anyone can ask for.  Every audience member at her shows knew about her ongoing Twitter Hunt.  Everyone wanted to be a part of it. They all sat glued to their phones waiting to see what the next clue was, even if they already got tickets, waiting to see if they would get a Twitter response.  She kept people interested.  She kept her fans interested, all by being responsive and engaging in technology.

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Dear Facebook: Don’t Listen to Us(ers)

March 23, 2009

markzA big deal is currently being made about the recent redesign of Facebook.  You can read about it anywhere, see it in a new Facebook poll, or check it out for yourself.  It’s the same old story from the same people about the same problems, blah, blah, blah.

In the most recent round of design changes, Facebook changed the Homepage, made company pages more like profile pages, and made some minor font and layout changes on the profiles.  All of these changes were announced ahead of time, and users were updated as the changes came closer.  And then it happened, the changes took effect, and people got angry.

This is nothing new in Mark Zuckerberg’s world. In fact, nearly every time Facebook has changed something about the website they have encountered a backlash from their own community.  And when you serve as many people as the most popular social network does, you would almost expect it.

The crazy thing is, the backlash is usually followed by an explanation from Zuckerberg himself, but no real change (or a very small one), never going back to the way things were before the change.  And what happens to the people who hated the changes?  They just accept things the way they are.  Why? Basically because they are already so hooked as a Facebook user that they will shut their mouths and continue to use the network anyway.

I have a feeling Mark Zuckerberg knows this, and he uses it to his advantage.  Whereas other companies who may shake things up when this many users complain about a new program or design, Facebook seems to be sitting back and waiting for the latest round of craziness to pass.  And I think that is exactly what they should be doing.

Remember when Facebook changed their homepage the first time, adding the news feed that everyone is talking about.  For the first time as users, we were privy to a constant stream of updates from all of our friends.  Remember the backlash that created among the community.  What happened?  People threatened to leave Facebook forever, Mark Zuckerberg issued an apology for springing this on us without telling us before hand, updated a few privacy features, and left the news feed exactly as it was.  Those who fought back against it eventually stopped talking, accepted the change, and moved on.

This is will no doubt happen again with this design change.

In addition, this round of changes increases the value that Facebook has to corporate members and paid sponsors.  By updating these pages and feeding them into the profile-like stream, they allow companies to connect with more people on the network, increasing the chances of Facebook finding new and successful business models.

So when I say that Zuckerberg, and the rest of the team at Facebook, should not listen to the naysayers on this one, I mean it.  Just keep doing what you are doing, focus on improving the service and finding a monetization strategy (one that works), and let us complain all day.

I know this might sound odd coming from someone who discusses the need for companies to listen to their customers to drive forward moving and successful change.  And I also know that many people will disagree with this.  But the point is, Facebook is in a different league.  They are not defined by what their users think because their users have already shown how fickle they are.  No one is going to leave the network because of these design changes, Facebook will not lose any money, and truthfully, the service is not worse.  Sorry guys, Facebook wins.

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Sell Advertising to Support Innovative Growth

December 3, 2008

untitled-1Social Networks and many other free online services are trying to do it, and so can you.  Making money off advertisements is the hot revenue model of the day.  But is it effective?  That remains to be seen.  For some it has worked, for some it has failed.  Google AdWords does the job, Facebook does not.

But selling advertising to make money is not a new phenomenon restricted to the web, it has been the main source of revenue from many other media outlets such as television.  And it seems that almost everywhere we look, our eyes are bombarded by non-stop ads.  And we have to get used to it, if we haven’t already, because that trend is only going to rise.

For anyone running, or thinking of starting a business, you can use this strategy to achieve success, but do it creatively.  The inspiration for this post was this story on CNN about a teacher selling advertising on his tests to make up for a low school budget.  You can view this in a few different ways, but I see it as an innovative way to do business.  Even in a school setting, the ads are catered to the students without being distracting or obscene.  And it allows the teach to raise a little money to pay for classroom supplies and activities.

The keys to selling advertising, no matter how innovative it is, are three-fold.  First, you need to know your audience.  Ads that will do best are those that are catered to the people that will be seeing them, and most likely to respond to them.  The more defined your audience, the more money you can make from the ads (Google exemplifies this with AdWords).

Second, the reason ads work best online is because there are ways to track their exposure and use.  Someone clicks on an ad, the advertiser sees that, and can judge for themselves whether that ad is paying off.  Offline, this is harder to read.  Specializing these ads with certain promotional codes to use, contests to enter, or url’s to visit can help.  Be creative.

And finally, you need to sell.  This is the most important element, though it may be the most obvious.  Many people decide that they want to sell advertising, but forget that they have to commit the resources to actually contacting potential advertisers and selling them on the idea.  This can be a long process and can be expensive at first.  The more knowledge you have, and the more information you can give to advertisers, the better off you will be.

So if you are just starting a business, or running a business that has hit some tough times, look to advertising.  Who can you advertise to?  Where can you advertise the most effectively?  If you offer your product or services for free, will the advertising dollars make up for the lost revenue?  Think about.

P.S. I didn’t even pay for this post, but I am able to offer it to you for free.  Why?  Advertising!

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Innovative Business Masterminds

November 25, 2008

inovasi_4When you’re ready to stop talking innovation, and start doing it…

IBM basically stole their tagline from my blog, but I’m not complaining.  They could have thrown a little credit my way, but I don’t expect it.  Why this blog is not part of IBM’s group of blogs is beyond me.

Innovative Business Masterminds.  It’s not what IBM stands for, but it might as well be.  And by masterminds, I mean both the actual machines that they produce, but also the systems they have in place, and the people behind the scenes.  IBM is a brilliant company that supports the success and development of many other companies.  As they rise, we rise.

Between the research that they do, the computer systems and data technology that they produce, and the corporate technology consulting business, IBM has long established their place in the world economy.  And now, IBM is taking action in an area that is of interest to me.

Project Blue Spruce is a new collaboration platform that IBM is currently working on as part of a move into online collaboration and social networking.  The goal is to set up an easy to use platform for anyone to meet and collaborate online.  Differing from existing web based platforms, this will be a completely shared environment that you can access with a server and a browser.  You’ll be able to download and share all tools and capabilities associated with the space, and work with people anywhere in the world.

This fits in with their plan to develop social networking tools for business that they announced earlier this year.  This shift is one that is both necessary, and brilliant.  IBM will originally use their social network developments to interact within the company, their partners, and their customers.  This will give them a real life testing agent, as well as help them collaborate to make new systems more useful and intuitive.

I am a huge proponent of collaborative work.  In my opinion, working with others is the best way to develop truly innovative and new ideas.  And social media has taken us into an era where online collaboration is easier than ever before.  As internet access continues to open up to the masses, and physical distance becomes irrelevant, technologies like this will allow us to do anything we want to do.  The future is one of mass innovation, collaboration, and change.  And IBM is helping to take us there.

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Separation of Products and Communities (part 2)

October 22, 2008

This is a follow up to my previous post on companies using web 2.0 technologies to add value to their brands.

The question to ask yourself when developing your online communities, how much do you separate the product from the “society“?  Do you have to be a customer to join the group?  Do you have to pay a subscription to join the conversation?  And how much control do you take to manage the way the network works?

The answer will be different for everyone.  There are multiple ways to do it right.  But at the same time, there are multiple ways to do it wrong.

Rule #1 – Too much control is always a bad thing.  Control, for certain companies, may be important.  But it will almost always kill a social network or community.  The great thing about the major networks is the freedom that people have to do whatever they want and talk about whatever they want.  They find people with things in common, and they network.  Now with your company, the common bond may be the fact that they love your products, but you have to let them do what they want with it, or you will chase some users away.

Rule #2 – Whenever possible, separate participation from spending money.  Make the community free, an add-on to your services.  Maybe they have to be a member of your website, but let them do it at no cost.  And do not try to sell them on anything as part of the network.  Give them stuff to talk about, reward them with options.  But if you push them, they will run.

Rule #3 – Listen.  Instead of controlling what they say and what they talk about, just pay attention to it.  You can learn a lot about your customers by just letting them interact with each other.  Use the information to better structure your marketing and your product offerings.  It will make a difference.

Rule #4– Let them spread the word.  Seth Godin talks about ideas the spread.  Give them great products and services, let them talk about it, and give them the microphone and the power to spread your message.  Soon you will find that you have created a free marketing tool.

Innovating the way your customers interact with other customers as well as your company is a natural path to growth and development.

Separation of Products and Communities (part 1)

October 20, 2008

The Web 2.0 world that we live in has made it popular and fashionable to create communities online.  The onset of social networking platforms like MySpace, YouTube and Facebook have made connecting people online easier than ever.  And now, companies that sell products, either online or off, have found that it may make sense to create their own communities of people online.

Now, the process can be done in multiple ways.  You can create a group within a larger, established community.  You can create your own community using a platform like Ning.com.  Or you can build something from scratch and put it right on your own website.  There are positives and negatives that come with all of these options, but they will all lead you down the right path.

The question then becomes how to use them, and whether or not to control them.  Seth Godin points out that many times, when companies try to have “the best of both worlds”, most often they end up with nothing.  It is important that you have a clear focus for what this community will be all about.  Will it be a place for your customers to discuss products?  Will you use a Facebook group to promote new products?  Will you host online services through this network?  What is the goal, and what value is it adding for your customers?  Sometimes too much control can take away from the value that a community will have for both you and your users.

In my opinion, any company can make use of Web 2.0 technologies to add value to your brand.  The most popular companies have used them to generate feedback through direct and indirect conversations with customers.  Blogs, wikis, even discussion boards (though ancient) have all given users a voice.  And social networks make their voices even louder, as they interact with each other and the company at the same time.

This is a real strategy that can help your company grow and develop.  But don’t take it lightly.  Put in the time and effort (and money) to do it right.  A well executed networking strategy will help you create better products, deliver a clear message to the public, generate online buzz and word of mouth marketing, and so on and so forth.

More on this to come…