Thursday, August 26, 2010

Twitter ROI

Yesterday I watched Cision's webinar on Social Media ROI. I guess webinars act as an all-singing all-dancing white paper, promoting thought leadership whilst simultaneously advertising your wares in a more interactive way (there was a Q & A session at the end). Happily, Cision didn't go for the hard-sell, and it was actually pretty informative.

The comments about Twitter were particularly useful. It seems the number of Twitter followers you have has fast become synonymous with the number of Facebook friends you had at uni; breaking through that all important 1000 threshold might make you look popular online, but confirmed 200 “Attendees” on your 21st birthday Facebook event doesn't remotely translate to 200 of your nearest and dearest incarnate on the day (luckily, as my card was behind the bar).

The same goes in the Twittersphere and corporate accounts. It doesn't actually matter how many Twitter followers your company's account has, as a high number of Twitter followers does not necessarily equal a higher number of X sold (subscriptions in our case).

I guess it depends how a company chooses to use Twitter, and who it is they are targeting.Twitter can definitely be used as an effective B2C tool for customer services. It's somehow comforting to think there's a human responding from the vast faceless corporation that is @Starbucks. I think this is great, and if our subscribers chose to tweet us a problem rather than email, we'd be sure to respond (although providing detailed technical support in 140 characters would be a challenge).

Since taking over the Twitter account, however, I quickly realised that, for Exact Editions at least, it's much more effective as a B2B marketing channel than B2C. We provide a platform for 100s of magazines, and we can see that, say, Jazzwise fans aren't going to talk jazz in a forum of thousands of subscribers to different titles; it'd fall on deaf ears, and social media is supposed to be, well, social, not a monologue.

Therefore, our subscribers choose to ask about the subjects relevant to their magazines on the magazine's individual Twitter accounts, and this leaves @exacteditions free to tweet about the things we understand best - digital publishing news, Exact Editions technological updates, blog post alerts etc. Putting out a search for our company name from Tweetdeck has already yielded a few leads from publishers interested in digital editions and iPad apps and we hope to continue in this vein. As the Cision chap pointed out:

Retweet frequency > Twitter followers (154, since you're asking)

And this is a much more accurate KPI – we know we're on the right tracks when others in the profession are engaging with our views and perpetuating them, adding to them, refuting them, and generally causing that all important “Buzz” or “Chatter”, that leads people back to to work with us.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Apple iTV -- A Big Change?

Kevin Rose (founder of Digg) has a well-informed, short blog on the prospects of Apple's iTV, which he suggests will be announced in September. According to Rose:

The rumor: Apple will be releasing a revamped/renamed version of their 'Apple TV' set-top box, called 'iTV'. The box will run the Apple iOS (same as the iPhone/iPad), and be priced around $99.
(Kevin Rose Why Apple's iTV Will Change Everything).

The only quarrel that I have with Rose's piece is his headline. So far from changing everything, my bet is that this is just one more 'chock stone' in the more or less impregnable media arch that Apple is building. It changes very little and will probably be as successful as Apple's other recent innovations, because they are all moving in the same direction. Its an obvious gap in their media line-up: having a market for film, audio, books, magazines, newspapers and now TV will make the Apple constellation (iPhone, iPad, iTouch and iTV) an incredibly tough proposition for any head-on competitor, Sony, Google, Microsoft, HP etc.

Apple will be even harder to overtake when they have planted the idea that your iPad, or your iPhone is the default remote control for the family TV. One can also guarantee that they will evade the charge of monopoly by making sure that the iTV platform is 'semi-open'. TV companies will be able to sell programs, through iTunes, but channels will also run on the hardware and nobody will be obliged to put stuff in iTunes..... its just that if you don't do that you will be missing a major market opportunity. Apple will also control the consumer data and jealously protect the 'privacy' of viewers information requirements/habits. The TV consumer electronics companies will suddenly realise that a lot of the value they capture has migrated to the lowly, and hitherto neglected, remote control. No need for touch screen TVs if the control is touch screen. Nielsen will lose its pre-eminence in measuring audience and ratings. And the TV network and cable companies will suddenly realise that a great deal of leverage over their output has magically gone over to the touch sensitive iPad/iTV device, which is the switch to their conduits. Apple disintermediates most of the big players by inserting their iDevice in the space between the layers of hardware and program. Who else gains from this disruptive innovation? Consumers of course, and the program producers and independent production companies. That is the way disintermediation works.

TV companies may be appalled by this prospect, but all other media organizations will understand that this innovation gives them just another very strong reason to get their apps on to the iPad/iPhone platform.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Nick Bilton's Grammatical Clanger

Nick Bilton who blogs for the New York Times has dropped and smashed the front of his Apple-loaned iPhone 4. Here it is a complete, fragmentary, mess.

I thought it would work beautifully until I dropped my iPhone on the concrete on Tuesday evening. The phone’s glass became a Humpty Dumpty look-a-like.

I’m still trying to figure out whose fault it was? Of course, I’m mostly to blame for being clumsy and dropping the phone. But is it also Apple’s fault for creating a gadget that breaks so easily? Electronics Designers Struggle With Form, Function and Obsolescence

Musing on this mini-disaster leads Nick to consider that perhaps the requirement that electronic devices should look and feel uber-slick has led Apple's designers to sacrifice function for form and to build objects which are insufficiently robust.

Jason Brush, executive vice president of user experience design for Schematic, a branding and design agency, noted in an interview that the fragility of electronics today might not lay in the form and function debate, but rather that gadgets are not meant to be long lasting.

“If you purchased a Leica Camera a hundred years ago it would still work today. It was bullet proof,” he said, “But electronics today are not built with permanence in mind.”

Mr. Brush said that electronics are now built as fashionable objects that serve a functional purpose. “When things are made to look beautiful versus being designed to last for 100 years, the products form can look vastly different,” he said. (NYT)

Clearly Mr. Brush is on to something here. iPhones are not built to last the way that Leica phones are, or were. But surely Jason Brush and Nick Bilton are missing the key point with this criticism? Apple's devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch etc) are obviously not built to last, they will be improved upon very soon; more germanely they are not built to be objects in the sense in which the Leica was an object. The Leica camera is a specific functional tool with which quite specific and well-framed tasks would be performed in a professional manner. Nick Bilton has committed what philosophers like to call a 'category mistake'. He has mistaken the iPhone for a Leica-like object when it is clearly an adverbial-appendage. The iPhone and the iPad are not truly objects, they are adverbs. They are only parenthetically about taking pictures, they are mainly about doing all kinds of stuff, much of which you hadn't even considered to be do-able in that way, or at that remove. They are multi-purpose mediators through which the web and the internet interacts with the user. It is moot whether they are appendages to us, or appendages to the web through which stuff now happens. The creative process is now all about the web (subject) doing (verb) to us (object) in a certain way -- perhaps most stylishly in the Apple way. The iPad is, by some distance, the most adverbial of the range of devices that Apple has produced. That it is a range of devices, each of them invoking their own adverbs, and hard to copy or emulate is the key Apple's 'defensive' stance in relation to Android and other competitors. Any company that wants to compete with Apple now has to do some deep syntactic analysis. The adverbial genius of the iPad is that it has redefined and clarified the adverb 'gorgeously', 'stunningly', 'veridically' or 'lazily' in the way that we interact with the web. The genius of the new iPhone is that it has appropriated the adverbs 'instantly', 'face time' (which in spite of sounding like a process, is on its way to becoming an adverb characterizing conversation), 'unintentionally' and 'magically' to the previously more or less routine but increasingly mobile business of using a telephone.

So, Nick Bilton really should not worry about breaking an object (especially since it is one that had been loaned to him by Apple, 'generously'). He has lost an object but gained access to a range of adverbial devices each with unique performance envelopes through which he can interact with the web in the way that Apple envisages smart journalists now need to do that. Guiltlessly and perhaps carelessly. Hold on for the iPad nano, Nick.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Apps and Print Subscriptions

Digital editions aren't necessarily an alternative to print editions - in many ways they're complementary. Lots of print subscribers like to be able to search a publication's archive or read the latest issue in the most convenient format at that moment, whether that's an iPad app in a coffee shop or a waterproof (perhaps slightly damp) paper edition in the bath.

We've long encouraged this kind of "combined" subscription by allowing publishers to offer their print subscribers access to the online edition. All the publisher needed to do was collect the subscriber's email address, enter it into our system and we'd set them up with a year's online subscription.

The difficulty with this arrangement has always been keeping the digital access in sync with the print sub, so that renewing one extends the other (and cancellations are honoured). Keeping track of the two subscriptions manually can become a pain.

This is why we were excited last week to introduce our new Agency Subscription arrangement. This automates the online subscription handling, so publishers can offer all their print subscribers automatic access to the digital edition on the web and via a branded iPad app.

The key to this has been to integrate with the magazine's print subscription agency. They were able to offer us a very convenient gateway for checking subscription details, so our servers can talk to theirs to check whether a print subscription is still running.

Instead of the publisher re-entering subscription data on our systems, the subscribers themselves can claim their free online subscription via a web form. In the background we check the subscriber number against the agency's gateway and set up a new digital subscription. Our servers periodically re-check the credentials to keep the digital access in sync with the print subscription.

The system's now been running for a few days and we've seen encouraging take-up from print subscribers. We hope to repeat this with other titles over the next few months.