Faulkner’s quote strikes a core tenet of his work: the love/hate relationship he had with his homeland. The American South shaped his writing, but he disdained many of the cultural norms that dominated it. To understand how the music industry’s future with mobile (the future of the internet), our goal here, we need to understand the industry’s past (in a truncated version here). Since the consumerism of the internet in the 90s, the music industry has had the same love/hate relationship with the internet that Faulkner had with the South. Music sharing (starting most notably with Napster) destroyed the industry, forcing artists to come up with new ways to monetize their work and interact with audiences. Instead of making money through selling songs and albums, they had to find another way through selling content, merchandise, and concerts.
“The internet is evil!”
While they were mad, Musicians didn’t boycott the internet because they realized it could be used to accomplish their most important goal: promoting their work to the broadest audience possible. With this singular goal, artists adopted MySpace (or My_) first, trendsetting for the social networking future. Musicians put their time, budget, and effort into creating and crafting a MySpace audience. They finally saw a path to monetization and fan interaction through social media marketing.
Then the rug was pulled from beneath them. MySpace’s “sudden” crash left artists facing hundreds of hours lost, marketing budgets wasted, and an uncertain future. As their fans moved to Twitter and Facebook, musicians, with a very sour social media taste in their mouth moved as well. However, the memory of MySpace has some musicians nervous to sink too much money into social media marketing. Many musicians prefer Twitter, expressing anger that Facebook is now “charging them to talk to their own fans” via promoted posts. Beyond the two most popular social networks, musicians have thought of another way to monetize themselves, exclusive content. Many musicians have built their own paywall websites where fans are asked to pay $40/year (for example) and are given exclusive media content (songs, videos etc) first. This has had some success, but due to the instant dissemination of information, it is a tough model to uphold. Musicians recognize that the future is mobile, especially when it comes to live events like concerts. The first wave of artists have attacked mobile, but there haven’t been any notable success stories. What is the best way for musicians to use mobile to promote their work while avoiding being redundant with existing marketing channels and to make some freakin’ money?
Consistently trying to gain the edge in promotions, musicians have taken the exclusive content approach to mobile with their own mobile apps. To encourage fans to download and use the app, musicians promise exclusive mobile content, above and beyond what a fan will get on Facebook and Twitter.
With their mobile apps, musicians control the content and advertise in a targeted way while owning the data. There are (of course) best practices and pitfalls to avoid with an artist app. The apps should provide fans with a truly mobile experience, not just a website crammed into a smaller screen. The app should heavily emphasize photos and fan created content. The ability to connect fans will be a key decider of whether a musician can make their mobile app a desirable addition to their offerings on other social media platforms. If there is not an increased utility to the user, then the musician’s app will just be a place for power users who already own all the merchandise, music, and follow the musician on all their social media platforms. By connecting fans, musicians enable power users to influence lesser fans (or people who aren’t fans at all) into going to concerts and buying songs/videos/merchandise. In other words, an app can help accelerate the word of mouth process that musicians need to become popular. The musician needs to connect fans by focusing on interaction at the core of the app, not just a side bar like a “wall”. It sends a message to fans that they are appreciated, who doesn’t love that and increases the percentage of “engagement” acts in the app (vs. browsing acts). Musicians and their apps should allow fans to submit their own content, whether it is photos from concerts or video covers of the musician’s song. This can be a great way to provide exclusive fan created content, while keeping your fans consistently engaged, lessening the load on the musician’s brand manager for new content, and creating a greater attachment to the musician.
Finally, the musician needs to find a way to monetize the app. They should not charge a fee to download the app as it will stifle adoption and ultimately undermine the overall monetization. Mobile advertising is still a nascent industry, but musicians will have access to valuable user information, but more importantly, valuable user preferences. A fan of Britney Spears is more likely to purchase eye shadow than a fan ofSlipknotMotley CrueDMX. A musician should form partnerships with like minded brands and not only put small advertisements on their app (there are many ways to do this, but I can’t give away all my secrets), but also strategically use push notifications. Push notifications have (more or less) 100% visibility and when used intelligently (don’t overwhelm the user!) are very valuable for brands. For example, if a musician partners with Denny’s, then a push notification at 10am on a Saturday with a deal will be a great way for Denny’s to get the musician’s fans to go to brunch, while making the musician money (plus I could use a coupon to Denny’s). There is also the ability to entice fans to pay for exclusive content created for the app. Musicians can charge an annual membership fee to access certain conversations, videos, photos from the artist (similar to what musicians do for websites). However, this is only interesting for power fans, what about the rest of them? Musicians can take the concept of in-game purchases, which has served mobile gaming companies like Zynga well, and apply them to their mobile app. Want to have a live chat with the musician? Pay $1 and have access to the live chat group. Want to receive a birthday wish from the musician? Pay another dollar. This is a preferred method because it can be applied to all fans (not just the power fans) and adds up quickly. Beyond specific mobile features, a musician can sell merchandise, tickets, and songs through their mobile app, forcing those who want to purchase these products to download the app.
In the end it’s all about the fans. Create a great mobile experience for fans that isn’t redundant with the rest of your social media and you shall have your award. The music industry has had a checkered past with the internet, but have shown a willingness to be first adopters of marketing technology. Mobile presents a great opportunity for musicians and don’t worry musicians, mobile is here to stay.
“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore. ” ― William Faulkner”
Patrick from Talkwheel
In 2006-2007 I studied abroad in London and during my Spring Break, I backpacked around Europe. This was very much backpacking in that I lived out of a small backpack and slept in grimy hostels, at best. On one such trip in November (it was 35 degrees with high winds), my friend and I found ourselves in the vacation town of Lindau, Germany (where Switzerland and Germany meet). It was a vacation town similar to Cape Cod in the US, great during the summer, miserably cold and deserted the rest of the year. We arrived at 9 pm, having not shaven for a couple weeks, looking for a place to sleep for the night. We found that all the hostels and hotels were closed for the season/night (I have since gotten slightly better at planning). We knew we were sleeping in the streets that night and used our savvy intellect to use a nearby dumpster and a block corner to protect us from the wind (pathetic drawing below).
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the opening to a train station where an older German gentlemen was closing the fence to the station. I ran over there and in my best slow-English, pointed at the ground and asked if we could sleep there. The gentlemen smiled, clearly not speaking a lick of English, pointed to the floor in the station and let us in.
I was reminded of this story as I walked by Techcrunch Disrupt and thought about the progress Talkwheel has made with over 350 brands using our web app (up from two just two months ago) to the launch of our mobile app for Android and iPhone/iPad. At Techcrunch Disrupt, Founders and CEOs were honored and investors received kudos (that’s still a word right?) for their acumen and advisory. However, as anyone who has built a startup (successful or not) knows, there are so many people behind the scenes who help you out. See, we think of the startup world/capitalism/business in general as a cut throat competition, and to some degree it is, but there is another side of it, where people who have no stake in seeing you succeed, help you out. In effort to show our appreciation, I wanted to call attention to their good deeds now.
As a startup, you are constantly looking for people to share your idea with, so you reach out to anyone and everyone. You cold email, cold call, cold pitch at the bar…. everyone. And people, even those who could one day be competitors, will kindly listen (not everyone, but that’s for another post by someone else. If humanity was a stock, we’d be buying it). They give advice, offer to introduce you to people in their network, and tell you about their experiences. Let me reiterate, these are people, who have never met us, have no financial stake in seeing us succeed (and in strict Randian philosophy, have a disincentive in seeing us succeed) yet are giving absolutely strangers 30-60 minutes of their time, about something that could be a waste. Declaration of Independence signer, John Randolph (no relation, I checked) once said “Time is at once the most valuable and the most perishable of all our possessions.” These people who give us time, don’t have any to spare. We have gotten time with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, founders of famous startups, sole proprietors, down to newly minted account executives at a PR firm. Without rhyme or reason, these individuals have shown kindness, by sharing their most valuable asset with us. And for that, we want to thank them and hope one day we can pay it forward.
This lesson isn’t just for startups, but for professional life in general. I am constantly in awe of people who will listen to random brainstorming sessions and give their thoughts. The point of this is to shed some light on the many people who lend their time and mental capacity to strangers without getting their just appreciation. While capitalism/entrepreneurship/professional success is “based” on competition, there is a lot to be gained from collaboration.
Patrick Randolph from Talkwheel
Talkwheel is proud to announce our awesome new mobile app for Android and iPhone/iPad. Our goal is to create a place where users can come together and discuss topics they are passionate about. Unlike most mobile forums, Talkwheel puts an emphasis on visual (because who made the rule that forums had to be ugly) and relevance, making sure that users can find what they want easily.
We have had amazing success with our Talkwheel web app bringing customers and brands together in interactive conversations. In fact, over 300 brands with over 3 million fans are using Talkwheel on their Facebook pages. What are the results you ask? On average, Talkwheel is increasing their fan engagement 80+% vs. Facebook Walls. We are excited to give brands the ability to create a single place that unifies conversations and fosters friction-less consumer engagement.
We are offering brands the opportunity to get a customized mobile engagement app built around the Talkwheel platform for Android and iOS, an HTML5 mobilize web optimized site, and a group in our main Talkwheel app. We wanted to show you an example of a customized app that we mocked up for President Barack Obama, to give you an idea how you can own your app and engage with your fans on a whole new level.
The Groups Tab
You control what different types of conversations users see and have.
We show the most relevant topics at the top so your users can get involved quicker.
Submit a Comment
Users can add photos to share what they are doing and the whole app is branded with your look and feel.
We can even add different tabs filled with other information you think your customers want to know like schedules, background info, and deals.
The Talkwheel Guys
I spend more time staring down at my phone then anyone I know because I’m obsessed with news information. I flip through Flipboard, scroll through Twitter, and observe hot stories on G+ (I’m a sucker for an underdog). But staring at your phone is an isolating activity. Before I got the iPhone (something I fought for a while) I would badger any friend who was with me to put their phone away to the point of obnoxiousness.
This isn’t a new revelation, people have been writing about the ironic truth; that smartphones, which help us become more connected, make us personally distant. But at Talkwheel, where connectivity is kinda our mantra, this is not ok. We can’t ban cell phones (how else would our CEO Jeff Harris find his way around SF), but we can make them more engaging.
With that in mind, we are working vigoursly and will be launching our mobile app at the end of this month. The Talkwheel mobile app will serve as a mobile forum where you can talk with your friends, congregate around topics you love (politics, dogs, and the football) with people you love them too. Unlike other forum apps, Talkwheel will be gorgeous (when did it become a rule that to be a forum you had to be ugly?). What I said isn’t entirely true. Being connected via mobile isn’t truly being connected, that’s why all Talkwheel conversations will also be available on our web app as well. Say for example you are talking in one of our groups with fellow beagle lovers on your way to work. You know your boss will be angry if you pull out the smartphone at work (unless you work at Twitter or Apple), so you go to social.talkwheel.com and continue the conversation with your fellow simpatico souls from your desktop. One conversation, all devices. We thought we’d tease with you with a couple photos of our gorgeous app in development (yes the app is for iOS and Android!). Excited to let you use it soon!
Patrick and the Talkwheel Guys
Note: This is a guest post from Nick Kavanagh, marketing/sales intern at Talkwheel on his summer with us. If you hate his writing send your hate mail to…
Being from what I half-jokingly refer to as ‘a small mountain village’ in Idaho, I felt dwarfed by the skyscrapers rearing up around me on the route to my office in the Financial District. It was the first day my fellow interns and I were to report in to the office, and everyone was excited. This was day one of my tenure at a Silicon Valley startup, and I couldn’t have been more keyed up.
Catching the baseball casually in one hand, the Vice President of Business of my company said, “Yep, and because of that, LinkedIn bought Rapportive for something between $10 and $15 mil,” before zipping the ball at me from behind his back. I caught it, marveling at what was happening. How many companies are there where an intern can have a casual conversation with an executive while tossing a baseball back and forth in the office?
After our game of catch, we went to a local Mexican restaurant and ordered marinated grilled steak burritos to go. I had downloaded a new mobile credit card application to my phone that gave me $10 of credit at this restaurant, essentially making the delicious meal free. That was my first real experience with the culture of the Bay Area: things start here. Companies like Google and Twitter were founded here, amongst hundreds of others. That hot mobile app that’s going to be on 9 smart phones out of 10 in a few years? Chances are it will be from here.
My usual archetype of going out to eat was now punctuated by things like “Download GoPago and get $5 credit,” and “Download LevelUp and get $2 off at X, Y, and Z restaurants!” If these startup companies are successful in the long run, I’ll be seeing them at school in St. Louis in a few years. But until then, they are part of the unique experience of living in the Bay Area.
We took our food up to the rooftop of our office building and started eating. The warm sunshine and great food set the mood, and we started to get to know each other while the skyscrapers of the financial district looked on.
Fast-forward 7 weeks.
More has transpired in the last month and a half than I could put down on paper: coming to work every day for a new assignment; gaining expertise in business areas I was previously unaware of; being trusted with developing a mobile customer acquisition strategy; seeing different parts of the city every day… There’s no real way to do it justice. The feeling of being in a small business first as an outsider, but then gradually growing closer to the business as time goes on is indescribable. That’s the beauty of a smaller business- I know everyone I work with so well that it feels like we’re family. I think this is primarily due to how comfortable I feel within the structure of the company.
Small businesses and startups really reinforce this concept. It’s a reflection of the American Dream in micro- anyone can make it if they put in the effort. I’m trusted with important projects, and if I do well then I’m rewarded. Inside my office, it’s a level playing field. I can shout out to any of my bosses at any time, my fellow interns and I are encouraged to come in and chat about our projects or life in general, and we all go out together on weekends. This really generates a tight-knit group of people that is more than the sum of its parts. The result is a much more innovative team, one that comes up with a phenomenal idea like GoPago or LevelUp.
This sense of unity is something that companies like Google are known for: they provide delicious and healthy food, workout rooms, massages, team sports, etc. for their employees to catalyze it. Google and other Bay Area companies that have strived to cultivate employees growing close to their businesses have seen resounding success. This extra effort is San Francisco’s stamp on its businesses: I feel like I could tell with decent accuracy if a company was from San Francisco based on how enthusiastic the average employee was about the business.
It will be sad leaving here at the end of the summer to go back to school. San Francisco is unlike any place I’ve spent time in, and its distinct personality has really grown on me and changed me for the better. One thing is for sure though: I know that when I come back to the Bay Area, I’ll have family here.
Nick from Talkwheel
A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. - Truman Capote
Two years ago, everyone from brands to social media “experts” were preaching the importance of gathering Facebook Likes. Many brands (both big and small) went out and bought Likes or issued one-off rewards for Liking their page (via game partnerships, product giveaways etc). Now, the consensus seems to be that Likes aren’t enough, but rather brands need to engage their Facebook fans via comments, displaying interaction. With the rise of Facebook stats on “Talking about this”, “Reach” and “Impressions”, brands have become more cognizant that they need comments in order to reach the friends of those who liked them and broaden their audience. That is because Facebook’s Edge Rank, which determines what appears in a user’s News Feed weighs comments as 4X more important than Likes.
This is a paradigm shift in the way brand pages are managed and analyzed. Brands consistently talk about ways to boost engagement (something we’ve tackled before). What they inherently mean is not one-off engagement (ex. a Like), but continuous engagement through fan conversation. Some larger brands (with larger marketing budgets) are tackling the problem of needing comments to appear in the News Feed with money, particularly sponsored stories.
Unfortunately this isn’t an option for everyone. The most important thing to do is recognize this paradigm shift from one-off engagement to continuous engagement. Accruing Likes is important, but think of it like a website: Getting traffic is always good, but coupled with a high bounce rate this traffic is almost meaningless Your levels of continuous engagement are what determine your Facebook brand page’s “bounce rate”.
So advice? Answer questions, give the consumer “brand equity”, write content that encourages/sparks conversation, and post pictures of puppies/cats. Don’t make posts that are only designed to accrue Likes. For example, if you are a pool company, don’t write a post that says “Like this post if you are swimming in a pool this summer.” It demeans your customers and makes your brand look desperate. Do write posts like “What’s the most effective way you’ve found to keep your kids protected from your pool?” Another idea, is to offer expertise in comments (like Nike does with those who like Nike Running) that increase the utility that a follower has and can continue to push conversation. This encourages conversation, hits on a point that is near and dear to people’s hearts, and is valuable for your brand (most of all you aren’t pandering). Traditional advertising’s goal was to get the person to try the product once, in social media, one must push the user to engage frequently.
Patrick from Talkwheel
“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own.” - Henry Ford
A couple nights ago at a phenomenal 800birds event in Palo Alto, we listened to the Director of New Media at Men’s Wearhouse (if you haven’t seen their brilliant new campaign here it is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSKRZPB-Nck, but I digress). Many startups have two main business models (a bit of a simplification): Either they focus on direct sales to larger brands/enterprises or they focus on selling mainly to small/medium businesses. The former requires an experienced enterprise sales team, has long sales cycles, and (when successful) features large deal size. The latter requires high volume, upselling, and account executives. I wanted to share what I got from the Director of New Media’s speech that I think can be valuable for other startups selling to big brands.
1) Know who you’re pitching: I’ve heard this lesson in every list on everything, but not on such a deep level. For example, Men’s Wearhouse’s customers are not frequent buyers (you don’t buy a suit weekly…you do?…ok well we are not that well dressed, Jeff doesn’t even own a suit).This makes Men’s Wearhouse much different than, say, an H&M where purchases are made more frequently. This will impact your message to Men’s Wearhouse. If you are selling a location solution to Men’s Wearhouse you don’t want to stress that it will make people visit more frequently, but that you will able to make each visit more impactful (more purchases).
2) Brands are scared: If a brand decides to do business with you, they are staking their reputation on you. Men’s Wearhouse has spent almost 40 years building their brand, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be taken away in a moment (a bit of an exaggeration, but brands are delicate). If any big brand uses your tool, they need confirmation (not just your word) that this tool will work and provide the results you say it will. Most startups overlook the need to reassure the brand that your product works. Show them an example of it in practice and as much as possible try to show them that it can handle the scale that a big brand requires.
3) Brands are run by people: You know what happens if your product doesn’t work to the level that is necessary? People can lose their jobs. Say you pitch a brand ”double your in-store traffic” with your new location-software and a brand spends hundreds of thousands implementing your solution. It turns out you only increased in-store traffic 10 percent, then the brand people will be held responsible. So if they have a choice between a guaranteed 10% increase in traffic vs. your solution, it is human nature (Loss Aversion by Tversky and Kahneman) they will take the sure thing. How can you overcome this? (obviously) Come up with as much real-world data to support your claims as possible. Second, set expectations. Don’t promise double just to get in the door, because being a startup means playing the long game (ie you want more brands to use your product after this one).
Unless you have a very experienced enterprise sales team, it might make sense to approach small and medium businesses first to establish credibility, gain case studies, and fix bugs. Would love to hear from people who were able to immediately to sell directly to large brands as a new startup and what advice you have for others.
Patrick and the Talkwheel Guys and Gals
It was a place without a single feature of the space-time matrix that he knew. It was a place where nothing yet had happened - an utter emptiness. There was neither light nor dark: there was nothing here but emptiness. - Clifford Simak
According to this report, last week Google+ had more visits than Pinterest, Tagged, and LinkedIn, making it the 5th most popular social network in the US (behind Facebook, YouTube,Twitter, and Yahoo Answers). There are many reasons why Google created Google+ but a ton of ink has already been spilt on that question. What I want to deal with today is the single reason why Google+ has not and will not be a mainstream social network in the US. Before I delve into that reason I will discuss two things. First, social networks success is very binary in the US unless they are complimentary. Facebook and Twitter can coexist because they offer different benefits and serve different users. Facebook and Google+ are direct competitors and can’t both be very popular. The reason for this is user fatigue. Users can only stay engaged in so many places. Second, I want to discuss how this is relevant to Talkwheel. Talkwheel, like Google+ (Note: Google+’s iPhone app is gorgeous and worth checking out) offers a tool that depends on many people using it for it to succeed. Social networks by nature are useless if only one person uses them (because who are you being social with?). This is the essence of why Google+ won’t succeed, I call it the Empty Dance Floor problem .
There is an inherent catch-22 in social networks and dance floors (think of your fifth grade dances). No one will go on a dance floor (social network) unless another person is there and that other person won’t be start dancing alone. Thus, like aspects of Game Theory you rely on cooperation. Ask anyone why they aren’t on Google+ and they will tell you almost all the same thing, “none of my friends are on there”. Individual people won’t use Google+ unless other members of their group is there. Facebook overcame this problem by targeting already established social communities (universities) one by one. If it had tried to grab the US all at once, it wouldn’t have succeeded. Google+ did not have a strategy for targeting individual pockets. It should have gone after Google Groups first, asking them and moving them to Google+ Circles. Then it should have gone and targeted the mass amounts of people in other Google products like Google Reader, etc. into circles. Instead Google+ targeted the web and shutdown those services without taking the targeted approach of already established communities. This is the solution to the empty dance floor problem.
Talkwheel also deals with this issue. In a group conversation platform, no one wants to make a comment if no one else has made one. How do we address this problem? We target talkative, already established communities and create conversations to partake in. By targeting these communities we ensure that we are placing our discussion platform among a group that has proven they already love talking to each other, we just help them communicate better. Unfortunately we can’t always find that group, so to transition them smoothly onto Talkwheel, we create conversation topics that we personally have populated. For example, in an upcoming launch we will be pre-populating the conversation with groups about the 2012 election, football, and LA (the launch will be in Los Angeles). We make sure that someone never sees an empty dance floor.
We read blogs for two main reasons. First to be entertained, second to learn something that we can apply to our lives. As for entertainment, I can only begin to quote from Puck’s speech in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “If we shadows have offended…”. But how does the lesson of empty dance floor apply to your business? First, if you are running a business and want your Facebook page to be less empty, call in favors from friends and family to participate in the beginning. This will encourage your customers to join the conversation because they don’t feel alone (read my previous blog post about what to do then). Second, in your everyday business, you already know that crowd mentality takes over. Part of the reason Starbuck’s has such a nice layout with so many chairs is that they realize that if you walk by a Starbuck’s and see it is crowded, you immediately want to join the crowd and get some coffee. I’m curious to hear in the comments from people who have built strong followings online or in business from the ground up and how they overcame this problem.
Patrick from the Talkwheel Guys and Gals