Friday, September 17, 2010

MEDIAPOST: How To Make Ping Succeed!

I’m a 100% Apple convert. Over the last few years I ditched my PC in favor of a MacBook Pro and generally every device I buy has that little Apple logo on the back. That being said, I feel I need to be critical of the new launch of iTunes and it’s integration of Ping (Apple’s social music network), but only from the perspective of someone who wants to see it succeed. Consider it constructive criticism with a hint of gadgetry love.

First off, I’m shocked at how few people are talking about Ping, which leads me to believe there’s not much to talk about. Those of us with Apple-envy tend to hope that anything new coming from Apple will be a groundbreaking achievement but Ping let’s you down a bit. Ping suffers from the same problem that most social music networks face; not enough content of interest and not enough critical mass.

I spent some time playing with Ping to see the value it provides and unfortunately I found nothing new. The integration is simple, with “Like” and “Post” buttons built into the album pages and a simple news feed of artists and people you follow. Those features are “table stakes” when it comes to social functionality, but I still don’t see the value offered by the platform. Critical mass for a social network is what drives new users and increased usage. Limited reach translates to limited value, and that’s been the summary equation that’s doomed so many social music networks to date!

I’ve played in this space. Back in the day when I was at IUMA, we grew because we offered something no-one else had; new music from unsigned artists. Along came MySpace Music, Imeem, Mog, Playlist and a host of other social music networks or services. Some have died, some are dying and some are plugged into life support. None has achieved the promise of the platform, and if Apple doesn’t address some of its glaring omissions it could find itself in the same fate.

A few ideas…

1. Integrate with Facebook. Dear Apple; we know you don’t like Google very much these days, so why not open the platform just a bit and integrate into Facebook (that would upset them). That’s the news feed where people are and that’s the place where your updates will find a life. Allow me to publish my “likes” and “posts” for my network there to see, and they’ll come back to you in droves. Trying to build inside your own walled garden won’t work, and this is one area you could actually open up without sacrificing quality.

2. Publish my playlists to the web (errr. Facebook). I know this is going to sound repetitive, but allowing me to publish my playlists to the web in a streaming fashion, and potentially into Facebook via apps, will create an opportunity for me to surface music to my friends. I see more and more posts on Facebook about music, and no way to connect the dots. If you become the source for that information, you will continue to increase your dominance in the online music market. That means sales.

3. Learn the term “affiliate program”. The best way to make money selling music is to let your most avid fans sell the music for you. If a friend recommends music to me, and I trust their tastes, I buy it. If you incentivized me as a user with either an affiliate fee or store credit based on sales generated from my recommendations, I’d be all over it. If I publish a “like” and that drives 10 sales, isn’t it worth rewarding me for a percentage? If I drive 1,000 sales, it certainly is.

These are just three simple ideas, and ones that wouldn’t take a lot of time to implement. You have to do all of this before Google rolls out their music service later this year. It’s a strategic block of the marketplace, and a way to stay top of mind when it comes time to purchase new music for just about anyone!

So here’s to Apple hopefully listening to the little guy (I’m only 5’ 6” after all). Best of luck Steve!

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