Category Archives: A Social Discourse

A Social Discourse: Social Music Hits A Sour Note

Music is essential to our culture. More than any other medium, music has driven social change through protest, satire, and commentary. Marketers have known that connection since the early days of radio, so it should be no surprise that social media marketers are throwing the “social platform” label on nearly every music site they come upon. But what really defines a social music platform? Does a music site need to go beyond a blue-and-white ‘like’ button in order to be social?

Pandora is a widely-known internet radio platform that has been around for a number of years. For the uninitiated, the site is designed around the Music Genome Project, an initiative to catalog and analyze every piece of music ever written. Pandora lets you build a radio station by selecting a song or artist you enjoy, which is compared to millions of other songs in the Genome Project database. Pandora then selects tracks to play that share similar sounds, instruments, and lyrics.

Pandora made real headlines several months ago when they announced an upcoming site revamp, which would include a full social network. As it turned out, those rumors were severely exaggerated. Pandora’s social network includes user profiles, Facebook integration (is anyone else getting sick of that “feature”?), and a following system, which is essentially just an upgrade to the old user-to-user sharing. Users can see what their friends are listening to, what songs they liked or disliked, and what stations they’ve created. Does that make this a “social network”? Not in my mind.

If Pandora is all music and no social, than turntable.fm is a massive swing in the alternate direction. At face value, turntable (which is too underground for capitalization, apparently) has a lot to offer. This crowd-sourced music player is treated as a virtual nightclub, or more accurately, an underground warehouse rave. The site is divided into user-created ‘rooms,’ each of which has a given theme, genre, artist, or style. Users vie for one of each room’s five DJ spots, which allows them to play music from their own collection for the crowd. The crowd, in turn, votes up or down on a track, which gives that DJ points. The points are used to unlock new on-site avatars, adding an addictive Facebook-Game quality to the whole package. Music to be played can come from a user’s own hard drive, or from an online database of previously-uploaded songs, which means that the music library is essentially infinite.

turntable.fm Music Room

The social aspect of the site is involved and engaging. The “follow” system allows you to build a friend list, of sorts, and each room’s chat feature allows live discussion of music, DJ’s, and the usual internet clutter. In some of the more popular rooms, it is not uncommon to run into the artists that actually created the tracks you are listening to. Big names in electronic music, like Daft Punk, Deadmau5, and Skrillex have all been known to make appearances. Few other niche networks allow you to have such immediate contact with the focuses of their fandoms. However, several egregious issues hold this platform back from the mainstream.

Some problems should already be obvious, the most blatant of those being the issue of music piracy. While there is no intended way to download tracks from the service, there is also nothing ensuring that the uploaded music has been legally acquired, or that it will stay within the site. In a very real way, turntable is running the risk of record-label intervention. For now, the site is dodging lawsuits by hiding behind loopholes in the DMCA , but that protection won’t last forever.

On a smaller scale, the music that users hear is almost completely out of their control. You can follow DJ’s you like, and stick to rooms that are designed for your favorite genres, but at the end of the day, it is other users that determine what you hear. The competitive nature of DJ spots, and the credibility that comes with “discovering” unique underground tracks means that you are unlikely to hear old favorites again and again on the site. Coupled with the above issues, technical bugs and compatibility issues add to the unpolished feel of the platform.

Spotify, on the other hand, is a fantastic piece of software. It easily blends online and offline music collections, allowing you to build playlists with a mixture of both. If iTunes, Amazon, Pandora, and turntable built a music platform together, Spotify would be the result. It is a great music platform, probably one of the best, but it isn’t a social network. To be frank, I don’t understand why so many other social blogs insist that it is.

Like so many others, Spotify relies on Facebook Integration for its social elements. This means that those of us that have moved on to other pastures are left with a secondary social experience. Not to say that Facebook users have it much better. Spotify’s social interaction involves nothing more than public playlists and newsfeeds that broadcast which Lady GaGa track you’ve had on loop all week. If it sounds a lot like the new ‘social’ Pandora, it’s because it is exactly the same thing, in almost every way.

For every person, in every culture, music is about emotion, and it has power. For now, it seems that in the social media universe, that means nothing more than a list of names under a single heading on a profile page. When the perfect social music experience is created, I’ll be there, but until that day, music in the social space is no more than background noise.

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Tim HowellTim Howell remembers what cassette tapes are, and is a content manager for Make Me Social. He studied fine art, psychology, and international pop culture at Bowling Green State University. In his spare time, he is a blogger, bartender, and social activist with a passion for cooking. You can find him at gplus.to/TimHowell

A Social Discourse: Google Plus and the VIP Delusion

The world of social media is still dominated by powerhouse platforms and many competitors are attempting to replicate those sites’ successes. Despite the apparent monopoly, hundreds have popped up over the years and many of them carry enough weight to be considered valid for the social media marketer. However, judging this multitude of sites is difficult, if for no other reason than determining variables that can easily apply to the full gamut of social platforms. Regardless, I have tackled the challenge and come up with general criteria that should define any social site from the marketer’s point of view.

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel that it is my responsibility to intro this blog with some relevant information. I love everything Google does. I am a Google Groupie, a junkie, a willing consumer of everything the Google giant sends down the pipeline. I purchase only Android phones, I do all of my personal browsing in Chrome, and stare in naked confusion when co-workers suggest that SEO on Bing is worth considering.

That being said, this blog will not be all that similar to most of those written on the subject. Many of the marketing-industry blogs I have read regarding G+ are very insistent that we have a simply fantastic product on our hands. These writers stress that – while they are not available yet – the soon-to-arrive business pages will be a Mecca of integrated social marketing and SEO. I’m not going to consider all of that. The simple fact is that technology (especially in the social media space) changes too rapidly and too drastically to make that kind of prediction this early. I have the utmost confidence that Google + will do everything Google says it will do, but I can’t help but think that people are perhaps building up their expectations a tiny bit.

Indulge me in resorting to a metaphor for a moment.

Mission Hill, a phenomenally underrated animated comedy, has an episode perfectly suited for this kind of discussion. In it, the three main characters find themselves frustrated and on the street after another weekend of being rejected from the lines of the city’s most popular nightclubs. As revenge, the group sets up some velvet ropes outside of their apartment building’s meter room, and stand outside of it with a clipboard. Soon, dozens of elitist hipsters stand outside in the cold, desperate to enter the hippest and most exclusive club in town. “No one has gotten in!” they pass along. After hours of temptation, the main characters get bored with their plan, and set off a smoke bomb, claiming a freak electrical accident has destroyed the club. The Meter Room passes into legend, forever remembered as the most heavenly experience in the city.

Mission Hill, "The Meter Room"

Mission Hill, "The Meter Room"

Until recently, Google Plus was an exclusive club. Beta invites were scarce and coveted, and those of us that received them were all too happy to lord it over our pitiable friends and followers. On the inside, however, we found an experience that was sleek, modern, and shockingly empty. During the beta period, it was somewhat difficult to track down people worth following. Few people had truly completed their profiles, so circles became a sea of gray anonymous faces. Those that were contributing content were usually no more than news aggregators, which are technically not allowed on the platform. Mashable.com was (and apparently still is) largely guilty of this. Based solely on those profiles, a lot of discussion was taking place, but people that were willing to comment on these posts rarely contributed anything of their own.

Content on Google Plus, from Sean Bonner

This all comes back to one of the largest flaws that I see in Google’s plan. As pointed out in this blog post, G+’s circles are not organic groups. On Facebook, I can go to a friend’s page, see all of their friends, all of their groups, and all of the people in those groups. It is an invasion of privacy, yes, but it is also an incredibly simple way to find other people to network with. G+ presents you with a general list of whom a given person is following, but it provides no information as to the relationship between those people. This seems like a silly point to harp on, but it makes a significant difference.

Let’s assume that I have created a circle for dubstep artists (I have. It is very small). No one viewing my G+ profile would have any way of knowing that this circle exists, or that any of the people linked to my profile are part of that circle. This means that any interested parties must sift through everyone I am following, to draw their own conclusions as to why I am following them. Facebook’s groups and fan pages solved this problem by making both instances a public entity. When I create a dubstep fan page on Facebook, hundreds of people instantly see that group, and are free to join it and share it amongst their friends as well. The groups grow organically, as more and more networks connect to them. Circles are completely private and personal. It makes it easy to talk behind someone’s back, but not particularly easy to grow a community.

There is an obvious counter-argument, brought up by Chris Brogan:

It’s funny how many people are lamenting the temporary shutdown of brands on Google+. Meanwhile, I’m seeing lots of smart business people connecting with people, making relationships, sharing a mix of personal and business materials, and building relationships that will transcend the vagueness of following an official stream.

Business is about humans connecting with humans. This new platform is the top shelf of potential for doing a great job of doing that. Keep doing what you’re doing as a brand of one, and just be sure your ABOUT page represents your organization well.

Go forth. Be the brand. Just be you as the brand.

Google Plus is a beautiful piece of technology, and it presents a list of features that will make any social platform jealous. At the end of the day, however, a social network is only as good as the discussions taking place on it, and for that, for now, G+ is little more than an empty white room. There are a handful of “celebrity” accounts belonging to high-profile bloggers or industry news aggregators, and almost all of the platform’s content is coming from those people. Unless something changes, G+ will not likely see many Facebook converts.

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Tim Howell Andoidified

Tim Howell created 14 circles, and is a content manager for Make Me Social. He studied fine art, psychology, and international pop culture at Bowling Green State University. In his spare time, he is a blogger, bartender, and social activist with a passion for cooking.

A Social Discourse: Check-in Apps

The world of social media is still dominated by powerhouse platforms and many competitors are attempting to replicate those sites’ successes. Despite the apparent monopoly, hundreds have popped up over the years and many of them carry enough weight to be considered valid for the social media marketer. However, judging this multitude of sites is difficult, if for no other reason than determining variables that can easily apply to the full gamut of social platforms. Regardless, I have tackled the challenge and come up with general criteria that should define any social site from the marketer’s point of view.

I never made it through Webelo. I had the uniform, the walking stick, even a handful of beads, but I never got enough merit badges to breach that final level. I think that may explain how easily Foursquare ensnared me. I found myself making extra trips out of my way to gather a few more check-ins, hoping to unlock the next badge on my list. Like so many other Americans, my first instinct at any new restaurant or club was to whip out my phone and check-in as soon as the Wi-Fi kicked in. Alas, much like my Boy Scout days, I would find nothing but failure. I do not live in New York City, and my Facebook friends are scattered far and wide across the country, so many of Foursquare’s achievements are forever blocked to me. Through giving up, however, I found insight.

Foursquare is the current leading entity in what are collectively referred to as “check-in” apps. Popularized back when “app store” referred only to Apple products, these apps were designed to show your friends what you have been up to, where to meet up with you, and when the best time to rob your apartment is. However, what I quickly realized is that these are not “social” apps as much as they are “look how cool I am” apps. The functionality of this first wave of programs was essentially limited to three steps.

1. Arrive at a location.
2. Check In at that location.
3. Post to Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter.

The actual “social” aspect of this platform is questionable. Like Yelp! or UrbanSpoon (both of which I far prefer), a user can share tips or warnings with others, but this is a passive experience. There is no method of conversing with — or replying to — other users in real time.

As you may have picked up in my last post, I place a lot of emphasis on the efficiency and function of social media. My gut reaction to Foursquare when I first discovered it in late 2009 was, “Why bother?” I reasoned that I already had a Facebook account; why would I bother signing up for a second social site that wasn’t going to do anything other than post things on my Facebook? I can just write my plans directly on my profile. Though I was eventually won over (mostly due to a need to put everything I possibly could on my new phone), I still don’t see much use for Foursquare outside of a personal setting.

There are other location-based apps, however, that offer a lot more to the social marketer. Yelp! and UrbanSpoon, as I mentioned earlier, are absolutely essential for any small business. Both of these sites are already well-known to most demographics, and both allow a business to easily appeal to local sentimentality. Yelp! comes with a very well-designed mobile app that allows your customers to upload reviews, ratings, and tips directly from your store. Both of these apps were designed with restaurants in mind, and they work best for those purposes, but anything from diners to shoe outlets can benefit from what Yelp! has to offer.

Another app, Ditto, seeks to add the immediate social interaction that Foursquare lacks. Where Foursquare fails, Ditto excels, and vice versa. Ditto is a relatively new platform, and is limited to Apple products. This effectively cuts off a significant portion of the smart phone market, and those of us with Android or Blackberry phones are out of luck. As a result, it is unlikely that Ditto will reach the saturation that Foursquare has already achieved. It may be hard to sell a business on a platform that they haven’t heard of, and Ditto is almost certainly in that category. For those that are willing to give the app a chance, Ditto has something great to offer.

The main feature separating Ditto from all of the other location-based platforms is that it is written in future-tense. Foursquare is about where you are, Yelp! is about where you have been, and Ditto is about where you are going to be. For a marketer, this makes all the difference in the world. Let’s assume that you are a small business with a personal profile on Foursquare and Ditto, and you have fifty friends on each. If a few friends on Ditto say that they are planning on going to a competitor’s shoe store, it may be a great time to broadcast that “BOGO” coupon you’ve been sitting on. On Foursquare, you won’t know about your customer’s betrayal until they’re already trying on those cute pumps. If several Ditto users are posting that they want a great place to go for Chinese food, you can share a link to the local paper’s review of your award-winning Lo Mein. On Foursquare, you wouldn’t even know that these potential customers existed.

When it is all said and done, Ditto may be the new kid on the block, but it has nowhere to go but up. The smart phone market is exploding. Though studies have described location-based apps as low on the social media scale, around half of the people that don’t use them cite lacking a smart phone as the reason. These check-in apps are going to be around for a while, and I predict that Ditto may end up being one of the best.

______________________________________________________________

Tim Howell

Tim Howell holds two mayorships and eight badges, and is a content manager for Make Me Social. He studied fine art, psychology, and international pop culture at Bowling Green State University. In his spare time, he is a blogger, bartender, and social activist with a passion for cooking.

A Social Discourse: LivingSocial

The world of social media is still dominated by powerhouse platforms and many competitors are attempting to replicate those sites’ successes. Despite the apparent monopoly, hundreds have popped up over the years and many of them carry enough weight to be considered valid for the social media marketer. However, judging this multitude of sites is difficult, if for no other reason than determining variables that can easily apply to the full gamut of social platforms. Regardless, I have tackled the challenge and come up with general criteria that should define any social site from the marketer’s point of view.

I am staring at the Jacksonville, Florida skyline. The sky is a beautiful azure and the soft light of the sun is reflecting in the mirror-like windows blanketing the towers of commerce. Only the lightest of clouds are visible and my mind is quiet, filled with only one thought:

Get a Mixbook Customized Calendar for only $12!

Of course, it is LivingSocial.com that is presenting me with this vista, not the northern beaches of Florida. At first glance the site – combining the aesthetic minimalism of Google with the vivid backgrounds of Microsoft Bing – appears to be little more than a clone of the controversial buy-in site Groupon. However, LivingSocial does do things differently than other sites, but are these things necessarily improvements?

First, some background. LivingSocial.com is a social buying website, offering daily deals that can be as much as 90% off. It was launched in 2007, and has been available in 89 markets since 2010. Like Groupon, LivingSocial uses witty, often tongue-in-cheek language to stand out from the often overly-politically-correct marketing landscape. The deals are catered to the individual, featuring local businesses based on information provided by the user. LivingSocial’s social aspect is almost entirely based in its piggybacking with Facebook. The site’s main motivation for social interaction is actually dependent on it (more on that later).

This brings me to the first major question for judging social networks. How broad is the platform’s audience and who is using it? According to LivingSocial’s published data, it is exactly who you would assume. LivingSocial’s users are mostly women, and typically fall in the middle class. As a result, most of the recent offers on the site include spa treatments, laser-hair removal and liposuction. The sales page that potential customers see provides examples that range from sushi to skydiving, but almost all of the daily ads I have seen over the past weeks have been targeted squarely at middle-aged moms.

Does the site have a stable, growing user population? LivingSocial has been going strong for almost four years. The site’s sales promotions use vague language, stating only that “thousands of excited readers will open their email to read about your offering…” Though they do not provide any specific numbers when it comes to users, the company did just receive a $175 million investment from Amazon.com, which speaks volumes about its staying power.

My third criterion asks whether or not the platform provides motivation for a user to visit and to share information. Each day on LivingSocial, users are presented with an offer, most of which boil down to “Buy a $40 gift card for $20.” LivingSocial takes 50% of that $20, and the rest goes to the business. Everyone wins. To get the most out of the platform, users must log in with or connect their Facebook account. They will now have the option to share a daily deal they have purchased with their Facebook friends. If three of their friends follow their link to purchase the deal, the original user gets it for free. In a best-case scenario, you can end up with hundreds of dollars in free services, and your friends still save money on things they would buy anyway. The site also includes recommended local businesses as well, making it a one-stop-shop, combining the best of Groupon, Yelp, and Google Places. With no subscription fees or up-front costs, I can easily recommend the site for personal use. For marketers, however, the site offers very little worth noting.

Finally, the potential the site has for a social marketer to create growth with any given company. LivingSocial’s largest downside, from a marketer’s viewpoint, is the lack of an internal social network. Any communication between users is done on Facebook. Sharing is done on Facebook. The entire site can — and does — function entirely confined within a Facebook or smartphone app. There is no real reason to even visit the main site after setting up your account (which again, you can do through Facebook).

Here is the simple truth of it all. A client could set up a LivingSocial offer allowing their customers to purchase $40 of product for $20. In that case, they lose $30 on each sale, and the offer only goes to people that happen to check LivingSocial during the 24 hours the sale is available. Alternatively, a smart marketer could put the same offer up on the client’s Facebook page. Now, the client is only out $20, and the offer goes out to the client’s 500 Facebook friends (and anyone else that wanders by). LivingSocial has a lot to offer for small businesses, or for people looking to save money around town, but marketers will find nothing here that isn’t done better elsewhere.

______________________________________________________________

Tim Howell

Tim Howell is a content manager for Make Me Social. He studied fine art, psychology, and international pop culture at Bowling Green State University. In his spare time, he is a blogger, bartender, and social activist with a passion for cooking.

A Social Discourse: LivingSocial

The world of social media is still dominated by powerhouse platforms and many competitors are attempting to replicate those sites’ successes. Despite the apparent monopoly, hundreds have popped up over the years and many of them carry enough weight to be considered valid for the social media marketer. However, judging this multitude of sites is difficult, if for no other reason than determining variables that can easily apply to the full gamut of social platforms. Regardless, I have tackled the challenge and come up with general criteria that should define any social site from the marketer’s point of view.

I am staring at the Jacksonville, Florida skyline. The sky is a beautiful azure and the soft light of the sun is reflecting in the mirror-like windows blanketing the towers of commerce. Only the lightest of clouds are visible and my mind is quiet, filled with only one thought:

Get a Mixbook Customized Calendar for only $12!

Of course, it is LivingSocial.com that is presenting me with this vista, not the northern beaches of Florida. At first glance the site – combining the aesthetic minimalism of Google with the vivid backgrounds of Microsoft Bing – appears to be little more than a clone of the controversial buy-in site Groupon. However, LivingSocial does do things differently than other sites, but are these things necessarily improvements?

First, some background. LivingSocial.com is a social buying website, offering daily deals that can be as much as 90% off. It was launched in 2007, and has been available in 89 markets since 2010. Like Groupon, LivingSocial uses witty, often tongue-in-cheek language to stand out from the often overly-politically-correct marketing landscape. The deals are catered to the individual, featuring local businesses based on information provided by the user. LivingSocial’s social aspect is almost entirely based in its piggybacking with Facebook. The site’s main motivation for social interaction is actually dependent on it (more on that later).

This brings me to the first major question for judging social networks. How broad is the platform’s audience and who is using it? According to LivingSocial’s published data, it is exactly who you would assume. LivingSocial’s users are mostly women, and typically fall in the middle class. As a result, most of the recent offers on the site include spa treatments, laser-hair removal and liposuction. The sales page that potential customers see provides examples that range from sushi to skydiving, but almost all of the daily ads I have seen over the past weeks have been targeted squarely at middle-aged moms.

Does the site have a stable, growing user population? LivingSocial has been going strong for almost four years. The site’s sales promotions use vague language, stating only that “thousands of excited readers will open their email to read about your offering…” Though they do not provide any specific numbers when it comes to users, the company did just receive a $175 million investment from Amazon.com, which speaks volumes about its staying power.

My third criterion asks whether or not the platform provides motivation for a user to visit and to share information. Each day on LivingSocial, users are presented with an offer, most of which boil down to “Buy a $40 gift card for $20.” LivingSocial takes 50% of that $20, and the rest goes to the business. Everyone wins. To get the most out of the platform, users must log in with or connect their Facebook account. They will now have the option to share a daily deal they have purchased with their Facebook friends. If three of their friends follow their link to purchase the deal, the original user gets it for free. In a best-case scenario, you can end up with hundreds of dollars in free services, and your friends still save money on things they would buy anyway. The site also includes recommended local businesses as well, making it a one-stop-shop, combining the best of Groupon, Yelp, and Google Places. With no subscription fees or up-front costs, I can easily recommend the site for personal use. For marketers, however, the site offers very little worth noting.

Finally, the potential the site has for a social marketer to create growth with any given company. LivingSocial’s largest downside, from a marketer’s viewpoint, is the lack of an internal social network. Any communication between users is done on Facebook. Sharing is done on Facebook. The entire site can — and does — function entirely confined within a Facebook or smartphone app. There is no real reason to even visit the main site after setting up your account (which again, you can do through Facebook).

Here is the simple truth of it all. A client could set up a LivingSocial offer allowing their customers to purchase $40 of product for $20. In that case, they lose $30 on each sale, and the offer only goes to people that happen to check LivingSocial during the 24 hours the sale is available. Alternatively, a smart marketer could put the same offer up on the client’s Facebook page. Now, the client is only out $20, and the offer goes out to the client’s 500 Facebook friends (and anyone else that wanders by). LivingSocial has a lot to offer for small businesses, or for people looking to save money around town, but marketers will find nothing here that isn’t done better elsewhere.

______________________________________________________________

Tim Howell

Tim Howell is a content manager for Make Me Social. He studied fine art, psychology, and international pop culture at Bowling Green State University. In his spare time, he is a blogger, bartender, and social activist with a passion for cooking.