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Apple Music’s Flawed Flight: Burning Social Capital of a Prime Brand

Apple Music’s Flawed Flight: Burning Social Capital of a Prime Brand

We all want something to believe in, a secure standard to set our coordinates by in this ocean of digital chaos. Tech ultragiant Apple has served as a pillar of such standard and security for many years, building a $700 billion empire and a new age of digital culture through an ever-widening spectrum of devices, and an intuitive constellation of accessibility & usability. But now, with the breathlessly-hyped but deeply flawed launch of Apple Music as part of iOS 8.4 and iTunes 12.2, the hypercritical attention to user experience is lacking badly – and we’re reminded of the shifting sands of seamless brand domination in today’s marketplace, even for the largest company the United States has ever seen.

Steve Jobs made an enemy of confusion. His relentless quest to create the perfect user experience was legendary, and resulted in a new generation of devices and a tandem culture of tech obsession laced with an air of cosmopolitan, lightly-hedonistic elitism. So it is with great surprise and times-they-are-a-changin’ dismay that we navigate the labyrinthian wonder that is Apple Music after its kickoff this week, equally frustrated with its lack of intuitive functionality and clear rationale as we are dazzled by its promising features.

Jobs’ meticulous impact on every one of our lives shines clearly in the legacy he leaves behind, whether it be the larger consumer philosophy or the devices in our hands. But Apple’s slipping grace in his wake that speaks with no less color.

Whether they’re on team Mac or PC doesn’t matter – the connected world is universally fascinated by Apple’s new offering. Where Apple is failing isn’t in the rough edges in the early days of the Music service – it’s failing its own brand in ruining an unparalleled momentum of image in simplicity, efficiency and industry leadership.

Apple’s influence on the economy and culture around the world rivals some of the most powerful in all of human history – they will undoubtedly do just fine, whether Apple Music is an abject failure or not (it won’t be). But from a branding perspective, as well as that of a backlash impact, Apple Music serves an important lesson in consistency of Brand quality and user experience.

What’s going on here?

While I explored Apple Music’s offerings and established a functional interaction with it, the same thought kept creeping up: “Why do I need this? I’m happy with Spotify.” Apple Music has around 30 million songs, just as Spotify, Tidal and Google Play do.

A quick rundown of the mess: Apple Music isn’t a quick-access service. It comes as part of iOS 8.4 and iTunes 12.2, requiring a full update and many pages of new user agreements. Once you’re in, Apple Music plays your music, except you don’t own that music, and the options provided are a collaboration between your input and their guesstimation. Apple Radio plays songs they’ve chosen for you, like the radio does. Random buttons like heart icons and plus signs don’t have any prominently defined meaning, and once you’ve clicked them you can’t undo the selections. Home sharing has been removed, at least for the time being.

Apple built its reputation on the seamless user experience. But confusion abounds, and there are no guidepoints to help us along. Apple seems confused on how it categorizes its features, and its taste algorithms are quite strange. Two songs into a radio station tailored just for me and I’m fumbling frantically around for the mute button.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 8.08.58 PM

There’s a disconnect here.

Where’s the walkthrough?

Why do I have to figure this thing out for myself? Where is the online tutorial, the clean interface to navigate with a constellatory guide? This is where the cracks in Apple’s veneer begin to truly show, and where the whispers of Steve return. Jobs would never have allowed a confusing creation of such magnitude; he understood the critical value of an inviting framework.

Beats 1: Incredible Concept, Floundering

The excited conversation taking place is almost entirely about Beats 1, not the on-demand streaming service. Though we’re excited for shows hosted by the likes of Queens Of The Stone Age nucleus Josh Homme, Pharrell Williams, Drake, Dr. Dre, Elton John and more… will a new broadcast curation be that big a player? It’s highly unlikely we’ll go back to the radio days – the wacky morning-zoo DJs have exterminated the public’s trust in drive-time radio.

Podcasts, however, are an incredible force (President Obama recently visited comedian Marc Maron’s WTF podcast for an impressively candid chat), and the vast majority are free. And if you missed a radio show by your favorite talent, you’re out of luck on a desktop. That is, unless you can find a way to tap on the Beats 1 Radio banner (NOT the “Listen Now” button prominently displayed), scroll down past Upcoming Shows to Featured shows, find the show you’d like to hear from the entire list, then go to the show’s playlist page as a part of Connect.

Get all that? Sure, it’s a lot simpler on a mobile, but this needs to be universal. If you can get it to work at all on mobile, that is. Radio futurologist James Cridland reviewed Beats 1, and the industry expert is not impressed:

Apple have launched a live, linear radio station – something you’ll see in this presentation just doesn’t work on mobile phones. They’ve done the bare minimum in terms of integration. The radio producers have been lazy with their production. Tuning in is unintuitive on iOS, and was impossible on OSX at launch. The launch was botched, confused, lazy, uninspiring and most of all, deeply ignorant.

No Promo Blitz

Why isn’t U2 dancing around in a commercial? Ok, maybe U2 and Apple should take a break. But Josh Homme and Dr. Dre could serve as the new faces of Apple Music through an upper-echelon talent edge, leading us into culturally rich new waters as they welcome us in with their Beats 1 radio shows and a few informational suggestions. There is no promotional throwdown, however.

It’s a flash fad.

Fads die. Apple Music needs to establish a pioneering value, and fast. This has happened before, and very recently. Tidal is in a branding and staffing nosedive, after being breathlessly heralded by icons and idols as the greatest alternative to the current streaming market. Packed with superstars, Jay Z is sinking that ship on the wrong message and no value beyond the illusion of exclusives in an all-access world.

Apple Doesn’t Decide. The People Do.

We’ll see at the end of Q3 where Apple Music stands, as the majority who’ve opted for the three-month trial will then decide whether or not to subscribe.

Spotify remains, however. And while we struggle with DRM hysteria, Apple Match issues, downloading massive system updates and more, that ugly green logo is waiting, still allowing you to import your iTunes library upon launch. You can’t import Spotify playlists into Apple Music, by the way.

Seems like a hostile way for a brand to create a universal experience.

Snapchat Marketing: How Brands Are Succeeding

Snapchat Marketing: How Brands Are Succeeding

Without the benefit of a physical retail store, the rapidly-evolving world of social media is a vital tool for E-Commerce companies. Utilizing mobile photo app sensation Snapchat as a marketing strategy is relatively new, but a number of companies are engaging readers with unique content – and seeing tremendously good results as the app has exploded in popularity.

With Snapchat’s recent $16 billion valuation, it’s been clear that the platform has moved far beyond its former persona as an outlet for self-destructing risqué interaction. Now, as Snapchat emerges as an effective and hugely promising way for brands to acquire and interact with customers, businesses are beginning to see a wealth of marketing potential and revenue opportunity.

Snapchat Discover offers a new content publishing feature, with channels of original content at launch from CNN, Cosmopolitan, the Daily Mail, Comedy Central, ESPN, Food Network, Warner Music and more. The Discover platform provides advertisers with a way to reach customers with daily series, swipeable ad-editorials, sponsored content between ads and more. Additionally, a new advertising program will allow brands to get their geofilters automatically approved as well, adding thousands of them at once with a small “sponsored” tag.

Brands Leading The Way in Snapchat:

Audi

 

The luxury carmaker partnered with The Onion in 2014 to Snapchat the Super Bowl live, utilizing its agency Huge and Onion Labs for a humorous content team-up. The event grew Audi’s Snapchat following by over 5,500 users before the end of the big game.

McDonald’s

Going behind-the-scenes with world-class athletes such as LeBron James, Richard Sherman and Johnny Manziel, McD’s has ramped up fan exposure on Snapchat and built a steady stream of unique user incentives including coupons, contests and more. With the recent addition of geofilters, the french fry kings are poised to tailor their marketing to more specific audiences.

Taco Bell

Launching its Spicy Chicken Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos, Taco Bell was among the first to embrace Snapchat Stories with a six-minute mini-movie. Connecting culture constellations, the fast food giant snapped a scene on the red carpet of the MTV Movie Awards, unveiled its Doritos tacos, and delivered a completely immersive new advertising ecosystem for readers virtually in realtime.

General Electric

On July 15 last year, GE’s Snapchat presence came to life, engaging users with trivia, puzzles and exclusive content featuring legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin. It was a prime opportunity to announce The Mission sneakers as well, celebrating the 45th anniversary of GE’s contribution to the 1969 moon landing.

Bottom line: exclusive content is key, and there’s an open field of opportunity for innovation on Snapchat.

As Snapchat continues to evolve, E-Commerce businesses have a virtually blank canvas of opportunity to engage people, expand their consumer base and bring new colors to their brand. Original content, stories, contests and giveaways provide a high-potential entrypoint for gaining a promising new E-Commerce foothold. And while it’s still in its infancy of advertising possibilities (metrics are virtually nonexistent, editing is limited, etc), the future looks very bright for business opportunity on Snapchat.

StackCommerce will soon make the leap into our own Snapchat journey, utilizing calls to action across our existing social platforms and incentivizing friends & followers with contests, behind the scenes content and more. We’ll continue to share our insights and developments as we embark on another new adventure at Stack.

4 Useful (and Free) Tools for Automating Content Distribution

4 Useful (and Free) Tools for Automating Content Distribution

You’re almost done. The i’s have been dotted, the t’s have been crossed…your article is now published. Time to get it posted on social networks…lots of them. Ugh.

Syndicating your content across the social web can be a monotonous chore, but there are a handful of tools (that start out free!) that you can use to quickly distribute your content across many channels instead of logging into one service after another to post.


 

OnlywireOnlywire

Onlywire allows you to push your content to dozens of social networks, content aggregators and bookmarking sites via individual posts or automatically through your RSS feed, making content distribution an absolute snap. All you have to do is authorize your accounts for each site and connect whatever feeds you want to use, and you are good to go.

Onlywire also includes a great monitoring section for seeing how your content performs (including Bit.ly analytics), as well as a “recommended” tab for finding great content to share with your audience.

Onlywire starts free, with paid plans starting at only $5/month.


 

IFTTTIFTTTIFTTT

Be careful with IFTTT (IF This, Then That) — once you start diving in, it can hard to stop! IFTTT enables you to create cross-service triggered actions, and with numerous services (or “channels,” as they are called on IFTTT) being added all the time, the possibilities are pretty much endless.

While most of IFTTT’s “recipes” focus on automating tasks in your personal life, there are a number of great actions that you can trigger from a new post being added to your blog, a new picture being uploaded to your Instagram, a new tweet going out with a specific hashtag…you name it. In just a few short minutes, you can set up very customizable “recipes” that automatically publish every new article on your blog to Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and many other networks.

IFTTT is completely free to use.


 ZapierZapier

Zapier is similar to IFTTT, but with a heavier focus on business-related automation. All of the great content automation functions you can create in IFTTT can also be done in Zapier, so if your company uses several of the SaaS apps that can connect to Zapier, it’s worth trying out a Zapier account.

Zapier starts free, then scales upward, with paid accounts starting at $20/month. Zapier really starts cooking when you get to their paid accounts, though the free version is useful, too. You can also check out their library of 300+ apps and all of the triggered actions you can build before you pull out the credit card.


 

BufferBuffer

Buffer has a great reputation as a very useful tool for social publishing — and it definitely deserves it.

Buffer is built from the ground-up with today’s social media manager in mind, with plenty of great tools included for syndicating both your content and content you curate. Have you noticed that posting at certain times of the day or week is extremely effective? Great — you can create a custom posting cadence to make scheduling a breeze. Just add content to your Buffer queue and you’re set. You can even make things easier by connecting your Buffer account to IFTTT and Zapier.

Buffer has a robust free version, with their “Awesome Plan” costing $10/month. Buffer also has a business product, Buffer for Business, which starts at $50/month.


 

Beyond Clickbait: How to Consistently Drive Traffic with Eye-catching, Non-Gimmicky Headlines

Beyond Clickbait: How to Consistently Drive Traffic with Eye-catching, Non-Gimmicky Headlines

Clickbait — we’ve all heard of it, we all know it when we see it (and, let’s be honest, still click on some of it), and we’ve all probably used it at least once. Clickbait, featuring headlines or descriptors like “You won’t believe what this teenage girl said to her teacher” or “7 Pictures of Celebrity Plastic Surgery Disasters You Absolutely Have to See,” surged in popularity among publishers in the age of social media, and has even formed the foundation of business models for online publishers like Buzzfeed and Upworthy. Sounds like clickbait is here to stay, right? Wrong.

Clickbait is widely ridiculed and derided by content professionals and consumers alike, and platforms like Facebook, which drive a significant portion of the traffic to clickbait-y sites, are starting to crack down. Is this the end of easily driving clickthroughs on posts? Definitely not. You just have to deliver valuable content after someone clicks — that shouldn’t be a tall order, right?

How software determines what is valuable and what is clickbait — and how that affects you

Figuring out what’s good and what’s not is pretty easy when you’re a person — you can read the article or look at the slideshow, for example, and know whether that content was actually worth taking the time to read. For search engines and social networking algorithms, however, the job is a bit different — these programs are measuring and evaluating content en masse on an entirely quantitative basis. So, how does this work?

Facebook was actually very clear about the checks they were putting in place to better filter content in the newsfeed. In addition to being tougher on the use of links outside of the link post format, Facebook will be more closely measuring user behavior after clicking links. From Facebook’s blog post:

“One way is to look at how long people spend reading an article away from Facebook. If people click on an article and spend time reading it, it suggests they clicked through to something valuable. If they click through to a link and then come straight back to Facebook, it suggests that they didn’t find something that they wanted.”

That’s not all. Facebook will also be factoring in the network’s engagement features:

“Another factor we will use to try and show fewer of these types of stories is to look at the ratio of people clicking on the content compared to people discussing and sharing it with their friends. If a lot of people click on the link, but relatively few people click Like, or comment on the story when they return to Facebook, this also suggests that people didn’t click through to something that was valuable to them.”

The bottom line isn’t exactly shocking: Facebook wants you to start creating better content and not trick its users into clicking on poor articles written just for the ad impressions. Of course, this isn’t a problem for you because you’re always putting out great content, but understanding the process behind the scenes can help you ensure that your content isn’t mistakenly penalized. The key is ensuring that users who click through to an article don’t bounce off shortly thereafter, and that users comment, like, share, etc. Your posting strategy should focus on quality over quantity — post only the content most likely to drive engagement instead of using Facebook or Twitter as a broadcast tool for every piece of content you publish.

Conveying value with clear, direct headlines (without gimmicks)

Drawing readers to your content en masse doesn’t require “tricking” people into clicking your links — just a little thought and planning to make sure the headline and social post content immediately convey value. There are two easy formats you can use repeatedly to get people to click through (and not regret it) — the “_ Tips for _____” article and the “How to _______” article.

These article formats naturally flow with how people search for information online. The volume of searches every day that start with “how to,” for example, is enormous. People are constantly scouring the internet for better ways to do the things they do every day or for how to do things they don’t know how to do. The best topics will be timely, insightful pieces that speak directly to the needs of your audience. For a site focused on Apple products, for example, a guide to using a new feature on the latest iPhone is a great starting point.

The headline is, of course, critical, and there are certainly plenty of pieces of clickbait positioned as “how to” articles that will annoy potential readers. “How to Change Your Life Forever”…”How to Quit Your Job and Make $10,000/week Working from Home”…”How to Get More Traffic”…you get the point. Generally, the more specific you can be, the better. If you hyper-target your headline, not only will it give you hyper-targeted traffic (that won’t bounce), it will be much better suited for ranking in search engines.

“How to Get Your Dream Job” — needs work

“How to Use LinkedIn to Get Your Dream Job” — better

Technically, you could even go further and get role-specific with something like “How to Use LinkedIn to Get a Great Marketing Job” to really go after the long-tail, but that’s up to you and how targeted you want to be with your audience. Similar strategies apply for “Tips and tricks” headlines.

“10 Tips for Making More Money” — pure clickbait

“5 Ways to Build Financial Security by Investing in Rental Properties” — fantastic…targeted and direct


The test you should run before publishing any piece of content is to re-read the headline and ask yourself if that would be how you would describe the article in one sentence if you were asked to summarize it. If not, whether that’s because it is too general or not entirely accurate, you should re-evaluate and try to come up with a title that is more targeted. If you always err on the side of specificity, you run little risk of bringing in untargeted traffic who might not see the value in your content that they were expecting.

How to Increase Social Sharing of Your Content

How to Increase Social Sharing of Your Content

There’s a very simple truth that guides most marketing efforts: the greater the number of people that see something, the greater the impact it will have. For a publisher, getting your content in front of as many people as possible is critical to increasing traffic and attracting new users. Luckily, social networks like Facebook and Twitter have made it easier than every to get your content in front of as many people as possible. While they offer great ways to distribute content (through branded pages or accounts), these social networks provide an even more powerful way to expand your audience: social sharing.

By making the process of sharing content with others as easy as possible, social networks have given publishers a vehicle for exponential growth and exposure. No more emailing links to individual friends – now, people can share to everyone they know en masse (and in a much more public fashion). Getting your content shared is a little more involved than just publishing an article and waiting — here are some tips to increase social sharing of your content.

Create high-quality, shareable content

An obvious point, sure, but one that still bears mentioning. To get a high volume of social shares, you need to create content that isn’t just worth reading — it needs to be so valuable that the reader will want to take another step and share it with his or her friends. Quality should be a given — you definitely don’t want to create content that is so bad it gets shared — but finding the right topics to cover is just as important.

A quick way to find great topics is to take, at a high level, what your website covers and use a tool like Buzzsumo to find specific angles that are getting the most shares in your particular niche.

Buzzsumo
A Buzzsumo search for “iPhone 6.”

The key to identifying the right topic is more than just the subject matter — tone plays a huge part as well. For example, you might find that informative articles like guides and how-to’s are best for a specific topic, or, alternatively, a humorous approach might be the best way to get people sharing.

Share the content on your own social media accounts

Another obvious point, but one that needs a closer examination. The benefits of posting content to your Facebook page, Twitter account, etc., is essential because it gives your audience more places to discover and engage with your content. Keeping content on your website, without social promotion, means that fewer people (even your most loyal readers) will find and read it. This is, again, obvious, but there’s a flip side — not every article needs to be posted and, in fact, most should not be.

A good rule of thumb for sharing content from your website on social profiles is to focus on quality, not quantity. What are the articles that will drive the most traffic? What are the articles that are most likely to be shared? These are the articles you should post on social media. In doing so, you’ll attract plenty of visitors, many of whom will click through to your other articles and engage with more of your content.

Add social sharing widgets to your articles

Not to get repetitive or anything, but another obvious point to make is that if you make it easier to share an article from directly on the page, readers are more likely to go ahead and share it. How you going about doing this is where it gets a bit more involved.

Let’s first look at how to implement social sharing widgets from a technical standpoint. While this functionality can always be developed from scratch, it’s better to use a service like AddThis, Shareaholic or SumoMe’s Share app so that you can quickly implement, customize and analyze your widgets. The main area of discussion when it comes to social sharing widgets is where to place them — some sites have them above the content, some below, while others choose to use a sticky widget on the side that stays with you as you scroll. It’s not even out of the question to use put the widgets in more than one place. There are plenty of arguments for each, but in the end, the most important choice to make is to put them on your site in the first place — picking the right location is merely optimization. If you really want to pick the best location and are technically adept, or have access to someone who is, you can use A/B testing, through services like Optimizely or Visual Website Optimizer, to figure out which location on your page garners the most social shares.

If you’re looking for an innovative way to increase social sharing beyond just using widgets (and your website is built in WordPress), SumoMe’s Highlighter app makes it easy for readers to share parts of your articles to Facebook and Twitter by highlighting text and clicking share.

SumoMe Highlighter
With SumoMe Highlighter, a share widget pops up whenever a reader highlights text in your content.

Setup is easy — just install the plugin, activate Highlighter, and connect your Twitter account.

Reach out to relevant influencers on Twitter

Twitter is a great way to connect with people who might be interested in your content. Do you mention a person or company in your post? Are you connected to someone with a sizable following who you know would be very interested in what you’ve published? Reach out on Twitter or even @-tag them in your tweet for the article. It’s an easy way to get their attention and accelerate sharing of your content.


Do you have any tips or tricks for increasing social sharing? We’d love to hear them. Feel free to leave a comment or send us a tweet at @StackCommerce.