I got an email today that made me a little bit sad. It was from Apple (s aapl), and it was about how great Ping is. It left the distinct impression that many don’t agree. An email won’t convince people Ping is worthwhile. So what would?
Play to Your Own Advantages
Many have argued that there isn’t really room for a social music network based around music, what with Last.fm, Blip.fm and Myspace (s nws) already occupying that niche. I don’t think that’s true, especially considering the fact that Apple has unfettered access to the iTunes library in building its contender.
But iTunes music isn’t the only resource available to Apple, and it hasn’t done a very good job of utilizing the other tools available to it. I’m thinking mostly about its iOS devices. The iPhone, iPod touch and iPad are invaluable in terms of the way people use social media these days. Facebook acknowledges that, as we saw during its mobile-focused press event this past Wednesday.
Ping Its Own App
Facebook isn’t the only example. The iPhone is the sole platform for one of the hottest new social media startups out there, Instagram. In case you haven’t heard of it yet, Instagram allows quick and easy photo-sharing through an iPhone app, and only through an iPhone app. You can’t play unless you have one (though people can view your photos in any browser), at least for the time being.
Ping has presence on the iPhone, but only as part of the iTunes app, and with very limited functionality. Why not partner with some of the more successful music-related apps on the iOS platform to make Ping genuinely useful? Shazam-type music identification comes to mind, as does the ability to share and create playlists, and broadcast what’s currently playing on your device.
Since Ping is meant as a means to boost iTunes sales, I’m not saying Apple should drive an impassable divide between the two. Make track links open in iTunes, or let people buy directly from the Ping app in the iTunes store. As a value-add feature for iTunes itself, Ping clearly isn’t interesting to consumers. And why would it be? Would you use Twitter if it was just something Amazon had created and awkwardly tacked on to its online store?
Put Ping on the Web
I talked about the success of Instagram as an iPhone-only social network, but I think Ping needs a desktop presence, especially if it’s going to achieve Apple’s goals of driving iTunes sales. So put it on the web, not in iTunes. Social networks succeed because users can access them wherever. How often have you quickly signed in to Facebook at a friend’s house to check your messages? Try signing in to Ping on a friend’s Mac. It can be done, but not easily, and not from any browser.
Don’t take away iTunes integration. I’m glad I can Like things from my library, but don’t limit it to that. In fact, provide APIs that let artists post Ping Like links on tracks and albums listed on their own sites. If you want real reach, you don’t insist users come to you, and to an application they have to install and run outside of their browser, no less.
Separate the Ping Brand
Apple is a marquee brand, so why would the company ever want to make Ping its own distinct entity? Because Apple doesn’t mean “social networking” to anyone, and it’s harder to overcome that than it is to start a new brand association.
Ping is aimed at music fans. So leave it at that. Change the badging and branding of Ping, and treat it more like a close partnership than an Apple product. That way, it’s more likely to reach music fans as a general category, not music fans who are also Apple hardware users, which is the much smaller group it’s talking to now.
Instead of funneling already loyal customers to its store, Apple will be reaching a new audience who might not even use iTunes or Apple devices. Ping could be a means of introducing them to the wonderful world of Cupertino, but not if people see it as an Apple sales pitch first, and as a network, only a distant second.
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