$17.99 for a WSJ iPad subscription? Really?

The Wall Street Journal recently announced that its iPad version would be available for a $17.99 a month subscription. That would make the cost of the WSJ iPad edition, at $215.88 a year, significantly more expensive than its print price ($119.08), its online price ($103.48), or its combined print/online price ($139.88).

Or, in another perspective, it’d be $192 more per year than its iPhone app.

NOTE: The subscription prices are based WSJ’s web site advertised rate of 3/30/10. which is billed at “a savings of over 80%”

NOTE TO WSJ EDITORS: Shouldn’t that be “a savings of more than 80%?”

You have to wonder what’s going through the minds of the powers-that-be in determining such a price point before the first device hits consumers’ hands. I personally have not seen WSJ iPad edition, but I have to wonder just what makes this edition that much more valuable than its print, online or mobile versions?

My only assumption is that, like WSJ’s other platforms, it is expected that the cost will be written off by most of its subscribers as a business expense. However, it remains to be seen if businesses, especially in this economic climate, will be willing to pay more for an experience they can get elsewhere at a cheaper price … or even free.

I also wonder if businesses are ready to accept the iPad as a business tool, especially given Apple’s marketing strategy of its products as lifestyle devices. (Case in point: A BusinessWeek survey last year found the majority of BlackBerry users were given their device by their employer, while the majority of iPhone users bought their own).

WSJ’s opening salvo into the “making money on a new platform” stakes could hurt other news organizations’ attempts to create revenue models on the iPad, especially as you drill down to the local level. Given that Apple is setting a price point that will make the iPad more accessable to the masses, just how many $17.99 subscriptions will the masses will be willing to plop onto their devices?

Unless the WSJ’s iPad customer experience is dramatically different, engaging and convenient (similar to the Sports Illustrated demo I’ve discussed earlier), the starting subscription price seems rather steep. Let’s hope they don’t shoot themselves in the foot with this revenue grab.

Social networking: Stop talking, start listening

Mashable recently had a great piece on how small businesses are having success on social networking. The main theme throughout these stories is that in order to be a success, you need to engage and respond to your followers.

In other words, stop talking, and start listening.

I was reminded of an exchange I had with a Twitter follower a couple of years back. The person was a new follower of me, so I was not that familiar with him. But I was surprised when I got a tweet from him, basically saying, “Is anyone out there reading this?”

I responded that I was, indeed, “out there.” He shot back that he was getting frustrated by sending out tweets and not getting anyone to respond, or even acknowledge, his messages. He did thank me for “giving him hope” for Twitter, but I haven’t seen much of him since.

Frankly, the first message from him that ever caught my eye was that desperate call for recognition. But it was obviously clear that, if he had a message, it wasnt getting across.

If you want to build customers and brand, you need to see how they react to your message. Reply, engage, compel. Listen to what your followers are saying.

Stop talking, start listening. Be social on social media.

You’d be surprised how popular you’ll become with your followers.

Social networking: Are blogs still relevant?

About three years ago, I predicted blogs would become the CB radio of the new millenium. At the time, it seemed everybody had one, but only a few were worth reading. Blogs were the introduction into the world of self-publication, and it was the only venue for you to get your brand onto the Internet.

Today, blogs are being upstaged by social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. Many bloggers found getting their message out on these other sites to be easier and more engaging, and are leaving blogs behind for this new world.

So are blogs going the way of CB radio? In terms of a fashion statement, yes. But as a viable avenue to get your message across, by all means, no!

What we are seeing and will continue to see is the Darwinization of blogs. The Internet is overbloated with blogs. Too many people with too many things to say. Bloggers who have not built the audience they had envisioned are becoming frustrated and are moving on to other platforms, such as Twitter.

And that’s good news for the blogosphere. As the herd thins out, those who have established and maintained good, quality blogs will become more noticable, which will eventually attract more audience as the search engine returns get less crowded.

It’s important to keep a blog in your social media strategy. A blog is a great way to bring depth, breadth and detail to your brand. Entries should promote your message, add insight, and provide valuable links to your customers. Like a newspaper, it needs to be fresh and inform, entertain and engage your readers.

Starting a blog is easy. There are several third-party sites like WordPress or Blogger than can can get you up and running in short time. The hard part, however, is maintaining the blog. Most blogs fail because the blogger has run out of ideas or cannot maintain it on a regular basis. There are two key things to look at when starting a blog:

1. Be sure to pick a topic you’re passionate about … something you can spend all day talking to someone about. Then map out at least 20-30 topics to write about. When you’ve finished the first 10, revisit the list and find 10 more topics.

2. Be consistent in posting. Good bloggers add at least 1 post a week, great bloggers do several a week. The key is that your blog must appear fresh when readers come back to you. If people come back to your blog over and over again and see the same thing, they’ll stop coming. Develop a routine and stick with it.

Keep in mind that every blog entry doesn’t need to be a 600-word essay. You can post photos, videos, links, PDFs, or anything that you think adds value to the blog …and your readers.

Finally, remember to promote your blog through your other social networking sites. The best way to get people to read your blog is to make sure they know when something new is posted.

Blogs may seem long in the tooth for those staying on the cutting edge of social networking, but they are still a valuable and relevant part of your branding strategy. Make sure you have a blog as part of an integral social media strategy.

Social networking: Is it quantity or quality?

You get them all the time on your Twitter and Facebook accounts: “Increase your followers by thousands.”  On Linkedin, so-called experts tell you the more connections, the better. Actor Ashton Kutcher made a big thing last year of being the man with the most followers on Twitter.

But is social networking really all about the numbers?

Well, yes, but in a sense. You need followers/friends/connections to make your social networking strategy work, and you should strive to build an effective network.

But there is a thing as too many friends and followers. Being a member of the “500 club” on Facebook or Linkedin is fine, if that’s where you want to be. Keep in mind, though,  that the one with the most friends on social networks isn’t necessarily the winner.

People are following or friending you for a reason. They are interested in what you have to say, and they hope you are interested in what they have to say. It’s the ‘social’ aspect of social networking that has gotten lost in the madness today, yet it remains the core of an effective brand strategy.

It’s what you say and how you respond to your network that effectively builds followers. Remember that the mass audience no longer exists. It has been broken down into microcommunities that share common interests. These communities seek out one another and share their information with others in the communities. Individuals can be a part of many communities, and they are the key to spreading your message from one community to another.

The key to growth and success in social networking is not building numbers, but maintaining quality content that your  followers find interesting enough to spread to other communities they are a part of. It’s a soft parade approach to growing your brand and marketing strategy, quiet and effective.

So focus on the quality of your social networking plan. Your followers/friends/connections will build the quantity for you.

Social networking: Know where you’re going before you jump in

A colleague come to me recently asking for help getting set up on Facebook. My first question was “how do you plan to use it?”

” I don’t know,”  the colleague replied.  “My boss told us we all need to set up Facebook pages, so that’s what I’m doing.”

That response, I figure, is not uncommon in the flood of businesses into social networking. It’s the hot thing right now and all the social media gurus are saying you need to be on Facebook, Twitter, et. al. to get your brand out there.

I’ve been seeing way too many businesses jumping onto the social network bandwagon with either no plan or with a  “build it and they will come” mentality.  Unfortunately, neither strategy will garner the results you are hoping to expect.

Yes, social networking is big. You should have a presence on it, especially on Facebook and Twitter, where audience growth has been phenomenal over the past few year. But if you’re just there, you’re missing out on a lot of potential.

I compare social networking to standing in Times Square on a busy afternoon. If you just stand there, you will be passed relatively unseen by the mass of people. If a friend or two passes, they’ll stop and say hi, but no one stops and talks unless you take the initiative. Yelling out “hey, you!” may stop a person or two. Performing card tricks may draw a small crowd. Selling ice cream or cold drinks on a hot day will likely attract a large — and profitable — clientele. Listening to your customers and remembering them the next time they drop by will create loyalty.

Social networking operates in the same fashion. There are more than 400 million active users of Facebook worldwide, with more than 35 million page updates every day. Twitter users grew from 6 million to 30 million in just six months last year, and averaged 20 million unique visits daily. That’s a lot of people and, like standing in Times Square, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd if you don’t have a plan.

Social networking offers unique opportunities for your business that you cannot get through other strategies. But to maximize those opportunities, you need to remember a few things:

1. Know why you’re getting into it. You didn’t start your business without a plan, so don’t jump into social networking without knowing where you want to go with it. Should it be to promote your brand? Offer products and services? Build new audiences? Maintain and promote current customer loyalty? Gain feedback from customers to improve service? Develop a written plan with goals before you set up accounts, then follow through.

2. Know who you want to reach: There are millions and millions of people on social networking. You don’t want to reach them all, unless you’re Ashton Kutcher. Set up a plan, target your audience and, above all, get to know your audience one you’re reached them.

3 Consistency is key. Once you’re established, use it regularly. Like blogging, the longer a site sits without fresh postings, the less likely followers and friends are going to pay attention. Social media is more demanding than blogs because of its shorter shelf life and more immediate impact. Keep in mind the average life of a tweet is 5 minutes. If you have something to say, you may need to repeat it, but remember to do so without becoming spammy.

4. It’s social, so listen as well as talk.  This is probably the more forgotten aspect of networking — but also the most important. Your following is based on people who share your interests or are interested in your brand, and they’re likely share some of their interests with you. Don’t be afraid to share your follower’s thoughts, links, etc., with the rest of your network if you believe it is of the greater interest or can help further your brand. Likewise, if followers have complaints or questions, answer them. Dialog builds credibility among your followers, and that’ll make them likely to recommend you to their followers, which builds audience. Companies like Comcast and Best Buy have done a great job building customer relations through Twitter. You can do the same on a smaller level.

5. Don’t assume social networking is just for the young. I was shocked when one of my bosses shrugged off Twitter last year because his 20-something daughter didn’t use it. What he didn’t realize was that in 2009, almost 42 percent of Twitter users were between the ages of 35 and 49, and that demographic was part of the 1,300% increase in Twitter users that year. Likewise, Facebook saw a growth of  270% of users between 35-54. Facebook still skews towards the young, but users over age 55 grew 194% last year and continues to grow. Social networking takes in all demographics, all ages, all social strata. If you have a target audience, you can reach them here.

6. Be patient. The old adage ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ applies to social network strategies as well. There’s a lot of chatter and white noise in the social stratosphere, and it may take a while to establish yourself and build a following. I’m starting on my third year with this blog, but it was only in the last 6 months that I’ve seen a significant increase in the number of readers (and to all my new and recent followers: Thanks for your support!). An old rule of thumb in online media was to give a new product at least 18 months to build audience. I’d figure about as much for a new start-up on social networks as well.

7. Have some fun.  Think of traditional marketing as “Mad Men:” All business, suit-and-tie, formal decorum. Think of social networking as casual Friday: Keep the decorum, but loosen the tie and joke around a bit. Execute your plan, but do it with a wink and a smile. For example, if you have a restaurant and set up Facebook and Twitter accounts, engage your followers and potential customers. Post a poll for your followers’ favorite server (and maybe reward the winner with a prize), have followers choose what the special of the night should be. Tweet out coupons (“Show us this tweet and get a free appetizer with dinner”).  Offer diners space to talk about their dining experience.  Having fun engages your followers, and the more they’re engaged, the more likely they’ll spread the word about you to others.

I’ve been asked many times if this is a fad. I respond that Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the rest may be fads, but social networking is here to stay. If Facebook or Twitter die off, it will be because they have been replaced by something that is even more exciting and engaging.

You need to be on social networking. But you also need to know where you’re going.