3 Blogs: Spotify, Engadget, and Anthony Bourdain

For this week’s post I’ll be highlighting and talking a little about three blogs that I recently discovered–the music app Spotify’s news blog, the collaborative tech news blog Engadget, and Anthony Bourdain’s travel blog on Tumblr. Without any further ado, let’s jump right in with…

Spotify

Spotify blog
A news feed post announces the arrival of Spotify Running on Android.

Spotify’s blog is a hybrid in purpose. It serves primarily to keep Spotify users up-to-date on the goings-on at Spotify, the music and artists the app hosts, and updates to the app itself as well as its services. On some level, it’s a niche news blog, but the blog team also posts about the Spotify community (“Life at Spotify”), music previews, artist interviews, marketing, contests and so on, so it’s mainly a professional blog representing the company, its employees, and product.

Spotify blog follow user
The White House has its own official playlists, and you can follow them on the app or right here on the blog.

What makes Spotify’s blog unique in some regard is that it also serves as a host for the downloadable app that the blog is all about. So, if someone who doesn’t use a music and radio app searches for any such service, should they come across Spotify’s blog, they don’t have to go to its main website to get the app. On that note, Spotify’s shareable blog posts (the blog is connected to Facebook and Twitter) make it easy for potential news users to discover Spotify on social media and to find the downloadable app right as they follow a link and land on the blog. Additionally, the blog provides instant Spotify follow buttons on posts featuring a real user’s playlist, such as the “White House” playlist, put together by President Obama himself.

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Skullcandy is the brand partner I would want to see. The logo even agrees with Spotify’s aesthetic, which favors black, white, and green. (Image source)

Spotify pops up pretty high in Google search results, along with comparably popular apps such as Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Jango. As I mentioned before, it’s also well integrated with Facebook and Twitter. Its posts are made more alluring by interesting photos of musicians and artists, the Spotify team, and screenshots of shiny, new app features. There isn’t any real advertising on the blog–after all, it’s really Spotify advertising Spotify–but if there were third-party ads, I’d expect the obvious. Skullcandy earbuds, Beats headphones, or maybe (strong emphasis on maybe) a concert ticket vendor like Ticketfly would make appropriate placements. Any kind of hip tech or related service that supports popular music would do, but I can’t say whether Spotify needs or wants to go that route. The lack of ads also strengthens the brand’s identity online. After all, ad-free music is the number one feature of the “Spotify Premium” upgrade.

Overall, I’d say Spotify’s blog is successful. It’s updated often, there’s plenty of original content, the brand embraces IMC, and it’s easy to connect to and follow. The visual design is a little plain, in my opinion. I’m used to seeing the cool layout of Spotify’s desktop app, and it makes the blog layout a little boring in comparison.

Engadget

Engadget homepage
On the homepage you’ll see share buttons galore, and large, attractive images that link to full articles.

Engadget is quite different. It’s an online magazine that operates like a news blog. Engadget focuses on technology news–everything from smartphones and videogames to light pollution and “robo-babies”. Its posts come from a number of contributors and its news feed updates pretty frequently. In fact, several fresh stories have popped up since I last checked the site just a few hours ago. The content is also diverse and interesting. It’s not fair to call Engadget “primarily a mobile device blog” or “mostly a videogame blog”. These writers talk about anything tech. I think that’s the first thing I liked about Engadget, and what lends it uniqueness. Something else worth mentioning is that not only does the magazine / blog have a high follower count on Facebook and Twitter, it offers the same content in multiple languages (check out its Spanish Facebook page and Japanese Twitter account).

Engadget from mobile
Here’s the view on mobile: a smooth, simple stream of recent article titles and their featured images.

I think it’s appropriate that Engadget’s logo incorporate’s the universal wifi / wireless communications symbol (left), because the blog itself is structured with its target audience in mind. The first thing you see when you land on Engadget’s homepage is a ton of links (videos first), followed by clickable news articles, and share buttons abound. The magazine is all about tech, and their blog makes well-rounded use of social apps and engaging links. This design philosophy suits the brand image and facilitates the news consumption habits of readers, who, no doubt, are visiting via smartphone, tablet, and other such gadgets–you know, the ones that put the “gadget” in “Engadget”.

I noticed a conservative amount of ads on the blog. The most prominent was a large banner ad for Qualcomm (a 3G and next-gen mobile technology company). There were also a few credit related ads for Citi and Equifax, as well as an ad for Marriott. This tells me the blog likely targets readers no younger than about 24 or 25 years old, and appeals to professionals who may be on-the-go or may have to travel on business.

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Engadget’s Facebook page for Spanish-speaking readers.

Overall, I’d say this is the most successful blog on the list. Its IMC approach is clearly well-devised. I’m especially impressed that it integrates with channels that cater to foreign language audiences. Its content is interesting and fresh, and its contributors make it easy to connect with them on Twitter. I’ve tried to find a weakness, but I don’t honestly think any additions or subtractions from the current design are necessary. The blog offers just enough without overwhelming.

Anthony Bourdain

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The No Reservations title shot (image source).

If you’ve ever watched the TV series No Reservations, Parts Unknown, or The Layover, you already know who Anthony Bourdain is, and it’s easy to guess what his Tumblr blog is about–travel, and all the food, culture, and political context that entails. However, Bourdain’s blog isn’t really just a travel blog. I’m considering it to be a professional blog not only because Bourdain, by profession, is a traveling writer / journalist (and chef), but also because, 1) Anthony Bourdain is essentially his own brand, and 2) Bourdain’s blog is, to some degree, an extension of his television shows. This is to say that the quality of his blogging meets an obviously (much) higher-than-recreational standard, and is affiliated with companies, Scripps Networks Interactive and Cox Communications, but most directly,  the Travel Channel.

Bourdain blog home
Sometimes, less truly is more.

This blog is the least cluttered of the three I’ve featured; in fact, there’s zero clutter. The page is nothing more than Bourdain’s neatly arranged travel pieces, associated photos, contact and social media links in the right margin, and a simple profile picture crowning an “about this blog” style quote. It’s clean, straightforward, and journalistic. No nonsense. It suits the brand  (Bourdain’s persona) and almost reminds me of a design philosophy I’d see in a single-page piece in National Geographic, only simpler. It may not appeal to some bloggers, but I like it, and here’s why:

  1. It doesn’t try to do the job of other channels. In Bourdain’s case, his Tumblr blog is probably not the first place you’ve seen him. The Travel Channel (television) is the medium that’s doing all the pushing. Bourdain’s blog is more of an outlet to receive the pulled crowd. It’s a neatly organized source of information for anyone looking to see some “behind-the-scenes” material, Bourdain’s books, or “Spare Parts Unknown” (a music blog that pairs with the shows).
  2. All the IMC connections are there, and easy to use. Want to follow Anthony Bourdain on Facebook or Twitter? Every link you need is tucked up in the top right corner. The blog is already being hosted on Tumblr, so sharing on that platform is built right in.
  3. It showcases a brand / public figure’s persona without undermining the artist. In other words, the blog makes it clear that it’s affiliated with the shows you already know and love, but there are no advertisements, a pretty unique quality. This is a case where what’s missing, at first glance, probably doesn’t need to be there anyway. I’m glad I didn’t see palm-tree-and-azure-sky-filled images bearing the Travel Channel logo all over the margins. The blog stays true to its goals and brand while keeping what doesn’t really need to be there at arm’s length. TV, Facebook, Twitter, and Bourdain’s Instagram are all doing a fine job of pushing, but there does need to be one channel that can catch the curious fans away from all the noise.

So, what do you think? Visit the comments below and let me know what other great blogs I should be following or featuring in the future. Oh, and there’s a fun poll below. Take some time to go click on it!

 

 

In Case You Missed It: AJC Decatur Book Festival 2015

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Bookzilla and the parade pass by my booth at Decatur Book Fest 2015.

The first time I attended the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, Georgia, was on Labor Day weekend in 2010. At the time, I was an indie author of about nine months and I had a single publication to my name, a novel I’d dreamed up as a 17-year-old and rewritten as a sophomore in college, A Pirate’s Charm. By September 2010, I hadn’t much experience as a marketer or salesperson–these are two of many, many roles you’re obligated to fill if your independent title is going to reach any bookshelf other than your own. I’d done a few signings in my hometown and in the town I went to college, and felt pretty good about myself, but local celebrity is not that hard to achieve in small places. The first time I exhibited at Decatur, I realized that I shared a dream with quite a few other writers–hundreds more, just at that festival–and for the first time I felt truly connected to the larger reading and writing world.

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Agnes Scott College (above) and the Art Institute of Atlanta-Decatur are a short walk away.

This isn’t to say that Decatur, Georgia is a giant. It’s not, and mostly because it lives in the shadow of nearby Atlanta, one of the busiest and largest hubs of business, culture, entertainment, and the arts in the Southeast. To put it in perspective, as of 2013, Decatur’s population was a little over 20,000 according to the city’s own estimate. It’s small, but it packs a lot of unique identity and personality. Additionally, the town boasts several higher learning institutions and a highly educated populace (currently, around 35.5% of residents hold Master’s degrees), so it’s as smart as it is charming.

Its town square, my favorite area, is where the Decatur Book Festival takes place every year, and is swiftly becoming the hotspot for foodies and other big-reach bloggers from Atlanta. Consequently, two notable Atlanta chefs made an appearance this year:

Hugh Acheson is the chef-owner of restaurants in Athens, Atlanta and Savannah, including the Atlanta showplace Empire State South. He is the author of “The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits.” He will team up with Steven Satterfield, executive chef and co-owner of Miller Union and author of “Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons.” Satterfield’s book offers 174 vegetable recipes (for “omnivores”).
–Bo Emerson, AJC.com (August 28, 2015)

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Mac McGee Irish Pub (above) and Brick Store are two of my favorite places to eat.

Nothing complements culture and education like good food and good books. Perhaps this is why the Decatur Book Festival is one of the best literary events in the Southeast (and already claims to be the largest independent book festival in the United States).

The crowd of readers that pours into Decatur, Georgia every Labor Day weekend consistently outnumbers the population that lives there year-round (many times over). Scores of thousands flock to the festival, some coming to take a peek after attending DragonCon, which occurs every year at the same time. Children, teens, parents, grandparents, college students–every demographic is catered to, and diversity shines. This year, the event featured several world-class guests, including feminist writers Erica Jong and Roxane Gay, who participated in author panels.

The festival kicked off on Friday night with a sold-out Keynote event at Emory University’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. Former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey gave a recitation of “Meditation at Decatur Square,” a poem examining how, after personal tragedy, the city has been redeemed for her through the festival.
Decatur Metro (September 9, 2015)

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I was visited by the Decatur Book Fest haiku team.

In 2014, attendance capped at around 90,000 visitors (Decaturish.com). Attendance at this year’s event was as big as it’s ever been, and according to Executive Director and Co-Founder Daren Wang, the event is becoming “a significant part of the nationwide landscape” (Sawicki), and I believe it. I was there. The Decatur Book Festival sees the kind of community involvement, attendance, culture, literature, and social engagement that any great festival should strive for. It’s why I keep coming back, it’s why readers keep coming back, and it’s why, for at least one weekend every year, Decatur is the biggest little town in Georgia.

Ref.

Decatur Metro. (2015, September 9). Decaturmetro.com – “Decatur Book Festival: ‘Easily Most Successful Festival’ Ever”

Emerson, Bo. (2015, August 28). Artsculture.blog.ajc.com – “AJC Decatur Book Fest highlights: get ready to book it”

Sawicki, Beth. (2015). 11Alive.com – “2015 AJC Decatur Book Festival-The Country’s Largest Independent Book Festival Returns With World-Class Authors and All-New Programming”

Whisenhunt, Dan. (2014, September 4). Decaturish.com – “Book Festival reports record attendance”

Images

Agnes Scott College – www.college-locator.com

Revisiting Steam: A Look At Push and Pull Marketing

Last week, I posted an article about Steam, the social gaming platform by Valve Corporation. In this week’s post, I’m going to delve a bit deeper into Steam’s website, its downloadable gaming platform, and mobile app, and talk about the push and pull tactics leveraged by these channels and others.

Steam home page ads
Steampowered.com’s homepage looks exactly the same whether you’re viewing it in-browser or on your desktop.

First, I should mention that Steam’s homepage and its desktop app’s homepage are identical twins. The website and its downloadable counterpart, the latter of which supports access to games in case the user is offline (or has no Internet connection), both feature the same headlining sales, deals, and updates. These notifications refresh daily and weekly, and are arranged into various categories–the big sales are centered on the page, the weekly or weekend deals are usually arranged in the top right corner, daily deals are normally just below those, and so on. In other words, there are a variety of easily-located sections right on the home page that are frequently updated, and on different (but regular) schedules.

Surprisingly, for a consumer who’s never heard of Steam, it’s probably not easy to find the service through a standard search engine query, and this means Steam isn’t generating a lot of pull via online searches. Results for “digital games”, “online gaming”, and other search terms tend to result in ads directed at GameStop, BestBuy, and other brick-and-mortar retailers. However, as I mentioned in last week’s post, Steam has found an interesting workaround, and I’ll get to that soon. Where Steam really begins to succeed in its pull strategy is within its own platform. It’s difficult to think of every feature that helps achieve this, so I’ll stick to the highlights.

Here are some of Steam’s best and most unique pull strategies:

  1. Customized home page and purchase recommendations. Once a customer begins buying games on Steam (which requires a quick and free membership sign-up) Steam begins tracking tags associated with
    Steam website recommendations
    Steam quickly learns what users like and changes its homepage to suit the user’s preferences once they’re signed in. It makes the user feel “at home”–a good pull technique.

    purchases, store browsing trends, and other user behavior. When that user is signed in, the homepage changes to display games and sales of interest to that particular user, and explains why it made those recommendations. Additionally, it tracks what a user’s friends are buying and playing, and makes suggestions based on other users’ recommendations and reviews. It goes even further still, letting a user know which of their friends has bought or also wants a game the user is viewing in the storefront. But that’s not all. Steam also recommends search tags you should use in the future, based on your interests. Steam’s homepage becomes your homepage. It greets you as if it’s the cliche bartender who has your drink ready before you even pull up a seat.

  2. Tradeable and sellable digital items. This one’s pretty interesting. Steam continually creates digital items that are collectible and available to users who frequently use the platform. The type I specifically want to mention are Steam Trading Cards. Players can earn digital trading cards by playing
    Steam Community Market
    The Community Market allows users to make spendable cash by selling items they earn just by playing the games they buy.

    games they own (if the game supports the feature). Complete sets of trading cards can be “exchanged” for special upgrades to a user’s account or profile, i.e. access to special characters in the chat window, special buttons or stickers to display on the user’s profile page, bragging-rights style achievements, and so on. It’s a decent pull strategy that reinforces engagement. However, what’s more enticing, in my opinion, is the option to put unwanted items up for sale in the Community Market. Some users don’t care about account upgrades, and can instead sell their collectibles for spendable cash that deposits straight into their Steam Wallet. This makes it possible for users who are active enough to get more games at an added discount or even free. Building up free funds promotes exclusively shopping with Steam and engaging more with the platform. This feature alone, as Nelson Xalavier at Gamasutra puts it, creates a kind of addicting game in and of itself, and “[if you] look into the depths of Steam Trading, [you’ll] find a brilliant ecosystem formed around the unique quirks of the Steam platform.”

  3. Visibility in competitors’ storefronts. I mentioned this in last week’s post, so I’ll keep this brief. Steam’s biggest competitors (BestBuy, Gamestop, Walmart, and Target) have struggled to keep up with a consumer shift in favor of the sale of digital games as opposed to physical. Consequently, they’ve attempted to boost sales by selling Steam Wallet Codes in their brick-and-mortar stores. So, although Steam isn’t winning the Google search race, it’s made itself discoverable within its competitors’ stores, and is ready to be seen by a consumer base that, more and more, is developing a preference for digital gaming, but may not know its options.

Now let’s examine some of Steam’s best push strategies:

  1. Direct notifications. Steam makes use of a popular, effective, and well known strategy–simply, sending email and mobile alerts that keep registered users up-to-date on the latest daily and weekly sales, news, holiday specials, and other announcements. Users also receive alerts when products they’ve followed, liked, or put on a wishlist go on sale or receive a price drop, and when their friends send them gifts or a request to trade special items.
  2. The Steam mobile app and desktop app. Steam not only has a website that caters to each individual’s needs and preferences, and provides a social platform for gamers, it duplicated that service and encourages users to install it on their mobile device and PC or laptop.
    Steam mobile notification
    This mobile notification actually came in as I was writing this post.

    Steam makes itself accessible no matter where the consumer is, and continues to
    actively alert and update the user. The
    desktop app even has its own special news update pop-up that appears when users first sign in to Steam from their desktop; it provides a slideshow of the top five updates of the day, typically the biggest sales or announcements of the most anticipated upcoming games (which Steam makes available for pre-order).

  3. Steam Greenlight. I saved the most interesting for last. In recent years, there has been a surge of new and independent videogame developers and studios. As in book publishing or the film industry, it can be difficult to get “indie” projects off the ground and into the hands of big distributors. Steam answered with its Greenlight feature. Greenlight hosts the works-in-progress of indie artists who want to garner support for their games from consumers and a distributor at the same time. Greenlight allows indie developers a cSteam Greenlighthance to showcase the work they’ve done and talk to the community about what their plans are for their projects. In that regard, it mimics crowdfunding (think Kickstarter or GoFundMe), but without the financial endorsement feature. If a project gets enough positive Steam community response and the devs “donate $100 to a charity” (Hendricks), Steam will distribute and sell the finished product. I consider this a unique push strategy rather than a pull, because Greenlight actively petitions for community participation in deciding which new indie games to bring to Steam. The imagery on Greenlight’s page works as a good call-to-action (“Vote!”) and aids the push. The game development process isn’t often something consumers get to participate in meaningfully, and it’s a free feature that encourages users to engage with the industry beyond purchasing its product or sharing reviews.
Steam share buttons
Steam does include share buttons, focusing on its cross-platform engagement (Facebook, Twitter, and reddit), but, like offsite SEO, these seem to take a backseat to Steam’s focus on in-app push-and-pull.

Steam’s website, desktop app, and mobile app are littered with features designed to keep customers coming back, and those same channels do a great job of keeping the push and pull cycle going. If the brand could improve anywhere, it’s in two distinct areas. One of these I spoke about in last week’s post. There does exit a Steam Support team (here’s their Twitter), but its track record is nothing to be proud of. Valve has recently begun to answer for this failing and is making changes to Steam’s services that will hopefully correct this, such as modifying their returns policy. For now, users have to wait and see how much effect these changes have. The second weakness is the lack of pull marketing outside of Steam’s own website and apps, and its borrowed space in its competitors’ stores. It’s not a bad way to pull offline, but that tactic needs some basic online reinforcement–some good SEO would be the best place to start.

Ref.

Hendricks, Dustin. (2015, August 26). Gamasutra.com – “Launching Steam Greenlight & KickStarter: One week in, top 25, and 50% funded”

Nelson, Xalavier. (2015, August 31). Gamasutra.com – “Endless Steam–How I Found Valve’s Greatest Game”

SocialBook: The Coolest Reading Tool You’ve Never Heard Of

It’s arguable that “social reading” has always been around. People read, and some talk about what they read, but social reading has never been envisioned in as productive, accessible, and pervasive a medium than the digital. Personal devices such as the Kindle and the NOOK exist for the purpose of reading electronic texts and even sharing them, but there is still no strong, digital community that promotes social reading in the most progressive and innovative sense.

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We often imagine the traditional reader as “tuned out”, “curled up”, or shut away in a study (Image from DailyGenius).

According to Bob Stein, founder of The Voyager Company and The Criterion Collection, not even Apple iBooks has really changed the book as we know it. iBooks and its competitors, namely Kindle and NOOK, are designed to facilitate the consumption of books and the sale of books in the quickly-evolving mobile and digitally driven world, but have done little to meaningfully transform the book, or the act of reading. E-books and other digital publications remain the same islands of text that print publications have always been. Where is the Social Media Age bridge between readers, writers, editors, publishers, and scholars? Where is the Facebook of fiction, the Pinterest of poetry?

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SocialBook’s landing page is simple but intriguing.

Stein and his colleagues are attempting to provide an answer in the form of a prototype social reading community by the name of SocialBook. Like Apple iBooks’s author app, or Kindle Direct Publishing, SocialBook allows the editor(s) and/or author(s) of a text to upload the work to a social network of readers, who may engage with the text on a digital platform. However, unlike current trending platforms, SocialBook allows readers to contribute their marginalia to an ever-expanding discussion that encompasses the text, and is accessible by all readers of that text. Users may open tabs, located along the sides of the text, and view reader commentary as well as author, editor and publisher commentary. They can also contribute to an ever-growing, public conversation about the books they read. Stein talks more about social reading here, on the Institute for the Future of the Book’s “If:Book” blog, and in this video from 2011:

SocialBook
The Commons displays an assortment of currently available titles.

The possibilities of such a platform are great, and many have yet to be tested at length in a real market. All of SocialBook’s currently uploaded titles are also public domain, and therefore can be accessed by anyone. However, Stein explained, when he spoke at a digital forum at the University of Florida in 2012, in the future, the community will likely accommodate copyright protected material. Like any DRM-protected e-book, any works not in the public domain will have to be purchased. Upon purchasing access to a copyright protected book, the reader will unlock the socially engaging features SocialBook already offers for works in the public domain.

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The social reader is not only engaged with a book but tuned in to the greater public discourse surrounding the text (Image from blog.social2b.com).

Going forward, this technology raises many questions and concerns regarding our definitions of “publisher”, “editor”, and “author”. It is unknown for now but reasonable to guess that this process may diminish the need for the traditional publisher as we know it (or perhaps change the role of the publisher) and will allow editors and authors greater publishing freedoms. For the first time as well, it will be feasible for authors and editors to have round-the-clock, open-ended, and public dialogues with readers, critics, and scholars.

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Users talking about Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”.

With the “Groups” feature, there is incredible potential for SocialBook within classrooms. With a platform like SocialBook, students can not only experience textbook learning as a fully socialized practice, they can also interact with the text by contributing public thoughts and notes to the margins. Their peers–in the classroom, at home, or on the go–can access and respond to those posts, add their own thoughts to the conversation, answer instructor-prompted questions, and pose questions of their own to other readers. Teachers and professors can guide or moderate frequently updated discussions, and even connect to other classroom group discussions anywhere in the world. Ten…one hundred…one thousand or more people–there’s no limit–can read the same copy of the same book at the same time, building an engaging, public, social, shareable, “super conversation” that’s organically curated for readers by readers.

When Bob Stein spoke at a digital forum at UF, he asked the attendees to imagine if Romeo and Juliet, the theory of relativity, or any other great work had originally been published on SocialBook. What if everyone had access to Shakespeare’s or Einstein’s personal annotations? What if great thinkers could speak to us about their ideas across time, and what if we, the readers, could keep the conversation going?

Images & Related Articles

Girl reading a book: DailyGenius – “10 Questions You Should Ask Yourself While Reading”

Social reading illustration: Blog.Social2b.com – “Social Reading and the Future of Publishing”

Brand Media Showcase: Steam, by Valve Corporation

Steam-logoFor this week’s blog post, I’ve decided to spotlight a brand that I think has done a keen job of targeting its consumer base not only by integrating the channels through which it communicates with its audience but by integrating its product with the touchpoints consumers use to access it. Sounds strange, right? What kind of product can literally be integrated with the touchpoints its brand uses to market it? The answer is software, and the software I’m specifically referring to is called Steam. For those unfamiliar with the developer Valve and its social gaming platform, here is Wikipedia’s breakdown:

Steam is an Internet-based digital distribution platform developed by Valve Corporation offering digital rights management (DRM), multiplayer, and social networking. Steam provides the user with installation and automatic updating of games on multiple computers, and community features such as friends lists and groups, cloud saving, and in-game voice and chat functionality. The software provides a freely available application programming interface (API) called Steamworks, which developers can use to integrate many of Steam’s functions into their products, including networking and matchmaking, in-game achievements, micro-transactions, and support for user-created content through Steam Workshop.
–Wikipedia.org (2015, September 8).

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Some fan-made Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim mods in the Steam Workshop

To summarize, Steam is a social platform for gamers, whether it be consumer or developer, and it’s positioned itself as the “everything platform” for gaming. You can buy games, play games, , chat in real-time or in forums; if you’re a developer you can sell your own game(s) through Steam and Steam will facilitate your game’s playability. Those with the know-how can even create “mods” for popular games and share them easily across the Steam Workshop–the capabilities of the software seem to grow more and more limitless each day. The best part, to many, is that new and popular games are much more affordable on Steam, sometimes as low as $20, $10, or even $5 during special holiday or seasonal sales. It’s a great deal, considering physical copies of most new games go for $60, and many take a long time to drop below $30.

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Steam’s product page on Facebook has almost 4 million “likes”

Like any savvy brand, Steam is integrated with a number of other major social networking platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, where it has a whopping 3.9+ million and 3.2+ million followers respectively. As you’d expect, its social channels are well synchronized, informing followers of the latest daily and weekly deals, flash sales, software developments, and upcoming new releases. If you’re a Steam user with a Steam wishlist, you’ll even receive email notices when items specifically catered to your interest go on sale, when another Steam user wants to trade a community item to you, or when someone sends you a gift.

Though it’s a “bit like the whale of the social networking world”, huge but growing much more slowly than most other networks (Murphy), it has attracted new followings on two other social giants, Tumblr and Pinterest, as recently as 2014. But here’s why Steam’s slow rate of territorial expansion is negligible: it’s already deeply rooted where it needs to be. Steam lives where gamers live. The platform has its own client, the new SteamOS, but has already established itself as the preferred gaming platform on the majority of its competitors’ operating systems, including Windows, OS X, and Linux. In fact, according to a 2013 gaming survey by Big Fish, “53.5% of gamers play games on Windows via Steam.”

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Digital sales are quickly overtaking physical sales (Labbe)

But Steam’s presence doesn’t end there. The gaming platform also sells its product in the stores of its brick-and-mortar retail competitors, including GameStop, BestBuy, Walmart, and Target. These stores sell Steam Gift Cards and Wallet Codes which make adding funds to users’ Steam Wallets or giving digital gifts to friends and family through Steam easier. These stores are also a great place for those who aren’t yet digitally inclined to meet and shake hands with Steam for the first time. This is crucial because a massive shift is already underway in favor of digital purchases and downloads, and to say this shift has adversely affected videogame sales in brick-and-mortar stores is an understatement. In fact, the “relative failure of [GameStop’s] push into online PC sales” has left it little choice but to allow Steam, a digital downloads giant, to set up shop within its own walls (Plunkett). Steam may have had little to no presence offline until just a few years ago, but as physical videogame sales plummet, Steam has positioned itself where its competitors used to shop and is actively offering a solution for their current and future consumption needs. A smart move, considering that as of 2014, “52 percent of games are sold via digital format,” according to the Entertainment Software Association (Labbe).

Steam seems to have its communications and marketing all figured out, but, until recently, the social gaming giant hasn’t been without one particular and grievous flaw. Its customer service history is riddled with complaints and, sometimes, even utter failure. Steam users historically love the platform’s features almost as much as they hate its customer service respond time and problem solving rate:

“Not too long ago, I stumbled across a curious fact: Valve, maker of the world’s biggest PC gaming service, was given an F by the Better Business Bureau. Othermajorgamingcompanies largely have A’s. The culprit? Poor customer service[…]According to the BBB’s page on Valve, people have filed 717 complaints about Valve and Valve-related products (Steam, games, etc), 502 of which they’ve failed to respond to. The majority of complaints stem from ‘problems with a product/service.’ More tellingly, the BBB says Valve has ‘has failed to resolve underlying cause(s) of a pattern of complaints.'”
–Nathan Grayson (2015, March 13)

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Valve Corporation founder Gabe Newell

An interesting controversy reared its head recently while Valve publicly mulled over the idea of paid mods on Steam, with a particular emphasis on the wildly popular, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Basically, a price tag would be placed on users’ homemade mods, regardless of whether they had been free in the past, and the revenue from purchases would then be split between the modder, Valve, and the developer of the game being modded. The response from the Steam community was overwhelmingly negative. Most felt, in the words of Hayden Dingman (PCWorld), that “the 25 percent to modders/30 percent Valve/45 percent Bethesda [revenue] split Skyrim featured was exploitative and gross”, and that paying for mods acted greedily against the spirit of hobbyist modding.

Thankfully, and perhaps to the surprise of many, Valve actually listened, pulling the plug on the idea altogether. Following the uproar, Valve Corporation founder Gabe Newell even participated in a reddit AMA in order to address and quell consumer alarm publicly (LaBella). The controversy came with plenty of flack, and generated talk among users of the merits of Steam’s historically less-popular online competitors such as GOG (formerly Good Old Games), but Valve’s willingness to listen and subsequent efforts to improve customer service appear to mark a change for the better as far as Steam’s customer service goes. Despite some major issues, the platform is clearly doing something very well.

humblebundleOne last thing worth mentioning is what I believe is Steam’s most positive touchpoint. Steam is integrated with a number of other digital sellers / distributors such as Green Man Gaming, Uplay, and Origin, but most important (in my own opinion) is its connection with Humble Bundle. Formerly “Humble Indie Bundles”, Humble Bundle is a unique site that bundles digital copies of videogames and sells them at a price determined by the purchaser. The proceeds are then split however the purchaser wishes between Humble Bundle, the game developer(s), and a charity, such as Child’s Play, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Charity: Water, the American Red Cross, and many more (Wikipedia). Vouchers for games playable on Steam are available through Humble Bundle and other such sites. This not only allows Steam to integrate with other digital distributors’ consumer communities, but also provides expanded outlets for Steam to network and communicate with consumers who are interested in charities and other philanthropic causes or organizations.


Ref.

Dingman, Hayden. (2015, April 28). Pcworld.com – “Steam kills off controversial paid mods feature for Skyrim”

Galarneau, Lisa. (2014, August 1) Bigfishgames.com – “2013 Gamers Survey Results: Demographics, Platforms and Smartphone Use”

Grayson, Nathan. (2015, March 13). Steamed.kotaku.com – “Valve Is Not Psyched They Got an ‘F’ in Customer Service”

LaBella, Anthony. (2015, April 27). Gamerevolution.com – “Gabe Newell Discusses Paid Mods in Reddit AMA”

Labbe, Mark. (2015, April 15). Playstationlifestyle.net – “ESA Report Shows Digital Games Being Purchased More Than Physical Ones”

Murphy, David. (2014, November 27). Pcmag.com – “Watch Out Facebook: Tumblr, Pinterest Pick Up Steam”

Plunkett, Luke. (2012, May 10). Kotaku.com – “GameStop Admits Defeat, Starts Selling Steam Vouchers”

Wikipedia. (2015, August 20). “Humble Bundle” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humble_Bundle

Wikipedia. (2015, September 8). “Steam (software)” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steam_(software)

Images

Steam logo: http://tf2freakshow.wikia.com/wiki/File:Steam-logo.png

Gabe Newell: http://venturebeat.com/2013/02/07/valves-gabe-newell-argues-for-pc-gaming-in-the-living-room-but-apple-is-scary/

Humble Bundle logo: http://www.jimmyv.org/partners/corporatepartners/humble-bundle/

Direction of Communication and Availability: Classic vs Social Media Marketing

One of the biggest cultural changes that has come packaged with the Internet Age is the ability to talk to a brand. For a century or more, marketing and ad campaigns had been a process that took place in corporate brainstorming board rooms, behind closed doors, and far, far from the public eye. Brands took their time crafting their image and the message that would compel consumers to buy, and direct that information to the public via television commercial, billboard, magazine ad, or storefront display. The direction of classic marketing is one way–from brand to consumer. Sure, you could write a formal letter to Taco Bell if you wanted to complain badly enough, but it was likely no one else would hear.

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The TV was once the single, most powerful channel for advertising.

Today, however, brands who are connected to social media can escape neither public approval nor scrutiny. Social media marketing opens a door to a dialogue between consumers and brands that is being held 24/7 and is changing the way brands speak to their customers. It is no longer sufficient to create a well-planned ad and trust a television prime-time spot to cast it upon an audience like a magic, money-making spell, and this is because, as Hausman says, “consumers don’t believe brands.” Before it was possible to have an open, public dialogue with a brand, companies could get away with manipulating the truth about a brand or a product, and some, if not many, did just that. Mad Men, anyone?

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That’s what’s important, right?

Not only has social media opened a bidirectional dialogue, it has also made brands available and accessible to consumers around the clock, and prompted them to be ready to address customer concerns readily and publicly. Now, whether you applaud or berate Taco Bell, its Twitter team is ready for you. The fast food giant’s Twitter account has become widely popular in recent years because it meets consumers with “a clever combination of retweets, sassy comebacks, hashtags, and whimsical life advice” (Boboltz). The company has not only taken to social media advertising, it has come to live where its consumers like to hang out, and it speaks to consumers like they speak to one another. This kind of engagement is what earns points and develops consumer trust. It’s real-time and public–sincere in a way that classic marketing doesn’t have to be. It creates opportunity to address praise and complaint alike, and according to Baer, companies need to “look at every individual complaint as an opportunity to create a deeper brand experience than a single purchase or interaction ever could.” Taco Bell has adopted the “hug your haters” philosophy and also combined it with another valuable tactic: entertainment, which is seen as more authentic content (Young, p.27).

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The “sauce vs spices” debate.

Classic marketing isn’t without its strengths. With the advent of social media marketing, multiple platforms, and bidirectional dialogue also comes clutter. Young says that “as we consume more media, the existing media channels are fragmenting and new ones are being added” and that “clutter is one of the biggest problems for marketers” (p.18). If advertisers don’t maintain consistency across multimedia channels, the brand image and message are weakened and less effective. Brand messages are broken up simply because there is no longer just a handful of powerful media outlets i.e. television, radio, and print.

Although social media marketing, in my opinion, is the stronger and more effective approach in the digital era, there is also strength in integrating social media advertising with classic advertising when communicating with consumers around the clock. As Young points out, “the world’s oldest advertising medium, the out-of-home (OOH) industry, is investing heavily in digital OOH networks. Digital OOH inside elevators, shopping malls, airports, and on freeways is transforming static signage into real-time, digital media” (p.20-21). Take, for example, a project by Aerva Inc. Aerva uses digital display billboards to share images of social media conversations that people are having about or with brands. The boards’ contents are managed by software that filters and selects appropriate posts while removing fraudulent and irrelevant posts, and then shows consumers what people are saying about a brand. Check out this link or click the video below to see a brief case study about Taco Bell and Aerva digital billboards.

Reference:

Hausman, Angela. (2014, October 9). business2community.com – “Social Media Versus Traditional Media”

Baer, Jay. (2015, April 1). inc.com – “How to Hug Your Haters: 3 Ways to Use Complaints to Strengthen Your Business”

Boboltz, Sara. (2014, February 28). huffingtonpost.com – “Whoever Runs Taco Bell’s Twitter Account Deserves a Raise”

Young, Anthony. (2014). Brand Media Strategy: Integrated Communications Planning in the Digital Era. (Second Edition). New York, NY. Palgrave Macmillan.

Images:

Children gathered around TV: rochdaleonline.co.uk – “The new endangered species: The black and white TV”

It’s toasted Lucky Strike ad: theglobeandmail.com – “Presenting the Maddies: Five very real ad campaigns from the world of Mad Men”

@TacoBell / @OldSpice: adweek.com – “Taco Bell and Old Spice Mix it Up on Twitter: A spirited debate over sauce, spices, and volcanos”