Apple has recently announced its venture into the glut of social media networks on the internet – Ping. Ping is an iTunes-based community where users can list their favorite bands, follow some of their favorite artists and discover new artists through their friends. This new service was extremely popular at its inception, registering 1 million users in its first 48 hours. However, we see limitations that will likely prevent it from becoming a widely used social media tool, both from a marketing and user standpoint.
As a marketing vehicle, Ping has some work to do. Apple has leveraged its built-in audience of dedicated users as a base for future growth, but with 160 million people using iTunes, only about .006% of iTunes users are on Ping. For the music industry, there are few promotion opportunities to be found with no on-page advertising, a closed environment and little potential for sponsorships or co-branding. Marketers would be better off concentrating on a larger, more open audience such as Facebook, which features over 500 million users. Apple is clearly trying to create an opportunity to market both its own brand and the artists’ brand, but has done so with haste. While Ping has shown limitations in terms of marketing, even if corrected, poor user experience will halt any substantial growth opportunities.
What will determine future growth of Ping are its features and Apple has brought nothing new to the table. Ping has put itself in competition against better established services such as Last.fm (40 million users) or MySpace Music (71 million users) as well as a host of other services for niche music interests. The features that Ping has hung its hat on, including the ability to follow artists, recommend music to friends, and make comments on songs and albums have already been done effectively through these competitors. By taking this approach, they have chosen tried and true over innovation and done nothing to differentiate themselves. Ping has also ignored popular key features such as playlists and song play counts which could also limit future adoption. This could be forgivable if the service were executed well, but there are some issues there, too.
From an execution standpoint, Ping again lags behind. Apple has chosen to integrate their service with the iTunes interface. While this is understandable and an obvious way to leverage iTunes, it fails from a usability standpoint. Services such as MySpace music run through your browser, allowing anyone to see and hear what their favorite artists are doing. Ping, on the other hand, requires users to navigate the often clunky iTunes interface in search of artists who may or may not be in the iTunes library.
Ping has the potential to be an effective marketing tool in the future, but suffers from several flaws that need to be addressed in the present. Apple must take steps to differentiate Ping from similar services and do what they do best, be an innovative technological leader. Ping could also benefit from a more open interface that allows any artist or user to sign up. This way, Apple won’t be limiting its growth to previous users and can grow their brand more organically. Given time, Ping could become an effective social media platform, but right now it hasn’t given us a reason to use it.