Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Caren Explains... How Ticketmaster Plans to Seat You Next to Friends

Yesterday Ticketmaster announced a thoughtful new feature that allows you to see where your friends are sitting at an event... even if you didn't make plans to go to said event with said friends. Ticketmaster relies on Facebook Connect to do this and will reveal that layer of information on top of the venue map before you complete a ticket purchase.

Concerts are an inherently social experience, so this is a no-brainer. I've been to nearly 300 concerts and can't tell you how many times I have run around trying to find friends who I wanted to meet up with at the show. This new feature could end dizzying rounds of text messages suggesting "Meet me at the merch table!"

While the aim is discovery (see which of your friends are at the event) it could also lessen the stress of social coordination. Here is an example of how I normally take charge of group ticket buying when I'm the one in-the-know:

1. Email a group of friends who may be interested in the event.
2. Wait on responses; maybe chase it with one last email before tickets go on sale.
3. Gauge sensitivity to ticket prices (should we sit on the lawn or in actual seats?)
4. Buy tickets for everyone so that we can all sit together.
5. Collect payment from friends, either by PayPal or at the show.
6. Distribute tickets, either by:
- Emailing the ticket PDF (should that option be available)
- Waiting at the gate for friends to come pick up tickets
- Going to the event all together (more coordination required)

In the future, Ticketmaster could lessen that burden. I would love to see some functionality that allows you to hold a block of seats and send your selected Facebook friends a message so they can grab them up if they act immediately. As it is, Ticketmaster will hold a block of seats for you for X-minutes before releasing them. If I could grab six seats, hold them, assign each seat to a friend, message my friends with a link so they could input their credit card information, I'd be a hero amongst friends.

Just as with any check-in or location-based service, there will be some strange social consequences of this "sick" new feature. One positive consequence is that it might help you discover new things about your friends and your shared interests ("Oh, wow, I didn't know Jane likes Wrestlemania, too!").

Yet it may also reveal things your friends didn't intend for you to know ("Jane likes Wrestlemania?"). It could also be disheartening if you realize your friends didn't invite you to an event you were interested in ("Jane KNOWS I like Wrestlemania!").

This is a tradeoff we make as we allow our personal data to be used in more places, and perhaps a reminder that we should be more careful to maintain privacy and anonymity. As our Facebook friendships become looser and the social graph grows, there are inevitable tradeoffs between privacy and problem solving.

I consider how angry my father would be if he bought the family tickets to a Redskins game and found out a brown-noser from the office bought the seats next to ours, proudly proclaiming "I saw you were sitting here on Ticketmaster." Then again, that is why my father isn't on Facebook.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Caren Explains... Four Mistakes that Sabotage a Cold Call

Whether you're looking for a deal, a job or a date, it can be very daunting to make your pitch, especially if you have to make a cold call to do so.

I receive 5-10 cold calls each day at Songkick and I find that the problem with most of them is not in what the person is asking for, but rather that the pitches are carelessly constructed. Sure, you may have an amazing resume, product or proposal, but if you don't pay attention to the little things you may be sabotaging yourself before you ask for anything.

Here are four things to avoid when making a cold call inquiry.

1) Don't be lazy. If you really want to do business with a company, take the time to figure out which person you should be speaking to. It immediately undermines your pitch if you write "To Whom It May Concern, I'd like to speak to your head of marketing about a great opportunity..."

There are plenty of places to find this kind of personnel information, including:

  • Company website (check for links on the company, often titled "About" or "Team")
  • LinkedIn (do a company search and see what employees are listed)
  • CrunchBase (which lists founders, executives and investors of tech companies)
  • News articles on the company (which often quote executives)
  • Press releases (which also quote executives or else provide other contact information)

2) Look for a warm introduction. Your pitch will go much further if you are able to get an introduction to the team or person you want to speak to. The person on the receiving end of the inquiry will feel an obligation to reply -- not because of you, but because someone they know has put themselves behind the introduction.

If you know someone who used to work at the company or else someone who has done business with them, that's a great place to start. Otherwise, take a peak on LinkedIn and see what common connections you have to the company.

3) Get the company name right. I can't tell you the number of times I've received an email from someone who wants to work with Songkick where the company name is misspelled (Song Kick) or improperly capitalized (SongKick). This immediately shows sloppiness or indicates that you have not engaged with the product. Worse yet is when both mistakes are made within the same email.

I know I've personally made this mistake when I'm in a rush or typing from my phone, and let me tell you: it is incredibly embarrassing if you care about the person you are contacting. Before you send a pitch, take an extra minute to make sure you've dotted the 'i's and crossed all the 't's.

4) Personalize the inquiry. Too often I receive emails that say "We think we can do big things for your company." What kinds of things? How do I know you didn't just copy-and-paste that?

Show that you have real intent by referencing a recent accomplishment of the company or else citing ways you can really help them.

Did the company just win an award? Congratulate them.

Did the CEO tell stockholders what he or she wants to accomplish this year? Mention what you can do to help.

Don't let this part get buried in your email or run on too long. Instead, keep it short and position it in the opening sentences of your pitch to immediately standout from the crowd.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Get Smart at SXSW: Five tips for surviving the week

Last year I gave you three pieces of advice on SXSX Music before embarking on my first Platinum SXSW experience (Music, Film and Interactive conferences all). With that behind me and nine days of SXSW ahead of me, I give you five more pieces of advice on how to survive SXSW 2011.

1) Bring a phone charger or spare battery with you wherever you go. All of those tweets, check-ins, emails and texts are going to drain your phone so fast you will be running around looking for an electrical outlet before lunchtime. The Convention Center usually has cellphone charging lockers you can use on the upper levels, but also consider bringing a spare battery pack (sorry, iPhone users, that doesn't apply to you) or else carry an extra AC adapter in your bag.

2) Be diligent about your health. Not to sound too much like a mom, but take care of yourself, okay? Go for a run on the awesome Town Lake trails and take some vitamins. With all the beer-swiggin' and hand-shakin' that happens during the week, you are gonna pick up as many unwanted germs as unwanted tchotchkes. So instead of reaching for that mimosa, put some Emergen-C in your water and toast to your health.

3) Get to peddling. Austin is really not a very big town, so this year my friend Monica and I (who are staying a mile outside of downtown) are getting bikes. Cheap, quick and no need to fight for cabs. Plus there are added health benefits (see above) Uber, the private car service I love in SF, is also going to be down in Austin with pedicabs, so put them to work for charity.

4) Create your own parties on the fly. About 20% of your time at SXSW is spent waiting in line for something -- to catch a band, to get some food, to use the bathroom... but when the only reason you're queued up is to get in to a party hosted by a tech company, why not just grab some folks and spill in to the bar next door? Let's be honest, guys: will you really get to meet the founder if you don't know them already? Probably not. It seemed ridiculous last year that people were waiting to get in to a bar for a party when the bar next door was completely empty. Try using Hurricane Party's app to make your own on-the-fly party, or else to tell friends where you're relocating to. And if the Foursquare or Gowalla check-in matters that much to you, guess what? You'll be in close enough proximity to fool the app in to thinking you're there.

5) Create a mobile group to keep in touch. Before you get to Austin, decide which few people you really want to keep up with -- perhaps coworkers so you don't miss networking opportunities, or friends so you can use all the +1s you asked for in your RSVPs. Try Kik (great app which just rolled out group messaging) or GroupMe (uses SMS messages) and hit lots of people at once when issuing only one message.

Wanna meet up in Austin? Find me on Twitter at

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

2010 Indie Music Trends: Cats, Beaches, a Venn Diagram and a Playlist

Every year there seems to be one or two prevailing trends in the world of indie music naming and branding. It was my (assumed) job at Paste to document this all for an audience of hipsters who cared to argue about such things at the end of the year. Back then I discovered that...
  • 2007 was the Year of the Deer/Dear bands (Deerhunter, Deer Tick, Loney Dear)
  • 2008 brought the Year of the Bear bands (Care Bears on Fire, Grizzly Bear, Panda Bear)
As we look back on 2010, I'm ready to declare that it was "The Year of the Cat and the Beach (a Little Bit of Each)." Too bad Dr Seuss isn't around to write about this one for me.

Take a look at all the album art that featured furry felines, including releases by Best Coast, The Klaxons, MGMT and Two Door Cinema Club.

But there were just as many surf-and-sand-loving bands to be had, so let's venn diagram this and figure out who the real winner was in 2010.

Four magic bands in the center of the venn diagram?! Amazing!

That's because MGMT gave us...
  • Cat-shaped-wave on the album art
The Klaxons offered...
  • Cat album art
  • An album called "Surfing the Void"
Best Coast provided...
  • Cat (sitting on an ocean) album art
  • A nearly beachy name
But the real winner is Wavves, with its...
  • Cat (wearing a gold chain!) album art
  • Surf-and-sand band name (with superfluous 'v'!)
  • A song called "King of the Beach"
Well done, Wavves. The trinity of 2010 indie music branding.

Here's a playlist of all the bands. They are talented folks. Buy their music, please (... but maybe not the whole MGMT album... that was disappointing).

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Caren Explains the Droid 2

I count myself among the 5% of women ages 25-39 who would choose an Android device over other smart phones. In fact, as of today I am on my second Android device. (You don't scare me, evil Android eye!)

I've only had it for a few hours, but I can see already that Droid 2 addresses some of the concerns I had with the first Motorola DROID after I bought last December.

Most notably it offers worldwide CDMA/GSM support which means I can now use it in London. Gone are the days of toggling between a GSM-supported Verizon phone (so I could receive calls to my US number), my DROID (so I could retrieve contacts) and a British-issued mobile phone (so I could make calls in London). Rejoice, rejoice!

Also, this Droid 2 has an immediate route to file management. I found it impossible to locate files once I had downloaded them to the DROID. Now you can easily see both local files and shared files from the application menu.

One cool innovation on Droid 2 is the ability to switch between multiple profiles. The default suggestions for profiles are "Home," "Work" and "Weekend." As someone who has a bad habit of reading work-related emails and messages while off-the-clock, I can really make good use of this feature. Being able to hide work-related accounts, applications and widgets in one swish of the finger is a welcomed feature.

It is also interesting to see which apps were pre-installed on the Droid 2. Blockbuster and "Need for Speed" apps are new to the menu, though they earlier appeared as "junkware" on the Motorola X, while non-standard/non-Google applications like Skype and Amazon mp3 return on this iteration.

There are also a lot more pre-populated desktop screens on Droid 2. While some -- like a desktop screen for quick-dial contacts -- are helpful, others (namely the news widgets) remind me of Windows Vista features I disliked.

So far so good, but there is one significant UX improvement I hope this Droid 2 will offer: a less-sensitive interface and/or smarter screen- locks during phone calls so I don't hang-up on as many people accidentally....because that's just rude.