Selling Grand Opera online


Last year I wrote about Grand Opera, the new opera competition on Russian Culture Channel (Kultura) based on the principles of reality TV talent shows running all over the world.

The presence of former director of Vienna State Opera Ioan Holender on the jury panel this year raises the question of whether the competition is indeed aiming for the international arena.  Another proof of that is that this year contestants came from Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Belarus and even Mongolia. One of the favourites to win the competition until recently was a hugely talented Mongolian baritone Badral Chuluunbaatar – a fearless young singer with tons of stage presence. Unfortunately his nervous uneven performance in the semi-final demonstrated that he is still ‘raw material’ and needs a lot of training and many hours of work with conductors that aren’t going to let him get away with musical murder. That is, of course, if he wants a truly international operatic career.

But Badral’s bad luck or lack or experience allowed another contestant, a more experienced baritone from Belarus Ilya Silchukov to finally come into the limelight. For the first time this week Ilya ended up in the top three, which means he may share the stage in the final with two sopranos very much loved by the public and the jury,  20-year-old ballsy redhead Vasilisa Berzhanskaya (Russia) and Saltanat Akhmetova (Kazakhstan).

But if I put on my digital marketer’s hat I immediately see that even if the intention to turn the competition into an international event is there the opportunities to promote it to a wider audience are being missed. Plus the declared intention of this competition was to find new younger audiences for the genre of opera. Some of the suggestion

1. Translate webpage dedicated to competition into English (perhaps also German/Italian/Spanish), so people in other countries could follow the contest.  Winner of the first season Veronika Djioeva is now an international opera star, why not give emerging singers more publicity and a broader audience?

2. It’s all about storytelling!  Singers’ biographies can be turned into exciting stories that should replace dry information available on the channel’s website.

3. Gossip is also publicity! The competition this year is plagued by withdrawals and threatened cancellations – much more could be made of all this drama. Also, we know nothing about relationships between contestants – is there conflict or rivalry? Romance? Friendship? Fun? The audience wants to know. And even if there’s nothing interesting going on behind the scenes some spice can be added creatively without telling lies.

4. Social media buzz! Contestants constantly mention their own social media accounts, but there should be social media pages dedicated to the show and run by the Culture TV (TV Kultura).

5. Presenters!  Sudden death of musicologist and TV personality Svjatoslav Belza left the show without a trusted and experienced presenter. Belza was quietly replaced by a much less experienced and unexciting Alexey Begak.  I hope it turns out to be a temporary measure or else the show’s producers risk putting their audience to sleep.   (image:


Using Twitter for business

Recently I had to prepare a presentation for potential clients on using Twitter for business. While I believe one should always cover the basics (‘Follow and listen’, ‘Be yourself’, ‘They are already talking about your business whether you’re on Twitter or not’) I tried to go beyond the obvious and the basic.

1. Target the right audience. 

Twitter ads offer us 11 ways to target customers:

  • Followers
  • Users like your followers
  • Tailored audiences
  • Keywords in timeline
  • Keywords in search
  • Interests
  • TV
  • Geo location
  • Gender
  • Language
  • Device

By creatively tailoring our audiences we could increase the efficiency of advertising.

2. Use Twitter cards.

A relatively new thing, Twitter cards allow brands to add rich content to tweets  (on the web and on mobile devices) in many new ways.

Twitter card


This lead generation card contains a call to action: ‘Join the club’ that allows customers immediate access to the relevant page on the Barista Bar’s website.

Twitter cards are created by adding a few lines of HTML to webpages. Other types of cards are: summary, summary with large image, photo card, gallery card, app card, product card, player card (allows to add and play videos within tweets). Cards give brands control over how content is displayed within tweets (images won’t be distorted or cropped), they drive traffic to websites and can help increase the following on Twitter through content attribution.  Twitter offers dashboard analytics for every type of Twitter card.

3. Use Twitter Amplify.

When  something exciting is happening on TV brands can push their content to audiences discussing live events on Twitter and build multiscreen campaigns.

4. Measure your success.

Use closed-loop marketing (Salesforce, HubSpot, Pardot, Marketo) to track your customers’ journey from Twitter to the shopping basket on your website.

5. Use Twitter in combination with other channels.

Is Twitter the best social platform for business?


According to this inforgraphic from VentureBeat (based on a study done by AoL platforms in 2014) Twitter on its own is not the most efficient platform for conversions, but as it is the best ‘middle’ channel it can be used to create awareness and in combination with tools like YouTube (the most efficient first and last point of conversion) will drive conversions.

6. The future: ‘Buy Now’ button.  A few weeks ago Twitter announced that they will start testing the ‘Buy Now’ button on their iphone and Android mobile apps.  At the moment it only affects a limited number of participating businesses, but if Twitter decides to roll it out they way customers shop will be changed forever.




Creating a digital strategy for a non-profit



Creating a digital marketing strategy for a non-profit is a challenge at the best of times. It seems that organisations that do not sell anything do not need a marketing strategy.  But even organisations that do not sell goods or charge for services are in the business of selling themselves to their potential clients and donors, so branding and awareness creation should be the main part of any digital strategy.

The main challenges when dealing with stakeholders in a non-profit are:

1. Lack of financial resources.  That means whatever resources are available have to be used wisely and creatively (for instance social media measuring and monitoring tools tend to be subscription based, so the tools themselves  need to be chosen carefully)

2. Resistance within the organisation. Rigidity and resistance to change can be a lot stronger in the non-profit sector than in private business.  Things that challenge the status quo (a new website, a new media strategy, a new donor acquisition strategy) may be seen as a threat to survival of the organisation or at least as a serious threat to its core values.

3. Lack of qualified personnel.  This problem is connected to general scarcity of resources within non-profits. There is also the agency vs  internal department argument: while it’s obvious that a small non-profit doesn’t need a digital media department, hiring an agency can be costly plus there is no guarantee that the agency will do the best job for an organisation.

4. Lack of understanding of digital media.  Concentrating on the number of Facebook ‘likes’ and Twitter followers (vanity metrics) as opposed to setting organisational goals that can be achieved through digital media.

There are of course many approaches to building a digital strategy and plenty of issues to consider:

1. Which framework?  Most digital marketers and students of digital marketing (at least in the British Isles) are familiar with Dave Chaffey’s framework, which is somewhat confusing, but can be applied to practically any organisation or business with some modifications. Chaffey’s website is subscription based, but the strategy template is available for free (the only thing they want is your e-mail address) and can be downloaded in PDF form.

2. What about social media strategy? David Meerman-Scott, a US based digital marketing guru in his book ‘The New Rules of Marketing and PR’ offers a useful framework for a  social media strategy and several points for consideration: target audience, strategic goals for social network presence, content calendar, managing interaction, optimising social presence etc. I’d advise anyone  interested in building a coherent social media strategy to read the book in full.

3. Which case studies?  Many non-profits are using the digital media successfully, it’s important to choose the ones whose clear goals meet with measurable success.

4. A website or a content management platform?  It makes a lot of sense for non-profits to consider WordPress and other content management platforms allowing to build a fully functional website for free (well, almost), but every factor should be taken into consideration before the decision to stick with the content management platform is taken.

5. Should we fundraise on social media?  The short answer is no, but it’s possible to reach out to potential financial backers through digital media.  And while most social media platforms aren’t suitable for selling they can help make fundraising campaigns more successful.

6. How to measure success? Google Analytics is a free platform and a great tool, but there are other (paid) tools out there which could provide a different angle. Needless to say cash-strapped non-profits should think twice before paying for anything.

7. Do we need a blog?  Blog posts can demonstrate an organisation’s expertise in a particular field, but maintaining a blog can be time-consuming, so the benefits of such a commitment should be assessed beforehand.

8. What about paid advertising?  The sad truth is digital media is just not free anymore. Paid advertising can be used strategically to promote campaigns or spread an important message. (image credit



Amazon’s new Fire smartphone



Amazon decided to enter the mobile market with the new Fire smartphone featuring 3D graphics, 13MP camera, HD video, Dolby Digital audio, immersive reading (where you can combine your Kindle book with its audio version) 3D graphics, Firefly technology that identifies movies, music, household items, provides product details, reads business cards,  allows to send e-mails and visit websites without having to type addresses,  X-Ray technology that allows you to get lyrics for the songs, ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction) for immediate video playback, Amazon Prime (one year for free limited offer), Dynamic Perspective allowing one-handed shortcuts using tilt, swivel and peek, Mayday Amazon customer service,  premium headset,  but most importantly, free backup and restore functions plus free unlimited cloud storage. (image:

Forbes provide four reasons why Fire will fail and call it Bezos’ biggest mistake:

Mashable experience the new smartphone hands-on:









What else can entrepreneurs learn from showbiz



An interesting blog post caught my attention this week: in it the author, a PR advisor to tech companies Alan Weinkrantz urges aspiring entrepreneurs to learn from the bad boys of rock-n-roll The Rolling Stones.  His 10 lessons are: having a consistent message, finding a distinctive voice, building a body of work (blog posts also qualify), remaining true to yourself, building and serving a community, collaborating with former co-founders, being in it for the long run, thinking global, remaining humble and owning the supply chain.

These are valuable principles, but they got me thinking – there’s more to showbiz than The Rolling Stones, so I decided to challenge myself to come up with a few more lessons aspiring entrepreneurs can learn from entertainers.

1. Have a great story.   A story is not the same thing as a corporate message. Have you  noticed that show business is full of rags-to-riches miracles: singers going from basking in the streets to contracts with major record labels, half-starved Cinderellas becoming super models. If you have a garage tell the world your business started there – nobody cares if these stories are true, people love fairy-tales.

2. Collaborate with other brands (not only those of former co-founders). A surprising 1982 pairing of Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson for a slightly cheesy song ” The Girl Is Mine” reached No.2 on The Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for three weeks.   Do not be afraid of unexpected partnerships.

3.  Know what you are worth and ask for it.   The cast of the prime-time TV show ‘Friends” and Ray Romano of “Everybody Loves Raymond” are perhaps the best known winners in the TV salary wars. The “Friends” got  a deal for a reported $1.2 million an episode each, while Romano got a $1.8 million per episode deal.

4. Keep reinventing yourself (while staying true to your core values).   Singer Paula Abdul was in The Billboard charts throughout the 80s and 90s, but after a battle with bulimia she took a break from the career in music. In 2002 she re-appeared as a judge on the “X Factor”and stayed on the show till 2009, since then she has made appearances on  other talent shows.  Do not be afraid to take a break, then come back with a vengeance.

5. Do not be afraid to challenge and educate your customers.  In the world where the lowest common denominator always wins the intellectual poetry of Gordon Matthew Sumner aka Sting should have been a resounding failure, yet after many successful years in music business he is still going strong.  Be yourself, but try to stay ahead of your customers without patronizing them.

6. Admit your mistakes and move on.   In an interview with Jay Leno actor Hugh Grant was not making excuses for the 1995 LA incident (he was caught having sex with a prostitute). When Leno asked, “What the hell were you thinking?”, Grant answered, “I think you know in life what’s a good thing to do and what’s a bad thing, and I did a bad thing. And there you have it”. Unless you sell toys or childrens’ clothes the bad girl/bad boy image can be good for your brand.  (image:


Drivers and pedestrians – the never-ending war


I have a confession to make: I don’t drive.  But while I generally don’t criticize those who do, I am routinely lectured by drivers on how driving “gives you freedom'”.  I don’t buy into the idea. Freedom to park miles away from the restaurant or the theatre and then walk to the car in the middle of the night? Freedom to wander around the multilevel car-park  risking your life? Freedom to kill a living creature or another human being?  I’m sure drivers don’t see it that way and for some it’s a necessity dictated by lifestyle or work, but ultimately it’s a matter of choice.

The only freedom I want is to be able to walk about without being endangered at every pedestrian crossing. I walk to the office every morning and it’s a  veritable war: drivers skipping lights without even looking at pedestrians crossing the road, pedestrians repaying the drivers by crossing at the wrong time in the wrong place. One Monday morning I witnesses a female red light skipper being pulled over by a policeman – that was very satisfying, but the following morning it was back to “normal” traffic light skipping as there were no police in sight.

The founder of The Idler magazine Tom Hodgkinson published in one of its issues (named ‘Smash the System’ ) an essay “Reclaim the Streets, Family Style” in which the author Ted Dewan describes an Oxford neighbourhood initiative that tried to introduce traffic calming measures through creation of imaginative installations. The first one called Casualty was a ‘family of witches smashed by a weird car’ . Then a few years later came Living Room, an installation made of dumped furniture contributed by all the neighbours. Living Room didn’t block the traffic, but served as a traffic calming measure.  The installation ‘lived’ for three days only to fall victim to the self-righteous rage or a Mitsubishi Warrior driver who smashed the furniture while insulting and threatening those who tried to protest.

In cultures where cars are seen as status symbols (really? Most people who drive actually had to borrow money  to buy their cars) self-righteous road rage and utter contempt for pedestrians, the public transport (and those who use it) are not surprising.   In places like Zurich and Berlin where using public transport is not seen as a sign of belonging to a certain class drivers stop at every pedestrian crossing, nobody is in a rush, cyclists have designated lanes and everyone on the road behaves with dignity and shows respect towards others.  Because no matter how expensive your car is the road behaviour is a matter of culture and respect.  (image:




What is an API and should I get one before it’s too late?



APIs are everywhere.  API or Application Programming Interface is hailed as the future of communication in the Internet of Things where appliances, software and people will become increasingly interconnected. But how do you explain what an API is for instance to your non-technically minded mother? How do you explain that they may become a big part of her life in the near future, taking into consideration the fact that she only got her first mobile phone a couple of years ago.

The leading API evangelist Kin Lane defines API in his blog: “An API — Application Programming Interface — at its most basic level, allows your product or service to talk to other products or services. In this way, an API allows you to open up data and functionality to other developers, to other businesses or even between departments and locations within your company. It is increasingly the way in which companies exchange data, services and complex resources, both internally, externally with partners, and openly with the public.”

An example of successful utilization of an API is Google Analytics Core Reporting API which allows tech-savvy folks extract any or all of their Google Analytics report data and serves as a basis for building bespoke apps.  Developers with the correct authorization get access to processed Google Analytics data and get to use it in ways the current user interface doesn’t allow.  Brian Clifton in his book “Advanced Web Metrics”  gives the basics of how to use Google Analytics Core Reporting API.

If we try to explain APIs in human terms it’s like opening up to new people in your life to give them a glimpse of your true colours without letting them ‘hack the core’. Your personal ‘API’ allows you to build mutually beneficial relationships with others, but you still have control over how close you become with all these strangers.

Opening up improves communication and makes bonds stronger, but giving everything away without asking for anything in return would be unwise. API management services (like Apigee and 3scale) are doing precisely that – letting businesses open up to the world just enough by limiting access to their APIs in order to monetize them.

API managers are trying to convince us that APIs will become mainstream quite soon. 3scale’s Steve Willmott and author Craig Burton came up with 5 axioms of API economy:

1. Everything and everyone will be API enabled.

2. APIs are core to every cloud, social and mobile computing strategy.

3. APIs are an economic imperative.

4. Organizations must provide their core competence through APIs.

5. Organizations must consume core competences of others through APIs.

The authors of the axioms themselves admit that the thoughts are ‘raw’ and invite open discussion. Personally I’m curious about how they see individuals become ‘API enabled’, unless they mean it in a metaphorical sense.  Or perhaps what they mean is that the number of devices we rely on will become so large and our dependence of them so serious that we will become API-dependent, rather than API-enabled.

Maybe when trying to explain to my mother what an API is I should say that in the near future her mobile phone will be able to communicate with her fridge and she will not necessarily be part of the conversation…  (image:


How to deal with not getting what you want


We’ve all been there – a job, a contract, an opportunity, a date – whatever it was we wanted and never got… When anger and disbelief subside you need to deal with the situation in  a calm detached way.

1. Use it as an opportunity to think about what you really want.   Was that job really your dream job or were you giving in to pressure from family or circumstances? Was that the opportunity of a lifetime or did you just think it would  look good on your CV? If it a case of a great opportunity missed, mourn it and move on, Most of the time you’ll find that whatever is rightfully yours (or right for you) usually comes to you.

2. Is this failure so disastrous?  Try to look at the situation from the ‘point of view of eternity’. What has actually happened? Are you going to be left destitute and starving? Do you need to drastically change your plans? Skip meals? Move house? Move to another country?  Most of the time the situation is not as bad as it seems.

3. Even if the situation is bad it’s never hopeless.   No matter how bad things are you are not likely to lie down and die immediately. You’ll still have to get on with things and think of a way out.  And there is always a way out, although it may not be the most pleasant or the easiest one.

4. Do not make it worse.    You can always make things worse by being rude, irrational or plain rash.  Threats, insults and walkouts are only going to harm you and your reputation.  Rather than overreact do not react at all, freeze and conserve your energy till you are perfectly calm.

5. Do not undervalue yourself.   Sometimes the truth is you are too good for the thing you didn’t get. People who patronize you and talk down to you are usually just jealous of your gifts and abilities (no truly intelligent or gifted person ever patronizes anyone, they’ve better things to do), so be honest with yourself and stop chasing jobs that aren’t good enough for you.

6. Write about the experience.  Vent your frustration and righteous anger on paper. Turn it into a blog post, a short story, a humorous poem, an article. Writing things out helps clear the air and it may also help you understand yourself better.

Whatever happens, work or career-related failures are never as disastrous as we think.  As for personal disappointments, they are much easier to get over if we concentrate on the things that really matter.   (image:




How to stay on track with your goals for the year


It’s April now, the first three months of the year are over and if you set goals for yourself in January you should be asking how well you are doing. Not putting pressure, but simply asking the right questions.  Look at the list of goals for the current year and you’ll see that perhaps the most important question should be ‘Why?’

1. Why did I set these particular goals?   The biggest problem with goals and resolutions is that we often choose something we think we should be striving for instead of setting goals that are relevant to us. If after several months you clearly see that some of the goals are irrelevant and you don’t care about them just delete them from the list and move on.

2. Why am I not doing very well?  Obviously if the goal is irrelevant it’s doubtful you’re going to be very successful. If you got rid of all the irrelevant ones, but looking at the remaining goals still see that you are not doing great in some areas, you need to ask more questions. Are the goals realistic? Are you giving yourself enough time? Are they properly worded (that can be extremely important)?

3. Why have I chosen these particular measurements?   To begin with, if you haven’t set clear measurements for your goals how are you going to know if you’ve achieved them?  If you have a clear system of measuring your success ask yourself if the metrics are right for the goals you’ve set. If for instance you want to increase your online influence will a 50% increase in your Twitter following automatically  mean more influence?

4. Why do I do what I do?   That may sound like a complex philosophical question, but shouldn’t we be asking ourselves exactly that every time we choose to do one thing over another? Why do we choose to procrastinate? Why do we spend hours staring at the TV screen? Why do we meet up with unsupportive friends that urge us to do things we shouldn’t be doing? In my blog post called ‘Goals vs Resolutions – how to stay motivated’ I suggested choosing a unifying principle for your yearly goals that would help you stay focused.  If you know what the most important goal for the current year is (finding a new job, starting or growing a business etc) then the rest of your goals should contribute to the main one.

Do not be afraid to overhaul your game several times throughout the year – change of plans does not equal failure. It’s better to abandon goals that are unrealistic or irrelevant early on than discover at the end of the year that you’ve been going in the wrong direction. (image credit:



Leading is like teaching someone to swim


Adversity makes us stronger, it often pushes us to do our best. Rivalry can be a healthy thing as well, as it makes us do things we didn’t think we were capable of. Overcoming fear every day is what it’s all about. But can we create an environment for ourselves and others where rivalry isn’t cutthroat competition and adversity is replaced by the challenge to do just a little bit better every day?

I know quite a number of adults who cannot swim. It’s never too late to learn and there’s a multitude of classes, but I always wonder why and how it happened that someone didn’t learn this important survival skill in early childhood. Perhaps they were never encouraged by adults or just couldn’t overcome their fear of water.

I was taught to swim by my late grandfather, who was a true leader and knew that there were different ways of getting people to do things – he knew you could give orders, bend people to your will and crush them, but you could also show them how to do things without robbing them of their sense of self-worth.

I suppose he could have just thrown me into the water to see if the shock would do the trick, but that’s not how he did it. First thing he would do was to make me feel safe: he’d stand between me, a six-year old child, and the ‘big waters’, he’d stretch his hand out and he’d say: ‘Swim towards me’. As I struggled to reach him he’d move further and further away from me into the deep water, smiling and saying: ‘Keep doing it’. And when I was exhausted and out of breath he’d reach out and catch me.  Full of fear and excitement, knowing my grandfather wouldn’t allow me to drown, I kept moving my hands and feet frantically till I realized that water would hold me if I’d just let it and that in order to make progress I didn’t have to splash around or try too hard.

On top of being an enjoyable healthy activity swimming can save your life, but even if it isn’t a matter of life and death learning a skill or getting to grips with a project is easier when you know you are safe, that you can make mistakes and that eventually you will conquer the fear and learn to enjoy doing things that scare you right now. Ultimately it’s not about making work or business problems and projects seems easier than they are, it’s about making those everyday challenges less strenuous and goals more achievable. (image credit:


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