3 Safeguards Against Shiny Object Failure

There’s no doubt about it – we’re a culture that multi-screens. Nielsen research found 88% of people with smartphones and 86% with tablets use them while watching TV. For television networks, that means a big opportunity for second-screen app experiences, right?

So why won’t ABC invest in any more second-screen apps for episodic series like Grey’s Anatomy? The network’s own testing reveals they just don’t matter enough to fans. While content may be engaging, second-screen apps compete for attention with the shows’ stories. Ironically, the more engaging the app, the worse the viewing experience! Not to mention they were difficult to monetize.

In retrospect, this makes a lot of sense. But does this mean all second screen apps a bust?

Not necessarily, it all depends on context – both of the content and users. Second-screen apps that support social sharing of instant replays during sports events, for example, may be just what the fan wants. Non-app experiences like ESPN’s partnership with Twitter to provide highlights and replays via Vine clips (monetized with branded wrappers) may prove positive.

Same goes for the promise of any shiny object, including the arguably shiny ones we get excited about here on Get Elastic like wearable tech, responsive design or HTML5. You gotta determine whether it’s a good contextual fit for your content (or product / service / digital experience) and your consumer.

There are 3 safeguards that reduce your risk of chasing the wrong shiny object. Ask yourself:

1. How are consumers hacking your content experience?

Twitter @replies were not invented by Twitter, nor the #hashtag. These were hacks that users developed to fill the experience gaps the social network didn’t provide – addressing individuals and describing the subject of tweets. Twitter merely clued in that supporting these community-generated tools within the application would close the experience gap.

If you’re business is digital content, how are viewers / readers / players / listeners already using, sharing and discussing your content mobilly and socially? What hacks can you support? The safest risk to take is to fill an existing customer need.

If your product is physical, how are customers hacking your shopping or social experience? Customer service?

2. How can you hack the context experience?

It’s not always users that notice the experience gaps first. Nobody’s
asking Amazon to ship orders before we place them, but it just filed a patent to do so, and if we can get over the creep factor, it just may be the next “how did we live without this” commerce experience.

Or it could be a huge miss.

Ideas that stick all have something in common – they make life more fun, convenient, or efficient. Consumer electronics don’t succeed just because they’re innovative, they must deliver value, and same goes for digital experiences. Think about how popular gadgets, social network and technology platforms are improving life, and ask yourself which of these can be leveraged to create a better consumer experience for your content, products, apps or website.

3. Can you fail fast?

Rather than invest in a new experience or feature of startup proportions — ask yourself what is next value-added experience that can be done (relatively) quickly, and test it.

For example, shiny objects like second-screen apps don’t need to be rolled out en-masse. Pick a pilot program, and remember its success or failure also depends on the type of programming and audience characteristics (context).

NYMag.com chose its sub-brand The Cut as its pilot for responsive design. Rather than invest millions in a complete overhaul, the publication can gauge performance value while working out process and production on a smaller project.

In order to innovate and disrupt — you need to take risks, and that involves tinkering with a shiny object from time to time. But keep a tight focus on delivering value that customers actually want, understanding both the context of your content or products, and you’ll fail less often. Test in small batches and you’ll fail faster and cheaper.

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