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The Bill and Steve show

January 29th, 2010 by Lloyd Gofton

Following ‘iPad‘ week I decided to look at the differing strategies of the world’s two biggest technology competitors to promote their new approaches/products.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are the traditional hero and villain of the computer world, and of course it depends on your point of view on which is which. They have been at it for some time, as the heads of their respective super brands (Microsoft and Apple), but Bill has taken a back seat at Microsoft, although he is still Chairman and of course the world’s richest man.

As you may or may not know, Bill Gates made an interesting move to open up his communications last week, by joining Twitter on January 19th, kicking off with ‘Hello World.’ Hard at work on my foundation letter – publishing on 1/25′, in reference to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest non-profit hard at work giving Bill’s billions away to worthy causes. This has pretty much been over looked thanks to the anticipation and launch of Apple’s new best seller.

Since Bill joined, he’s been collecting followers like the Pied Piper of Twitterland. To be precise, according to figures from 20 decibels recent blog post on Wednesday (nice job guys): ‘Bill Gates has 365,000+ followers (now 376,000 +) and counting and has been added to 13,056 lists (now (13,600+) His following grew rapidly after sending his first tweet. He has a whopping 14,600 followers per tweet sent.’

Here’s Bill’s latest tweet: At Davos G8/G20 panel – Spain Pres. Zapatero says meeting MDGs just as important as global financial reform…‘ (When you have $50 billion in the bank you rub shoulders with some pretty important people).

Here’s some more interesting data from the guys at 20 decibels: ‘Bill’s tweets generate a very high click through rate. He has tweeted 12 links to 6 unique sites with a total of 160,161 clicks.

‘Engagement: In additional to high click through rates, Bill Gates audience engages with his content frequently. For example, his recent Tweet promoting the Gates Foundation annual letter garnered 818 Retweets on top of 13,500+ clicks.’

Pretty impressive, but then you would expect it to be. The question is why has Bill waited so long to join Twitter when his influence and understanding is so high? Could it be just that? In a scale of normal to Bill, the influence of Twitter can only offer so much more in comparison to what he already has? I hope not, as the figures above prove Twitter can be very valuable, and more importantly it has already helped him to engage directly with more people in his first week alone.

Although the iPad wasn’t officially advertised, the buzz and leaks around the story did much of the work for Steve and Apple. Apple doesn’t really need to PR its new launches anymore, well not in the traditional sense. A few strategic mentions, and the odd review leak, and the community will do the job for them. That’s not to say it wasn’t planned though.

So how was the iPad launch received? According to Trendrr there were 177,000 tweets in the first hour after the announcement, and Crimson Hexagon revealed that the content of more than half a million tweets following the iPad announcement sentiment was split down the middle with 48% percent of tweeters reacting positively, while the remaining 52% were less impressed.

(image courtesy of iStockphoto kutaytanir)

Of the 48% positivity, 29% of people wanted to buy an iPad and of the 52% of tweets that were less impressed, the majority (21% of all tweets) had a bad reaction to the name, 19% weren’t impressed and 11% were critical of all the build-up and/or just sick of hearing about it.

But this is just a small proportion of the results Apple generated from a very tightly developed and seemingly secretive launch. You only need to look at the BBC, Guardian or FT yesterday to see Steve holding his iPad, with a nice big smile, to appreciate the scale of the hype surrounding the launch.

But was the hype as positive as he might have hoped? The reaction to the iPad has been 50/50, speaking personally the functionality of the iPad is disappointing and as a product it’s not something I’ll be investing in yet. The idea itself is probably the most revolutionary element, together with the new opportunities it presents for content and publishing. However, the hype may have in fact put the final product in the shade and made it seem a little disappointing in comparison. That said, it will obviously be a success and the next iterations will, as usual, be much more interesting and capable.

So what can we learn from Bill’s low level approach and the higher profile launch from Steve over the last week? Firstly, i’ll hold my hands up and say it’s not really fair to compare the two directly. The obvious issue is that one is a consumer product and the other a campaign of philanthropy. You could also say that both Bill and Steve are super brands in themselves, and nothing helps to build interest like a bit of fame, which is true, but it is an interesting look into the different approaches that two formally old-school technology giants are employing in a world of communications opportunities.

Apple’s old school cloak and dagger approach to product launches, although successful, potentially undermined the final product by not being upfront about its potential uses, elements and focuses. By leaving the community to build the buzz and furore to such an extent they may have in fact ended up being disappointed by the false expectancy. Would a little more engagement and actual product detail have helped to communicate the real benefits of the product and avoided disappointment?

In comparison, Bill has started to take an open approach by communicating with his audience and sharing his day-to-day activity, removing this false picture of the world’s richest man sitting on piles of cash and handing it out to those that he deems fit. This is a very different approach to the path he took at Microsoft and although he has to be more open as he is the brand now, it shows evolution in thinking and perhaps something that Steve could take notice of for his next major launch.

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2 Responses to “The Bill and Steve show”

  1. Adam Schoenfeld Says:

    Excellent post. This is a great way to look at these two tech companies and their leaders in light of recent events.

    Also, I’m glad the analysis on our blog (20 decibels) was useful for your post!

  2. Lloyd Gofton Says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Adam.

    Your post on 20 decibels was very valuable, and gave me a real insight into how Bill Gates has fared on Twitter.

    Great job, and thanks again!

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