There is little doubt that Twitter, Facebook, and other Web 2.0 technologies have changed the face of marketing and advertising as we know it. The power of the tweet has been realized by just about anyone with a cell phone, but most especially by those involved in the entertainment industry. Elaborate press events and expensive promotional venues of previous eras are being greatly augmented by simpler, social networking methods that connect fans directly to the stars.
No previous mobile platform has captured this market as successfully as the iPhone, and riding this wave are technology companies like 211me.com, makers of the successful and versatile, picture editing iPhone app, Vampire Transformer ($0.99; vampire.posterous.com). This app was created for actor Peter Facinelli, star of the hit movie franchise, Twilight (see my blog review at iphonelife.com/nate.adcock). They also offer Peter Facinelli LiveStream ($1.99; 211me.com/ peterfacinelli), which is based on its celebrity, content management product, iStar.
I had the opportunity to interview Rob DeFranco, owner of 211me.com, and talk with him about how his experience in both the movie business and in emerging technologies helped him start a successful iPhone app business—one that brings celebs closer to their fans.
The first mobile app that 211me.com designed was a basic mobile message and content-engine for advertising purposes (i.e. venues for comedians like Dave Atell). This simple engine and others like it were clobbered when Twitter single-handedly took control of the mobile message ad realm. Rob and his group bounced back by turning to custom iPhone app development tuned to the needs of the famous.
Presently, the company is pretty lean. It includes three marketing/administrative types and three developers/programmers. The technical lead in the developer group (and the brainchild of the code behind Vampire Transformer) is Mark Pirri, an MIT grad who has been writing code on Apple platforms for over 15 years. The coders debug, test, and support the apps. They monitor twitter actively and respond quickly to deal with issues. Rob contributes many of the ideas behind the apps, but a fair amount of input comes from their clients, which currently include Billy Burke (also of recent Twilight Fame), Neal McDonough (Desperate Housewives), Tia Carrere, and many more.
211me has a handful of apps available at this time, including Vampire Transformer and its celebrity content management product, iStar. In addition, it offers a few simple kids’ games (Weebeasts and Attack of the Killer Bugs). The company plans to expand in 2010 with products that will feature third-party sponsors as well (games, etc). Rob declined to divulge exactly who these vendors are at this time.
I asked Rob if his celebrity friends were familiar with the iPhone and was mildly surprised that several were not. However, according to Rob, “Our clients love their iPhones, whether they have switched over because of their work with 211me or if they are a previous user. If they are a new iPhone owner, I walk them through the basics and they fall in love with the device.” Regarding the success of iStar, Rob said, “We design our app creation platform with simplicity and ease-of-use in mind.... I’ve seen Peter spend hours talking to fans and signing autographs. Our apps make it easier for him to stay connected, wherever he is or whatever he may be doing.”
Using iStar, celebs can tailor the look and feel of their mobilized social spaces, as well as send to and receive from fans messages, pix, and videos. Vampire Transformer allows a user to blend together two images (one from the camera roll and the other from a gallery of vampire pix), and also offers a bevy of social features that allow users to post their vampire creations straight to their Twitter or Facebook accounts, or an online gallery. The latest version (1.1) lets the user pull photos off of tweets for editing and blending.
Peter also has the ability to interact with VT creations by adding a “bite” to the updated posts (a message that says, “You’ve been bitten.”) in a text reply from his own VT app.
As of December ’09, the VT app was number 46 in its category. Peter, who must have over a million followers, uses his iStar app to stay in touch with them. Without an easy-to-use tool tailored for this purpose, it would be much more difficult to respond to his fans.
At iPhone Life, we are always interested to find out how others use their iPhones, especially with so many apps available today in the App Store. I asked Rob to pass on a query to Peter, asking him what his favorite iPhone apps are. His short list is Stickwars, Frogger, and 3D Rollercoaster. I played Frogger when I was a kid, but haven’t tried it or the other two apps on the iPhone.
Finally, I asked Rob to comment on the future of 211me apps. He says they might be working on a tattoo-oriented app, but was tight-lipped about other projects. Whatever 211me is working on, I have a sneaking suspicion it will involve the entertainment industry, iPhone, and/or the latest mobile technology. And with the rousing success of the Twilight series, we might even see a few more vampires.