Marketing and Monetization Interview Series #9. Help Daniel Rubino Help You

daniel_rubinoToday I’m interviewing Daniel Rubino – editor-in-chief of Windows Phone Central ( & Podcast co- host. I seriously doubt it’s possible, but in case you’ve never heard about it, in their own words “WPCentral is the largest dedicated site to the Windows Phone OS with news, reviews, podcasts and forums.”

My focus for this interview is on trying to find what tech bloggers expect from developers trying to get exposure for their apps, what works and what annoys the hell out of journalists. It’s very hard for a developer or a publisher to really know what’s going on on the other side of the news machine, and I thought there’s just no better way to find out than just ask the man in charge.

So let’s dig in.

Can you give us a ballpark number of the tips WPCentral gets from developers each day? Do most of them come via contact form on the site or direct emails to editors?

Great question! We probably get about 10-12 requests a day from developers with that number slowly increasing over time. George Ponder, our reviews editor, generally responds to them and we plan the review out. We of course don’t review every app that we are asked as (1) that would not be feasible (2) we do exercise editorial control over the selection of apps, that is we only pick apps that we feel are worth highlighting or well done for the platform.

We generally don’t do a review to just say negative things; instead we’ll talk to the developer about ways to improve the app before considering a review. There’s no value in slamming someone’s work publicly as ultimately we are dealing with humans who have feelings on the other end. We would rather work with them privately on ways to improve that app and be productive—in that regard, soliciting for advice on how to make your app better certainly doesn’t hurt.  Even with Xbox LIVE games, our Paul Acevedo works with developers on bugs and game improvements (see ‘Chickens Can’t Fly’).

Between George Ponder and myself, we have nearly 10 years experience on just writing on this platform (including Windows Mobile), double that as personal users.  We have a good idea at this point what people want in an app or game, so just ask.

How important do you think it is for a developer/publisher to have a personal relationship with someone writing for a site like WPCentral? How higher are the chances of a news item to be published if it comes from someone you know?

It’s very important. We do rely on our readers and developers to tip us on apps as we can’t possibly discover everything that is out there. Since our readers tend to be platform enthusiasts, they actually tend to have a good eye for interesting apps.

The chances of your app getting more attention if you know us are slightly higher. Just like the real world, relationships matter. Of course if the app is just not good, we still won’t run it, even as a favor to them—we have integrity to maintain and our reader trust is important. But it certainly helps for developers to reach out and try to engage us. Of course that will get harder and harder as the site and platform grow but you can start to learn whom the power-developers are who really have talent versus the fly-by-night hobbyist.

On a personal note, it does aggravate me when certain app developers don’t reach out to us. If we gave your app high praise before, don’t ignore us when you have a major update coming down the road. Instead email us with any early details (changlogs, screenshots, even the XAP) and you’re more likely to get promo coverage.  Don’t make our site react to your app, instead help us to help you. Sending us the XAP file of your app before the app is released definitely gets our attention.

A popular tip for new entrepreneurs is to identify junior journalists/bloggers at popular blogs and address them rather than going to editor-in-chief or a superstar blogger. The idea is that a junior journalist has way less inbound traffic and is eager to get some scoop no matter how small it is in the eyes of high profile bloggers. Do you think it’s valid for specialized tech blogs too? How much freedom do junior/new members of WPCentral editorial team have?

That’s a very good point as my time is preferably spent on planning, site organization, analysis pieces and editorials. Having said that our junior writers still need to go through the chain-of-command to get approval to write on something. That may sound more dramatic than it is but we tend to work together as a group to plan out things. Our writer’s though were hired because I trust their judgment or I know they have a good eye for the platform, so if they say, “hey, we should look at this app” they’re more than likely to get approval.
Having said that, developers are more than free to try and contact me. Just because I may not personally respond or cover your app right away doesn’t mean I’m ignoring you—there’s a good chance that I read your email/tweet, etc. and you’re on my backburner. To put it another way, you won’t hurt your chances by reaching out to any of us—just don’t pester too much.

If someone is tipping you on a new app (major update, etc.), do you prefer for the tip to include detailed information that you can basically post almost as is or a short tip that you can evaluate fast and then dig or ask for extra information if it sounds interesting?

The more information, the merrier. If you send us screenshots, the region-free Marketplace link, changlog, future plans and even the XAP file, you’re chances of getting coverage go up.

Ultimately, we run every app we discuss on our site. We don’t just simply post app-announcements as we feel it’s our job to act as curators of the Marketplace, to help our readers navigate to find the best apps and games out there. So expect your app to get a mini-review at they very least.

But if you’re going to make me email and work the info out of you, then it becomes more of a hassle. We will still do it of course if the app is really intriguing but try to sell me why this app is unique. If you have a major update coming, send us the XAP file and let us play with it—you’re more likely to get the more coveted video-coverage, as we’ll have time to plan it out.

How important is having a demo video for an app? Would you go watch the video first if it’s available?

It’s about 50/50. I’d rather have the XAP file than a video and we rarely post the emulator-videos from devs as they’re quite droll.  It doesn’t hurt to send us the video and sure, I’ll tap the play button and quickly buzz through it. Some devs though do have great video-editing skills and if they make a well-done “preview” we may toss that in as an extra. Ultimately though we prefer to make our own videos.

Do you think having a web site for the app makes you look more serious in the eyes of a tech blogger? Do you ever look at the site or is a Marketplace listing enough?

Oh certainly it helps. I think it’s great when devs have a mini-site with an app description, changlog area (that is up to date), contact info, etc. It won’t matter if we cover the app as ultimately that depends on if the app is good or not, but if you give us the site, we’re more than likely to give our readers the link too. That can only help the developer.

Consumers really value if a developer is accessible, especially when the pop in on comments on our site when we’re discussing their app. Being responsive to your customer should be your #1 priority—never ignore them or take them for granted. If you have bad news, just be honest with them and tell them. Respond to every email with detail, listen to what they have to say, be honest.

Any other advice on what to include or not include in a tip?

There’s really nothing you shouldn’t include. Like I mentioned earlier, the more info you send, the better. Host your XAP on your SkyDrive if that’s easier than emailing it and be assured, we’ll never share the XAP with anyone.  And if I took the time to email you, please take the time to respond back.

As someone whose inbox is constantly flooded, I know it can be difficult but ultimately you’re trying to sell me on covering your app and devoting precious front-page resources. If you don’t respond to a request or you take your time, it will have an impact on our coverage. That’s only because for every app we do cover, there are 9 others that we aren’t.

Finally, don’t expect us to copy-paste whatever you write and no, we never accept sponsored posts or paid-app reviews, so don’t ask about that.

Do you monitor any other sites or services to source the app news or do they all come via active tips from developers? Do you follow tips in the comments or forums at WPCentral?

Since we’re the largest Windows Phone site we have access to some of the best audience out there. In that sense, we really don’t rely on other sites for app news or info. Sometimes our readers will notice something and give us a tip that way, but more often than not, we received the heads up first.

Regarding our forums, it’s a great place for developers to interact with our readers (and in comments too), so yes we do often look at the forums for new apps and tips, though once again, it helps if people email us that too as we can’t be everywhere all the time.

Finally, I’d just like to say to developers, help us help you. If you have a complaint on the platform, are having issues with Microsoft or you’re having issues with your app—email us, tell us, give us details.
Good examples of this are if an app relies on a service (e.g. SkyDrive, Twitter, etc.) and the API is temporarily broke causing your app to misbehave. Just email us, let us know and we can help mitigate any negative feedback from consumers before it becomes a problem. Get ahead of the problem; don’t make us react to it because the latter will reflect badly on you.

Likewise, if you’re doing a temporary sale (either discounted price, or marked down for free), please email us with the specifics. If you’re expecting us to “discover” every app-sale, you’re going to be disappointed and you’ll get a much better reaction to your app if you contact us with the material.

It honestly blows my mind when a developer doesn’t let us know they made their app free for a week or they are having issues.  We’re here to act as a liaison between you and your customers, if you ignore us you’re not taking advantage of your largest Windows Phone resource and that is just bad business.

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