Adopting emerging platforms quickly and fostering innovation among IT staff were vital to the success of Lonely Planet's online initiatives, according to chief executive, Matt Goldberg.
Goldberg told attendees of the Gartner Symposium in Sydney last week that the tourism company often beat its competitors in experimenting with and adopting new mobile platforms.
“In 1999, we took a risk with Palm Pilot and put out apps for what we thought would be an explosion of global devices,” he said. Developing similar apps for more recent mobile platforms such as Apple's iPad and iPhone were increasingly successful, despite the use of a traditionally risky premium content service.
“When the volcano went off in Iceland, we had an executive who [couldn't fly home],” he said. “As an act of generosity, we freed up iPhone apps… [because] we wanted people to know they were available.
“In four days we saw four million downloads of that app. Our run rate during those days went up and made a new base that was 50 per cent higher [than before]."
Lonely Planet employs a director of emerging platforms and innovation - mobile games and apps veteran Chris Boden. In agreeing with Goldberg, Boden stressed at the Gartner Symposium 2010 that the company's competitiveness in utilising mobile platforms was vital to ensuring Lonely Plant stayed ahead.
“We’ve laid some bets on a range of different platforms where we’ve thought they would have potential – some have panned out and some haven’t,” he said. “Part of innovation is that you have to be prepared to link to platforms that will fail.”
However, the continuing fragmentation of the mobile market forced Lonely Planet to pick and choose which platforms would suit the company best.
“As we’ve watched platforms explode, we’ve recognised you can’t have a social strategy. You can’t have siloed activities,” he said. "We recognise there is a device proliferation and fragmentation… we’re a small global company so it makes it a challenge and we have to make choices.”
Ultimately, Goldberg said Lonely Planet's successes originated from a positive environment "where Chris could thrive" and "experiment restlessly" with the emerging platform team.
Boden said that ability to experiment with different platforms meant that he had to take a variety of approaches towards a variety of social media platforms as well.
“Facebook can gauge whether you’re getting traction on strategy… [but] Twitter is a great example of one of those areas where we had to experiment and change our strategy,” Boden said.
Lonely Planet's current Twitter policy mandates the corporate account automatically follows anyone who follows the company on the social networking site. The main account had over 200,000 followers at time of writing.
Analysts have stressed the use of social media tools to enhance innovation and increase productivity within an organisation while one social media consultant last month said social technology was fostering real-world innovation.