Why Social Media, and Social Media Data, is Good for Business

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I was doing a talk recently on the correlations between Facebook likes and personality traits when someone put their hand up and said: ‘so what?’ What does this mean – what does it matter to the average business that Facebook likes can indicate a person’s personality? It got me thinking about how to better communicate the relevance of social media and social media data and how it relates, not only to academic studies, but why it’s important, and indeed, good for all businesses to be involved and to understand the possibilities of quantifiable interactions.

The Facebook Study

Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Cambridge and Stanford University released a study which suggested that a person’s Facebook ‘Like’ profile could be more indicative of an individual’s personality traits and leanings than their friends, family members, even their partners. The study was conducted by getting 86,220 participants to complete a 100-item personality questionnaire, based on the International Personality Item Pool (IPIP) five-factor model, which measures each person’s responses and maps them to build a personality profile, based on the ‘big five’ personality traits.

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Within each of these categories are sub-sets, more specific data points based on these over-arching personality points. Based on those responses, each participant’s personality profile was created, then matched against their Facebook ‘Like’s.

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Now, on a small scale, this doesn’t mean a heap – a person who scored high for anxiety also likes Star Wars – so what? But on a wider scale – when matching this data over, say, 86,000 responses – correlations between interests solidify. Change the equation to 95% of people who scored .80 or above for anxiety also liked Star Wars and you’re starting to see that map. The researchers found that when the individual had 150 Facebook likes to go on, their model could predict their personality traits better than their family members. With 300 likes, it beat out their partners. And when you consider that the average Facebook user has liked more 220 things, you can see how this system could be used as an accurate predictor for a person’s traits and behaviours.

So what does that matter?

So what? What’s the big deal, right? It’s one thing for academics at some big name institution to some up with a complex methodology for indexing personality traits – and good for them – but what does this actually mean for you or I, for the everyday business owner? This is an interesting question, because you can’t just extract these sorts of insights in any easy way. It takes teams of data scientists to build such a model – months, years of learning to implement at such scale. What this research does highlight is the possibilities and potential of big data and social media. What it shows is that business owners should not be resisting social or avoiding it – they should be actively embracing and encouraging its use. Even if that business wasn’t overly interested or inclined to get involved themselves, the potential value of such insights for their own audiences are so great, so massive, that they should see these interactions as access to a whole new way of thinking.

How so? Consider this:

Ninety per cent of the world’s data has been generated over the last two years. Ninety per cent. That means everything that exists now, all the resources, status updates, like profiles – all but ten per cent of that was non-existent just two years ago. It’s not possible for any of us to truly understand what that means for business, for our day-to-day lives, for everything as we know it, because we haven’t had enough time to process all that info and figure out how it all relates. Definitely, where the emphasis has been on big data in recent years, the latest push is on how we rationalise and contextualise all that info. Big data has become a buzzword, people have become more wary, because for all the insights and intelligence we have at our fingertips, no one’s really sure how to utilise it. This comes back, somewhat, to futurist Ray Kurweil’s ‘Law of Accelerating Returns’, which stipulates that more advanced societies and technology progress at a faster rate than previous ones – so we’re now progressing faster than any generation before us, and thus, we can’t rationalise and compute all these new inputs all at once because our brains are still adapting and working to get up to speed.

This is, in large part, why we’re often not able to see the possibilities of big data and all those advancing connections – that, and the context for them is often presented in such a way that it’s difficult for someone without an advanced qualification in psychology or analysis to fully grasp the significance of a concept like Facebook knowing you better than your wife. The consideration that I see is actually two-fold: the future and the present.

The Future 

As data advances, I see massive potential in all those reference points leading businesses and individuals to each other. In the case of the individual, let’s say that your Facebook profile – which we now know can be an accurate indicator of your personality – is only part of the overall puzzle.

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Combining an individual’s activity on all three of these platforms would form an even clearer picture of who they are, not only in a personal sense, but professionally as well. When you consider that the next generation has grown up on social (remember, Facebook is now more than 10 years-old), and think about how much information each user has accumulated and logged online, you can imagine that if this data were combined, at scale, you would have a pretty accurate indicator of personality and career-oriented traits. This would enable you to make better decisions about employing people, build better understandings about the correlations between performance and personal traits, track the specific interests and personality types of the people who have purchased from you, enabling you to target future customers based on informed correlations.

At present, this data is not easily combined, as each platform keeps their own knowledge graph, but there are ways to extract such insights. There are methods you can use to build accurate personas – the next step is to build systems that track and expand your own data analysis in real-time. Imagine if you could build a system that logged the traits and behaviours of people who both Liked and went on to purchase from you, which updated in real-time. Imagine then that, armed with this knowledge, you could target your advertising or identify people to connect with based on those same traits, effectively highlighting your most relevant and responsive audience, based on data, and showing you new opportunities, every day. This is where the true power of social media data and data analysis lies – being able to locate and reach the right people, with the right content, at the right time – all the time. And with more and more data being entered, the reality of this scenario is becoming increasingly present. It pays to know what’s happening in this sector.

The Present

But again, that’s the future, that’s still some distance – and some cost – away from your day-to-day business, your real world grind. How does social media data deliver real, actionable, insights for you, right now? Really, with the amount of data we’re talking, how could it not?

For instance, let’s say members of your target audience – the people you need to get your brand name in front of – are active on social media. You can work out who, specifically, you need to be listening to, who your most likely prospects are, based on people who’ve previously purchased from you or people in positions that will make the call on whether or not to buy your stuff. You can analyse the presences of those target prospects and get an idea of what their questions are, what they’re discussing, what they’re most interested in. Let’s say you identify that a large portion of your audience is talking about a new TV show – you could use that in your own communications (contextually relevant, of course) and create content that’s more likely to resonate with the people you need to reach based on their specific interests.

Or you could work out who they listen to – word-of-mouth is the core thread of social selling. If you can work out that your target audience is listening to a specific influencer or influencers, you can examine their profiles, work out what they’re interested in, then reach out to them and connect to your target audience that way, by connecting through their established information sources and getting your name in front of them.

You can analyse your fans, followers, lurkers – there are any number of free or freemium social tools out there that enable you to extract specific insights and data about your social media audiences – both current and desired. And as the amount of interactions being undertaken online increases, so too do your chances of locating the information you need in your research. Right now, you can do this, right now, you can analyse the profiles of your business and your competitors and extract data insights and virtually no cost.

The Interaction Evolution

The Facebook Like study, to me, actually just reinforced or legitimised the power of social media data. Many people still see social as a fad, as nothing more than kids sharing pictures of themselves and/or their food. But if academia has found that those very actions can paint an extremely accurate picture of who a person is, you must also see that such data can form a map connecting your brand to your audience. Even if you’re not interested in social, if you’re not on the bandwagon, so to speak, have no interest in hashtags and LOLs and cute cats, you still have to recognise that social is the most powerful audience insights tool ever created. As Jay Z says:

If you can’t respect that, your whole perspective is whack”.

Maybe your audience isn’t on it – but are you sure? Maybe your customers don’t use it – but will they soon? The way people communicate has changed, the way we interact is evolving. Right now, you can livestream your life to the world, a level of connectivity that is unprecedented, would have been unfathomable just years ago. And that evolution is accelerating at a rate that we may not even be able to fully comprehend. What we do know is data. That which is happening is trackable, traceable, laid-out and accessible to anyone who cares to look. Used well, this can provide your business with a level of insight you’d never have even considered.

And that is good for business.

Will Meerkat Survive?

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So Meerkating is now a thing. The immensely popular live-streaming app Meerkat has timed it’s rise to prominence in alignment with the annual South by Southwest Festival, leading to a perfect storm of Meerkats streaming from every talk, launch and dinner event. And it’s fun – it’s amazing to have such a level of access to the festival and it’s participants – the closest many of us, particularly those of us in other parts of the world, will ever get to actually being there and experiencing the event as it happens. I’ve loved jumping onto a Meerkat stream and getting Brian Fanzo’s perspective or Gary Vaynerchuck’s insight, all happening right there, as I watch. There’s a lot to like about Meerkat – but it’s time in the sun may be short-lived.

Up Periscope

In January, Twitter purchased Periscope, a video-streaming service that offers the exact same capabilities as Meerkat, and then some. Twitter’s been working with Periscope since November 2014, and was reportedly polishing the beta version when Meerkat – which was built in just 8 weeks – was released into the social sphere. Reports thus far have indicated that Periscope operates in much the same way as Meerkat – it will function as a separate app and enable Twitter users to create live streams, the links to which are tweeted out to your Twitter followers (or to selected users). Periscope will also give users the chance to view live streams or watch previously recorded ones, something not on offer via Meerkat. Another point of difference is that comments posted on Periscope won’t show up in your Twitter stream – not sure if this is a positive or negative at this stage. While it is odd seeing half messages or seemingly random interactions show up in your Twitter stream – which are actually responses to a Meerkat that user is watching – those conversation fragments can also spark interest in checking out the link yourself – time will tell if this has any effect on viewers.

Reports have suggested that Periscope is a far more polished and functional affair – which makes sense, given the short dev time for Meerkat – but has Periscope missed the boat and enabled Meerkat to establish a following?

Riding the Blue Bird

There is one other thing working against Meerkat – it’s been built on the back of Twitter’s network. As stated in the Meerkat documentation ‘everything that happens on Meerkat happens on Twitter’, and this could work against them as, effectively, a competing service. Already, Twitter’s moved to restrict Meerkat’s access to it’s social graph. While it’s unlikely Twitter would cut Meerkat off completely, building their network on Twitter’s land could prove problematic when Periscope does, eventually, get released – though some have also noted that this strategy may end up working in Meerkat’s favour.

The Race or the Service?

There was a question posted in a SXSW event over the weekend – an event I was watching via Meerkat – and it somewhat gets to the heart of the questions over the future of Meerkat and whether the app will exist long-term. The question, posed by Bryan Kramer, was:

My response to this is that the functionality of Meerkat is an extension of social connectivity – it brings everything another step closer. That’s really the ultimate goal of social media, to facilitate connections between people and groups and enable everyone to be part of the wider conversation. That’s the ethos that Mark Zuckerberg stands by, the mission to connect everyone and harness the power of collaboration to bring about real connection and, ideally, real change. In this vein, Meerkat is a perfect extension of such capacity – it’s the next step, allowing anyone to broadcast easily and in real-time to the rest of the world. And in that sense, the platform itself isn’t really the thing.

Whether it’s Periscope or Meerkat – or something else we haven’t even heard of, Meerkat’s live-streaming functionality is exciting and innovative – and it’s already got of the world’s best social media minds enamoured and thinking about how to utilise it in new ways. While I anticipate Periscope being being a great product, even if it does succeed Meerkat, time spent learning and seeing what you can do via Meerkat won’t be wasted. And maybe there’s room for both apps in the market – maybe some people will better align to the DIY-feel of Meerkat and refuse to use Periscope even if it is better. It’s likely that this window of opportunity Meerkat’s been afforded will enable it to establish a loyal audience of some kind – but regardless of how it pans out, the important element to note here is the functionality, the new capability and capacity being offered by live-streaming video. Network capacity of the past would’ve meant such innovation was simply impossible. But now, you might get the opportunity to experience celebrity events from the front row, live streamed by your favourite celebrity him or herself, access you’d never have dreamed of – and a powerful vehicle for engagement and building community.

Rather than worrying about who’ll win the race, take a moment to take in the spectacle of the event. It’s a fun ride that’s worth getting onto.

3 Ways to Use LinkedIn University Finder for Audience Research

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Have you heard of LinkedIn’s University Finder app? It’s something LinkedIn released last year that aims to help students determine which university they should attend in order to reach their career aspirations, based on the job they want, the subjects they’re studying, the companies they’d like to work for and where they want to live. The app does this by utilising LinkedIn’s masses of user data, highlighting where people who’ve studied at different institutions have gone on to find employment.

While that functionality in itself is pretty great, it’s also one of the best ways to access LinkedIn’s comprehensive data banks. You see, LinkedIn is pretty guarded with their API. This is understandable – many users don’t want their personal career info to be available to anyone and everyone – but anonymised data doesn’t subvert any privacy restrictions. And that data, being able to sort and sift LinkedIn’s info, can have significant value for more than just prospective university students – here’s a few ways you can use LinkedIn University Finder to better inform your own marketing and outreach efforts.

1. Where to Focus When Building Relationships with Future Decision-Makers

So, the filters of LinkedIn University Finder are:

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Based on the selection you make here, the top universities for your chosen career preferences are displayed below:

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Pretty simple, right? But access to all that data also means you can gain insights beyond academic recommendations. Let’s say, for example, you were in charge of an up-coming IT company and you wanted to boost your profile in order to attract the best candidates and enhance future business prospects. You could choose the specific area from the study field:

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Then the specific location you’re interested in:

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And the results will show the most popular universities for your chosen interest in your chosen region:

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Now you know, based on actual employment histories, where the majority of students in your area of expertise are studying within this region. Using this, you can work with the relevant universities to establish connections with your business – develop sponsorship or graduate programs, arrange to do talks or work with students. All these efforts can help build connections with your business, boosting brand awareness and, ideally, making your company a desired employment option among top graduates. Even if winning over future employees isn’t your goal, by making connections with future business leaders at this stage, you’re helping establish connections for partnerships when those graduates progress to decision-making levels.

This is a long-term strategy which can help strengthen community and brand awareness and can help you gain an audience within the circles of your target customers, before they’ve reached that next stage.

2. What Skills to List on Your LinkedIn Profile

This is a quietly brilliant strategy, and one I can take absolutely no credit for it. In a recent post on Mashable, Joshua Waldman outlined how you can use LinkedIn University Finder to locate which skills you should list on your LinkedIn Profile to maximise your chances of gaining employment in your preferred industry and role. The strategy (which Joshua has detailed more comprehensively in his post) goes like this:

  1. Find the schools with the most graduates progressing to the roles and companies you want to work for
  2. Go to the LinkedIn Pages for those schools and filter their listings by the company and role
  3. This will then show you what skills those graduates have listed on their profiles, in order of frequency – these are the skills you want to be listing on your profile to increase your prospects (assuming you have the ability to back-up these skills, of course)

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Waldman recommends doing this same research with several schools and job functions to get a more comprehensive idea of the skills those who are being employed in the roles you’re seeking are listing. Once you have a spreadsheet of all the listed skills, sort them by frequency of mentions, and you have a list of what you should be including on your profile to increase your chances of getting the role you want. Pretty clever, huh?

3. Where to Target Your Ads

This data also, inadvertently, gives you an insight into where you should consider targeting your advertising. For instance, if you were trying to reach marketing consultants in Melbourne, Australia, LinkedIn University finder tells me that the most likely places those people are employed are:

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I could then use this info to target my ads on Facebook or Twitter, or I conduct research into whether I could advertise in their internal publications, find ways to reach them where they’re more likely to see it. Alternatively, it also highlights where prospects are not – if I do a search for people who’ve studied ‘Hair Styling/Stylist and Hair Design’ in the Melbourne area, I find that there’s really not many of them listed on LinkedIn. Not a big surprise really, but if I were considering advertising on LinkedIn and I knew the job titles of the people I was targeting, I could enter that into the filters and work out whether there’s a sizeable enough audience on the platform to focus on.

There are a range of other ways to utilise LinkedIn University Finder’s data – the amount of professional insights available via LinkedIn is unparalleled, and being able to filter the information in a quick and user-friendly way like this can be extremely valuable. If you haven’t used University Finder yet, I recommend you check it out.

How to Determine if Pages Have Purchased Followers or Likes

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Do you ever come across a business profile or page and think ‘what the…? How did they get 3,000 followers?’ As with most things in life, if something seems fishy, there’s a good likelihood that it probably is, and with the fake social media profile industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars per annum, it’s not hugely surprising to find out many individuals and brands have taken this route. Like, a heap of them have – just take a look at the results from the recent Instagram fake profile purge, where a whole range of celebrities took big hits in their follower counts.

And it makes sense, having more followers and likes can definitely improve your brand position – if you’re looking for a service online and find two similar providers, one with 38 likes and another with 3,000, the latter one’s gonna’ stand out – but with the practice of buying followers and likes so widespread, it’d be great to also have a way to work out who’s telling the truth, right? Here’s a couple of ways to work out if they’re telling you the fibs.

How to work out is someone’s Twitter followers are fake

Twitter is the open network, the one where people go to broadcast their thoughts and voice their opinions on the happenings of the world. As such, the biggest advantage of Twitter is that most of their data is publicly accessible, which makes it easier to work out what brands are doing, what strategies their employing – and also, whether they’re faking. It’s actually pretty easy to spot on Twitter, even without any significant investigation.

When looking through Twitter, it’s not uncommon for a celebrity to have a follower to following ratio that looks something like this:

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Gotye’s not a prolific tweeter, and as such, he’s not following a heap of people. But he’s Gotye, he’s a world-renowned musician, and his fans are keen to hear whatever it is he has to say – hence, despite him not following back many folk, he still has 414,000 followers. That makes sense for a public figure with a large fan base, but when you come across a non-public figure, someone you’ve never heard of, with a similar follower/following ratio, that’s a pretty clear indicator that something’s amiss.

There are a couple of options for testing this on Twitter – Status People’s ‘Fake Follower Check’ is one, Social Bakers, too, has a free fake followers test you can use – but my favourite is Twitter Audit, also free, very quick and very easy to use. The difference between each of these, and why I prefer TwitterAudit, is the number of records they check to get an indication of how many fake followers each profile has.

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Of course, the accuracy of each is relative to the amount of followers the subject has – the percentage of followers you’re testing decreases in-line with increases in follower count – but generally this data has been found to be indicative, when compared with tests on a more comprehensive scale.

To conduct a Twitter Audit, you just enter the handle you wanna’ check, sign-in with your Twitter credentials, and away you go. How the test works is, it takes a look at that random sample of up to 5,000 of the person’s followers and it looks at a range of factors for each – number of tweets sent, date of last tweet, follower/following ratio, etc. From this, the system determines which of those tested profiles are likely fake, then gives you a percentage and pie chart based on those findings:

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There is, of course, a margin of error in this data, but it’s normally a fairly accurate indicator, particularly when analysing profiles with less than 5k followers.

To clarify and confirm the data further, you can conduct a manual check – paid tools like Followerwonk or Socialbro provide in-depth reports on follower growth over time. If you look up a profile and find a big drops or jumps in their follower numbers, like this:

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Pretty safe to assume those followers didn’t all randomly switch off in the same week (unless, of course, there was an offending tweet or similar logical connection).

Using the available apps, it’s pretty easy to work out Twitter fakes. Twitter’s always working to eliminate illegitimate profiles, so we might one day see an Instagram style purge with a heap of celebrities taking hits. But till then, if you ever need confirmation, just run ‘em through a Twitter Audit, then sit back and scoff at their vanity.

How to work out is someone’s Facebook likes are fake

Facebook fakers are a little harder to pin down. Unlike Twitter, most of Facebook’s data is locked up or hidden behind privacy settings, making it a bit more difficult to determine, definitively, if someone’s cheating. There’s a few ways to go about it and while none of them will provide as clear a result as the Twitter audit options, they will give you some idea as to what’s going on with any given page.

Find out where their fans are from

So, let’s say that the Facebook page you’re looking at is a local business – they work within your local region, they not a subsidiary of a larger international corporation – the people they work with are, logically, going to be based in the local area. The people who sell Facebook likes tend to be from third world nations – as noted in this piece from Copyblogger. Most of the fake likes you’ll come across originate from Bangladesh, India, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria and Indonesia. Now, that’s not to point the finger and say all of the ‘click farms’ in the world are based in these regions, but if our local business has a heap of likers from these nations, that’s a likely indication that their faking it. So how do work this out?

Facebook’s graph search enables you to search for a heap of different parameters. The one we can use in this case is:

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You insert the name of the business page at the end and it’ll give you a display of all the hometowns of people who like that page. The problem with this is that Graph Search results are sorted based on affinity – how they’re connected to you – not by total number, so you can’t necessarily determine where the majority of this page’s likes come from, but if it’s a local business and they have a range of the above mentioned nations among the hometowns of their followers, you may have reason to question why they’re showing up there.

Extra note: In this piece by Miguel Bravo, Bravo also suggests that the results of Graph Search queries like:

‘Pages likes by people who like [insert page name]’

‘Countries of people who like [insert page name]’

‘Languages of people who like [insert page name]’

Can also produce telling results (and they definitely do in the example he’s provided).

Check their interaction versus their Likes

This is a more tenuous linkage, but it can provide some insight. So, if the page you’re looking at has 3,000 likes, you’d expect them to have a reasonable level of interaction on their posts, some discussion about their brand, right? You can do a quick assessment of their posts to see what sort of engagement they’re getting on each – fake profiles are not going to interact with posts, so if they’ve got a crazy amount of page likes but are getting no action on their updates, they may have bought likes. Or they’re not very good at understanding their audience.

By clicking on the actual ‘Like’ number on the page, you get a graph like this:

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Now, dependent on other factors, this could be telling – a huge jump in likes on any given day indicates either a really popular post or promotion, or that the page has bought likes, you’ll only be able to determine this by cross-checking the data against the posts. The other metric to consider is ‘People Talking About This’ – so, in this case, I’d be a little suspect, given they have 3.7k total page likes, a big boost in likes in the last week, yet only one person ‘talking about this’. Again, these are not definitive measures – they can often end up being fuel for your own conspiracy theories, where you’re really seeing what you want to see. But having a look at the numbers can be revealing on a page that’s clearly purchased fake likes.

Extra tip: Fake profiles tend to have no profile image, or odd-looking, copied images – this is another element to check to further your investigation.

Really find out where their fans are from

If you’re really serious about finding Facebook fakers, paid app Fanpage Karma will give you a breakdown of the location of any page’s likers.

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This is one of the clearest indicators you can use to determine if the page has purchased likes – if the top countries are nations where the brand doesn’t even operate, that’s a fairly large red flag waving in your face.

On one hand, it’s frustrating that there’s not an easier way to determine Facebook fakers, as there is with Twitter, but on the other hand, it doesn’t really matter either way – if they’ve purchased fake likes, there’s not a heap you can do. I mean, you could, theoretically, go through their list of fans and report each fake profile one-by-one (which you can also do on Twitter) but obviously, that’s pretty time consuming and with Facebook already dealing with thousands of reports per hour, it’s hard to know if those efforts will actually cause any effect – that, and the fact that some like sellers offer a ‘guarantee’, where they’ll replace removed spam accounts, lessens the potential impact of conducting your own faker crackdown. The ongoing updates to Facebook’s news feed algorithm mean that purchasing likes will hurt pages more than help in the end, and Facebook’s always working to eliminate fakes where they can. While a higher number of likes is better looking, as with most measurements in social, it’s only one part of the larger picture, one indicator of potential success. You might have ten total likes and that could be more effective than a thousand, if those ten fans are engaged, paying clients, responsive to your messaging.

Quality Vs Quantity

And this is the key element in the popularity contest – the metrics only tell a part of the story. While I can understand why businesses might consider boosting their numbers, metrics are only one element of the social marketing puzzle. What’s more, fake likes and followers hurt the core product of social platforms – there’s already been questions about Twitter’s actual user numbers with reports suggesting that 9% of profiles are fake. That sort of speculation hurts their brand sentiment and turns off potential investors – the fake profile industry is bad for social media business, and you best believe the platforms are doing all they can to identify and eradicate imposter accounts. As with Instagram, at any time you could see a similar cull on any platform – buying popularity could end up very embarrassing if you get caught out.

Any measurement is an indicator – Likes, followers, Klout, Kred – each, in itself, is something to consider, but the only way to confirm the true social credentials of a person or brand is to investigate them yourself. Look at their posts, their content, assess what they’re doing. There may be a logical reason why their numbers are the way they are. Or there may not. ‘Influence’ is relative – conducting your own analysis will show you whose earned it and whose bought something resembling what influence should be.

Advanced Statistics, “Moneyball” and Ambitious Marketing Through Social Media

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Ever since my early teens I’ve been a big basketball fan. I played football when I was young, but a playground accident (in which I broke both my arms at the same time) meant full-contact sports were off the cards for an extended period. During my recovery, I found basketball, and I never looked back. This was also right in the midst of the Michael Jordan-era – Charlotte Hornets jerseys were everywhere, Shaquille O’Neal was smashing backboards on TV. Basketball was blowing up in the early nineties, and like many passions of our formative years, it took hold and has stayed with me ever since.

One aspect that really captured my imagination was statistics. I collected NBA cards, poured over the numbers and info on each one. I developed an encyclopedic knowledge of useless facts about players and their outputs – you wanna’ know who had the best three-point field goal percentage in the 1992-93 season – I got you. Need to know the career averages of Bill Wennington? Right here. I wasn’t alone in this, there were a heap of people more informed and more detail-oriented than I, but what I didn’t know was that that very passion, that interest in obscure details and numbers, would one day change the very way the game was played.

Evolution Through Analysis

At the 2012 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, cartographer Kirk Goldsberry gave a presentation on what he called CourtVision, an advanced basketball analytics system he’d put together in his spare time. Goldsberry had worked out how to extract data from ESPN’s shot charts – which showed where each player had made and missed shots from during each game – and he’d put all that data into a comprehensive set for each individual. He’d mapped every shot taken in every NBA game from 2006 to 2011, a huge data bank which, when filtered down to specific players, highlighted tendencies, weaknesses and strengths.

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Basic field goal percentage data was nothing new – as noted earlier, any kid intoxicated by the smell of a freshly opened pack of basketball cards had some level of similar insight, but Goldsberry had taken it to the next level. He’d sought to show why this data was important, how it could be actioned. And as he presented, an audience full of NBA owners all sat forward in their seats.

Data analytics in sports has become the “in” thing in recent times. Growing from the success of Billy Beane’s “Moneyball”, analytics is now big business – virtually every major sports team now employs some level of data analysis in their preparation and evaluation process. And it makes sense – winning is everything in professional sports. More than pride or showmanship, it’s winning that makes money for pro athletes. Careers depend on it, clubs rely on the ability to perform. Winning teams get better attendances, more TV coverage, more success as a business overall. And it is just that – business. While it’s sports and it may not seem so different from your local leagues, where participation in itself is seen as a level of success, professional sport is a massive industry, and winning is a fundamental requirement. You’re either winning now or you have a plan to win in future. Or you’re done. With so much riding on the result, every little bit matters, every advantage you can get helps – if deflating the ball by one p.s.i can provide some tiny advantage, you best believe someone will try it.

With every detail under so much scrutiny, professional sports teams need to get things right. You could fly blind, stick with the way things have always been done – rely on your gut instinct, as many traditionalists still uphold. But the fact of the matter is data has become a critical part of modern pro sports. Numbers don’t lie, statistics are fact, and while it takes more than mere numbers to build any actionable insights from the info, used well, data can unlock the secrets that lead to that one goal – winning.

Data vs Instinct

Goldsberry’s formulas, or variations of them, have been adopted by players and coaches all across the NBA. The actual results of this are difficult to definitvely pin down, fuelling critics of the advanced statistics and data approach. Some, like TNT commentator and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, have come out strong with their opposition:

All these guys who run these organizations who talk about analytics, they have one thing in common — they’re a bunch of guys who have never played the game, and they never got the girls in high school, and they just want to get in the game.”

Barkley’s view is simple – all the numbers and all the data have not yet lead to a team winning a championship. And he’s right, but still, many clear winners have emerged.

Shane Battier defined his career by being a defensive specialist, someone who’s sole aim was taking on unglamorous task of shutting down opposition scoring threats. Battier was also an analytics advocate, someone who’d seen the power of numbers and had been using similar statistical correlations for some time. Battier became renowned for his success in stopping or slowing the game’s biggest stars, most notably Kobe Bryant. What Battier had determined with Bryant was that he was no where near as efficient when he shot from particular sections of the floor – so rather than work to stop Bryant, as such, Battier tried to keep Bryant out of his hot spots and shepherd him into taking bad shots. The tactic was a success, but one which isn’t necessarily quantified in the box score.

This sort of basic extrapolation of the data highlights the subtleties of utilising performance statistics as a predictor of successful behaviour. The data itself was never going to alter the nature of the game, but the accumulation of those subtle complexities, when used and applied in the right way, can sway the outcome and deliver results. The problem is that you a) need to know the right data to analyse and action, and b) need the right personnel to action it. Those two variables are what leads to data being seen as an inexact science – generally, it’s not a case of 1 + 1 = 2 – it’s more like 1 (in the right scenario with the right preparation) + 1 (with the correct understanding of the specifics of the moment) = 2. This is where there’s some truth to the old ‘go with your gut’ way of thinking – you need people who can ‘go with their gut’, but that gut needs to be informed and to understand the variables of overall success.

For instance, let’s say you have the ball and your team’s down by one with only seconds remaining and you’re rushing up court for the last play when you spot your teammate open for a shot on your left. An informed, analytical, mind will know how good that shot is, how good a shooter that player is at this stage of the game. Through understanding the shot charts, like Goldsberry’s CourtVision stats, the informed player can make a smarter decision and either execute or switch the play, and that quick thinking can win or lose the game. Such interpretation is both gut and analytics, and that’s more likely where you’ll see success in the world of data – human interpretation layered over informed insights. One without the other is an inferior approach.

New Ways of Working Require New Ways of Thinking

This is an important distinction in the intersection of big data and human analysis. Right now, the business world is trying to understand the implications of all this new data we’ve been given access to. The proliferation of social media has fed an explosion of online tracking and data systems and most business haven’t yet been able to get a grasp on what all this new information means, where it might lead. We know it’s important – if professional sports teams are effectively entrusting their success to the numbers, then it’s surely valuable – but because there are so many variables, because it isn’t so black and white, many are opting to stick with the ‘go with your gut’ approach, the ‘we’ve done it this way for years’ ethos.

So a heap of people on Facebook click ‘Like’ – so what?”

Established mindsets pose the biggest challenge to the possibilities of data, because it’s hard to see the logic when we’ve never been asked to look at things from a wider view. As with the quote above, a single person clicking ‘Like’ on your Facebook business page is virtually meaningless in the larger scheme. But we’re not talking about one thing. Often we go looking for simplicity because it’s what makes us comfortable, it’s logic we’re familiar with. But new ways of working require new ways of thinking, and we need to break out of what we know in order to break through.

Here’s an example in practise:

  • Person A vs Person BPerson A has 500,000 followers on Twitter. Person B has only 5,000.
  • Person A has followed a heap of people and gained these followers over time by collecting as many people as possible, following whoever will follow back, actively seeking to up their follower count at every opportunity. Person B has never focussed on followers, but has instead focussed on community and having genuine interactions with the people to whom she’s connected.
  • Person A has a Klout score of 55. Klout score, whether you agree with it or not, is an indicative measure of how many interactions a person has within their community, how many times they’re mentioned, the impact of their actual conversations. Person B has a Klout score of 75. This would suggest that despite Person B only having 1% of Person A’s following, Person B is actually more influential in their community and more likely to have her message reach a wider audience.

Knowing the above details, I’d be willing to be large sums of money that most people would still pick Person A and his 500,000 followers to be their brand ambassador over Person B. Because Person A has the biggest reach. The fact that they’re not listening to him is largely irrelevant – because we’re used to seeing things as we know them. What we know is that reaching more people is better – years of marketing and advertising theory has taught us this. We know that the chance of reaching 500,000 is better than reaching 5,000, because the audience is so much bigger. So what if not all of them are listening to Person A – even if you can reach 1% you’re still beating Person B, right? Even though, through the logic detailed above, we can see that partnering with Person B is probably more likely to generate better results, the majority of people will still go with what they know. The unknown is exactly that, and despite our data getting more informed, our approach isn’t quite there yet.

Data Analysis and the Evolution of Expectation

So going back to Goldsberry’s CourtVision stats – what if there was a way to correlate that same info, but for people who are buying or are interested in your products? What if, rather than shots made and attempted, you were looking at actions taken online – pages liked, interests listed, relationships. One of those things in isolation is nothing – someone who buys your stuff also happens to like Nirvana, so what? But what if, like Goldsberry, you could collect a wide set of data, a range of actions and preferences and map those on a chart which suggested that a person who undertakes certain, specific actions is highly likely to be interested in your stuff? You can do this. You can do this right now with Facebook data and Twitter info – you can correlate all the info from your pages and fans and you can build your own data sets that will map out the people most likely to be interested in buying from you. The trick is in finding the right data, the data you need.

For instance, correlating all the data from all the people who’ve liked your page might not be beneficial, because many people like pages for different reasons – they might be friends or family, they might have done so to enter a competition. Those people are going to skew your data, because they’re not the people who are most likely to buy. But you can narrow it down, specifically, to people who’ve made a purchase, to people who’ve interacted with your content. You can choose the specific info, most indicative of your typical customers, then build your datasets based on that. As noted recently, Facebook likes can very accurately indicate a person’s personality or leanings, when applied on a wide enough scale – those findings are the perfect business-case for conducting your own analysis and working out your own most relevant audience. Once you know this, you can target your marketing accordingly, you can focus your questions based on the queries amongst this sub-set, you can calibrate your focus around expanding your reach to people similar to this, people with the highest probability of being actual paying customers.

But that’s not broadcast reach, right? That’s not hitting the widest audience possible, which, as we know – as we’ve learned – is how to succeed and sell more stuff. And of course, that may well be the case – focus your dataset wrong or too narrow and you could miss out on an entire market of other buyer personas you’re not catering for by honing in on one group. Narrowing focus is a risk, and that risk is going to enflame oppositional forces, the old-school chiefs who know how things are done. This is the challenge of being an innovator, and has always been the challenge. You’re presenting a new way of thinking, and people aren’t necessarily going to like it. When you’ve achieved success by doing things a certain way, do you appreciate it when someone new comes in and suggests something different? No. Because you’ve done it, you’ve got the runs on the board, you have the experience, and experience is concrete. You know what works. Social media and big data are new, they’re different, and they’ve got a lot to prove – this means you, by extension, digital marketers have a lot to prove also.

But it can be done. The stats and figures can be located and correlated, you can work out the most minute and specific details about your target customers, and those details will inform the future of your audience approach. As communications become more individual, as more and more people grow-up online and develop their interactive and communicative skills via social media platforms, people are also growing to expect their voices will be heard. This is what social media is about, empowering people by giving everyone a voice – the brands respect and listen to those individual voices will advance and move ahead, in-line with customer expectation. Targeted advertising, for example, is becoming so specific that it’s scary – but to the next generation it won’t be scary, it’ll be how it’s always been. Brands responding in real-time will be standard, individual preferences will orchestrate the detail of each person’s media experience. What we know and have always known is evolving, whether we like it or not.

The possibilities of big data are amazing, the breadth of social media is hard to get your head around. But what we can say for sure is that people’s experiences and expectations are moving away from what we’ve always known. The businesses that can move with it, will.

Exploding Books, Technology and the Future of Literature

Exploding book

Thriller writer James Patterson recently released the world’s first self-destructing book. It was a gimmick – you could buy the ‘self-destructing’ version of his latest novel, which erased itself after 24 hours, or you could wait another few days and buy it in traditional book form. Patterson’s a former ad guy, so it’s not surprising that he’d come up with something like this, a stunt closely aligned to the next generation’s affections with self-destructing and disappearing content. And while we won’t have a true gauge on how effective this promotion was for some time, it’s definitely gained Patterson a lot of attention which he’d otherwise not have received – so should other writers be considering new publishing options like this?

A Changing Conversation

We’re living in extremely interesting times, from a communications perspective. The advent of social media has changed the way we interact – people are more connected, in terms of both reach and access, than ever before. This connectivity is unprecedented – we don’t know the full effects and implications of this new world, because we’re all in the midst of living in and exploring it. But what we do know is it’s different. People’s habits are changing, audience expectations and evolving, and in this, the whole structure of arts and entertainment is shifting. What we’ve long known to be the way of things is mutating before us.

This is most obvious in publishing, newspapers being the easiest example, with print publications declining as more and more people get their daily news and information online. Books, too, are changing, with Kindles and eReaders becoming more commonplace. The flow-on effect of this is that the traditional publishing model is no longer as profitable – getting a book accepted by a major publisher has always been hard, but with an increasing amount of pressure on the bottom line, the money available for new writers is rapidly drying up. Some of those publishing losses are balanced out by lower costs – an eBook costs nowhere near as much to produce as a physical book, but the return is also diminished, because they can’t charge the same amount for a digital copy. Mostly, the result is flat, there’s really not a heap for publishers to gain from the shift to more electronic readers, but as with newspapers, where traditional outlets are getting beaten is by smaller, more agile competitors who don’t have the overheads and revenue requirements that are strangling the giants. The opportunities for new players – like self-publishers – are greater than ever – though it’s a hard path to reach any sort of significant audience.

The film industry’s facing similar challenges – with more and more films available via illegitimate means so quickly online, we’re seeing fewer arthouse films get picked up by big cinema chains. This is why you’re seeing so many big-budget Hollywood films – remakes of sequels of remakes – over and over, at the movies. Because people can’t replicate the experience of seeing those epic movies at home – advances in home cinema and larger TV screens mean we can get pretty much replicate an arthouse cinema experience in our lounge room. But we can’t do massive sound, we can’t do 3D. As such, Hollywood is taking fewer risks on smaller projects, which means less opportunity for young filmmakers coming through – in the late nineties we had low-budget debuts from Darren Aronofsky (‘Pi’) and Chris Nolan (‘Memento’) that may not have even been released in the modern cinema marketplace. Yet, those are the films that got those guys to where they are now – Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’ was a cinematic masterpiece, and Nolan’s now one of the biggest names in movies, fuelled by the success of his Batman trilogy. With Hollywood taking fewer risks in smaller films, we may be missing out on the next generation of great film directors, and with fewer opportunities for up and coming artists, we could, effectively, see a decline in the quality of cinema for years to come. Unless we start looking elsewhere.

The Diversification of Creation

What we have seen in the film industry is that more young artists are branching into new mediums. Where they may not have opportunities in film, more innovative and creative work is coming from platforms like YouTube, Vine and Instagram. Some of these artists have progressed from their online work to cinematic opportunities – Neill Blomkamp, the director of ‘District 9’, got his first big Hollywood break because Peter Jackson saw some of the short films he’d made in his spare time on YouTube. Josh Trank, who directed the excellent ‘Chronicle’ gained recognition through his short films posted online (including this Star Wars ‘found footage’ short). Trank is now slated to direct a new, standalone, Star Wars film, as well as the Fantastic Four reboot. The next wave of film-making talent is more diversified, spread across various mediums, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in new forms – and as these two examples highlight, there can be significant benefits to just being present and proactive, posting content to build your profile and build recognition. While what we know as the traditional progression of film creative is changing, we’re seeing greater opportunities through access to cameras and editing/creation apps – if you’re looking for the directors of tomorrow, you might be better off checking out ‘Best of Vine’ than Sundance (note: one of the films that generated the most buzz at the most recent Sundance was ‘Tangerine’, which was shot almost entirely on an iPhone).

Opportunities in Innovation

So what does this mean for publishing? Really, it means that we need to consider ways to be more innovative with what we do. Patterson’s exploding novel may seem like a pretty gimmicky gimmick, but this is where we need to be looking as the next iteration of book publishing and connecting with our audiences. People these days are seeking more immersive experiences, with websites tied into content and apps tied into social media discussions. As more movie studios tap into this and get better at a 360 degree approach to their content, that immersion will become the expectation, and that expectation will extend to other forms of entertainment media. Exploding books are one thing, as a concept that might get you a bit more attention for your next book launch, but it’s not so much the idea itself that’s interesting about Patterson’s promotion. It’s the fact that an author like Patterson is innovating that’s interesting, and it highlights the need for all authors to consider new platforms, new processes, new ways to engage readers. The opportunities are there, the mediums are available – it may be worth taking the time to consider how to best use them to communicate and connect with your audience.

Google Re-Connects to Twitter’s Firehose – What it Means for Digital Marketing

Twitter Firehose

The announcement of Twitter’s new deal with Google, giving the search giant access to Twitter’s firehose of real-time tweets, once again highlights the micro-blog giant’s determination to advance and evolve into new avenues of profitability. While the latest Twitter numbers showed user growth is still slowing, revenue numbers have continued to increase, indicating that Twitter is on track to produce significant profit in the near future. Through increased advertising options and steps taken towards monetizing every aspect of Twitter’s audience, there’s a lot to like about the company’s future, and those innovations, many of which have come in quick succession, underline its place as the real-time social network of choice – but what will the Google deal actually mean?

The Rise of Social Search

This isn’t the first time Twitter and Google have combined their powers. Between 2009 and 2011, Google indexed tweets, till there was a disagreement between the parties and the relationship ended. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, in the company’s Q4 earnings call, made it clear that the new deal with Google was not the same as the previous one, meaning it will likely be more sophisticated and complex, which makes sense, given Twitter’s growth since the cessation of the previous pact. For Twitter, it gives them exposure and access to a whole new audience of ‘logged-out’ users, which the company estimates increase its reach by some 600 million people in addition to its ‘logged-in’ user base. For Google, it helps them maintain the battle for search eyeballs, with an increasing number of people turning to social for search purposes. This was underlined in by Facebook’s search upgrade in December 2014, enabling users to search for content posted by friends and people within their extended networks. The evolution of social search no doubt has Google slightly spooked, as the pervasiveness of word-of-mouth is significantly more compelling that product reviews and hand-picked testimonials. The deal makes perfect sense, but the make-up of the actual functions will be of significant interest, particularly to those in the SEO and digital marketing arenas.

The Possibilities of Innovation

While the enhanced indexing of tweets is, in itself, significant, it’s likely, also, that tweets will be given a different prominence in search results. Google’s indicated that a new version of ‘Google Real Time Search’ would be unlikely, but what we may see is more innovative integration of tweets into search streams. A break out option, for example, where you may see a clickable indicator in your Google search results saying ‘there have been X tweets about this subject in the last 24 hours’ to provide additional context around a search term’s popularity and link users directly to that conversation. Options like this would give Google users a more expansive view of the topic they’re investigating, providing additional context and giving them access to that important word-of-mouth insight. Google Trends too will benefit from having access to tweets – rather than tweets having their own separate search function, a new option in Trends could better enable specific Twitter data searches. Such functionality is essentially already available through apps like Topsy, but Trends might be able to do this with more oomph, more expansive data mapping functionality, powered by Google.

It’ll also be interesting to see if there’s specific integration of Twitter data into other Google properties, like Google Maps. We’ve already seen the power of Twitter data in highlighting sentiment across different regions – visualisations like those available on Twitter’s #Interactive showcase, mapping the popularity of sports teams or the details of election results, are extremely popular and effective in communicating the expanses of Twitter’s data insight. While the more complex elements of such analysis will always require expert input (likely through Twitter’s own Gnip), there may be ways to integrate Google and Twitter data to give users to ability to map their own correlations, specific to their region. Of course, these are just possibilities and speculations, but the opportunities of an improved, enhanced, Twitter/Google partnership are exciting, and may help strengthen both companies in the battle against Zuckerberg’s towering behemoth.

The SEO Factor

And then there’s SEO. The integration of Twitter data into search results, likely in ways we’ve not seen before, could make Twitter a key element of the SEO process. Giving tweets more prominence already points to this, but a new Twitter indexing process could put more emphasis on the importance of brands being active on Twitter generally. What if someone goes searching for your products or services and a tweet from your competitor appears, high in the search results, with a message that resonates with that customer? You may have just lost that sale by virtue of not being present or not engaging via tweets.

At present, the main motivator for Twitter in this new deal appears to be the ability to show more ads to casual users and provide more incentive to get new people active on the platform, but as noted by Danny Sullivan in Marketing Land’s FAQ on the new deal:

Partnering fully with Google will make it likely much more of Twitter’s relevant content will appear before Google visitors, sending Twitter lots of traffic that it can use to convert into new Twitter users or to show ads.”

If relevant tweets are more likely to appear to searchers – customers seeking to inform their purchase decisions via Google research – the need to have your content appear high in those results will also be more pressing. If your brand isn’t active on Twitter, this may be a new element to consider in your SEO process.

Twitter’s noted that it’ll take several months for any changes to appear, and we’ll obviously hear more when the time comes, but it’s interesting to consider the possibilities and motivations behind this move. Either way, Twitter’s latest changes, and the speed at which they’re implementing new processes and innovations, bode well for the future relevance of the platform. Maybe nothing major comes of the Google/Twitter deal, but all indications are that this will be significant. How significant, exactly, only time will tell.

Twitter Video is Going to be Huge – Here’s Why…

twitvid

After months of speculation, Twitter video has arrived. Users of Twitter’s mobile app can now quickly and easily shoot-and-share video clips to be sent along with their tweets. And it’s pretty great – the functionality’s very similar to that of Vine (also owned by Twitter), though the maximum clip length has been extended to 30 seconds. You just compose your tweet, click on the camera option and switch it to video, hold down the video icon to film, then you’re done. It’s easy, seamless and will be a massive boost for brands and regular users alike. But, of course, that functionality isn’t startlingly new – you’ve always been able to record video in another app, like Vine, and share that video via tweet, right? While that is true, the immediacy and ease of use of having video functionality in-built takes video on Twitter to another level – here are three reasons why Twitter video will go big time.

1. Video infinitely enhances personal connection. Gary Vaynerchuck touched upon this in a recent post – as we’ve all seen from the massive growth of video on Facebook, video content is powerful. We also know that people are on social media to be social – social platforms are personal platforms, places from which people can voice their opinions and share their thoughts on everything from global issues to their favourite biscuits. Sharing your voice enables you to be heard, and that capability is extremely powerful, particularly when it comes to how that voice is acknowledged. Listening and responding to those voices is a key element in building brand loyalty and advocates – if people are using social to be heard, the brands that win are those that are hearing them and responding to those signals.

While it’s best practice, and common courtesy, to acknowledge users who’ve shared your content or commented on your tweets, sometimes those acknowledgements can come across as robotic or non-genuine. Sometimes, even if they’re totally genuine, it’s unavoidable that your message will seem cut-and-pasted – I’ll often respond to people who’ve shared my posts with ‘Thanks for sharing my post, Ben, much appreciated’ – and that’s a genuine sentiment, and I always try to include the users’ actual name to show that this isn’t just a repeated tweet, but there’s only so many variations you can do on that message. But now I have Twitter video – what if I made an individual video personally acknowledging that person for sharing my content. And maybe my doing it is no big deal, I’m not a big name celebrity, but what if Jay Baer did it? Your CEO, maybe? What about Beyonce?

The power of an individual video message is significant – that sort of interaction can turn a person into a fan for life. And now, with that video capability in-built and readily accessible, it takes literally only a few more seconds of effort to make a stronger connection through video recognition. Click reply, press the video camera, create a message, send. Simple, fast, powerful.

2. Immediate and fast access to video will make it easier to contextualize with ‘how-to’ and ‘walk-through’s. Have you ever seen the Lowe’s ‘Fix in Six’ videos posted to Vine? In short, quick clips, people were able to produce amazingly helpful – and popular – ‘how-to’ content – and now you can do the same, but with longer clip duration. This aspect will reinforce Twitter’s capacity as THE customer service platform. Brands and helpdesk assistants no longer need to restrict their advice to 140 characters – a challenge at the best of times. Now you can take a quick clip, right there, in-app, and show the person on the other end of the line how to do something.

Even better, it’s often equally, if not more, difficult for users to explain their issues within Twitter’s character limit. Now you can just get them to film the issue and tweet the video through. This will avoid confusion over what’s being discussed, where the actual issue lies. Again, the immediacy of being able to press one button and create a video of the problem is significantly different to taking a video in another app and sharing that way. Having the functionality right there, within the platform that people are already using, will change how video is used in this application. Problems will be resolved faster, responses will be more in-depth and helpful. The change will be significant for the brands that utilise this functionality to best effect.

3. Twitter video will bring more users to Twitter and keep them there longer. Tech investor Jason Calacanis wrote a piece about Twitter video in early January which looked at the platform’s capacity to capitalise on the rising popularity of video content. In Calacanis’ post, he made a very relevant point about how celebrities use Twitter – he noted that many celebrities and influencers are highly active on Twitter, but not many have their own YouTube or Vine channels, so they’re not actively posting a high amount of video content. He also noted that Facebook has been trying for years to get celebrities and influencers more active on their platform, as evidenced by the creation of Facebook Mentions, an app targeted specifically at celebrities (which, co-incidentally, just got an upgrade). Twitter already has those big names on-board – providing them with the ability to easily share videos with their huge follower bases (and once they see how their fans respond to that video content) will lead to more of them posting more video content, which, in-turn, will lead to more people coming to Twitter to view it.

What’s more, Twitter video’s can only be shared through embedding or posting links back to the original tweet, there’s no easy way to extract the video and re-post it on YouTube or direct to Facebook. When those celebrities do post clips, that content will, of course, be shared across other platforms, and the way that content is accessed through other channels is by providing, or linking back to, the original tweet, which, again, generates greater exposure for Twitter. This is in-line with Twitter’s view that it reaches a significantly larger audience than it’s actual user-base through ‘logged-out’ users, people who are exposed to Twitter content but are not on the platform. As it moves to better monetize this element, growing that exposure can only be a good thing. It may also prove to be a huge thing in the long run.

Overall, Twitter video is not a massive shift – the ability to post and share video via tweet is, essentially, nothing new. But the integration of video into your Twitter stream, having the option right there, a click away as you compose your message, changes the equation significantly. There are so many opportunities, so many simple and effective ways to use this new process. If you’re not thinking about using Twitter videos, you should be. Because have no doubt, other brands are thinking on it. Even minor innovations can be the difference between a 7/10 and a 10/10 customer experience.

On Merit, Attention and Audience Action

Dumb_Ways_to_Die

Here’s a question: are plaudits for advertising and marketing campaigns awarded under a similar scale of merit as we apply to film and literature? Should they be?

Miranda Ward posted an interesting piece on mUmBRELLA recently which looked at the effectiveness of Metro Trains’ much awarded ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ campaign. While no one can debate the virality of the campaign and its success, in terms of gaining attention, Ward’s piece puts a spotlight on the actual effectiveness of the campaign, as matched against its core objectives, and putting those results into hard numbers is slightly more elusive. That’s not to say it wasn’t successful, but there’s no clear argument to suggest it was either, despite it being the “most awarded campaign in the history of Cannes (with 28 Lions, including five Grands Prix)” (source).

This reminded me of the Oreo’s ‘Dunk in the Dark’ tweet from the 2013 Super Bowl, which was a topic of discussion recently in the lead-up to its 2015 equivalent. It’s a similar situation – ‘Dunk in the Dark’ was also very creative and garnered a heap of attention and awards, but in terms of actual effectiveness, in getting more people to buy more biscuits, the correlation isn’t clear. That gap, between awarding great work, as opposed to awarding effectiveness, reminded me a little of the way we praise movies and film – the films that earn the most money tend to also be among those most hated by critics (i.e. Transformers 3). Film awards, meanwhile, go to more creative and innovative works that, for the most part, don’t produce the same financial results. But then again, that’s not really the point of making a film – an advertisement does have a definitive objective.

What this debate highlights is that there may not be a perfect way to judge such pursuits. It’s art vs. science – we all want to support creativity and innovation, but in doing so, we may, at times, lose some balance with overall effectiveness. Really, the awards for advertising and marketing should go to the campaign that gained the most attention whilst also producing the best results, in alignment with the campaign objectives – the more concrete those results, the better. But ad reach has always been somewhat subjective – tying exact results to metrics like ‘reach’ isn’t an exact science. So what do we do? I want to see better ads, I can see from the numbers that ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ has successfully gained attention – that type of creative work should be encouraged. But if I can’t link it back to definitive figures…

This is a debate that’ll always exist – awareness is something that’s tough to quantify, but the onus is on brands to produce work that’s both engaging and in-line with overall mission. In that sense, Dumb Ways to Die has succeeded, but would it have been more effective if they went for a TAC-style, hard-hitting campaign? It likely wouldn’t have got the reach, and it wouldn’t have got the awards, but it might have been better at delivering the actual message and raising awareness. Maybe. But the question, really, is around how we award advertising and marketing effectiveness, how we align the metrics we can account for back to the overall goals. This is getting easier, or at least, we’re getting access to more comprehensive data based on conversion tracking and data analytics, but it’s still some way off.

And the real question that stems from this is ‘are we establishing the right expectations for marketers and advertisers by awarding works not anchored to objective results?’ The important thing is for marketers to analyse their own campaigns and build an understanding of what they’re trying to achieve. Getting attention is one thing, but keeping it is another – you might be able to get more click-throughs by posting a video of your cat, but is that then leading to more people buying your handmade soaps? If it is, that’s what you should be doing, but amidst the emphasis on Followers and Likes and Pins and re-grams, it’s important to understand how that behaviour relates to the actual results you’re seeking to achieve. This is made more difficult when Facebook strangles organic reach and puts increased emphasis on brands getting more likes. More likes means more reach, and more people looking at your content – and those likes also increase the chance of your content appearing in more news feeds next time you post. The trick is in balancing the imperative need for attention with the fundamental requirement for audience action. There’s no perfect way to measure this, but it’s worth considering the balance when thinking on how you can ‘go viral’.