Category: Social Media Marketing

Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ Are Coming – But Will They Be Good for Marketers?

As noted by Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox to Bloomberg – and re-affirmed by Mark Zuckerberg himself in this week’s Facebook full-year results announcement – Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ emoji toolbar will be available to all users soon. For those unaware, ‘Reactions’, which The Social Network announced back in October, is a way to give Facebook users the ability to respond to posts with something other than ‘Like’. The typical use-case of Reactions was explained by Zuckerberg at one of his regular Town Hall Q & A events last year:

“Not every moment is a good moment – if you share something that’s sad, like a refugee crisis that touches you or a family member passes away, it may not be comfortable to like that post… I do think it’s important to give people more options than liking it.”

For a long time, Facebook users have called for a ‘dislike’ option, but Facebook has (rightly) deemed that too negative and a tool that could lead to a lesser user-experience. Their alternative solution was to develop a toolset which utilises the rising trend of emoji, as well as the most common, one-word responses used across Facebook’s network, to create a set of emoji-type responses which people will be able to use in place of the traditional ‘thumbs up’.

Those emoji responses, based on Facebook’s data, have been refined down to:

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In their first iteration, there was also another option:

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But initial testing among users in Spain and Ireland found that ‘Yay’ was often misunderstood – and really, it’s largely redundant either way, given users already have ‘Like’ and ‘Love’ as options.

In application, when a user clicks/taps and holds on ‘Like’, a new pop-up will appear from which they’ll be able to choose a ‘Reaction’ that best fits their response.

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So what do these new options mean for marketers? In a word: insight.

Some Facebook Pages already have a graph like the below, ready to track data from Reactions use within their Page Insights:

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It’s evident from this that Facebook sees analytical and insight value in Reactions, and they’re giving Page owners the tools to track them, straight up – though interestingly, Facebook’s also made a point of noting that any ‘Reaction’, at least initially, will be measured as equivalent to a ‘Like’ in their system. So if someone clicks on your Facebook ad and selects ‘angry’ in response, that’ll actually increase the likelihood of them being shown more of the same content, because any reaction is counted as a ‘Like’, and within Facebook’s algorithm, likes are indicative of preference. While it’s understandable that Facebook wouldn’t necessarily have a way to measure the true value of Reactions in the early stages of their roll-out, the measurement of a Reaction as a Like does raise an interesting query – if a user tags their response to something as ‘Angry’, does that mean they want to see more or less of that type of content?

This is where the complexity of Reactions comes into play – what do those responses mean, in terms of audience interest and intent? And then, how will marketers be able to use that insight to better refine and maximize their content? This’ll be a big focus for social media marketing types over the next 12 months, and the only definitive way to establish what each Reaction means will come via experience and use. And even then, different Pages are going to see different results – a news service might see better engagement when they post content that generates more ‘Angry’ responses (as it’ll get more people talking about the topic, and thus, generate more reach), but then a brand selling natural soaps might see better website visits and conversion rates with posts which inspire more ‘Like’ or ‘Love’ reactions.

The only way to know for sure is through experimentation. The goal of all content is to generate an emotional response – emotion drives the majority of our responses after all (particularly in regards to purchases), so it makes sense, by extension, that having further insight into a users’ emotional responses to our content can only help inform our marketing decisions. But exactly what each response means, in a wider context, can only really be ascertained by seeing how it’s used across that expanded scope.

This is the same with all of Facebook’s data – one person deciding to ‘Like’ a Page in response to a post has little meaning in itself, but 1,000 people following the same path indicates a trend. When you extrapolate that across Facebook’s now 1.59 billion users, you can start to get an idea of how valuable even the simplest action might be, because it’s matched up against trillions of other data points and processes, and it’s in that wider sample size that genuine insight takes shape.

In this sense, the only way to know how valuable Reactions will be for marketers is to examine the data after they’ve been implemented and look for usage patterns and correlations. And they will be there. More data – especially more emotional data – can only be beneficial.

And at some stage, you may just find that Reactions data is able to highlight insights that would have never been discernible via Likes alone. Powerful, indeed.

How Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm Really Works

facebook-f-logo-1920-800x450Late last year, I attended an education session on Facebook’s News Feed algorithm, conducted by a social media lecturer of relatively high standing in the field. The session sounded great – insight into how Facebook’s News Feed algorithm actually works, the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of what appears in your News Feed and what brands can learn and implement in order to boost their organic reach. Organic reach, as anyone with any exposure to social knows, has been declining at a rapid rate – brand Pages these days are lucky to reach 10% of their total fans with each of their Facebook posts.

The info session sounded like a great learning opportunity, a great way to get some insight into how to work with the algorithm to maximize Facebook performance.

Except, the information presented was largely wrong.

This person, who speaks and presents to a great many people on social media best practices, outlined strategies that were either out-dated, ill-informed or just plain incorrect, yet stated them as total fact. And as other attendees narrowed their eyes and nodded along, I felt like standing up and saying ‘no, that’s not right’. But then that would assume I was right, and given Facebook’s secrecy around the specifics of their News Feed algorithm and how it works, maybe I actually had it wrong. Maybe what was being presented here was the correct info.

In order to get to the bottom of this and clarify for all those looking to maximize the performance of their Facebook content, I did some research into what’s known about Facebook’s News Feed algorithm and how it selects what content will be shown to each user, every time they log on. And while we can’t know every specific factor that plays a part in how content is distributed on the platform, there are quite a few well established principles that clearly indicate the path to best performance.

Seeking Attention

First off, a bit of history.

When Facebook launched News Feed back in 2006 it was a straight-up, chronological feed of all the activity of your connections.

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Remember that? The basic looking blue links, the green speech bubble comments.

The ‘Like’ button was introduced a year later, giving Facebook its first insight into what users were actually interested in, and as Facebook became more popular, and more people started using the service – and the News Feed, logically, got more cluttered – Facebook started using those Likes (along with other measures including shares, comments and clicks) as indicative signals to prioritize the content appearing in each users’ News Feed to ensure posts from Pages they’d indicated interest in appeared higher in their stream.

This worked for a while, but there were a couple of problems with this basic approach.

The first issue was that people clicked ‘Like’ for different reasons – funny cat pictures were getting heaps of Likes, and thus, flooding peoples’ News Feeds, while more serious news content, which people weren’t clicking ‘Like’ on (because they didn’t necessarily ‘Like’ it), was being totally buried. Publishing click-bait style headlines became a key tactic as these garnered lots of Likes and clicks, pushing them higher in News Feed ranks – eventually Facebook was at risk of losing their audience because people’s Feeds were being crowded with junk and there was no way, under that system, for Facebook to filter and uncover better, more relevant information for users.

In 2013, Facebook acknowledged it had a problem on this front and sought to correct it with a new algorithm that would uncover ‘high quality content’, the first iteration of the News Feed algorithm.

The second issue confronting The Social Network was that Facebook was getting big. Really big. People were adding more friends and Liking more Pages, meaning there was more and more competition for attention within the News Feed listings. But people only have so much time in the day to check their Facebook updates – according to Facebook, an average Facebook user is likely to have around 1,500 posts eligible to appear in their News Feed on any given day, but if people have more connections and Likes than average, that number could be more like 15,000.

Given this, it’s simply not possible for every user to see every single relevant post, based on their connection graph, every day. Facebook’s challenge with the algorithm was to create a system that uncovers most relevant content each day to provide every user with the best possible experience in order to keep them coming back. But that would also, necessarily, mean that Facebook would have to show some content people had indicated an interest in while excluding others which may also be of interest. The system needed to be incredibly clever to get this balance right.

“If you could rate everything that happened on Earth today that was published anywhere by any of your friends, any of your family, any news source, and then pick the 10 that were the most meaningful to know today, that would be a really cool service for us to build. That is really what we aspire to have News Feed become.” – Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer (to Time Magazine in July 2015)

These were the two major challenges facing Facebook in developing the News Feed algorithm, and despite the protestations of brands who were forced to sit idly by as their organic reach slowly declined (and who were rightly annoyed at Facebook for promoting Likes as a means of reaching audience, then reducing their relevance), the numbers show that Facebook’s machine learning curation process for the News Feed is actually working. In their most recent earnings report, The Social Network reported that engagement was now up to 46 minutes per day, on average, across Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger, with Monthly Active User numbers also continuing to rise.

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The continued rise of Facebook shows that they’re getting the user-experience right – brands don’t like it, many users don’t even know it’s happening, but the News Feed algorithm is working as a means of rationalizing and boosting user activity.

This finding, in itself, highlights just how much Facebook understands about their users and their likely preferences.

Inside the Machine

So how does the News Feed algorithm actually work? While the company’s understandably tight-lipped about the specifics of the News Feed calculations (largely because it’s continually evolving), the basics have been communicated by Facebook several times over the years.

Back in 2013, when Facebook introduced the first version of the News Feed algorithm, The Social Network noted four key points of focus for people creating content on the platform:

  • Make your posts timely and relevant
  • Build credibility and trust with your audience
  • Ask yourself, “Would people share this with their friends or recommend it to others?”
  • Think about, “Would my audience want to see this in their News Feeds?”

Those core principles remain the fundamentals of the News Feed – in a 2014 interview with TechCrunch, Facebook News Feed Director of Product Management Will Cathcart outlined a similar listing for the ‘most powerful determinants of whether a post is shown in the feed’:

  • How popular (Liked, commented on, shared, clicked) are the post creator’s past posts with everyone
  • How popular is this post with everyone who has already seen it
  • How popular have the post creator’s past posts been with the viewer
  • Does the type of post (status update, photo, video, link) match what types have been popular with the viewer in the past
  • How recently was the post published

Cathcart’s advice lead to development of this equation, which is a basic overview of how News Feed prioritizes content:

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(Image via TechCrunch)

Of course, as noted, there are many more factors than these at play, but at its most basic, this is the logic behind how Facebook chooses and displays the most relevant content to each user. But that system is always being refined.

Those refinements are borne of necessity – more people using Facebook means more content and more variables to take into account to ensure the best possible user experience for each individual. To get an insight into just how complex that equation is, take a look at the documentation behind Facebook’s ‘Unicorn’ social graph indexing system. While Unicorn was built to power Facebook’s Graph Search engine, the way that system works highlights just how many factors can come into play when trying to uncover the most relevant content for each user – particularly when you consider that a typical Facebook user’s relationship graph looks like this:

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In the Unicorn documentation, Facebook refers to the amount of ‘nodes’, signifying people and things, and ‘edges’, representing a relationship between two nodes:

“Although there are many billions of nodes in the social graph, it is quite sparse: a typical node will have less than one thousand edges connecting it to other nodes. The average user has approximately 130 friends. The most popular pages and applications have tens of millions of edges, but these pages represent a tiny fraction of the total number of entities in the graph.”

And in the introduction to the document, Facebook notes that:

“Unicorn is designed to answer billions of queries per day at latencies in the hundreds of milliseconds”

Even without a full grasp of the technical complexities of such inter-connectivity, you can still imagine how complex Facebook’s algorithm needs to be to serve up the most relevant content, and how many potential variations need to be taken into account.

This is why it’s almost impossible to explain the full extent of how the algorithm works, and why Facebook largely avoids doing so. It also enables them to make changes without worrying about what they’ve said previously – if Facebook were to say ‘this is how the system works’ then make a change that altered that, brands that had structured their Facebook strategy around the previous rule would be disadvantaged (which is pretty much what happened with ‘Likes’ when they changed the rules). As such, the core principles noted above remain the driving force, and the key elements marketers should logically be focused on. The further complexities and refinements work to support these fundamentals – adhering to them should keep you in good stead.

Constant Evolution

In line with this, Facebook’s always seeking to refine and update the News Feed algorithm to better serve their users and deliver an evermore relevant on-platform experience. Time Magazine recently reported on how Facebook uses two primary devices to help refine and improve the News Feed algorithm – a team of around 20 engineers and data scientists who assess and evaluate the results of tests and updates to determine the best evolution of the system, and a group of some 700 reviewers, called Facebook’s ‘Feed Quality Panel’, who deliver real, human feedback on their News Feed results, which then help the data team make more informed choices.

“…[members of the Feed Quality Panel] write paragraph-long explanations for why they like or dislike certain posts, which are often reviewed in the News Feed engineers’ weekly meetings. Facebook also regularly conducts one-off online surveys about News Feed satisfaction and brings in average users off the street to demo new features in its usability labs.”

Through this process, combining feedback from real people and improved machine learning, Facebook is continually moving the News Feed algorithm forward and uncovering new best practices. This is why we see so many changes and updates to the algorithm rules, newer factors like ‘time spent reading’ are brought in as Facebook learns from user behavior – content that people click ‘Like’ on before reading, for example, is not given as high a rating as content that’s Liked after reading (after a person has clicked through on a link), because if you’ve taken the time to read something and then Liked it, that’s considered a stronger endorsement of of quality than a knee-jerk response to a headline. Such refinements are logical and thoroughly tested, and Facebook’s gone to efforts to underline that the way the system is weighted is entirely dictated by each individual users’ actions and preferences.

The way Facebook’s algorithm defines ‘high-quality’ in this sense is entirely user driven – if you like cat memes but hate posts from The New York Times, you’ll be shown more of the former and less, if any, of the latter.

“…there’s a line that we can’t cross, which is deciding that a specific piece of information – be it news, political, religious, etc. – is something we should be promoting. It’s just a very, very slippery slope that I think we have to be very careful not go down.” – Adam Mosseri, Project Management Director for News Feed

Due to this, it’s up to each individual brand and business to create content that appeals to their specific audience, and caters to that audience’s needs.

It’s worth noting too, in considering Facebook reach and how to worth with the system to maximize reach and performance, that the actions users take after exposure to your content are far more important than them seeing it in the first place.

This was pointed out by Facebook marketing expert Jon Loomer, who noted that even if your Page reach has declined, that’s not really relevant – what is relevant is whether your website clicks have also declined as a result.

“Let’s assume for a moment that reach actually did drop. If all engagement remained healthy — including website clicks and conversions — what does that drop in reach mean? It would mean that Facebook was showing your content to people most likely to engage favorably — which is what we as marketers and users would want.”

It may just be that, as a consequence of Facebook improving their algorithm, that your Page reach will inevitably drop, because your content’s being shown to a more targeted and focused audience based on their behaviors. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In all, the main thing to focus on in order to maximize Facebook reach and response is quality content, as defined by audience response. The more utility and value you can provide for your audience, the more likely they’ll want to see more information from you, which they’ll indicate through their Facebook actions – be those direct (Likes, shares, comments, clicks) or indirect (time spent viewing, word-of-mouth via off Page comments). Facebook’s tracking all of it, and in this sense, the core fundamentals of Facebook content remain the same as they did the day the News Feed algorithm was introduced back in 2013:

  • Make your posts timely and relevant
  • Build credibility and trust with your audience
  • Ask yourself, “Would people share this with their friends or recommend it to others?”
  • Think about, “Would my audience want to see this in their News Feeds?”

The News Feed is constantly evolving, but its fundamental principles remain the same. Understanding your audience is key to maximizing your Facebook reach.

 

The First Examples of Real-Time Tweets in Google Search – What Comes Next?

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The first examples of the new Twitter/Google partnership are staring to filter through, with Search Engine Land providing screenshots of confirmed Google tests of tweets in search results:

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As you can see from this example, a search for ‘#maythe4thbewithyou’ on Google has provided results from Twitter, where the topic was trending. You can see too, the option to click through for more tweets. This example is via mobile, where the current testing is taking place, but it provides our first insight into how Google may be looking to incorporate real-time tweets.

SEO Value?

The first question I had about the new Google/Twitter partnership was whether this would provide SEO value. If Google opted to show tweets high in search results, then definitely, there’d be SEO interest there – showing up at the top of the SERPs, in any form, is a big win for brands – and these early examples show that there is, indeed, clear SEO value. Twitter results may only appear for trending issues or maybe there’ll be a recognition value placed on Twitter activity to determine whether listing the Twitter results is likely relevant to the user query, but these screenshots show that it may be possible to reach high-visibility areas of Google’s SERPs via your Twitter presence.

This will invariably mean more brands will be investing more into their Twitter presence, as it significantly increases the audience reach potential of tweets. The change also underlines the fact that social search is going to be a significant battleground, and one that organisations will need to take into account.

Word-of-Mouth SEO   

A likely element of Google calculations on when and where to display tweets in search results will be the relevance of the person or people tweeting about the topic. In the example above, #maythe4thbewithyou was a trending hashtag (and the search is specifically for that hashtag), so it makes contextual sense that Google consider this relevant to the users’ search, and thus, would show the user tweets relevant to the topic. But in one of the other examples provided by Search Engine Land, the logic behind why the tweet was shown seems slightly different.

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As you can see, beneath the first result, the search conducted was ‘mayweather pacquiao’ and a tweet from Gary Valenciano has appeared in the results. Gary Valenciano is a verified account with 2.43 million followers, so while the correlation between the tweet itself and the search term isn’t as clear as the first example, it does seem that a profile’s social clout will play a part in Google’s logic on what tweets to show and when. The first contention is supported again in the third example shown in Search Engine Land’s post:

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Steve Benfey has 286 followers and isn’t verified, but #CarlyFiorina is a trending topic, so just like #maythe4thbewithyou, it’s the popularity of the topic that’s dictated its relevance in the SERPs, not the tweet originator. This would suggest there’s at least two different logicalities that will dictate the appearance of tweets in search results – there’s a ‘Popular on Twitter’ break-out, which’ll show tending tweets related to the search query, and another option which shows related tweets based on the social standing of the tweeter (or possibly the engagement levels on the individual tweet).

In the case of trending topics, this is effectively word-of-mouth SEO. You’re getting a display of real-time discussion – the more discussion about the topic, the more likely the searcher will be shown tweet results in the SERPs. From a marketing perspective, this addition will likely increase the rate of newsjacking and brands trying to tag onto trending topics, as, if successful, they’ll get the double-benefit of appearing not only in the trending discussion on Twitter, but also in related Google search results. It’ll also highlight the importance of brand awareness efforts in regards to trending topics – imagine if you were searching for ‘Nike basketball shoes’ and a trending topic was how an NBA players’ Nikes fell apart on him during a game. That sort of discussion would be hard to ignore for a prospective customer – it’ll be more important than ever for brands to be monitoring Twitter trends to manage or remain aware of such occurrences in order to mitigate potential negative associations.

Of more marketing value, however, is option number two presented here – appearing in the search results based on tweet mentions from prominent users. This will amplify the importance of influencer marketing on Twitter – using the same example as above, what if you were searching for ‘Nike basketball shoes’ and a tweet from NBA star Kobe Bryant appeared high in the results, thanking Nike for making him such great sneakers? That could play a part in your decision making process, right? Of course, as with everything, staged responses or canned endorsements will be obvious to the searcher, and it’s likely people will filter out any such tweets that are overly promotional. But real responses, from real influencers on Twitter, might just have a whole new value proposition for brands, depending on how these tests play out.

The Sleeping Giant

Social search, elaborating on the context of your search results with the real-time discussion from social media platforms, is fast becoming a big deal. People are placing less trust in brand messaging these days, and a significant impetus for that change may be that they simply no longer have to. In times past, brands had more control over the flow of information, they told consumers what they wanted them to hear and managed the message according to their own strategic goals. But in the connected era, in which people have access to all the information, all the time, consumers can inform themselves. Studies have shown that people are already more than halfway along the purchase cycle before they even get in touch with brands, they’re not coming to your sales reps looking for more info the way they used to do. The value is in relationships, in having a higher value proposition than the product itself. In this context, social search is more important than ever – because what’s more valuable than a recommendation from the people you know and trust?

The Google/Twitter partnership only underlines the rising importance of social search and of adding that additional context to the search process. But Facebook knows this too, and you can bet, they’ll be planning their own response.

Graph Search 2.0

Facebook Graph Search was largely seen as a failure. Or not a failure, as such, but a glitchy system that never quite delivered on its massive potential. Facebook acknowledged this – Mark Zuckerberg himself has noted that the results weren’t consistent. But just as Google and Twitter move to stake their claim on social search, Facebook will be looking to roll out Graph Search 2.0, and it will be a massive improvement on the first iteration.

Facebook’s been quite overt in its efforts to keep its audience within its own walls – most specifically with its push to get major publishers to post first-run content direct to Facebook. A big part of holding audience attention and maintaining user experience is search, giving users the ability to easily find what they want within the Facebook eco-system. Facebook has been cautious about how they roll out Graph Search due to privacy concerns and the need to protect the value of their treasured user data, but a new version of Graph Search will be coming soon. The Google/Twitter partnership will only hasten its arrival.

Whatever comes, it’s going to be interesting to see how the digital marketing world responds to having real-time tweets in Google search results. These first examples show that the new partnership could have significant implications, and will likely raise the value of Twitter as a marketing and brand-relevance platform. It’s an exciting development to watch, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all comes together.

Twitter’s Latest Results and What They Might Mean for Future Changes on the Platform

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Not a great day for Twitter. After the micro-blogging giant’s first quarter earnings report was leaked an hour earlier than expected, Twitter stock dropped by 6%, and finished the day down close to 20%. The losses were on the back of a less than spectacular earnings report, where Twitter reported revenue of $436m – around $20m below estimates. Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo, in the company’s official release, said the gap was ‘due to lower-than-expected contribution from some of our newer direct response products’ – these would include some of Twitter’s latest product offerings, like changes to direct messaging, native video sharing, and live-streaming, via Periscope. Twitter’s report also outlined the areas where growth has been solid – but of more interest at this stage is what this result will mean for the future development of the Twitter platform, particularly when considering the rate at which they’ve been pushing out changes in the last few months.

Change is as good as…

Twitter is pushing out more changes, additions and updates than ever before. Senior Vice President of Product Kevin Weil was appointed in October 2014, and his leadership has seen a significant shift in momentum for Twitter products. Whereas once there were long delays in testing before rolling out, Weil appears to have streamlined the process – this is evident in the array of changes we’ve witnessed, from new advertising options to improved embedding options in order to spread the reach of the platform’s properties. While every platform change is approached with some scepticism – every platform has its traditionalists, overly protective of their cherished user-experience – most of these updates have been integrated and adopted well by the growing Twitter community. The latest move on this front was the recent unveiling of Twitter’s new home page for non-users, an attempt to entice more people to sign up and build its overall audience.

While these changes have gone well within the overall scheme of things, one concern stemming from the latest results is that the company will be under pressure to move even faster and seek more ways to monetize the platform. The last thing Twitter users want is to see it go the path of Facebook and start restricting reach in order to incentivize ad buy-up, but that’s invariably one element that could be considered. This is where the delicate balancing act has to be maintained – how do you incentivise new users, monetize the audience you already have, and at the same time, maintain harmony amongst your existing user-base? It’s a challenge facing every major platform, and one which is in stark view for Twitter today as it weathers the backlash resulting from its numbers.

Plenty to smile about

But it’s not all bad news. Twitter’s official report actually painted a fairly strong picture, with monthly active users up 18% and advertising revenue up 72% year-over-year. There’s little doubt the company is in a good position – it’s not as if people are turning away from the platform – it’s just not moving at the rate many (including Twitter itself) had hoped. But there’s a range of solid options coming up that may help the company turn the results in its favour very quickly. The recent growth of its new live-streaming company Periscope is a big positive, particularly the rate at which it’s increasing its market dominance over early-released rival Meerkat. The first element of Twitter’s deal with Google has been announced, with Promoted Tweets now available via Google’s Doubleclick ad platform. The Google deal, in itself, is loaded with potential and could see a significant boost in new users and user engagement, particularly if there’s an SEO value linked to tweets. There’s also the additional search functionality likely to be included as part of the partnership, and the subsequent ad options that would go along with that capability. Twitter’s overall picture looks good, despite this tremor in investor confidence. But tremors can cause lasting impacts, and it will be interesting to see what happens next.

The next battleground

One of the biggest user concerns stemming from unsteady results is the fear that the platforms will change, and the service they know and love will be impacted. Twitter is acutely aware of this, and over time they’ve shown their understanding of the value of user-experience by not making large scale changes and not balancing too far in favour of ad dollars or new users. An imperative on every listed company is the need to increase revenue, a need which always puts pressure on the way things are. But social media networks know that users can and will migrate, attention is the true currency of the social media industry. As such, I wouldn’t expect to see massive changes in user-experience, though I am looking forward to seeing what new products and options come about in the coming months – particularly as a result of the new deal with Google. One of the next big battlegrounds will be social search, an area Facebook is already pushing into with the refinement of Graph Search. The Twitter/Google partnership is likely to be their biggest competition on this front, and as social search becomes more important, as people look to validate more of their search queries via their social graphs and groups, the competition in that sector is will become significantly more intense. I, for one, am pretty interested to see where it goes.

Facebook’s Latest News Feed Update – Time to Move On?

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Earlier this week, Facebook updated their News Feed algorithm again, in what many are seeing as the next move towards ‘Facebook Zero’ – i.e. 0% organic reach for pages. Facebook announced three updates – the first is around users who don’t have a lot of content to see. Previously, the algorithm ensured people were not shown multiple posts from the same source in a row, they’re relaxing this measure for people who run out of content to view and are seeking to view more. Nothing major there, the impacts should be minimal.

The second update has a bit more to it – as noted in Facebook’s announcement, this update:

…tries to ensure that content posted directly by the friends you care about, such as photos, videos, status updates or links, will be higher up in News Feed so you are less likely to miss it. If you like to read news or interact with posts from pages you care about, you will still see that content in News Feed. This update tries to make the balance of content the right one for each individual person.”

So the focus of this one is on those friends who you regularly interact with, on showing you more content from those users and ensuring those posts appear more prominently in your feeds. This is based on your interaction history – Facebook will use past behaviour as a guide to add weight to the prominence of friends’ posts and ensure they appear higher in your results. This will impact page posts because it will be adding increased preference metrics to content posted from certain profiles – most probably, the impact of this will be minimal, but if a person is more likely to be shown content from friends, they’re conversely less likely to see posts from pages in their daily News Feed allocation.

The third update relates to posts that friends have liked or commented on:

…many people have told us they don’t enjoy seeing stories about their friends liking or commenting on a post. This update will make these stories appear lower down in News Feed or not at all, so you are more likely to see the stuff you care about directly from friends and the pages you have liked.”

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Again, the precise impact of this change is hard to predict, but it underlines the fact that ‘likes’, in themselves, are becoming little more than an aesthetic measure – and worse, that even interactions like comments are not necessarily going to increase your post reach. This change inadvertently puts more emphasis on shares and on prompting users to take direct action to explicitly promote their support of your page.

So what’s that mean for Facebook marketing? This change further underlines the need for brands to move from a broadcast focus to making themselves part of the conversation. With this update, Facebook is essentially saying that their users want to use the platform to interact with friends and the content they’re individually interested in, and the only way to effectively promote your pages without moving to paid ads is to generate conversation amongst people independent of your properties. That’s obviously easier said than done, but the principle for Facebook marketing remains that you need to create great content, you need to listen to what your audience wants and is responding to, and you need to become part of those conversations in order to attract more direct interactions with individuals and ensure your brand is part of any relevant conversations.

This also underlines the need to work with individual advocates – I’ve already seen it suggested by some that maybe brands should create personal profiles to help get better reach amongst their communities, but that won’t work, as it’s in violation of Facebook’s terms. Having people speak on your brand’s behalf is the best way to ensure you’re maximising Facebook reach – this is why employee advocacy is becoming a big focus, because who better to speak on behalf of your brand than those who live it everyday? Happy, engaged, socially-empowered employees can play a big part in brand awareness, and this update only reinforces the need to consider ways to facilitate authentic conversations across Facebook’s social graph.

This also sets the stage for updates to Facebook’s own search capabilities – Facebook recently announced changes to their API, effective April 30, which will reduce the capabilities for third party apps, particularly in relation to personal profiles, groups and search functionality. These changes seem relatively small, but for Facebook to be restricting them, my guess is that they’re close to releasing improved search functionality within their own walls, hence, these changes are designed to keep people on Facebook, as opposed to managing their Facebook presence via other platforms. This News Feed update somewhat supports this, in that it puts more emphasis on search to find content, as opposed to tangential organic reach.

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that this update doesn’t help Facebook marketers and further supports the looming dawn of Facebook Zero. So should you just move on and forget about Facebook marketing? Depends on your audience, depends on how this changes your engagement levels – depends on many individual factors that can’t be answered in a generic sense. The fact is that Facebook has 1.44 billion active users, and many of them are likely interested in your products and services. Reaching them might not be as easy as it once was, but it is still totally possible, and totally viable when done in a considered way.

BuzzSumo Adds ‘Trending Content’ Feature

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Back in early 2014, I came across a content discovery tool called BuzzSumo. Steve Rayson, who regularly writes for Social Media Today, had referenced BuzzSumo data in one of his posts, so I clicked through, checked it out – and honestly, I was awed by the many varied applications I could immediately use this data for.

In basic form, BuzzSumo shows you the social share stats for any URL, website or topic. In itself, this is pretty helpful, but one of the more impressive elements of BuzzSumo is the developers’ awareness of how this data will be used, and what data will be useful. As such, over time they’ve added a range of additional features: you can filter the results by language or region; you can narrow the listing down to content type – infographics, videos, interviews; they added the ability to search for influencers on any given topic, reports to compare domains or examine backlinks, by URL or domain. As more new functions have been added, I’ve found myself using and recommending the app ever more frequently.

If you’ve not taken the time to check out BuzzSumo, you should, it really is a great app. And now they’ve got another addition – Steve recently got in touch to give me a look at their latest feature.

On Trend

BuzzSumo’s latest trick is monitoring trending content. The new feature enables you to set up a dashboard of trending or most shared content based on whatever keywords and topics you’d like to keep tabs on.

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In this example, the dashboard is set to show the most shared content under the topic of ‘social media’ over the last 24 hours. You can see the keywords I’ve used to track this in the listing just above the posts:

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The dashboard is tracking the terms ‘social media’, ‘LinkedIn’, ‘Facebook’, etc. Any topic that mentions those terms is included in this dashboard, which is sorted by most shared to least. There’s a range of additional filters you can apply to the results – you can include results from the last 24 hours, or the last 2 hours, and anything in between. You can also narrow the listing down by country and by either ‘Most Shared’ or ‘Trending Now’.

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If you choose ‘Trending Now’, the results will be listed based on each item’s trending score, which measures the velocity of shares within a specified time period. This is a great way to stay on top of the content attracting the most interest in specific niches or based on your target keywords – you can also include hashtags in your search terms to capture all relevant discussion.

What’s more, you can share your dashboards with anyone – logged out users can view the content, so you could make a dashboard capturing all mentions of, say, an event and the BuzzSumo trending log will form a comprehensive overview of the most discussed and trending content related to it – this one, for example, is looking at the UK General Election campaign:

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New Possibilities

Now, if you’re mind’s not already floating off with the various possibilities of this new function, here are a few ways in which the feature could be useful:

  • Content curation – The most obvious benefit of this new functionality is for content curation. Being able to identify the most popular and trending content, based on your specified keywords – in your specific region – is great insight into what’s resonating, and what’s likely to be of relevance to your audience. Not only does this enable you to stay on top of developing discussion points and issues in your niche, it can also act as a guide when considering what to share with your community to keep them up to date
  • Content creation – So, if you have a trending dashboard set up and you can see that a certain issue is running hot, and you have your own perspective to add to the discussion, that’s probably a good cue for you to get writing. Adding your personal insight to a trending issue can go a long way towards reinforcing your position as a leader in your field – having the list of trending topics, right there in front of you, could save you a heap of time in searching and locating relevant content by other methods
  • Insight – Not only are you getting valuable insight into what content is trending, BuzzSumo’s listings also show you where that content is reaching an audience. You can see below the preview images for each post that there’s also a listing of how many shares each story has generated on the five major social platforms. This effectively highlights the platforms you need to be active on in order to reach the audience discussing those topics – locating and tapping into those conversations could prove extremely valuable, as, targeted with your specific keywords, it’s leading you directly to your where your target audience is at. There’s obviously a bit more to it than just logging on and jumping into a trending conversation, but it’s a guide, an indicator of where to look. And maybe it’ll show you opportunities you’d not have previously considered

These are the three main uses for the trending dashboard from a straight marketing and research perspective. But as noted in the event example above, there are a heap more ways you could consider using this. There’s also an RSS feature that you can use to stay informed with the most up-to-date info on trending topics in your industry – and the terms you use to create the board are defined by you, so you can make it as specific or broad-matched as you like.

New Depths

As noted previously, I’ve been pretty impressed by BuzzSumo’s progression – their features always add a new level of depth, and they’ve really thought through the functionality and user-friendliness of the process when putting together these features. Trending topics again adds another level, and there’s a wide range of possible applications and uses for this option. No doubt you’re already considering using it for your own purposes, beyond what I’ve noted here. If you aren’t using BuzzSumo, you definitely check it out, and if you are, you’ll no doubt love the new feature – another solid addition from the BuzzSumo team.

Do You Have to Produce Video Content to Succeed in Social Media?

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So, if a social media expert, or someone going under a similar moniker, comes to you and tells you that absolutely have to create video content, it might be time to look for a new advisor. Video is powerful, no doubt, and it’s a great way to generate engagement and build your brand online – the expanded capacity of our mobile networks and the evolution of apps and social platforms has enabled a new age of video communication. But if you’re only producing video content in order to make videos, to ‘do video content’, it’s quite possible that you’re missing the point, and will struggle as a result.

A Question of Quality

The thing is, bad content is bad content. It won’t matter if it’s video, audio, performance art – if no one likes it, it won’t get shared. Actually that’s not true, maybe people not liking it is what you’re going for, and that leads to people sharing – if it’s not sparking an emotional response of some kind, it’s going nowhere. And this is the biggest risk in the new wave of video content – while everyone should consider and be encouraged to think about how they can utilise video, if you don’t have an original or interesting idea, it may not be worth doing. The increased emphasis on video is seeing people make video content for the sake of making it – I’ve seen people post video of themselves holding their new products as they wave a description card along the bottom of the screen. I’ve seen content like this, from Mike, who, evidently, buys golf clubs:

Okay, bad example, that’s actually been shared a heap of times, but you get my point – making video for the sake of making video is probably not the best way to go. I mean, it won’t cost you a heap – the array of video recording and production apps these days enable anyone to make good quality video at low cost – but the problem is, if the quality of video content, overall, starts to drop, and people’s news feeds get flooded with average quality posts, users will rightfully complain. And complaints lead to algorithm shifts.

“And Like That… He’s Gone”

Facebook, above all else, values user experience. This has been debated over time, whether they care about users or money, but Zuckerberg’s line has always been that user experience is their number one priority. And it’s hard to argue it isn’t, almost every major Facebook algorithm shift has been triggered by user feedback; users said they didn’t like clickbait, so Facebook altered their filter; users didn’t like overly promotional posts, so they were de-emphasised by the algorithm. Facebook knows that, above all else, their power is in audience engagement on the platform. And they also know that people can and will migrate to other platforms, the social landscape can change very quickly. They know this, of course, because that’s how Facebook supplanted MySpace. In social media, if you lose the crowd, you lose, a fact that all the major platforms are acutely aware of, and as a result, they tread more carefully than ever when rolling out updates and features.

So what happens when people start seeing an increase in content they don’t like? They complain, and Facebook is forced to re-evaluate how that type of content is distributed. Right now, native video content is getting the highest organic reach of any post type, but that could change, and that change could literally happen overnight. Currently, Facebook’s distribution algorithm is pretty good at filtering out low quality content – organic reach is, of course, at the lowest it’s ever been, so it’s pretty hard to reach a significant audience either way, and their ad filtering works on a quality scoring-type system to reduce the reach of ads that no one’s responding to. Low quality content, in whatever form that may be, degrades user experience and forces Facebook to re-evaluate how they distribute content to satisfy the needs and expectations of users. Making bad video content is bad overall, as you’re not only potentially hurting your own reach (in terms of post performance influencing future content), but you may also be contributing to a wider resistance to video posts, overall.

There Can Be More Than One…

The argument here is not video or Facebook-specific. – there’s an inherent risk to over-emphasising any one type of content. If you force people to create video – or blog, or post infographics – making people focus on any one type of content will inevitably lead to some people struggling to produce quality work. I love blogging, I write all the time, but I know plenty of people who struggle with it and I’ve seen them post average quality work which, understandably, is getting little engagement, and this is frustrating for them because they’ve been told they absolutely, definitely have to blog. But maybe they’d be better off focussing on something they can do confidently – it’s possible that they could have massive success producing live streams for Periscope. Maybe they’re no good at writing, but really good at conversation – Hangouts on Air or Twitter chats might be a better focus. Definitely, written content is a key element, particularly for SEO purposes – and outside production assistance is always an option (cost prohibitive) – but you might also be able to also utilise transcripts, Storify logs – there are different ways to ensure you’re ticking all the content boxes.

To say anyone needs to create content of any specific type is potentially risky, and with so many options now available to connect, it may be keeping them from their best option to generate interest and engagement.

What’s Good for Them is Good for You

So what content should you focus on? The best way to make content your audience will love is to listen to them. Analyse what your communities are talking about, look at the key interests and topics being discussed amongst those most likely to buy from you or your business. You can use apps like Social Crawlytics to establish where and what content is driving the most social referrals to your site, or BuzzSumo to search for what content is being most shared amongst those in your industry. If you don’t have enough content to go on, run your competitors’ websites through those apps and see what’s driving the most engagement for them – if they’re seeing a heap of engagement with image posts or quizzes, maybe that’s what you should do too.

If you can identify trends or commonalities amongst your audience, you can let those fuel your ideas for content – this will enable you to work with what your audience is after, what they’re most likely to respond to. And of course, this is not to say you should be afraid to try or resistant to testing out what can be done with any type of content – video is generating great response and there’s a wide range of tools available to experiment with. But you shouldn’t be making video for the sake of making video. There’s no point to that and you’re likely not helping your brand any by posting video content that lacks passion, purpose or any spark of creativity. Content is crucial, but what type of content you create should be driven by what your audience is responding to and what’s within your capacity to provide.

But then again, it’s always possible that your worst idea might end up getting the most attention. Now, I’ve gotta go find some old golf clubs.

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?

Meerkat

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.