July 2007 Archives

I can't tell if I was influential or just ahead of the market. Regular Net-Savvy Executive readers saw What's your word for people? here last month, when I mused about using words like user and consumer (among others) to describe people. This week, Forrester VP Josh Bernoff kicked off a full-blown meme with I'm sick of users, in which he gives a fuller explanation of why he prefers people to users. Max Kalehoff adds The “user” is dead, but what about the consumer?

Naturally, I enjoyed both posts.

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Forbes on PR for startups

Lisa LaMotta has an article for Forbes on PR for startups (via Giovanni Rodriguez). Along with a look at how PR can benefit new companies (but "PR types often promise more than they can deliver, so manage your expectations"), she delivers a summary of PR measurement:

While PR remains a squishy science, there are ways to loosely measure progress. The most common is the number of media references to your company in a given month. But there are subtler metrics, too, such as how many of your "core messages" were expressed in each article.
Interesting to see that description after working on the social media measurement post last night.

The other interesting data point from the article is pricing information:

Average monthly fees for an established U.S. shop are about $10,000, according to a recent survey of 100 firms around the country with revenues over $3 million. Some firms charge by the hour, and still others offer a la carte services—say, for running a special event or triaging a corporate snafu. Rodriguez charges start-ups a monthly retainer from $8,000 to $15,000. That's not chump change, but it's far less than many print ad campaigns.
With an average budget of $10K/month, it must be interesting to try to fund social media monitoring and analysis. The money has to come from somewhere, and I suspect it's not from the existing PR budget. Maybe the budget issue explains the prominence of big clients at the social media analysis companies.

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I've seen a lot of discussion of social media measurement lately, and some of the conclusions don't look anything like what I've learned about some of the services out there. If you put some of these posts side-by-side, you might think there's a debate going on. It's actually something more fundamental: they're speaking different languages. Social media measurement has multiple competing definitions coming from the various specialties that have an interest in understanding social media.

The problem is that social media measurement sounds like a generally descriptive term, but to the specialists, it suggests very specific meanings. Unfortunately, the meanings vary by the background and function of the writer or reader. Now, before I start linking to people, I'm not saying that they're wrong, just that they're talking about different things.

I've seen four basic applications:

  1. Measuring online audiences
    A lot of the talk about measuring social media comes down to the desire for standard audience data for advertising. Changes in web design and function challenge existing online audience metrics, so we see ideas like replacing page views with time spent. It takes me back to my radio days and time spent listening, which never seemed to come up with media buyers.

    Advertising is the only application where standard metrics actually matter. Media and advertisers want a reliable ratings system for pricing and tracking online ad buys. Other applications need reliable data to generate KPIs, but diversity in sources and methods shouldn't be a problem.

  2. Tracking social media content
    Another type of social media measurement is a challenge for web analytics—measurement focused on a company's own online content. The social media challenge is tracking a company's content on 3rd-party services, such as online video and social networks.

    Web analytics seems to be primarily focused on management of a company's web sites (and now, its content as it travels the social web). From brand-building and online commerce to direct-response online advertising, metrics like clicks, conversion rate and engagement are all about understanding the behavior of web visitors and performance optimization within the company.

  3. PR measurement
    PR measurement looks a bit like ratings research and a bit like market research. Audience metrics contribute to influence analysis, along with links (or not) and other factors. PR can use social media measurement to identify outreach targets, emerging issues and opportunities for communication, and to measure its own effectiveness afterward. Traditional metrics like message volume and share of voice are easily adapted to social media, so the PR challenge is more a function of technology and scale than definitions.

    PR is a natural home for the measurement/monitoring tension. It's also a great environment for the human vs. machine analysis debate, since meaning is so much more interesting to measure than activity.

  4. Market research
    Social media provide an opportunity for online ethnographic research methods, based on the unprompted opinions of—well, everyone on the Internet. It's the world's largest focus group, combined with a greatly expanded media environment, where companies can explore opinions, needs and ideas. This is the home of observation and analysis, not standard metrics, although some typical forms of analysis are available. And yes, I realize that there's potentially a really entertaining argument with the research establishment about things like selection bias, but there's value there.

    This type of research feeds back into the other specialties I mentioned—advertising, interactive and PR—but the insights are more strategic than the routine metrics that dominate the measurement discussion. I think it's important to remember that sometimes, research—including quantitative research—is conducted based on what can be learned.

So, before we declare anything dead or crown a victor, let's think about what we mean by social media measurement, and what we're trying to achieve. Are we buying or selling advertising? Trying to influence customers? Selling product online? Tracking opinion and message penetration? Or are we just trying to learn from the massive pool of online opinion? Standard metrics can only be standard within the relevant context, and these reasons to measure social media aren't going to boil down to one metric, no matter how well designed.

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AideRSS for publishers

AideRSS is a new RSS-filtering service designed to help people manage the volume of posts in their subscriptions. It uses a proprietary PostRank metric to group posts from a given feed into Good/Great/Best groups and creates a filtered RSS feed for each. For readers, this has the potential to be a big time-saver. For publishers, it further complicates the RSS metrics situation while creating a handy overview of online reactions to posts.

Complicating RSS metrics
RSS audience metrics are tricky already. The conventional wisdom recommends the use of Feedburner, largely for its feed analytics. Feedburner stats are a big help, but they miss indirect subscribers to the feed. For example, content that is republished on another site (such as selections from this blog that appear on Social Media Today) may be available in feeds from that site; subscribers to those feeds don't show up in the stats.

AideRSS potentially creates a new pool of readers who don't show up in Feedburner stats. Even if AideRSS were to report subscriber numbers to Feedburner, like Bloglines or Google Reader, the numbers wouldn't add up—readers of a filtered feed aren't the same as readers of the full feed. So the new service complicates RSS stats in proportion to its popularity.

Tools for publishers
It's not all headache, though. AideRSS has two features of immediate interest to publishers: a PostRank widget to help visitors find your "best" posts, and a reporting interface with real potential.

The widget looks interesting, and since I'm in the middle of customizing my blog design (thanks for not pointing out the obvious deficiency), I might even use it.

The really interesting thing for publishers is the overview page AideRSS creates for each site. Like everything in the first release, it's meant for readers, with its links to the filtered posts, but look at the information it collects about each post in the feed (with links to the appropriate sources):

  • Number of comments
  • Links via Bloglines, Technorati and IceRocket
  • del.icio.us bookmarks
That last one is big; tracking del.icio.us is a pain (almost as much as typing del.icio.us). If AideRSS were to go one more step and add feeds for the analytics, it would be a must-have tool for publishers—at least until del.icio.us provides a domain search feature. Published stats from AideRSS would partially address the earlier analytics problem, too. If the service becomes popular, it opens the door to a new kind of audience segmentation (by selected filter).

Publisher services—someday
While the initial service—and all the publicity— focus on the free subscriber service, AideRSS realizes the potential value to publishers in their system. Chief Architect Ilya Grigorik talked with Josh Catone about potential publisher services:

Ilya told me that as the index grows, there exists the potential for meaningful analysis of post and reader trends, patterns, habits, meme tracking, etc. These sort of services are the type of things that could potentially be offered on a for-pay basis to publishers, but Ilya stressed that that is not a focus for AideRSS at the moment.
While we're waiting for the real deal, I'll be using AideRSS to track del.icio.us and see what an objective observer thinks of my posts. I may even use it to get a handle on the flood of posts in my reader.

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Translating RSS feeds

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I've been thinking about languages again. I talk to a lot of companies, many of them outside the US. Fortunately for me, English is very popular as a second language, which makes the conversations possible. It doesn't always help me with their web sites and blogs, however, and so I find myself making regular use of automated translation services. The piece I'm missing is a reliable way to translate RSS feeds.

Rafe Needleman posted a quick, easy, and—when I tried it—ineffective method of translating feeds using Yahoo Pipes. The titles get translated, but the body stays in the original language. Not much help. I didn't get any farther with Google Translate, although I'm still experimenting with other combinations of translation and RSS services. If you've found a combination that works, I'd like to hear about it.

What we need is a feed translation service, which takes in a feed, translates it, and creates a new, translated feed. With the acquisition of Feedburner, Google has the pieces. Any chance they'll do it?

If the whole idea of machine translation goes against everything you know about language, I know. I'd rather be able to read all those languages, too, but there will always be languages I can't read, and I can't justify proper translations. I can do a minimally acceptable job reading the French blogs, and I can get the general idea with other Romance languages. There will always be more languages that I can't read, and for those, machine translations are a great service, even with their flaws.

Science project challenge
Speaking of languages, I haven't heard from anyone who's tried my translingual influencer analysis science project. If your company has multilingual capabilities and does influence analysis, this could be a powerful demonstration. Can you identify relevant, influential sources who pick up a topic in one language and write about it in another?

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SMAttering, 20 July 2007

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News from the companies of social media analysis.

Companies and services

  • Bilbao-based Socialware expanded its presence in June with new offices in London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris. Their ASOMO service covers the usual areas of social media analysis, with one unusual twist: the client interface is a PC-based viewer, in place of the more common web-based dashboard (screenshots).
Obviously, I need more news to keep this weekly. If your company is doing something interesting in social media analysis, let me know!

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SMAttering, 13 July 2007

News from the companies of social media analysis.

Companies and services

  • 18 June - Brighton-based Magpie launched the beta of its Brandwatch service. The automated service tracks clients' brands in context of a broader industry view. Value-added consulting will be through agency resellers.

  • SentiMetrix now has a web site (via Matt Hurst). Should be no surprise from the company name, but the work-in-progress web site shows an emphasis on sentiment analysis, including measuring the intensity of sentiment (as opposed to the basic positive/negative/neutral scores).

  • Andiamo Systems is ramping up beta clients for its self-service brand monitoring and analytics service. The $275 monthly base price includes a "no buzz" guarantee for clients who find nothing to monitor.
People
  • Forrester analyst Peter Kim dropped by the Net-Savvy Executive for a round of comments on near-term developments in social media analysis.

Sorry I missed my Friday morning in Australia posting schedule this week. Funny how meetings in First Life get in the way of blogging!

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Let's play a quick game of word association.

Reputation

...

Did you say "PR"? Certainly, that's one group that has a major concern with reputation in business.

If you spend too much time online, as I do, you might have come up with "search engine," especially now that mainstream media have picked up on the existence of search engine reputation management.

Our grandmothers might have thought about what the neighbors think, but these are all the same thing. They're concerned with what others think about us.

Turn it around
What if a company were to apply reputation-monitoring techniques in evaluating potential business relationships? They could use reputation, not as it reflects on themselves, but as a source of insight into the other party.

Enter Ecofact, a Zurich-based consulting firm that advises clients, mainly in the financial sector, on business risks associated with global issues: the environment, social issues and human rights. Their new RepRisk service is a web-based due-diligence tool that evaluates potential reputational risks associated with proposed business deals.

reprisktrendchart.jpgYou've probably seen charts like this based on sentiment or message volume. But this chart indicates the target company's negative associations with major issues as an indicator of the risk involved in a particular deal or project. The metric incorporates quantitative and qualitative views of exposure on pressure group web sites and in the media (social media evaluations are more experimental for now).

Imagine you're a commercial bank evaluating a loan prospect, or a manufacturer looking for offshore production partners. If Human Rights Watch or the National Labor Committee had targeted your potential borrower/supplier for its practices, would that factor into your decision? Reputational risk is contageous, you know.

Media analysis, but not marketing
RepRisk is an example of something I think we'll see more of: practical applications of media analytics for market intelligence outside of marketing functions. The source data and analytical techniques have much in common with typical practices in social media analysis—the difference is in the customer base and objective of the analysis.

In the end, an appreciation for reputational risk in business decisions means that the traditional concern for one's own reputation—and its potential financial impact—has been fully internalized. RepRisk is an application for businesses who've realized that one way to protect their own reputation is to choose carefully the company they keep.

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A little SEO-related reading will temper any naiveté you may harbor about how social media will make marketing everywhere all clean and shiny. While the advocates promote transparent, honest, personal new ways, someone else is figuring out how to game the system. Rand Fishkin just introduced a new term for a very distasteful idea (which he doesn't endorse): social media poisoning.

The practice involves proactively generating spammy comments, posts, links, etc. from a competitor's domain in order to make bloggers, social media contributors, forum owners, journalists, etc. view that brand in a negative light.
It's a weird twist on online reputation management, isn't it? Suggests we may need a little counter-sabotage in our social media kits.

Dirty pool meets social media marketing... What's next, crude suggestions and URLs in truck stop rest rooms?

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Edit your company's entry on Wikipedia, and you may rouse the vengeful spirits of Wiki enforcement. Post boosterish comments using a false name on the Yahoo Finance stock boards, and you risk provoking the Feds. Because the Whole Foods story needed—just needed—a social media angle. But wasn't this lesson too obvious to need teaching?

From tomorrow's Wall Street Journal, page one: "Whole Foods Is Hot, Wild Oats a Dud—So Said 'Rahodeb'"

For about eight years until last August, the company confirms, [the Whole Foods CEO John] Mackey posted numerous messages on Yahoo Finance stock forums as Rahodeb. It's an anagram of Deborah, Mr. Mackey's wife's name. Rahodeb cheered Whole Foods' financial results, trumpeted his gains on the stock and bashed Wild Oats. Rahodeb even defended Mr. Mackey's haircut when another user poked fun at a photo in the annual report. "I like Mackey's haircut," Rahodeb said. "I think he looks cute!"
Roger Ehrengerg expounds on the dimensions of Mackey's foolishness, leading off with time-honored advice:
Lesson #1 in business career management: Don't say or do anything that you wouldn't be comfortable having plastered on the Front Page of the Wall Street Journal.
And now it is. It turns out that mistakes in new media can invoke enforcement mechanisms in old media (not to mention the governmental variety). As important as it is to know and respect the rules of new media, don't forget that the rules of the real world still apply, too. Unbelievable that that needs to be said.

Yeesh. When I worked for a publicly traded company, our Yahoo stock board was (sadly) one of my better sources of what was going on in the company. I never would have dreamed of posting anything—anything!—there. The exposure of Rahodeb means that Mackey's comments are now retroactively on the record for all—and particularly for the SEC—to see.

Update: Mackey's apology.

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The Nielsen Company released some metrics surrounding the new Harry Potter movie and book today. Putting social media data from BuzzMetrics in a wider collection of Nielsen market data is an interesting way to illustrate the company's view that measurement is the central activity in social media analysis.

How many ways can you look at the data? Harry Potter charms the entertainment industry:

  • Book sales (Nielsen BookScan)
  • Box office sales (Nielsen EDI)
  • Advertising (Nielsen Monitor-Plus)
  • DVD/Video sales (Nielsen VideoScan)
  • Internet traffic (Nielsen//NetRatings)
  • Internet buzz (Nielsen BuzzMetrics)
  • Music sales (Nielsen SoundScan)
  • TV ratings (Nielsen Media Research)
  • Moviegoer profile (Nielsen Cinema)
  • Consumer package good sales (ACNielsen)
If you need to sort out the many types of data Nielsen offers, this will provide a helpful set of examples.

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SMAttering, 6 July 2007

News from the companies of social media analysis.

Companies and services

  • 25 June - Lodging Interactive, an interactive marketing agency for the hospitality industry, announced Chatter Guard for online reputation management. The service combines full-time monitoring of social media, a metrics dashboard and a response service.
New research and papers
  • CustomScoop CEO Chip Griffin offers his take on the major trends affecting media in a free ebook, The New Media Cocktail.

  • "Best Practices in Media Measurement" (PDF), Factiva from Dow Jones (via Matthias Hoffmann). A sponsored white paper by Paul Argenti of Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business.

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A week at Camp Daddy

The holiday wasn't the only reason things slowed down this week. This is the second of three weeks this summer (not consecutive) that I'm also the head counselor at Camp Daddy. Tomorrow, we're going to the nature museum and skating, in addition to the nearly daily sessions at the pool.

Of course, companies are popping up on the radar daily (no exaggeration). Catching up next week is going to be interesting.

About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Studying complexity and futures.
  • Principal, Social Target

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