January 2009 Archives

links for 2009-01-30


As Triangle Tweetup, our local gathering of Twitter fans, was getting started last night, I noticed a series of great points coming out of the social media discussion at IABC Toronto at the same time. Surrounded by over a hundred energetic Twitter users, I wondered how associations like IABC, AMA, PRSA, CIPR, and CPRS—forgive me for not knowing all of them around the world—could tap into the energy of local social media communities. Once the initial culture shock wore off, I think they would find huge benefits from a total immersion experience.

I promise this won't become one of those overdone "Twitter's so cool!" posts, but let me point out what happened within the span of, oh, 30 seconds last night:

  • The quick presentations at Triangle Tweetup started (good stuff).

  • I got a direct message (DM) through Twitter about a possible speaking opportunity (very good stuff).

  • I started seeing very good points being made in a panel discussion 700 miles away (#iabcto). Sorry I couldn't be there, but the distance... (and there was a tweetup I needed to attend).
So Twitter was serving me well, and the networking was great, but I was surrounded by a crowd of people who don't need to be convinced about social media. Meanwhile, so many marketers and communicators still seem to need Social Media 101.

Hmmm...
For the association folks whose members want (need) to learn their way around social media: What would happen if...

  • your association sponsored a gathering of the local social media crowd and promoted the (free) event to your membership?

  • your association teamed up with the social media crowd for a cobranded event?

  • your chapter leaders explored the local social media scene to discover local speakers for meetings?

  • your members figured out how much they can learn when they discover tweetups, Social Media Club, or Social Media Breakfast?
Companies are cutting back on travel, so it's a great time to make the most of local resources. Putting chapters together with local experts and enthusiasts would be great chemistry.

The only question is, can old-school marketers and communicators handle the unfiltered social media experience? We don't want any heads to explode.

links for 2009-01-29

News from the companies of social media analysis. Launch week, apparently.

Companies and services

  • 27 January - MightyBrand launched their social media monitoring and engagement platform, previously known as BlueSwarm.

  • 28 January - BuzzGain launched the public beta of their "do it yourself PR" platform. Note the promised integration with CRM tools.

  • 13 January - BuzzDing entered private beta for their online reputation management platform.

  • 24 January - BuzzNumbers announced the opening of their Tokyo office and the launch of the Asian version of their platform.

  • 27 January - CyberAlert announced the recipients of its annual PR grants to not-for-profit organizations in the US and Canada. press release

  • 26 January - Island Data has changed its name to Overtone. The Insight RT product has been renamed Open Mic. press release
New research and papers
  • Quirk eMarketing released the second edition of their eMarketing Textbook. The book is available in print or as a free download.

  • The Pew Internet & American Life Project released Generations Online in 2009 (PDF). They had me at "Contrary to the image of Generation Y as the 'Net Generation,' internet users in their 20s do not dominate every aspect of online life."
Events
Call for papers

links for 2009-01-28

So many times, I've heard that (pick one) only humans can identify sentiment in text, or the software is very good now. I don't call it a debate, because I don't see the sides talking. Setting aside the question of software maturity, what is it we want the computer to do, and how far along are the tools?

When I need to explain the concept of text analytics for the first time, I usually summarize it as "teaching the computer to read," which—no surprise—isn't an original phrase. It goes back at least to the early '90s. But reading for meaning is still more of a goal than the current reality. Today, the tools are somewhere on a continuum, which I think looks something like this:

  1. Content discovery
    The challenge is social media analysis starts with the attempt to "read the Internet" (all of it). The simple approach to selecting the part we care about is to use a keyword match or Boolean query, but probabilistic and semantic approaches are out there.

    Success criteria: recall (completeness) and speed

  2. Filtering for relevance
    Source data is cleaned, removing spam, duplicates, and off-topic items. Company names that are also words make relevance filtering important and a point of differentiation for some vendors.

    Success criteria: precision (% relevant content)

  3. Extracting concepts
    Natural-language processing (NLP) yields a list of key words and phrases, which generates those brand-association and leading topics reports. Also very useful for grouping items for end-users of the system. More advanced approaches group related topics and synonyms.

    Success criteria: usefulness (low noise), accuracy

  4. Extracting facts
    NLP identifies factual statements based on grammatical analysis of content. This is helpful for understanding the reason behind sentiment and potentially huge for competitive intelligence and finance applications.

    Success criteria: accuracy, useful summarization

  5. Determining opinion
    If you want to start a good argument, bring up sentiment (although I never seem to find opposing viewpoints on human vs. machine analysis in the same place). It's popular as a PR metric and useful as a filter, so it's one of the usual metrics in social media tools. Some vendors go beyond tonality (positive/negative) and provide an analysis of the emotional content of the text.

    Success criteria: accuracy, consistency, depth

  6. Reading for meaning
    What we really want: the computer reads mountains of text and, after accounting for source reliability and influence, delivers an accurate summary and metrics, cross-references sources, and synthesizes an accurate view of the situation.

    Success criteria: not holding my breath.

All of these—well, one through five—are in the market today. The debate, such as it is, centers on how well current tools perform these analyses, and frankly, I'm not sure anyone really knows. There's not much demand for a competitive test, and not much incentive for vendors to participate in one.

I hear claims of 90% and better accuracy on sentiment, but a test would require a comparison with imperfect, human coding. In any case, one text analytics provider I talked with said that specific accuracy rates are not a client concern. Their focus is on the value of the resulting analysis, and good enough is good enough.

I'm not a scientist, and somewhere out there is a computational linguist whose left eye is twitching over some mistake I've made. Comments are open—go for it.

links for 2009-01-27

Monitor Web Pages with RSS

| 1 Comment

I reprised the RSS tricks session at BarCamp Charlotte on Saturday, where a popular trick was generating RSS feeds for sites that don't provide them. I use this to keep up with companies who don't have feeds for their press releases; it's also good for finding out about the public launch of stealth-mode companies.

Here are the companies I've found who create RSS feeds from web pages.

If you know of others, mention them in the comments, and I'll add them to the list.

Dapper can create feeds from sites without existing feeds, too, but it's more complicated than the change alerts that other services generate. Mozenda goes farther into data scraping with its commercial service, but it's overkill for basic site monitoring.

A site-provided feed is better than this scraping approach—especially when it comes to sites with rotating content (such as client quotes). But when there's no feed and you really want to know when new content is added, these tools are helpful for pulling data into an RSS-centric information environment.

links for 2009-01-26

So much talk about a few American companies and their adventures in social media. They're good stories, but what's happening everywhere else? I'm looking for some good examples for upcoming projects—both speaking and writing. Do you have a good example to help me avoid relying on the usual suspects?

This request started with an invitation I recently received to speak at SaskInteractive's Summit09 in March. I've accepted, and I think it would be good form to have more Canadian examples. I know there's more than Molson, but I don't have a good list of them, yet. And it's not just Canada; I'd really like to know more about what companies are already doing around the world.

Here's an example of what I'm looking for: Jon Husband wrote last week about the introduction of a community site by the French railroad company SNCF. I want more of those examples, and I know that the people who read this blog know some good ones.

So, all you folks who wonder why the American companies get all the attention, who's doing social media in your neighborhood?

A few recent projects have reminded me how much value I get from Delicious, a useful service with a funny name (though not as funny as the original del.icio.us). It's a prime example of a social computing tool whose value isn't immediately obvious to newcomers, who probably get lost as soon as it's described as (take your pick) a social tagging, sharing, or bookmarking site. Delicious is increasingly important in my own work, so I decided to share some specifics on using it to find, save and publish information.

  1. Save bookmarks for my own use.
    Let's start with the obvious. Tagging is more effective than filing bookmarks, or at least it's a lot easier to find them later. Remember to back them up to your computer occasionally, though. Free services have been known to shut down.

  2. Autopost bookmarks to my blog.
    Those "links for 1/25/09" posts come from Delicious, which automatically creates a post based on each day's tags. Lists of links with no comments aren't too useful, so I make a point of adding original commentary to almost every item (a trick I learned from the bloggers of RedMonk—thanks, guys). That original content also makes it possible to...

  3. Use Delicious feeds to build dynamic web sites.
    This is one of my favorite RSS tricks: use Feed Informer to place feeds from Delicious on web sites (look for the link—virtually every page on Delicious has a feed). The commentary is already there for the link posts on the blog, so each link has original content to go with it. Delicious offers linkrolls that do the same thing, but Feed Informer offers more editorial control and the ability to manage feed content. The real secret here is that every tag in your account has its own RSS feed, so you're not limited to the everything-you-tag feed.

    Tag feeds let me send different content to multiple sites with just one workflow. So, for example, all of my tagged items show up on my vanity site, while subject-specific tags cause items to appear at Social Media Analysis, Managing Social Media or International Affairs. There's no extra work associated with supporting multiple sites—just add the right tag.

    If I tag something I don't want to publish, I just check the "Do Not Share" box to keep it private.

  4. Subscribe to Delicious feeds from interesting people.
    I subscribe to the feeds of a few people who pay attention to subjects I care about. When they tag something, there's a good chance it will be useful. If you find yourself following multiple people this way, add them to your network on Delicious and subscribe to that feed. Subscribing to individual user feeds doesn't alert your source that you're following them like the network feature does.

    If reading other people's tag list seems like an intrusion, remember that they have the Do Not Share box, too. Delicious users have complete control over how much they share. And if you're tagging items yourself, remember that your shared items really are public.

  5. Subscribe to tag feeds to find new sources.
    This little tip potentially puts every Delicious user to work for you: subscribe to the feed for tags in your field (for example, web analytics). Delicious suggests related tags when you search, so it's easy to find likely keywords. Now, when anyone on Delicious finds an item in your area of interest, you'll find out about it. Sometimes, this leads to the discovery of interesting people, too.

    I have all of Delicious finding things for me. How big is your research staff?

That's how I use it. How's it working for you?

News from the companies of social media analysis. Are you making it easy to pay attention to your company with an RSS feed of your news? (I know, it's on my to-do list, too.)

Companies and services

People
New research and papers
  • CIC released its IWOM Watch review for the second half of 2008 (PDF). The report focuses on the Beijing Olympics, the growth of social networks, and the convergence of social media and e-commerce in China.
Events
Call for papers

links for 2009-01-21

  • Neat--social network analysis using paper and physical objects. "What's fascinating about this modest model is the awareness that Social Network Analysis (SNA) doesn't necessarily need to involve expensive high-tech tools, that can be difficult to implement and use."

links for 2009-01-16

links for 2009-01-15

News from the companies of social media analysis.

Companies and services

People
New research and papers
Events
Call for papers

links for 2009-01-14

links for 2009-01-13

links for 2009-01-12

Listening Tools vs. Services

| 1 Comment

The standard advice on social media is to listen first, and if you read this blog, you've noticed that I pay a lot of attention to the companies who can help with listening. Despite the articles that group them all together, it's important to note some distinctions. The most obvious is between service- and software-oriented approaches, which differ in emphasis even in companies that offer both.

This is a topic I've been working on for a while (and have a report to finish), but a Friday comment from Joseph Fiore (of the software-oriented RepuMetrix) moved it up the line:

Further to your comments, we have learned over the years that social media reporting is most effective when it functions dynamically. Whether that be for sales automation, or leveraged as a PR device.

For agencies, the advantage with online reporting tools means that any postponed meetings with clients won't require placing a second order for our custom reports, or showing them a week-old report absent of incidents which may have happened in-between rescheduling.

The same applies with our experience in sales automation - the "freshness" factor is where the aforementioned client found the real value of using SM as a sales tool. Again, this may appear to be going above and beyond, but there was one incident where a rep had won an account when he passed his tablet around the meeting room, revealing a timely blog incident that the prospect knew nothing about.

"It depends"
In the decision between tools and services, everyone's least-favorite consultant answer applies. As Joseph points out, software used by the client has the advantage of near-real-time insight. You can look at what's happening in the very recent past (minutes), and you can explore the data interactively, versus waiting for an outside analyst to answer your questions.

On the other hand, the professional services approach offloads the learning curve and resource requirements that can be an obstacle. You gain the experience and insight of the specialist, in exchange for some loss in response time and flexibility, and the cost structure is different. If your company doesn't have information producers ready to do the analysis internally, you can still benefit from listening strategies with outside help.

The right tool for the job
It's a tradeoff—both approaches have benefits and costs. The question (as always) is, what are you trying to accomplish?

links for 2009-01-09

News from the companies of social media analysis. I'm catching up from the holidays, what's new with you?

Companies and services

  • 15 December - Clarabridge announced a partnership with Teradata to combine the companies' text analytics and data warehouse technologies. press release

  • 18 December - Omniture announced the addition of Visible Technologies as one of 15 new Genesis application providers. The partnership allows Omniture customers to integrate social media data from Visible with Omniture's web analytics data. press release

  • 7 January - VibeMetrix announced the start of beta testing for their AlertRank add-on for Google Alerts.

  • 4 January - TechCrunch reported that SkyGrid plans a free version of their dashboard.

  • Software updates: Radian6, Techrigy
New research and papers

Events
Call for papers

The usual starting point for social media analysis—whether you're more interested in the monitoring or measurement variants—is to ask, "what are people saying about us?" That's a reasonable starting point, but if we take a few steps around to other parts of the elephant, we discover other applicatons. Today, for example, I talked with a marketing exec at a capital equipment supplier who was interested in consumer intelligence as a major account sales tool. I can think of quite a few companies who could do what he described, but I couldn't think of any who have.

The idea is simple. Use a common snapshot report to generate insights about a major customer account, based on what their customers have to say about them. Package the results for your major account team. You could also use a more general view of your customers' industry for your entire sales force.

What are my customer's customers saying?
Start with a typical reputation snapshot report—volume, sentiment, leading topics, trends. Instead of focusing on your own company, focus on your customer (bonus points for finding trends that mention both your customer and you or a competitor). It's a simple keyword substitution away from the traditional question: "what are people saying about them?"

When you get the report, the first benefit will be in growing your understanding of your customer's business. But the eye-openers will probably be in a leading dissatisfiers list (top issues filtered by negative sentiment). How would your sales team like to know about your customer's issues with:

  • Problems associated with your products
  • Problems associated with competitors' products (bonus!)
  • Problems your products can help solve
  • Emerging opportunities for your customer supported by your products
It does present interesting possibilities, giving your sales team consumer insights on the customer's business, doesn't it?

I did a lot of this kind of demand-chain analysis in my previous career—looking at consumer trends and their impact on customer demand for my products. This is valuable intelligence for any company whose customers use their products to deliver their own products or services. If you do this for sales, just remember to share the results with your marketing and product groups.

(Update: It may be more accurate to describe this as industrial marketing, as opposed to B2B.)

Nice theory, but who's doing it?
I suspect I could dig through my files and find examples of vendors who offer this type of report, but off the top of my head... nothing. The usual, $10–15K report is overkill, but a package of basic customer snapshots focused on identifying sales opportunities might have potential. Is anyone doing this with clients now?

I'm also curious what this topic does to your comfort meter. Does the thought of running analytics on your customer's market make you uncomfortable?

For those of you in the business, this came out of a casual conversation, but if it were a live request from a client, it's the kind of question I would send out on my new mailing list for vendors. If you don't have your invitation, drop me a note and I'll add you. And yes, I do plan to follow up on today's conversation with what I learn.

links for 2009-01-05

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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