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When people ask me what I do, I usually say something about exploring the edges of the market for intelligence and analytics capabilities, starting with social media data. I also like to connect threads from separate topics and look at things from unusual perspectives. With that as a warning of sorts, let's pull some threads from new methods, old metrics, and emerging science to see what they do together. It may sound like so much theory so far, but this is all about practical analytics for management.

Thread one: A new view of social media in a customer journey framework
It started with a briefing from SDL on their new Customer Commitment Framework (CCF). I'm always interested to see people do something different with social media data, and I give bonus points for tools that provide quick and clear access to useful information.

Sdl ccdSDL's approach is to monitor business performance at key points of customer journeys by analyzing what they have to say in social media. They want to know what people are thinking as they progress toward a decision, whether that decision is about buying a product, telling others, or becoming an advocate for the product. CCF's analysis is always presented in the context of a customer journey, so—in theory, at least—its numbers provide a drill-down into the performance of different parts of a company's marketing and operational performance as experienced by customers.

I haven't tried CCF and its dashboard component yet, but if it works as promised, its alignment to identifiable business levers could make it a valuable analytical tool.

Thread two: Exploring possible futures with agent-based modelingHow customers behave
Call it simulation to avoid scaring people off, but the complexity science tool of agent-based modeling has come to market. When I saw that Icosystem had spun up a company, Concentric, to offer ABM tools for marketers, I knew I needed to learn about it.

Concentric's book, How Customers Behave, was a good start, but some of my earlier reading and the Santa Fe Institute's MOOC on complexity made the background sections somewhat redundant. One key takeaway I've found is that, despite the complexity label, this stuff isn't too complicated to understand.

D digital journeyWhere SDL looks for signals about what has happened, Concentric starts by building models of customer journeys, playing out the decisions faced by individuals in the market ("agents"). Once the model can "predict" the past, it's ready for use in simulating the effects of different strategies and tactics. Depending on your needs, their software can incorporate social media and other online data sources, or it can look broadly across media types and operational data.

Is this what you expected?
If you put threads one and two together, you get simulations to explore possible outcomes of different strategies, and measurement of customer opinion at critical points to indicate actual performance. One looks forward to explore what may happen, and one looks at the recent past to understand what has happened.

It seems like a powerful combination to me, but let's add one more thread. What about hard data?

Thread three: Marketing analytics and the view of the process
I once worked on a project for one of the big phone companies that was concerned about customer churn in their high-speed Internet business. They were adding new customers as fast as they could, and they wanted to avoid losing existing customers. Our analysis rested on the insight that sometimes you lose the sale even when the customer wants to buy. Before it was trendy, we looked at the post-purchase customer journey and found some measurable issues.

I usually see customer journey models that assume that customer attempts to purchase virtually always succeed. If you're selling online or in retail, that's probably close to true. But do you know that it's true, or do you assume it?

For the phone companies, DSL service circa 2002 was constrained by geographic footprint, technical limitations, compatibility issues, and customer ability. Each of these added another step in the journey and another opportunity to lose the sale. Given the operational metrics they already had—order attempts, accepted orders, activations, etc.—you could track post-order performance as a series of multipliers between zero and one. A simple step-down chart would show you where you were losing customers, so you would know where to invest to improve the process.

For a subscription-based business, recurring revenue is everything, so you need to pay attention to customer retention and anything that drives them away. This is already a long post, so let me point to a post from Keith Schacht about customer acquisition and retention, and a VOZIQ post on customer issues in telecom. The point is, your customer's experience may not end with the purchase, and your measurement of the experience shouldn't, either.

When you combine the effects of attracting new customers and losing existing customers, you end up with a survival analysis, which brings us back to complexity and the potential of agent-based modeling. The fact is, a given rate of customer additions and losses combine to set a ceiling on your possible customer base, so it's crucial to understand where and why you lose them.

Really, it all comes together
Pull these three threads together, and we start to see the potential of forcing analytics out of their comfortable silos. Agent-based models offer a tool for understanding how things might (not will) play out under different scenarios, including the possible outcomes of different marketing strategies. Analytics based on similar models of customer journeys provide a view of the recent past to test expectations and continually reevaluate the models. Combining social media data with customer data and operational metrics allows us to see a more complete picture: Where hard data is unavailable, social media indicators can fill the gaps. Where hard data is available, it provides a test of the social media indicators.

Pull the threads together, and you get a view that combines future and past; what people say and what they do; what happened and why. Sounds pretty useful to me.

Make Your Company Look Alive

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Store closedWhen I talk with people in the social media analysis business, it's common to speculate about a coming reduction in the number of competitors. Having just finished a long-overdue review of my vendor database, I'm here to report that it's already happening. A number of companies have already gone away; they're just not the ones you've heard of.

At the beginning of the review, I had roughly 350 companies in the database. I've always been generous in my definitions, so these aren't all direct competitors, but they all did something in the area of monitoring and measuring social media, with their own technology.

Thinning the herd
As I went through the list, I found 19 companies that appear to have gone out of business entirely and another 76 that don't appear to be active in SMA this year. A few more have been merged into other services by their parent companies.

Some of the reduction is the result of my getting more strict with the definitions, but a lot of it is companies that have changed focus or deemphasized their listening businesses. Notice, for example, the companies that have repositioned themselves into the advertising space.

Acquisitions are always interesting; will the acquired product remain separate or be integrated with the acquiring company's platform? We've seen some of both in this market.

Show signs of life
A review of 350 companies is necessarily web-based, and I generally gave companies the benefit of the doubt. Still, some hints are pretty strong. If you're still in business, you might consider checking the vitality of your own company's presence:

  • Have a web site.
    First, you need a company web site. If www.yourcompany.com doesn't respond, that's a strong, negative signal. If your domain name has expired, that's an even stronger signal that you're out of business.

  • Check your redirects.
    If yourcompany.com doesn't respond and doesn't redirect to www.yourcompany.com, I might jump to the wrong conclusion. Ask your SEO if you don't know how to fix it, but both addresses should get visitors to the right site.

  • Check your copyright notice.
    It's not definitive, but when the copyright notice still says 2007, somebody's not minding the store.

  • Post to your blog.
    Yes, we all fall behind, but after a year with no posts, we start to wonder if anyone's home.

  • Update your press page.
    If a company posts releases on its site and then stops, we wonder what else has stopped. If you never had a press page, at least it's not saying that nothing has happened lately.

  • Link to your Twitter account.
    Almost everybody in SMA now has a link to the company Twitter account on their home pages. Having no Twitter account is not a positive indicator in a social media business.

  • Check your LinkedIn profile.
    One of the more reliable indicators that a company is truly dead is a founder's profile that puts his involvement with the company in the past. If key people have moved on, it's even more important that the rest of company's presence shows signs of life.
Almost time to share
I've been sitting on this industry database for a long time, but it's almost time to share it. If I can figure out how to build it, I think you're going to like the industry directory I'm working on. And if your company is active in the space, look for an email soon.

Photo by Gregg Sloan.

Is a group of people a community if its members don't know they're part of it? I don't think so, but some recent blog posts have confused community with something else. Before we redefine all of the useful distinction out of yet another buzzword, let's think about what makes a community. After all, your community engagement strategy requires a community to engage.

What a community is
Community is a nice-sounding word that threatens to become just another euphemism. Activists use it to describe entire populations, usually based on some attribute that gives them minority status. Politicians refer to "the community of nations," which is either all of the world's governments or the entire world population (clarity seems not to be the point). Community has come a long way since its local roots.

Now, marketers are using community to describe groups they'd like to reach. The references that inspired this post listed "communities" that were really market segments, such as teenage girls or white-collar professionals. While these examples can be useful segments, they're missing the essential elements of community:

  • Self-identified
    Members not only know that they're a part of the group, they think of it as a community (but they might choose a different word to describe it). Membership in a formal organization is a big hint here, but not a requirement.

  • Exclusive
    Communities know who is not a part of the community, too.

  • Connected
    Members of communities have social connections with each other. They recognize each other as members of the same community.

  • Communicating
    Without communication, there's no community, and old communities fall apart. But communication alone doesn't necessarily lead to community.

  • Supporting
    Community members usually provide some level of support to each other.
First community, then engagement
Communities form for many reasons. Some reasons—common interests, careers, industries, demographics, geography—map nicely to segments that marketers find interesting. But members of market segments—whether defined by demographics, psychographics, purchase patterns or interests—don't form communities just because marketers want to try community strategies to reach them.

If your goal is to apply a community-oriented strategy to reach a particular market segment, your choices are to connect with an existing community or try to create one. And please, don't call a segment a community if there isn't one there.

Sorry, no punch line. I'm sharing the news of Jim Tobin's new book, Social Media is a Cocktail Party (Why You Already Know the Rules of Social Media Marketing). It's a good effort to condense much of the current wisdom into a quick, readable introduction for those who need a quick ride up the learning curve. (If I were a copywriter, I'd probably say something here about reading on for a special offer.)

Cocktail Party is Social Media 101 for marketers. It lacks the depth of other recent books on my pile, but it serves up most of the big ideas with a casual, readable tone. At 178 pages, it's about right for a flight, in both length and weight.

Jim's a friend, so of course I'm plugging his book. But this looks like an introduction that will help a lot of people who are just getting started.

Step right up
To kick things off, Jim is making a donation to Make-A-Wish Foundation for every copy of Cocktail Party sold today (20 November).

But wait, there's more! :-) Yesterday, Jim gave me three copies to give away. To ensure fairness (and because it'll be fun), I'm going to let my 8-year-old Junior Associate pick the winners. Just tell him that you'd like a free copy in the comments below, and I'll announce the winners tomorrow.

Blog highlights

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Welcome, new readers! If you recently discovered the Net-Savvy Executive, you may find some of these older posts helpful or interesting. Jump in anywhere with comments; your participation is definitely encouraged here.

    - Nathan

Recurring list posts

From the whiteboard

Social media analysis

Social media & marketing

Ethics and social media analysis

Other interesting posts

2007 seems to be the year of the corporate social media specialist. I'm seeing more people who use some variation on the term to describe themselves, and clients are asking about the organizational issues around listening and interacting with social media. I wrote my thoughts on what I called social media relations last fall (don't get hung up on the title; that's not the point), and now I'm talking with people in similar roles to compare the theory with what companies are really doing and how it's working.

The central characteristic of this new role is the ability to talk tech and marketing, bridging the gap between functions without a strong history of mutual respect. Steve Rubel calls people who do this geek marketers, a term not guaranteed to maximize the job's compensation. David Churbuck prefers Chief Digital Officer, which is the logical extreme at the high end of the scale.

I suspect there's going to be a correlation between the size of the company and the level of the position, with smaller companies adding social media to the web guy's portfolio and larger companies building teams for listening and interacting online (the team may be on an agency payroll). I welcome any data points that confirm or correct my expectations.

Topic of the week
This notion of the corporate social media specialist—whatever the title—keeps popping up this week. I talked with a recruiter at Yum Brands, where they've filled one position and have more open, and I've come across several references to positions—filled and otherwise—in the automobile industry.

BrandWeek's Steve Miller interviewed Toyota's Bruce Ertmann: Toyota CGM exec monitors the good, the blog, and the ugly (via Josh Hallett):

As corporate manager of consumer-generated media at the Torrance, Calif.-based automaker, Ertmann constantly trolls the Web to see what people are saying... Although other car companies also have people who track and write blogs, Ertmann's title is believed to be the first in the U.S. auto trade.
Ertmann was also quoted in the New York Times on Toyota's use of Nielsen BuzzMetrics in December. Meanwhile, across the pond, BMW seeks new media PR manager:
The job recognises the increasing blur between traditional marketing and public relations as well as challenges presented by dynamic new communication channels. Monitoring, managing and influencing public commentary via new media is a skill set that BMW lists as important.
I'd say we have a trend. Now, if this is your job, would you be willing to talk with me about it? If you're trying to fill one of these positions externally, how are you doing it? Are you using social media to attract social media experts to your company (hint)?

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Tone deaf tips

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As gaffes go, this one doesn't rate. It's not going to the front page of the Wall Street Journal, it's not going to move stock prices, and nobody's going to lose their jobs over it. But still, my first reaction when I saw it was "haven't they heard?"

This morning's email included the new Home Depot Garden Club newsletter. When I'm not in the office, I occasionally play outside, and they sometimes have good articles. So I gave it a quick look and came to a complete stop when I saw the lead article: "Start Your Fall Garden Now."

OK, it's just a newsletter, and maybe there's somewhere in North America where mid-August makes people think of fall (it must be a long way from here—it was 101° here yesterday). So they have an editorial calendar that says that August is the time to get customers thinking of planting. Typical retail calendar stuff—start selling before customers want it.

Haven't they heard?
The problem is, planting anything around here now is a really bad idea. We're having a drought. Crops are failing, farmers are selling cattle they can't feed, and homeowners are draining municipal water supplies in an attempt to keep their grass green. The news gives us regular updates on water usage restrictions and efforts to set up emergency water supplies. Putting new plants in the ground is not the recommended action in this situation.

I know, the drought isn't national. Texas has all too much water this summer, and the Northeast has had some big storms (a tornado in Vermont??). But the Southeast and the West are dry this summer.

The people at Home Depot probably know this, too. The company is based in Atlanta, and the entire state of Georgia has worse drought problems than ours:

Of Georgia's 159 counties, 104 are now classified as being in extreme drought, 38 in severe drought, 15 in moderate drought and two in mild drought.
Adjusting the message for weather
Gardening is tricky to do nationally. By the time the South is definitively finished with summer, the North is started to contemplate first frost. You could adjust schedules or content by region based on climate data, such as the USDA hardiness zones, but that might cause more trouble than it's worth. So you end up sending out a fall newsletter in the hottest part of the summer.

But exceptional drought—the most severe category— in a multi-state region makes a "plant now" message not just early but wrong. When it's this dry, something about HD's recommendations for water conservation would have been a better choice. It would have been relevant, potentially useful, and more likely to get me into the store.

A little situational awareness
There's only so much you can do about the weather, and it's approximately nothing. But you can use available information to tailor your marketing plans to your customers' situation. Stores liike HD do this when they put chainsaws and generators at the front of the store when a hurricane is expected. One indoor recreation company I talked to wanted to track forecasts so they could run radio ads in cities where rain was forecast.

The newsletter equivalent is to know where your customers are (you have ZIP codes, right?) and be aware of major trends or events that make your planned message inappropriate for part of your audience. The information is easily available online; the question is, will you use it to tailor your message to segments of your market with very different needs? Or would you rather try to sell sprinkler systems and car wash tools in cities that ban watering and car washing?

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Tracking your product reviews

Today must be the day to think about online product reviews. With all the buzz about blog monitoring, it's important to remember other ways people share their opinions online. Monitoring product reviews is harder to automate than monitoring blogs, but their relevance is all but guaranteed.

Riva Richmond's article in today's Wall Street Journal points out the importance of online reviews to small business: Look Who's Talking. The key lesson here is that you don't have to have a high-profile brand to be reviewed online. Customers are reviewing local service businesses, too. The article includes practical advice on dealing with negative reviews (starting with fixing the problem).

Meanwhile, Greg Howlett relays key points from JC Whitney's Geoffrey Robertson in four things you should know about collecting user reviews:

  1. User reviews have a huge impact on sales.
  2. Companies need to aggressively solicit reviews.
  3. User reviews do not necessarily improve customer loyalty.
  4. User reviews do not necessarily drive more organic search traffic.
Go read Greg's post for the longer version of each point. The one that grabbed me was the part about JC Whitney measuring the sales impact of reviews—both positive and negative. In an environment with immature metrics standards, anything that correlates to sales is worth watching.

I wrote about an unhappy example of what you can learn from product reviews last October. Hasbro discovered a serious product problem by monitoring reviews on Amazon. At the time, the social media analysis vendors I was talking to generally didn't track product reviews. I still don't know of any tools to automate the process for do-it-yourself monitoring (aside from web-to-RSS services), but a number of companies in the Guide will monitor them for you.

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It's ready. After 5 months and I really don't want to know how many hours, the Guide to Social Media Analysis is complete. This is my guide to the companies who monitor, measure and analyze social media for business worldwide. It's the most complete reference available, and it's available for download today. Finally!

The Guide to Social Media Analysis is geared toward answering three questions:

  1. Who offers social media analysis services?
  2. What do they really offer?
  3. What makes one vendor different from the others?
The result is an independent look at the options for clients and agencies who are looking for social media monitoring, measurement and research. Vendors are included based on meeting the selection criteria: they offer social media analysis services or software using their own technology. They did not pay to be included. The Guide covers vendors with applications for marketing, PR, customer service, security, investors and more.

What's in it:

  • Profiles of 31 vendors based in 9 countries. Each profile includes a description of the vendor's services, investor information, company stats and full contact details.

  • An overview of industry services and trends.

  • A table summarizing which services each vendor offers.

  • A matrix of vendors' language capabilities across 37 languages.

  • Over 30 sample graphics and screenshots.
The 75-page Guide to Social Media Analysis is a PDF download, available for $500 at http://www.socialtarget.com/research/. You heard it here first.

Update: I posted more details on what's in the profiles. A sample profile is available on the product page.

18 August 2008: The Guide to Social Media Analysis, Second Edition is now available. The new edition includes 63 vendor profiles, observations on trends since last year, and a new table summarizing vendor coverage of different types of social media.

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A new Weber Shandwick survey on advocacy by consumers (via Simon McDermott) provides support for the idea of paying attention to online conversations, although traditional media still outrank online for their ability to reach and influence consumers. The survey confirms the role of word of mouth advocacy as it reaches an eye-opening conclusion about international markets.

Key observations:

  • Decision-making among global consumers has accelerated.
  • 45% of global consumers identified as Advocates.
  • High-Intensity Advocates are critical to reach.
  • Badvocates waste no time.
  • Advocacy is more common in Europe and Asia.
  • Both traditional and new media play critical roles in forming Advocates' opinions.
I see support for defensive monitoring, influencer analysis and traditional media analysis in the list. What's really interesting is the observation about advocates in Europe and Asia, since most social media analysis companies say that US clients are ahead of European clients in understanding social media and the benefits to their business. It's also interesting to contrast with the English-centric services of many US and UK companies.

When I started asking social media analysis companies which languages they can handle, it seemed a simple enough question. English is ubiquitous, and a few predictable languages show up over and over again. Then I started seeing more obscure regional languages and dialects, and the language matrix started growing dramatically:

    Arabic
    Bengali
    Bulgarian
    Cantonese
    Catalan
    Chinese (Mandarin)
    Czech
    Danish
    Dutch
    English
    Estonian
    Filipino
    Finnish
    Flemish
    French
    German
    Greek
    Hindi/Urdu
    Indonesian
    Italian
    Japanese
    Korean
    Lithuanian
    Malaysian
    Norwegian
    Polish
    Portuguese
    Punjabi
    Romanian
    Russian
    Shanghainese
    Spanish
    Swedish
    Taiwanese
    Thai
    Turkish
    Ukrainian
The bottom line for clients is that you can probably find someone to monitor any language they can think of. But if you want to know what consumers in a given market are saying, you'll want a vendor who can understand their language.

Update: The Guide to Social Media Analysis (2nd edition) includes a table that summarizes the language capabilities of 63 vendors across 55 languages, from Arabic to Zulu.

About Nathan Gilliatt

  • ng.jpg
  • 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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