January 2007 Archives

Crash course on Wikipedia

Headline: Harvard Business School professors Karim Lakhani and Andrew McAfee publish a case study on Wikipedia. Confused readers wonder why their version stops before the conclusion. While the analysis and recommendation are left as an exercise to the reader, the case includes a wealth of detail that anyone dealing with Wikipedia should read—and if anything related to your business is in Wikipedia, you should be paying attention. A lot of people get their information there now.

I first wrote about reputation monitoring on Wikipedia in October. I learned about some of the risks of trying to fix errors from a corporate PR guy who was trying to correct material factual errors related to his employer. The challenge—made clear in several recent incidents—is that Wikipedia norms generally oppose changes by anyone who has an interest in the entry. That includes PR agencies and anyone else editing on behalf of a client, and it includes employees making changes for the benefit of their employers.

You might be the world's leading expert on a topic, but if it's related to your income, you're not supposed to change it. The approved method is indirect—you're supposed to suggest changes on the discussion page and let someone else make them on the entry.

Wikipedia on more radars
Wikipedia versus interested parties is almost a meme lately. Steven Colbert summarized it in a bit on "wikilobbying" (via SEOmoz). Someone at Microsoft offers to pay an expert to fix an entry, and the whole world hears about it. Wikipedia adopts the "nofollow" attribute for all outbound links, making it likely to outrank its own sources in Google results. SEOs are not pleased. Should word of mouth marketing and viral marketing be merged? Boy, talk about bias! Sometimes it seems that anti-business is the exception to NPOV.

But the process worked
The Wikipedian aversion to PR and proprietary interest makes things challenging, but a funny thing happened: since we talked, a page that was bothering the unnamed exec above got fixed. The bias toward a competitor is—well, not entirely gone, but greatly diminished. The entry has been renamed from the competitor's brand name to the generic term, and it describes both competitors' brands as examples.

So I looked up some other examples, and they were fixed, too. The entry that inaccurately linked Dow Chemical to the Bhopal disaster has been corrected and has lost its activist bias (it does link, appropriately, to information on the lingering controversy). The entry on public relations no longer describes some of the worst bad PR practices as if they're typical, and the entries for word of mouth marketing and viral marketing were not merged. Maybe the process works, after all?

Lessons learned at others' expense
The lessons for marketers are clear. Pay attention to Wikipedia entries related to your business. If you see material errors or negative information, address them, but tread lightly. Work within the Wikipedia system to address problems, and be extra sensitive to the appearance of violating its norms. If you represent a commercial interest, you are not considered a member of the community, and the fallout from a botched effort to correct your entry will be worse than the entry itself.

Wikipedia includes many entries on how to do Wikipedia. The new HBS case study will give you a quick introduction in a much more manageable form.


On February 21, I'll be moderating a panel on listening to social media at the Triangle Interactive Marketing Association meeting in Raleigh, NC.

It's an important topic that more people need to understand, even if it's not the easiest topic to label. Search marketers call it online reputation monitoring, but we're going to take a broader view with a panel that represents three different perspectives on how social media and marketing interact:

What to monitor, how and why, how to react to negative blogs, how to use social media to engage your customers—there's so much we can cover, and this group has real experience with all of it. If you get Andy and Cindy's Online Reputation Monitoring Beginner's Guide (PDF), you can reduce the furious note-taking, but bring your notebooks.

Details and registration

    Where: Exploris, 201 East Hargett Street, Raleigh, NC (directions)

    When: Wednesday, February 21, 11:30am to 1:30pm

    Cost: $10 for Members, $30 for non-Members


I'm studying Guy's advice for moderators, but the best part of this is the panelists. Any suggestions on questions I should ask them?


Social Media Today

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I joined my first blog aggregator recently. Social Media Today launched this week with a healthy list of contributors. Here's the description from the site:

Social Media Today is a collection of the best writing from the Social Media Collective, a diverse group of bloggers, consultants, investors, journalists, and analysts who represent the web's best thinking on social media, marketing and Web 2.0.
It's quite the interesting group of people, and I'm flattered to be included. If you want more sources on social media and its interactions with business, try Social Media Today.

Blogging the blogger dinner


You know your event was a success when people start talking about "next time."

As in, next time we'll get together near someone else's home or work. Or "sorry I missed everyone... next time..."

The secret of the blogger's dinner in Apex was that, with the exception of the two guys from the same company, nobody knew anyone (first and last time for that!). I had a backlog of people I've connected with online and hadn't met in person, and I thought a dinner would be more interesting than a series of individual coffee or lunch get-togethers. The key was our common professional interest in social media. It worked out well, and yes, we'll do it again.

Here's a peek at what you missed:

  • Social media challenges in corporate environments
  • Dorm-room startups
  • Lotus Connections vs. free tools and consumer-oriented services
  • Free-spending stories from the boom
  • Stowememe, Jobster, Social Media Club, SNCR
  • Old computer stories—the 10" disk platter that's going to be a clock, paper tape storage, 150/300 baud acoustic couplers, multiuser chat on a paper-based terminal, early "portable" PCs
We had a great time. I see so many announcements of interesting events in the Bay area or New York, and so many of the people I've met are based in distant cities, it was a nice change of pace to get together with interesting people to talk about this stuff here.

Which is not to say that I don't want to get together with the interesting people I talk to in those other cities—blogger dinner in London, anyone? Don't know when I'll be there, but it'll be fun.


New look, blogs at CIC

cicdata.pngI heard from Sam Flemming today that he's moving his China Word of Mouth blog to the new CIC blog platform, SeeISee. The server also hosts a new staff blog, so we'll be able to hear from the others there—if you read (mostly) Chinese. Sam's China IWOM blog remains (mostly) English.

New office (translate), new logo, new web site, and a streamlined name (no more "data")—not a bad way to start the year.


Bloggers dinner in Apex 1/25


Who says we have to travel to have fun? The bloggers wonk in DC last month was great, but the drive was a bit long for dinner. This time we're staying close to home—well, close to my home, at least.

    What: Business bloggers dinner

    Where: XIOΣ, Apex, NC (directions)

    When: Thursday, January 25, 6:30 pm

Bring your ideas, your stories, your favorite sources—oh, and your money. Ideas are free, but the restaurant prefers that we pay for the food.

Topics? Social media use in Triangle companies, Social Media Club (yes, we're on the map), anything you want. Meet like-minded people—you need more?

Dare I mention that XIOΣ has Wi-Fi? No, forget I mentioned that.

Please RSVP in the comments so I can make reservations.

Update—the list (and suggested reading before dinner): Ryan Allis, Andy Beal, Chuck Hester, Rob Humphrey, John Simonds, Reid Walker, Lee White.


Social media link PR and HR

Familiar song, different dialect. The recruiting blogosphere has introduced me to the concept of employer brand, which relates to the perception of the company as a place to work. From blogs and YouTube videos to stock boards and rate-the-employer sites, social media create new challenges to those who would manage perception. It's just another example of how a company's interaction with social media is necessarily multidisciplinary—in this case, blurring the distinction between HR and PR.

Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For" opened one floodgate with its invitation to post reactions on their blog, but the continuing action is on purpose-built sites like JobVent (via C.M. Russell):

It's getting to a point where employers are going to have to hire someone just to troll sites like this and tecross to find and fight the digital dirt being spewed on them.
JobVent is an anonymous, community-generated review site for employers. Employees, ex-employees, and fakers rate companies on a variety of metrics (such as pay and respect) and share their opinions of the employer. The site keeps running totals based on the collected ratings, and companies can show up in the "love my job" or "hate my job" leaderboards with their cumulative scores. Well-prepared job candidates will find what your employees have written.

To the list of ways that bloggers and other social media users can relate to a company, add employee—past, present and future.


Discovering Asian companies

The most challenging aspect of working with international companies for the guide to social media analysis is language. My college French is good enough to get me in trouble, and I can generally figure out if a company fits within the scope of the guide if their web site is in a European language. Chinese, Japanese and Korean, on the other hand, are Greek to me.

For the first time in my life, I was addressed as "Nathan-san" this week, after Sam Flemming tipped me off to the Japanese memetracker Kizasi (translate). Most of the people I talk to slip comfortably into the Internet-standard first-name mode, regardless of their nationality, and it was a pleasant shock to be reminded of the more formal style.

Fortunately for me, English is a common second language. Still, I can't help wondering how many companies are doing social media analysis in their own countries, exclusively in their own languages. Blog growth in Asia, in particular, suggests that more companies should be offering these services there. I know about CIC Data and GALA (translate). Where are the others?


Mapping a new industry

I think people are too busy working to blog this year. While I was contemplating how to break my own silence, Susan Getgood and Coolz0r posted similar stories about being too busy to blog. That's a nice problem to have, isn't it? Something similar is happening here.

I alluded to my new project when I wrote about terminology and asked about Korea. I'm working on a guide to social media analysis companies, which I hope to complete by the end of the first quarter. It's a buyer's guide to companies that monitor and analyze social media, intended for marketing executives and agencies looking for a vendor or partner.

The project is seriously international, with 33 companies in 7 countries participating so far (another 9 haven't responded yet). It includes specialists in this new field, as well as companies based in technology, PR and marketing. What they have in common is that they offer social media analysis services using their own technology. Companies that use partners' technology or off-the-shelf services are not included—otherwise, I'd have to include every search marketing or PR firm who understands search and RSS.

At this point, I'm spending my days—and nights—on phone calls, email, and IM in time zones from Bulgaria to China, tracking down leads and establishing contact with new companies. So please excuse me while the content on the blog is sparse. You're going to like what I'm working on.

Update: The Guide to Social Media Analysis is now available.

I read recently that kids who have grown up with the Internet don't go online, they live online. It's an interesting measure of how thoroughly integrated online tools have become for those who've always had them. At a certain point on the learning curve, using online tools becomes a reflex—like flipping a light switch when the room is dark. You don't think about it, you just do it.

How integrated is Internet search in your reflexes? When a new topic comes up, do you look it up online? How about when you first encounter a new company?

John Andrews tells of an interesting result in an example of Googling your customer:

A new customer buying a sample set of a designer at retail, "anonymously" over the Internet is interesting to me. I Googled her. Sure enough, she is a top executive at a competing global brand. So now we have a top executive at a global brand buying one of each for two lines, at full retail, over the web, on a private credit card, to be delivered to an address that (when Googled) is actually associated (in Google) with that global brand. Huh.
That's an e-commerce example, so it involves some data you won't normally have, but you see how how curiosity and search led to an interesting discovery? There's so much more to be learned. The key ingredients are a search engine and some curiosity. The key is what you do with the results of a search. Many interesting questions are answered by pursuing what you learn in successive searches.

It works for links and tags, too. A tag on an interesting article leads to an interesting person leads to a link to another interesting article by another interesting person...

Curiosity may kill cats, but it's a powerful tool in people.

I came across two posts today about corporate culture issues that can limit a company's success with social media. The interesting thing is that similar issues arise whether your work is internally or externally focused. Benefitting from social media in a business requires more than a technology deployment and a single, clued-in group.

Josh Hallett writes about the risks of customer-facing blogs setting high expectations that the rest of the company can't meet:

Company A (think cell phone company) has a really great, personable blogger that really connects with customers online. However Company A also has about 1000 call center reps and 20,000 associates in the field. The majority of them have the traditional corporate attitude, i.e. "Not my department" - "I can't help you, call customer support" etc...

Lee White describes similar cultural barriers to social media adoption inside an enterprise:
If I were able to magically snap my fingers and have a world-class social media platform in place, I don't believe that it would go anywhere, at least not immediately, in a fundamentally authoritarian culture.

Jerry Bowles identified the threat that motivates resistance in why CEOs are afraid of social media:
Large-scale adoption of the architectures of participation would represent a revolutionary change in organizational dynamics because—by giving lots of individuals a voice and audience through a networked platform—they force decisionmaking to be more transparent, democratic and consensus-based.

Jerry suggested that initial projects target functional groups that are likely to be receptive to the benefits. I suggested that companies can start by trying applications that don't threaten existing power structures:
Rather than going all-out for the revolutionary applications of electronic collaboration, look for areas where new technologies can help people do their current jobs more effectively and efficiently. It doesn't have to be dangerous.

Hey, nobody said this would be easy. What would be the fun in that?

Don't compete with Steve

Why do I get the feeling that everyone at CES is reading news from MacWorld about now?

Note to self: Don't announce anything the same day as a Steve Jobs keynote. Maybe tomorrow.

Note to self2: Get in line for an iPhone. Order Apple TV.

Have you heard about Disney's involuntary transparency? This time it's old media feeling the heat of citizen media, and Disney's doing everything wrong.

KSFO radio hosts apparently enjoy talking about killing people—even dead people—on the radio. It sounds a really lovely radio station. They talk about politics a lot, and they say what they think. The problem is, they think the kinds of things that get the occasional teenager into big trouble post-Columbine. If you write it for a class assignment, you get arrested. In talk radio, they call it "creative freedom."

ksfo_chart.pngKSFO is an ABC-owned and operated station. ABC parent Disney's complaint was that a blogger who doesn't like the station shouldn't be allowed to share audio clips on the Internet. Copyright vs. fair use—you can fill in the blanks. So they shut down an unknown blog, Spocko's Brain, who suddenly has attorney friends at the EFF and a much larger audience.

Let's rehearse lesson one: Corporate attempts to silence a critic through legal threats draw more attention than the original story they are supposed to suppress. The coverup is bigger than the original story.

Spocko appears serious about changing KSFO, and he/she is being smart about how to apply pressure. The blog names advertisers—not just companies, but individuals:

For example, I can not imagine that Dr. Julian Feneley, Chief Executive Officer of BriteSmile Inc. which is headquartered-in Walnut Creek, wants to hear right before his ad Lee Rogers say this about a listener, "I've got to try and track that email address and do something unpleasant to his cojones, if he has any." "None." says Melanie Morgan as she launches in to the BriteSmile commercial.
Later in the same post, Spocko posts the name and email address of a marketing executive from another advertiser. Audio clips on the site demonstrate the juxtaposition of controversial statements with specific ads. The advertisers now stand to inherit some of the reputation-damaging fallout from Disney's problems.

Would you advertise on this station—would you voluntarily associate your brand with this mess? And then there are the negative comments about advertisers written in defense of the station. If the comments are really coming from someone at the station, that's another big problem—KSFO needs to find (or hire) a responsible adult to speak for the station and muzzle everyone else.

The real bottom line here is what I started with: involuntary transparency. Companies don't get to decide if the public is going to find out what they're doing. Especially in mass media, where your product documents your actions. If you can't handle critics who talk about your business practices, you should take a look at your practices. The critics have a press, too, now.

Disney's choices are:

  1. Stand by KSFO's programming and defend their on-air personalities' rights to speak their minds.
  2. Repudiate the on-air statements and make the station change.
  3. Ignore the issue and tacitly acknowledge that your critic is right.
Each option has consequences. The good choices are already off the table. Now, how do you repair the damage?

Influence across languages

Matt Hurst posted a new visualization of the blogosphere last week, reminding me of a question I've wanted to ask. Has anyone looked at social media in terms of the degree of interconnection between languages?

The question comes from discussions I've had with social media analysis companies. If a client wanted to monitor social media worldwide, issues like language capability and cultural knowledge are obviously important. I've heard opinions about the relative merits of local specialists versus larger companies with global services. That's a choice I plan to leave to clients to make for themselves.

But here's more of a technical question: has anyone looked at links (and, by extension, influence) that cross languages? Let's make the question more relevant to a business audience by supposing an analysis focused on a particular topic—something global, such as avian flu, or a global company, such as Toyota.

If we were to chart the connections on a topic of global interest and color-code it by language, would we see much connection between language clusters, or would they be largely separate? Does the analysis identify influencers who connect communities across the language barrier?

I would think that would be an interesting exercise for a client interested in global perceptions. The results might suggest how a company should coordinate its efforts in disparate geographies.


Social media change the dynamics of crisis management. Here's our newest case study, already in progress.

Passengers on American Airlines flight 1348 from San Francisco to Dallas spent hours on the ramp in Austin instead. They—along with other jets—were diverted to Austin last Friday because of strong storms over Dallas. The problem is, Austin's airport and American weren't prepared to handle the ensuing mess in Austin. And it was a big mess.

Passengers spent hours in deteriorating conditions before finally getting off the plane that night. The airport was in its closed-for-the-night mode when they got in, so they remained hungry (after 12 hours or more on the plane). The airline had virtually no staff to take care of the passengers stranded in the wrong city, and the airline didn't seem to have any management involvement to fix things. The details provide a convincing argument against holiday air travel, but let's move along.

This is obviously a big problem for American. First, you have direct consequences. Northwest Airlines settled a class action for $7.1 million after it made passengers wait hours on grounded planes in Detroit in 1999. The lawyers will go to work on this one, too.

Second, American has a traditional PR problem, which I'll define as what happens when the media make the public aware of something the company has done wrong (or at least badly). The Wall Street Journal printed a lengthy story today—page one, above the fold. Lots of details to make readers want to avoid flying American. I imagine it will be in local papers everywhere by Tuesday.

Third—and here's the social media angle—this isn't 1999. Passengers were talking to the media while still on the plane. I wonder how many pictures they took with those cell phones? But that's speculative. Look at how they're already using social media:

Austin American-Statesman reporter Helen Anders has been writing about flight 1348 on her blog on the newspaper's site. Passengers are adding lengthy comments to her posts. They're adding details of what happened, some worse than in news reports. Passenger Kate Hanni posted her contact details and invited other passengers to contact her (presumably to coordinate lawsuits). She also criticized the local CBS station for not using her interview in their coverage. Oh, and she's in touch with her congressman. How much did American save by denying her a hotel voucher?

Today's lessons:

  1. Blogs can give anyone a voice, even non-bloggers. Comments on an easy-to-find blog can become a platform for angry customers.

  2. Angry customers can use social media to organize themselves against you.

  3. Mobile phones give customers access to mainstream media now.

  4. Camera phones are everywhere (and digital cameras are standard issue for vacations). If anything visually interesting happened on those planes, someone probably took pictures. Don't be surprised if they pop up on photo-sharing sites soon.
This story has been a creature of traditional media until now. It'll be interesting to see how much of the passenger perspective comes out through new channels.

Update: The passengers have a blog to go with their new organization (via Andy Lark).


It seems I'm not the only one thinking about the labels we use around marketing and social media. I asked your opinion on what to call the group of activities around monitoring and analyzing social media a few weeks back (already? wow). Now, Rohit Bhargava and Cameron Olthuis are refining the distinction between social media optimization (SMO) and social media marketing (SMM). So here's my opinion on the labelling question.

I like social media analysis.

I like social media research, too, but analysis sounds to me more approachable than research, and some of these activities don't come off as research. Besides, isn't SMR taken? :-)

I like online market intelligence, but it's very broad, and I don't think many people would associate it with what we're talking about. Reputation monitoring, on the other hand, is only one application.

Monitoring may the basic activity, but it misses some of the more interesting work. Measurement is interesting, but some of the activities—such as monitoring—don't necessarily involve measurement. Analytics is just too geeky for a non-technical audience.

The idea is to come up with an inclusive term to describe some similar services offered under a variety of labels. It needs to encompass these activities (and possibly more):

  1. Monitoring social media—blogs, discussion boards, online product reviews, newsgroup, et al—to find mentions of the client (company, products, brands, messages, people...)
  2. Software-aided analysis of the data gathered to identify trends, sentiment, influencers, and associations.
  3. Presentation of the data in an analytical framework with some sort of reporting interface (web, PDF, Powerpoint, Braille...)
  4. Human analysis of the data and tactical/strategic recommendations.
I like social media analysis, which is what I plan to use. The only problem I see is that SMA is already in use. Hmm.


Social media mid-term exam

You've probably already scored your company, and it's too early for the final exam. Let's call this the mid-term.

When you finish, post your answers on the bulletin board. The rest of the class will discuss your answers and vote on your performance. At the end of the week, the student with the highest score will start a blog meme praising lower-ranking students.

Basic knowledge
  1. Describe each of the following:
    1. Blog
    2. Del.icio.us
    3. Digg
    4. Flickr
    5. LinkedIn
    6. Mashup
    7. MySpace
    8. Podcast
    9. RSS
    10. Second Life
    11. Technorati
    12. Wikipedia
    13. YouTube

  2. How could you use each of the items from question 1 as a marketing tool? What are the risks associated with each?

  3. How could you use each of the items from question 1 to gather information?

  4. What tools are you aware of that can be used to collect information from these sources more efficiently?

  5. Are you a member of a social networking site? Which one(s)?

  6. Do you know if key people in your business circle use social networking sites?
Blogs & feeds
  1. Do you read blogs in your field? How many?

  2. Do you read blogs in related fields?

  3. Have you contributed comments to a blog?

  4. Do you write one? More than one?

  5. How would you find a blog on a given topic?

  6. Do you know what has been written about your company on blogs?

  7. Do you know what has been written about you?

  8. How long does a blog posting remain visible?

  9. Do you use a feed reader (RSS)?

  10. Do you have search feeds in your feed reader?

  11. Do you use vanity feeds (search feeds on your own name)?
Market intelligence
  1. Besides Google, how many search engines can you name?

  2. Have you looked up your company on the search engines?

  3. Have you looked yourself up?

  4. Do you have a plan to monitor social media for mentions of your company?

  5. Have you considered using similar tools to monitor your competition?

  6. Do you know where else someone can look you up?

  7. Who is responsible for monitoring social media for mentions of your company?

  8. What tools are used?

  9. How do you respond to negative comments? To positive comments? To customer service issues that appear in social media?
  1. What were your five things?

  2. Which superhero are you? Which super villain?

  3. How long has it been since you checked your stats, links, or rank?

  4. What's the best incoming link you've received?
  1. Have you finished the reading list (aff)?

  2. What flavor is the Kool Aid?


Break's over, back to work

Breaks are nice. As the year wound down, I shared five things, looked up my superhero (I'm the Flash—or possibly the Hulk—file under irreproducible results), made some predictions (classified), avoided making resolutions, and made altogether less progress on my reading than I had hoped.

Now that the new calendar's up, it's time to get back in gear. My current project has me talking with everybody in the social media research business, so we're starting the year in crunch mode. More on that later.

Here's a question: has anyone found a company providing analysis of social media in Korea? The Edelman/Technorati venture quit, and Technorati doesn't index the Korean blogosphere (but they'd like to). I met a couple of folks at WOMMA that I hope can help. Somebody must be trying, at least.

About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
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