Social media analysis: what data can teach us

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At SXSW 2012 Gilad Lotan from SocialFlow spoke about the “math that matters”.

Gilad’s R&D team spend a huge amount of time looking at data provided by the Twitter firehose and the bit.ly stream, using this information they are able to gain valuable insight into how Twitter users interact, and so predict the potential virality of certain content.

The team at SocialFlow applied this analysis to their own tweets. The results were interesting, as some tweets generated a large number of clicks but a low number of retweets, and vice versa. Using this information and by determining the characteristics of each “type” of tweet, SocialFlow were then in the position where they could target amplification (retweets) or engagement (clicks).

If you take this approach to your own tweets, you can work out when your users are paying attention and when they are likely to respond to your communications. You can also understand what topics are most interesting to your users. Once you have these two pieces of information you can start to ensure your brand is writing content, across your platforms, that will engage with your audience.

The focus of Gilad’s talk was on understanding audiences. One example below shows what topics the audiences of four major news networks are talking about:

News networks clicks from social flow

When looking at this information Gilad noticed that users clustered together into groups, further analysis showed that these clusters in some cases were geographic but in others they were groups around a single topic or even a single core influencer.

Geographic Socialflow social media data

They key take away from talk was that data can help you know your audience, understand what’s important to them, and when they are paying attention. Analysing this data into insight allows you to make every tweet count.

While this information is definitely useful, and a great starting point, the way that we would apply such insight is to go one step further and link it into existing business KPIs, such as measuring conversions from engagement into sales opportunities.

The role of data in social media and reaching your audience

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Data is the new oil. Apparently.

While this may be a slightly strange and annoying cliché by now, data is vitally important for enabling businesses to learn more about their customers and their audience.

I went to a talk this morning titled ‘The importance of growth and the data economy’. There were a number of speakers at the event, but with data at the heart of each of their presentations, there were some key questions answered:

1. Where is all this data about us coming from?

In short, cookies. Cookies are small, often encrypted text files, located in browser directories. They are created when a user’s browser loads a particular website. Cookies can track your surfing habits, that over time build up a profile of your interests.

2. What is being done with this data?

This data is used to target you and show adverts that are meant to be the most relevant to you. For example, on its website, HP is transparent and answers the question about how it uses automatic data collection tools

“HP or its service providers send cookies when you surf our site or sites where our ads appear, make purchases, request or personalize information, or register yourself for certain services. Accepting the cookies used on our site, sites that are “powered by” another company on HP’s behalf, or sites where our ads appear may give us access to information about your browsing behavior, which we may use to personalize your experience.”

This implies that as soon as you enter the HP site that they will be harvesting all of your personal data.

3. So should I be concerned?

What is most important to note about cookies is that you provide the information to them. If you fill out a form on a website and provide sensitive information such as your name, address, email, credit card etc, then this data can be stored in a cookie. If you are concerned about a certain site, you can of course choose not to accept a cookie. In this instance however, I doubt you would want to enter your information into that site anyway.

Ultimately, cookies provide personalisation for each user and the ads that you see are targeted so that they are most relevant for you. After all, an advertiser selling life insurance for over 40′s will not want you to see the ad if you are a healthy 25-year-old.

4. What is the role of data in social media?

Ensuring that there is a joined up approach across the organisation is key. When running a campaign, it is essential that the target audience is the same for the various activities, be it ATL or social media.

Targeting these people can then be done with social advertising on networks like Facebook. However, beyond this it’s important that personalised conversations are happening within your target audience and this is the key place where social activity can differentiate itself.

Establishing relationships with people in of social networks and online communities will help create a more engaged audience and increase the likelihood of these people becoming customers and, in turn, brand ambassadors or influencers, thereby spreading the word in the communities they are active among your key audience.

5. How can I engage with my target audience?

In order to engage with your target audience, you first need to identify them. This can be done by carrying out social media monitoring or using the various listening tools that are avaliable on the market place.

This is only the first step, though. While automated solutions are a great way to keep your costs to a minimum, the real work is then in reviewing the information and then refining it.

Case Study: Data.gov.uk

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Yesterday I went to a Social Media Week event hosted by the Central Office of Information (COI) that focused on data.gov.uk.

Data.gov.uk is a programme that was initiated under Gordon Brown’s tenure of Labour leadership and now continues on in a slightly slimmed down version under the coalition government.

The basic idea is that different parts of government, at local and national level, share relevant data they produce with the public. It’s a great idea because it encourages departments to be open and honest, providing the British people with access to the data that they essentially “own”.

Learnings so far:

  • They’ve realised that it’s not an IT project, but a data project. It sounds obvious, but all the early problems were IT related; they soon realised they needed to focus on the data itself.
  • They established public data principles, helping them publish the data in ways people can use it, like using infographics and standard data formats which can be manipulated in Excel. (Click on the infographic above or here to see it enlarged).
  • They learned they need basic data standards across government organisations.
  • They learned that with programmes like this, it’s best to get something out, event if it’s a rough version of what it will eventually become, and then improve it as time goes by. This helps get people engaged in the project early on.

How is the project using social media?

  • They currently have several blogs, with sharing functionality and comments etc.
  • There is a wiki for data.gov.uk where people can contribute and learn about the programme.
  • There is an active community engaged around the programme, many of whom are developers and data analysts .
  • They have realised there are distinct audiences they need to communicate with through social media and that there are different best practices for each. For example, they know that all the developers are on twitter and communicate in forums.

For those interested in social, especially it’s applications around government, probably the most exciting news is that the Data.gov.uk programme has been something of a pioneer in government for trialling the ways social might impact government activity.

It’s become a good hub for testing ideas and working out best practise, and is leading the way in taking social into other parts of government.

Facebook, privacy settings and taking control of your personal brand online

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Facebook Logo sticker
Image by jaycameron via Flickr

Facebook today announced new features to address the criticism that is has faced recently for its privacy settings and processes. In December 2009 and then again in April this year, the site made a number of changes to its privacy options and settings. In essence they opened up more data to users beyond your friends and immediate networks and changed some of the default settings. This led to the situation where users had 50 different settings and 170 options to control the levels of access to and sharing of the data and information on their profiles.

As somebody with quite strict levels of access and privacy on Facebook, I know the complexity of these controls and the amount of time and effort needed to control access to your profile and your content. Sites like Openbook, which searches publicly viewable status updates, highlighting the vast amount of content that is out there for everybody to see. In many cases this isn’t because people have actively chosen to share this information outside their friendship groups and networks, but a result of not changing or fully managing your privacy settings.

What Facebook’s privacy changes mean

Today’s announcements are designed to make it simpler for users to see what their Facebook privacy settings are, and to manage them. The changes, to be rolled-out over the coming weeks, will mean that users will be able to:

  • have one simple control over who sees their content - everybody, friends-of-friends or just your own friends
  • easily see what their profile looks like to others
  • opt out of sharing their information with third-party applications
  • opt out of sharing your friends and pages

How easy the process will be, and how much you will actually be able to change will be fully understood as the new privacy settings roll-out, and there are already discussions about the ‘Recommended’ settings shown by Facebook. These will suggest that users share with everybody their status, photos and posts, biographies, family and relationship information. This may be more than some are willing to do.

The real test: will people manage their brand online

However, the real test of the new privacy settings will be the extent to which users actually make use of the ability to edit what they share about themselves and the information they add to Facebook. The previous settings did not help people to make these decisions and changes and to take control of their brand on Facebook without a lot of hassle. The power of the new changes will be if they encourage people to take control of their brand online. This may not mean that everybody stops sharing things, but is more likely to see people making sensible decisions about what they share and why. And this can only be a good thing.

We use social media tools, such as Facebook, for different reasons. Maybe we use it to keep up to date with school-friends, or maybe as a personal organiser for our lives right now, or maybe we just document our holidays with photos. Different people use Facebook for different reasons and so a single approach to privacy settings is not appropriate. That is why it is good that Facebook lets users manage their own settings - we each own our own brand online and should make sensible decisions about how we interact with and share from any social media tool we use.

The real test of the new privacy settings on Facebook will not be how many people share more or less of their data. The real test will be how many people take control of their personal brand and make sensible, and often personal, decisions about what to share, with whom and in what circumstances.

Maximising the insight you get from your online community

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Some online communities are specifically built and managed as insight tools: online research communities. They are designed to help support the consumer or market research needs of the organisation behind the community. They may be public or private, but they are designed to deliver against specific research objectives and involve specific research exercises alongside the organic discussions and debates in the community.

Not all communities are online research communities, but all communities can be a useful source of insight. Just watching the conversations can be invaluable and bring real insight to any organisation, but there are ways that any community can get real insight value from the insight of your members. Over the last few weeks we’ve described eight ways of getting insight from online communities.

  1. Profiling data:gathering the right information and then analysing the profiles of  your community members can bring significant understanding of the people who join your community.
  2. Focused discussions: focusing the discussions in your online community make it easier for people to join the debate and also let you concentrate on those issues that are of most interest to you and likely to bring greatest insights.
  3. Learn their language: the language community members use is often overlooked, but provides a real insight into their lives and their perceptions on a product, market or issue.
  4. Rating and voting: not everybody in an online community wants to begin or even add to discussions, but we can start to understand what they think and get insight from them by offering and than analysing their use of different ways of communicating, such as rating an idea or voting for a piece of content.
  5. Photo uploads: photos offer a real insight into what people think and also allows us to gather opinions people who are not as comfortable expressing themselves in words. What people choose to upload photos of, and the reactions to them bring real insights into the community.
  6. Photo activities:by targeting photo content into specific activities, we are able to maximise the benefit we get from each upload. Get community members to upload photos on a specific theme or in response to a specific question. Isolate the most interesting photos by using rating, ranking and comments to harness the opinions of community members.
  7. Discussion events:as your community matures, patterns emerge in use. One of these will be that people come to the community at similar times each evening. You can take advantage of this by offering discussion events where people discuss a different issue at a certain time each week.
  8. Quick polls:any community can use some simple insight tools, and quick polls are one of these. They are a great way to get instant and top-level quantitative insight from your community, but you must make sure you word the question (and potential answers) carefully if you are going ot use them for real insight.

Of course, a greater depth of insight can be gained from a community that is designed specifically to get insight from your customers and others, and that ties straight into your internal planning, research and strategic fields. For this you need an online research community.

Read our series on Insight from Online Communities

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