Facebook, Gross National Happiness and the power of buzz tracking

Image by BenSpark via Flickr

Facebook is a great source of information on how people are feeling. I can tell if my friends are happy or sad on a given day based on the updates that appear in my feed. Just imagine the potential of analysing what everybody says of Facebook on a given day. The ability to measure how happy or sad the Facebook users of the world are based on what they say on the social network. This is exactly what Facebook are doing with their Gross National Happiness based on an analysis of the positive and negative words people use when updating their Facebook status.

This is an example of buzz tracking and analysis. Looking at the words and phrases that people use in social media and then using sentiment analysis to assess how positively or negatively they feel about something. With Facebook, the opportunity is huge. If you combine the ability to analyse the sentiment in status updates with the vast amount of profiling data, the potential for insight into consumer behaviour is huge. Macro-level analysis of sentiment could be analysed. What is the impact on male students in New York of a new advertising campaign on the subway, for example? Or how does a government policy aimed at mums impact women in London? The ability to segment and analyse on this basis is huge. And if you add into this the ability to analyse the networks that people sit in on Facebook, and the impact an event has on them and on their friends, this could be a huge resource of information for brands and organisations to learn from.

It is, however, a shame that Facebook hasn’t yet produced data like this. The initial analysis of the Gross National Happiness, for the US, shows two things: people are least happy when public figures die, and most happy during public holidays. Informative stuff.

The real opportunity of the Gross National Happiness analysis, and of buzz-tracking more generally is not to understand what a large mass of people think and do, but to combine this data with more detailed profiling information to really analyse what different segments of customers and stakeholders think. This is where buzz-tracking starts to add real value - comparing the discussions that different people have and analysing their sentiment based on other things we know about them. Are women more likely to be positive about a brand than men, for example. Are customers of a certain value more likely to respond positively to announced product changes than those who spend less per annum?

The Groos National Happiness index really does miss out on the real insight that you can get from buzz-tracking. By combining the universe of Facebook users, the distinctions and differences that exist, and that start to provide real insight into the way people think and behave, and hidden in the data. Buzz tracking offers a really valuable source of insight for brands and organisations, especially when it compares what people say (the buzz and sentiment) with other profiling data we have about them.

Ben LaMothe meets Shirley Brady, BusinessWeek’s community manager

BusinessWeek Names Me As One of Four Social Me...
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Guest post by Ben LaMothe

In June 2008 Shirley Brady joined BusinessWeek as its first community editor. In this first of a two-part interview, Shirley explains what the newly-created role of community manager means at BusinessWeek and how she engages with the magazine’s influential-yet-niche readership.

Before joining BusinessWeek, she was a writer/editor for the U.S. trade magazine CableWorld, where she launched and managed its website, Cable360.net.

Prior to that she was a writer/editor at Time Inc, working for Time in Asia (based in Hong Kong) before moving to the Time Inc mothership in New York in 1999 and working for Time and People. She’s also won awards for her work as a TV producer, writer and on-air presenter, including the Canadian public broadcaster TVOntario, Discovery Channel Asia and CNN International. She has been based in New York since 1999.

As community editor of BusinessWeek.com, what does your job entail?

Suffice to say I’m passionate about this role and truly have one of the greatest gigs in journalism! BusinessWeek is among a handful of media organizations that’s really putting resources and aligning itself to be open and responsive to readers, which is what attracted me to coming onboard last year. So what do I do, on a day-to-day basis? As part of BW’s senior management team, I manage our engagement efforts with the goal of increasing participation (quality and quantity) of participation by BW’s regular readers and online visitors. Rather than have users post comments and zoom off, we want to build loyalty by having them connect, collaborate and share – with other readers and with our journalists.

In practical terms, this entails overseeing BusinessWeek’s efforts to include readers and incorporate user-generated content (comments, suggestions, longer form opinion pieces) in BW’s journalism, elevating our readers’ participation on the same level as our journalism.

That includes soliciting reader participation in special issues, slide shows and other editorial projects; guiding BW’s journalists to respond to comments on their blogs and articles, which we feature on the “belly band” or scrolling bar on our homepage; helping point our writers to reader-suggested story ideas that they report for our “What’s Your Story Idea?” initiative; commissioning and editing “MyTake” essays from readers who’ve posted smart comments on our site, which provides more space to expand on their views, on the same level as a BW writer or contributor; produce our In Your Face series, which features thought-provoking reader comments on the BusinessWeek.com home page and across the site; produced our first list of the top 100 readers on our site (in tandem with our journalists, particularly our bloggers) and our first reader dinner, which gave us amazing feedback on our efforts from some of the most engaged (and vocal) members of our community; oversee BW’s social media outreach including Twitter ; serve as editorial liaison for the Business Exchange topic network; track and share insights into online traffic and other metrics, including BW’s reader engagement index; work with my colleagues in tech, art, interactive, edit, marketing, research and other departments to implement these initiatives and improve the user experience on our site; and in general, develop best practices and raise the bar for reader engagement and BW’s digital journalism strategy, internally and externally.

In the first year, we were pleased to see BW’s reader engagement index increase 31% with nods from PaidContent, Folio and other media brands, with John and me speaking on numerous panels and interviews such as this to discuss BW’s engagement efforts. But it’s only the beginning!

In addition to the above, I spend a great part of each day in our reader comments, across our articles and blogs, to gauge our online conversations and find/identify thoughtful commenters to follow up with. That reader zeitgeist gets fed back to our news editors and informs BW’s editorial. We don’t moderate comments on our articles (they are posted automatically unless something in our spam filter – an offensive word or a link – places a comment into the pending queue for review).

We also review any comments flagged as offensive by members of our community, and I’ll weigh in on whether a comment should be taken down. So a significant part of my job is monitoring and maintaining our standards, which helps elevate the conversation and helps make BusinessWeek.com a more engaging place for our readers to feel welcome, to share their points of view and want to come back on a regular basis.

I should add that reader engagement is by no means a one-person effort. For example, comments on our blogs are moderated by our journalists, who are encouraged to nurture their respective communities of readers who frequent their blogs.

I also work closely with BW’s online management team, news editors and channel editors to foster these efforts; Celine Keating, a veteran BW copy editor who assists me in reviewing user comments and flagging any discussions that get out of hand; Ira Sager, the online editor who manages our blogs; Francesca Di Meglio, a reporter on our Business Schoolsteam who has done a great job building our thriving b-schools community of lively MBA forums and guest writers for our MBA Journal franchise; Rebecca Reisner, who produces our popular Debate Room series (arguably, BW.com’s first foray into reader engagement); Greg Spielberg, who worked with me from January to August as our first reader-engagement intern; and BW’s business-side team (Ron Casalotti, Michelle Lockett and Maki Yamasaki) who oversee user participation and outreach on BW’s award-winning Business Exchange, which launched in Sept. 2008.

As a side note, it’s been fascinating to see how Twitter has informed our efforts and my job. Many of our readers post their Twitter handles in their comments, so we continue the conversation between our readers and journalists by being active in the conversations that bridge BusinessWeek.com and Twitter. We’ve now got more than 60 staffers just from BW editorial on Twitter; incorporated Twitter widgets on some of our blogs and within Business Exchange, which earlier this year enabled users who linked their BX profile with their Twitter accounts to simultaneously comment on both platforms – the first Twitter integration by a major media brand, as far as we’re aware. We also recently launched an official BusinessWeek Twitter feed.

In Part Two of this interview, we deal with the interaction between the Community Desk and Editors, and how Community Management in news is changing BW’s evolving strategy.

Customers sometimes do not know what they want

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The promise of co-creation is that getting customers involved in the innovation process, and letting them inform the design of new products, will mean that you develop a product that is better suited to their needs and will ultimately perform better in the market. Of course, it is not always this simple. Often customers don’t know what they want. They can’t necessarily articulate how they would design the ideal product, nor can they say what is wrong with the existing product. They may never have articulated what they like nor what they dislike, but this doesn’t mean that the product isn’t perfect.

Over the weekend, the New York Times looked at this very subject following revelations from ex-Google visual designer, Douglas Bowman. In an unusual move, Bowman explained on his blog the reason he had left Google. As the New York Times discussed, his description of the design process at Google raises a number of questions:

Can a company blunt its innovation edge if it listens to its customers too closely? Can its products become dull if they are tailored to match exactly what users say they want?

Bowman’s suggestion is that that answer to all of these questions is “yes”. That Google relies too much on data, as a proxy of customer input, and not enough on design skills alone. As the New York Times article report:

Mr. Bowman’s main complaint is that in Google’s engineering-driven culture, data trumps everything else. When he would come up with a design decision, no matter how minute, he was asked to back it up with data. Before he could decide whether a line on a Web page should be three, four or five pixels wide, for example, he had to put up test versions of all three pages on the Web. Different groups of users would see different versions, and their clicking behavior, or the amount of time they spent on a page, would help pick a winner.

This kind of user-input into the design process is what many think of when they think of working with their customers on new product development and design. They think of presenting a number of options to customers (or indeed to potential customers) and then asking them to evaluate each one and choose the one they prefer (or in this case to take their use of a particular design as a proxy for this choice). Of course, this is not necessarily the best way of co-creating with your customers.

Rather than asking people what they think about a particular set of designs they prefer (or which they use most), you can often get a more useful level of insight by engaging with them. Don’t ask them about solutions to a problem but observe what they discuss and say about the problems themselves.

Imagine you are a company designing kitchen equipment. You could involve your customers in the design and innovation process in one of three ways:

  1. Ask them what they want - ask what new equipment, tools or gadgets would make their life in the kitchen easier or allow them to do new things
  2. Ask them to choose between a set of prototypes - present a set of potential new products to them and ask them to choose which they want.
  3. Ask them to talk about what they do in the kitchen, what equipment they use and what problems they have

The last of these is most likely to produce the most insightful outcomes. Rather than asking people to get involved in the actual prototype products themselves, or to tell you what they want, get them involved further up the innovation funnel. Engage them and talk to them about what they use in the kitchen - what makes their lives easier, what would they like to be able to prepare and cook but can’t. Don’t talk to them about the equipment that, you hope, will solve their problems. Talk to them about their problems themselves.

By watching what people do you can then interpret this and begin a design process based on this information and this engagement. Then, rather than just presenting three options to people of potential new designs, you can approach them based on what they have discussed before: “there was a lot of discussion about x, here are some ways we think we could help with that. What do you think?”

This kind of engagement is where online communities really come to their fore. They let you engage your customer in a sustainable way. You can get to know them, their lives and the problems and challenges they face. It isn’t just a short-term process to “do some co-creation”, rather it is long-term engagement that fundamentally changes the way you innovate and develop new products.

Customers sometimes do not know what they want. It’s a fact. They do, however, know how they use what they have, the problems they face and the things they would like to be simplified. Understand what they do know rather than forcing themselves to make choices about things they don’t.

  • Design: it’s not all about you. (designmind.frogdesign.com)
  • Design Or Data? Ex-Googler Spills All After Landing At Twitter [Design] (gizmodo.com)
  • Google designer leaves, blaming data-centrism (news.cnet.com)

Examples of online communities in the travel industry

For the next in our series of Online Community Examples we are looking at examples of online communities in the travel industry

Online communities in the travel industry

The travel industry is one well suited to online communities focused on engagement. Whether you’re an airline, holiday company or hotel chain, your guests typically only experience the brand on a limited number of occasions annually. They may be leisure travellers who might only stay at your hotel once per year or even business travellers who use your airline each time they fly to New York. In all cases the experiences these consumers have with your brand are limited and for a fixed period of time only.

Online communities offer you a way to extend this brand experience between visits or experiences, they allow you to engage and interact with your consumers even when they are not staying at your hotel or flying your airline. This is of critical importance when it comes to rebooking - if you can keep your brand at the forefront of your consumers’ minds then they are more likely to rebook with you. If you can offer them extra services, or offer a way to extend their holiday experience, they are more likely to rebook with you.

The three examples below show different ways in which companies in the travel industry are using online communities to engage their customers with a view to increasing customer loyalty.

Best Western’s On the Go with Amy

One of the real benefits of social media for travel is it puts a human and personal face on what is a very personal experience. One reason why people use Tripadvisor so much is that it contains real reviews from real people talking about their own experiences. But rather than just using experiences as reviews, we can also use personal experiences as inspiration tools. And this is what Best Western do so well with On the Go with Amy.

As with many great examples of online communities, On the Go with Amy is simple concept, but one that delivers well against Best Western’s objectives. The community is a blog from travel journalist Amy Graff, where she share first hand travel experience and chronicles her trips and visits. From a business trip to New York to a family road tip down Route  66 in the US.

By using this medium, Best Western are putting the excitement and experience back into travel. They are giving people a set of first-hand experience and by juxtaposing business and leisure travel they are associating themselves with both of these experiences. Amy has become the company’s travel spokesperson. As well as chronicling her own travel, she gives on issues from advice on travel accessories and on historical sites to visit with children.

This community gives people a real insight into travel, ideas and advice but does it with a personal voice and a very public face. The site is clearly branded and supported by Best Western but it is not overtly selling their hotels. It is engaging people in a personal experience, which is what travel is all about.

Marmara’s Marmarafit

Marmara is a French travel agency that specialises in package holidays in the Mediterranean. They have a loyal customer base and people will often return to a Marmara resort for their annual holidays. In 2008 they launched an online community site to allow people to continue their experience even when they are not on holiday.

The community site has two basic parts:

  1. Marmaramis: every Member who joins the community gets a profile which allows you to upload photos of your vacations, tell the community where you have been on holiday and which resort you are going to next (and the dates). You can also make friends with people you have met on holiday or with people you are going away with.
  2. ClubMarmara: using this profiling data, individual members can be associated with the Resorts to which they have been or that they are going to. Their photos, videos and discussions are associated with the relevant Resort.

The site provides a way for people to share their experiences when they get back from holiday, keep in touch with friends they met on Resort and post photos and videos of their vacation to share with these people. They can also find people who are going to be on the same holiday as them before they go, ask questions about Resorts they have never been to and find out what it is really like in the words of people who have been before. In this respect, the site is a great customer retention tool. It provides a way for customers to extend the holiday experience even when they are not away.

But the site also offers significant benefits in terms of customer acquisition. It is building a large quantity of discussions and descriptions of holidays, great both from a search perspective but also as peer-to-peer marketing. If you have never been to a particular resort before, or indeed never been on vacation with Marmara, you can read real reviews, see real photos and even contact people who have been on holiday to ask them for their thoughts. Getting your customers to really do you marketing for you.

Qantas Travel Insider

Many airlines have launched online community sites in the last year. We have already written about BA’s MetroTwin and the Air France-KLM Bluenity sites. Qantas launced it’s own online community at the end of 2008: Qantas Travel Insider.

The site is aimed specifically at the airline’s Frequent Flyers and allows them to describe their first-hand experiences of destinations, recommending places to stay, eat or drink and things to do in the various cities to which Qantas flies. This is a clever use of passenger experiences and knowledge. The Frequent Flyers are the ones who know the destinations best, and they are also those most likely to find themselves going to a new city and needing advice like this. By focusing on this group, Qantas is also catering for the desire for us to share with and learn from ‘people like me’. The Frequent Flyers will associate with each other and so lend credibility to the advice.

Alongside the user-generated travel advice, Qantas Travel Insider also has a large amount of more editorial content. From articles and recommendations to blogs and the Ask the Crew feature. This is a good approach to online communities - users don’t necessarily care about who gives them advice or tips, they just want to know that it is both from a credible source and of use to them. Mixing user-generated content with editorial content and expert advice can be successful online community strategy. In the case of Qantas, it also lets them use their own expertise - getting cabin crew to answer questions about things to do and places to go at destinations. Adding a concierge service to their on-board service and  thus really enhancing the passenger experience.

See all our Online Community Examples

Subscribe to updates from the FreshNetworks Blog

  • Improving user experience on travel websites (travel-rants.com)
  • How does one measure “engagement”?
  • Olivier Roche: “Avec marmarafit.com, nos clients se rencontrent avant leur départ”

Social media diary 26/09/2008 - British Airways

Today we’re kicking off a regular post updating you every Friday on the latest news on how brands and businesses are using social media: our weekly brands and social media diary. We kick-off this week with British Airways.

British Airways launches online community

This week saw the pre-launch of a British Airways online community: Metrotwin. The site is invite-only at the moment, but you can add yourself to the list on the homepage and contact them through Twitter @Metrotwin.

The idea of the site is to take the concept of ‘town twinning’ to the very local level, providing recommendations on restaurants, events, shops, bars and other things in neighbourhoods across both cities. The benefit for BA is obvious, as Chris Davies, their Digital Marketing Manager states:

We fly more people between London and New York than anyone else. Creating a community website about the best of what’s on offer in the two cities we know best is a credible and useful tool.

From the press-releases and coverage so far the site is designed to help people navigate the range of recommendations and reviews on the web to help members of the community find the best things quickly. The site lets users review and rate recommendations, create their own profile and find ‘twins’. They can also follow other members’ recommendations. The features seem designed to foster a community that combines expert and user reviews and uses co-creation to source the best recommendations in both cities.

The benefits for BA are clear. In an increasingly challenging market, airlines need to retain their most profitable customers. And the business travel route between London and New York must be one of the most profitable routes out there. There is a clear gap in the market online for detailed peer-review sites specifically aimed at people making business trips to these cities. So if they get it right, I suspect this site will work.

So what can we learn from this?

The air industry is facing difficult times, the increasing price of oil and the Open Skies agreement are both hitting transatlantic carriers - increasing costs and increasing competition. What BA are doing here is something that all brands could learn from during difficult times. Their aim is to increase customer retention and their approach is to make their engagement with them sustainable. Rather than them being customers who buy individual experiences with BA (single flights), they want to create an ongoing experience.

At FreshNetworks we are working with a number of clients in the travel industry at the moment, and the aim in each of these is to create and provide a service that truly extends the experience beyond just individual trips. When designing and building online communities, it is important to work on what both the brand wants from the community, but also why a member would take part and what they want to do there. With Metrotwin, BA are providing a real service to their customers, and this should be central to any social media strategy a brand follows.

Read all our Social Media Diary entries

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  • BA Metrotwin first impressions - inside the British Airways London-New York new social network