The social media monitoring tool with the most up-to-date results? Brandwatch.

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social-media-monitoring-toolsOur sixth post from the social media monitoring review 2010 series will look at the issue of data latency.

While most tools prioritise key websites to ensure the fastest possible upload of conversations, we found that some tools can take several days before the  conversation that’s being held online is available in the tool. This delay is known as data latency.

Of the seven tools we tested, we found that Brandwatch was the fastest at searching for and processing new online data, while some parts of Nielsen Buzzmetrics proved the slowest at collecting up-to-date information.  It’s important to note that Brandwatch doesn’t cover as many geographies and conversation types as Nielsen does.

As mentioned in previous posts, one of the ways that social media monitoring tools gather data is by using similar web-crawlers to those that Google uses to produce its Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). This is an automated process that copies content from a list of websites into the tool.

Once the conversations have been collected they are processed - sometimes by analysts but mostly by automated processes. The speed at which conversations are collected by a tool is limited by the frequency of the web-crawlers and the length of time it takes the tool to process the data.

This has an obvious impact on clients wanting to look at up-to-date conversations. It can also skew historical data as it’s possible to look at a conversation trends for the last few days, but then the next day more conversations may arrive from the previous day, changing the results.

People carrying out social media monitoring need to be aware of data latency and to keep it in mind when using the tools to track online conversations.

Tracking specific influencers

In the video below, Charlie, one of the Directors at FreshNetworks,  talks through an example of a client who needed to track a small number of key influencers. They could not afford to wait days or even hours for updates and had to find a unique social media monitoring solution.

The Hare and the Tortoise

Social media has driven a yearning for real-time information. A desperation to know exactly what’s going on right now. As a result you might believe that a faster tool is the better tool. However, as with the other comparative measures between the tools, it depends on your business need.

Our experience of the different social media monitoring tools suggested that high latency was often the result of more sophisticated data processing and de-duplication. Thus if your goal is to track what’s going on with minimal effort, or to see only the really important conversations, you may be better off with an apparently ‘slow’ tool because it will cut out more of the online waffle.

To give an example, some of us at FreshNetworks like to read the most important blog posts from all of AdAge’s 150 top blogs. To do this we use Postrank to filter out the most popular posts and then Feedburner to email them once a week. It can occasionally feel like you’re a day behind on the news, but it’s certain that you will be seeing the most important posts by the end of the week. This system only works because Postrank tracks whether other people think a post is great - a process that performs better after a post has been live for a couple of days. Hence, in this case, higher latency drives better results.

Our next post will look at sentiment analysis across the seven tools.

Read the other posts in our social media monitoring 2010 review series.

Foursquare, Google Maps & Sysomos social media monitoring

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fourwhere-logoI’ve just been playing with FourWhere. It’s a mashup of Foursquare location data and the Google Maps API. It has been built using the Sysomos social media monitoring tool

It is neither as fun as PleaseRobMe nor as useful as Wikitude, but it is mildly interesting to see what is being said at venues near me. And more features are promised in the future.

fourwhere mashup google maps

Most of all, this mashup reminds me of why I have been impressed with Sysomos recently. Sysomos is behind this mashup and they are  one of many Social Media Monitoring tools that we use. Over the past month they have really cranked up their PR efforts and seem to be emailing me with news every week. For examples see their analysis of Oscars buzz and their look at how people use YouTube.

In the next month we’ll be releasing a study of buzz tracking tools (subscribe to the blog to ensure you get to see it) and Sysomos have scored highly with many of our team. Their tool is very easy to use - especially good if you are likley to have multiple people from your company accessing your social media monitoring dashboard. They also allow for post-search filtering of results; essential for international or multi-segmented buzz tracking projects. And they also offer a simple influencer search.

There are drawbacks - for example,  I would treat the sentiment analysis with care. One test we ran on blog sentiment showed a 40% innacuracy in sentiment analysis (once you strip out neutral comments). But overall, it’s a good tool if put to proper use. They are definitely one of the market leaders and we look forward to telling you how they compare to Radian6, Neilsen Buzz Metrics, Alterian and many more over the next few weeks.

Customers sometimes do not know what they want

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Image by Darren Hester via Flickr

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)

Why do people write reviews?

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In the latest Technology Quarterly in this week’s edition of the Economist, there is an article about reviews online. This piece explores well why people read and trust reviews, and the value of both positive and negative reviews. John McAteer, Google’s retail industry director is quoted as saying:

No one trusts all positive reviews

For him you need some negative reviews as well as everybody knows that no product could per perfect. And this is certainly true. In fact, negative reviews can help people decide if a product might be for them, especially if they don’t associate themselves with the negative reviewer (“it wasn’t for them, but it might be for me”).

The article also looks at the value of having multiple reviews and cites a great experiment conducted by Bazaarvoice showing how products with more than ten reviews saw “drastically” higher conversion rate both for the products actually reviewed and for other products from the same brand.

So the value of reviews to brands and customers is clear. What is explored in less depth in the article is why people would write reviews in the first place. The example of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on Amazon is cited, which has over 3,200 reviews. Why, the article asks, would people continue to write reviews? They quote Clay Shirky in response to this:

Mr Shirky suggests that in many cases, writing a review is more like writing fan mail (or hate mail) for a product, and the people who post them do not really expect it to be read.

I think this issue needs to be explored in more depth. There are a number of reasons people might write a review:

  1. They are paid to do so (as per the recent case of Belkin hiring people to rate their products five star)
  2. They are forced to do so in order to gain some other incentive (TopTable requires you to rate restaurants you have been to in order to gain points for their loyalty scheme)
  3. They write reviews to increase their standing in a community (where, perhaps more reviews give them more credibility or access to more features in the online community)
  4. They write reviews because they want to look good / impressive / intelligent amongst their peers
  5. They write reviews because they had benefit from some and they want others to benefit in the same way from their advice
  6. They write reviews because they have something to say

I am sure there are examples of all six out there - from people gaining financially or socially from the review, through people wanting to share their knowledge, to people just wanting to air their opinion (whether or not people read). But, I suspect people write reviews more for the reasons at the bottom of the list than at the top. And it is certain that the reasons nearer the bottom of the list lead to more genuine reviews.

Why do people write reviews? Well most likely because they are given the opportunity to voice their opinion. They want want to help others or may just have something to say. But once we give them the chance of doing so they will. That’s one of the real benefits of social media. It encourages us all to share our thoughts and opinions and then gives us other tools so we can sort these and only the most interesting or relevant rise to the top. Give people the chance to write a review and many will do just for the chance to air their views. Show the benefit they can get from reviews and even more will write their own. Allow voting on reviews or promotion of good reviews and you will get a higher quality of comments in return.

In social media people model behaviour. They want to express themselves and if you give them the tools and permission to do so, and you show them how to express themselves then they will do. You really don’t need to pay or incentivise them, in fact this can generate a lot of much lower quality reviews. What you do need to do is understand your customers, why they might want to review and how. Then offer them the ability to do what they want to do anyway.

Reviews are useful. They increase conversion, time spent on site and have a positive halo effect for other, associated, products. And people want to write the reviews in the first place. You just need to get the social architecture right so they feel they can.

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  • Do You Trust User Reviews on the Web? (technologizer.com)
  • Belkin Responds to Fake User Review Charges (technologizer.com)

Social media diary 27/2/2009 - UK National Museums

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Nine museums in the UK launch Creative Spaces

This week in the UK saw the beta launch of Creative Spaces. An online community and federated search project across nine National Museums, part of the National Museums Online Learning Project (NMOLP) and involving the Tate, V&A, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Natural History Museum, Imperial War Museum, Royal Armouries, Wallace Collection and Sir John Soanes’ Museum. The core idea is to provide a way for people to find, discuss and be inspired by the collections of all these museums.


Creative Spaces Promo from Creative Spaces on Vimeo.

The project really has two components:

  1. A federated search, allowing users to search and explore the collections across all nine museums in one place, online.
  2. An online community, allowing people to create notebooks (their own collections combining objects from the museums with their own content), create and join groups and review and add comments to objects that they like (or otherwise, of course).

It’s been an ambitious project, running for a number of years and the outcomes are exciting. The ability to search across and explore the collections is of huge value. But the social elements of the site allow individuals to essentially curate their own experience. Bringing objects from the different museums together with their own content, annotating them and making their own notebook - an exhibition for others to view and comment on.

So what can we learn from this?

This is a great example of using social media and online communities in a museums context. But it is also a great example of When thinking about how to use social media and online communities, it is important for brands and organisations to explore what it is they can uniquely offer. What do they have that they can share with people, and why would people come to a site that they were running to interact.

With Creative Spaces, I think these nine museums have got it right. They have not just launched an online community, asking people to talk about art - there are many places you can do that. What these organisations can offer that is different is access to their catalogues, and by coming together to make Creative Spaces they are offering something even more unique - the ability to search the collective catalogues of some of the leading museums in the UK. They have something unique and of value that they can offer to people with this search, and also with the online community they have built to support this.

One problem with some online communities is that they focus too much on forums and verbal communication. Other media can sometimes be a more effective way of communicating: video can be a great way to engage some people, others want to express themselves with images or objects. In a museums context this becomes even more important. I may not want to discuss my reaction to an object, but I might want to upload an image of my own as a reaction to it. Creative Spaces lets you do this, and indeed let’s you curate your own collection (they call it a notebook) with objects from the collections alongside your own content or content you’ve got from elsewhere. This is clever, allowing people to react and respond in whatever medium is most appropriate to them.

Creative Spaces is a great idea, it brings social media to a museums context and creates a social experience online that centres on the unique content these museums have - their own collections. It’s easy to set up a site and expect people to come and engage there, but this rarely happens. You need to build a site that meets a need and offers something new, leveraging your own position to give a real reason for people to come and engage on your site rather than elsewhere.

If you decide to join up, feel free to add me as a contact: Matt Rhodes.

(In interest of open disclosure, I should say that FreshNetworks has done some strategy work with the NMOLP to help them launch and grow Creative Spaces. But it would always have been a great example of social media!)

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  • Museum lovers’ social networking (news.bbc.co.uk)