Facebook, Gross National Happiness and the power of buzz tracking

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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.

Project Gaydar and online privacy (or what you might be telling the world)

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Speak No Evil, See No Evil, Hear No Evil
Image by Alicakes* via Flickr

An experiment by students at MIT has shown that they were able to ‘successfully’ predict the sexuality of people based on their friends on Facebook. The so-called ‘Project Gaydar’* showed that by looking at information that a person’s friends share online (in this case, their gender and sexual preferences) they were able to learn something about an individual themselves, even if their profile had high levels of privacy.

On one hand this may not be ground-breaking research - people tend to be friends with people who have similar interests to them and so it might be expected that gay men are likely to have a higher than average proportion of gay male friends. However, the research does highlight, again, the privacy issues that people need to think about when using social networks, and when sharing information online.

The ongoing growth of social networks and online communities is actually the tale of the ongoing growth of people sharing information online. This is a good thing. People are connecting with friends old and new, and are engaging with people and organisations who have similar interests, face similar challenges or are discussing similar questions. This sharing of information is unprecedented. It allows people to get advice and recommendations from people like them, and from people who are in similar situations. This is a huge benefit to individuals and organisations alike, but this sharing of information does, of course, mean that people are sharing things about themselves with anybody who may stumble cross the content they have added. And if people are able to put together your contributions to various communities and sites, they may know more about you than you realise.

That people can read things that you are sharing online should be no surprise to anybody. But that people can analyse your connections and the various contributions you make across the web, now and in the past, means that they can, if they so choose, build up a fairly comprehensive picture. What the MIT students did with just one facet of somebody’s life (their sexuality) could be repeated to build a much more complete picture of people using the information they leave across social networks and online communities. That this surprises people is a sign of the maturity of social networking, and online communities more broadly asa social phenomenon.

People are, in many cases, just using online communities as extensions of their offline activity. They are doing old things in new ways. Meeting people, talking to friends, solving problems, sharing advice. The real power of social media is that it is a large collection of information that is connected to people, organisations or places, and that is archived and kept for posterity. It can be sorted, added to, amended and changed by the person who originally contributed it or by others. People are associating themselves with data in a vast information resource, just by doing what they will do anyway.

This is, of course, the power of social media and why it offers so much to us all. But many people are still thinking of it as just a new medium through which to do old things. That is why they don’t realise the full extent of what they are sharing (and why this can be a powerful and good thing) and why they are shocked by the findings of studies such as ‘Project Gaydar’ at MIT.

* You can read the full paper here - Gaydar: Facebook friendships expose sexual orientation

Social media and random acts of kindness

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Help
Image by LiminalMike via Flickr

Is the world becoming less friendly? Some people might lead you to think so. “People don’t help out their neighbours like they used to”, they might say, “I’d never ask a stranger to help me”. It might be true that in some areas, especially in highly urban communities, people are less engaged with people who live near them. Statistics might show that people are less likely to hitch a ride on a Highway than they were 50 years ago. But at the same time we are seeing people becoming much more ‘friendly’, helping out friends and strangers alike. They are just doing it in different ways.

Social media, and online communities in particular are all about people helping other people because of a shared interest, aim, goal or question. They might help people to find the answers they are looking for, share their own experiences or help people to sort their content and ideas so that the most relevant comes to the front.

In one of the online communities that we run at FreshNetworks, we see such examples on a regular basis. Over the summer there was a particular poignant one. A group of women on a community focused on anti-aging and beauty were blogging about their diets and lifestyles. Then one of the lady’s husbands was rushed into hospital. She blogged about this, going off topic but writing from the heart about what was happening in her life and her trips to the hospital every day. It was wonderful to see the rest of the community rally round, supporting her, giving her advice and looking after her. People who have never met each other offline giving each other real help and support.

The internet, and social media in particular, is designed to allow people to connect not because they know each other, or they happen to be in the same place at the same time, but because they share genuine interests and concerns. People connect around these bonds rather than the happenstance of location or time. This results in an environment where people empathise with people more, and more easily, and want to help them out. Random acts of kindness are becoming commonplace online and with the growth of social media will be more so.

Jonathan Zittrain recently spoke at TED Global on this very issue, about how the internet is made up of millions of random acts of kindness. The video of his talk is our Required Reading for the week.

Jonathan Zittrain: The Web as random acts of kindness

Facebook becomes more like Twitter with @ mentions

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One theory about evolution of the "at&quo...
Image via Wikipedia

People often describe Twitter as “Facebook reduced only to the status update”. I always found this a poor description, as there was always a significant difference between my Twitter updates and Facebook statuses. With Facebook I can only tell people about me; with Twitter, I can include other people and other topics in the conversation. This is what @ replies do on Twitter - they let me include other people in my updates and associate it with them as much as it is associated with me.

Using @ replies in Twitter is a way to share and connect through content. I can write, for example, about my colleague @cosmond, and include him in the post. That post will then appear on my wall and on Charlie’s. People who follow me or who follow Charlie will then see that I wrote about him.

This is a small but important piece of functionality. It changes my updates from being informational and for my friends and connections only, to being connectors. They organise information based on the people mentioned and connect me with the people I include (and them with me). We move from a situation where I connect with friends and distribute my content, to one where I connect with people through my content. This has a significant impact on the dynamics of the social network; elevating content over just personal connections and allowing you to distribute it further and more easily.

This week, Facebook did become more like Twitter. They have launched their own version of @ replies (called @ mentions), which allow you to include your friends, groups and pages in your status updates and posts on Facebook. You also post your update to your friend’s wall, and link to them. You are starting to connect people to content and to organise what you write. As Facebook say in their blog post explaining the new development:

People often update their status to reflect their thoughts and feelings, or to mention things they feel like sharing. Sometimes that includes referencing friends, groups or even events they are attending — for instance, posting “Grabbing lunch with Meredith Chin” or “I’m heading to Starbucks Coffee Company — anyone want some coffee?”

So, Facebook has taken a step closer to Twitter. Social networks are moving from just connecting people based on friendship to organising and linking people based on content.

  • Facebook copies Twitter, adds @replies (inquisitr.com)
  • Facebook Is Going for Some Twitter Sensibility (nytimes.com)
  • BREAKING: Facebook Introduces @Mentions in Status Updates (mashable.com)
  • Facebook adopts Twitterspeak for tagging friends in updates (venturebeat.com)

What to do once your firm’s social media policy is written

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Image by Crystl via Flickr

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about how to write your firm’s social media policy. How it was important, first and foremost, for firms to have a social media policy. And  that it is best to involve employees throughout the process of developing and implementing it.

For any firm, a social media policy is sensible. Your employees are already all using social media, they are talking to each other on their, they  might say who they work for, they are giving advice to friends and maybe to customers. Having a vibrant and active set of employees online is great for any firm, but a simple set of guidelines helps both the brand and also the employees.

But once you have your social media policy written, that’s not the end of the story. It should be a living document, and critically one that your employees buy into an believe in. You want use of social media to become part of your employees lives. And you want your brand to benefit from this involvement, from having employees active in social media and from having conversations about them, you and your brand. So writing a policy is just the first step. Below are four steps to help ensure that, once you have it written, your firm’s social media strategy stays relevant and beneficial to your organisation.

1. Make it a visible, shareable document

The main purpose of any social media strategy should be to encourage employees to use social media, to help them do this, and to help them do it in a way that protects them and the brand they work for. As such it isn’t so much a static policy to be filed away somewhere; rather, it should be a living document that is easy for people to find, read and make suggestions for.

2. Have an internal social media champion

Have an internal social media champion in your firm. Or have many. They should be the first port of call for people  if they have a query about what they should, or shouldn’t be doing. They should make sure people know about the policy and help others to understand it. But, perhaps more importantly, they should be be encouraging  people to use social media, to try new things and to innovate. It’s important for your firm to stay abreast of changes in social media, and  to make sure you have a serious and committed presence online. Your employees are your best representatives; get them out there.

3. Talk about social media success

Social media shouldn’t be an add-on; it should be part of what you do. Maybe it helps you to solve customers’ problems more quickly, maybe there’s been a great conversation about your brand, or maybe somebody just had a great idea that you found out about. Make sure you are taking every opportunity to champion success stories and people in your firm using social media well. Talk about it often to reinforce how important it is and to encourage people to try new things.

4. Keep things moving

The worst thing that can happen to your social media policy is that it becomes out-of-date. And as social media and our use of it online is changing so rapidly, this is a real danger. So make sure you keep things moving, work with your champions to keep abreast of what people are doing, and where they are doing it. Allow employees to comment on and make suggestions for your policy. But, perhaps most important, is to make sure your policy is written about behaviours and not specific social media tools. We may all be talking about Twitter  right now, but soon it will be something else.