Wired 2011 - Can you use social media to predict the future?

Predict future with social mediaHumans have tried to predict the future for thousands of years and yet, as Professor Noreena Hertz, (author of The Debt Threat and The Silent Takeover),  argued at the Wired 2011 conference, we’re really not very good at it. However, with the explosion of social media use, and the resultant boom in available data, we may have an opportunity to see not only what is going on, but how social groups may behave in the future.

Make sense from the chatter

Hertz argued that social media produces a cacophony of chatter which is not useful unless it is mined in a meaningful way. Experience has shown that the numbers don’t just speak for themselves. For example, the police have been collecting and processing social media data since the G20 protests, yet in their own words, they were ‘overwhelmed’ by chitter-chatter during the recent London riots, and struggled to identify the key voices involved.

In order to make the data from social media useful, we need to be sure of how to use it. Hertz said that we could potentially use it to understand how buzz relates to sales, how it relates to voting tensions, or negative sentiments to violent actions and so on. The challenge is to understand this social media buzz and to learn how to communicate these insights.

Social Media and the X Factor

Hertz called the X Factor “research gold dust” as not only does it generate a great amount of much social media buzz, but it also involves a public vote. Therefore, it is a fascinating subject for what she terms ‘social media scientists’ as they can test how far social media data can predict who will be voted off that week and gain insight into what X Factor fans think, like and care about.

Understanding social media buzz is more complex than simply identifying ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’. Hertz reminded us that language can have complex meaning, especially when it includes specific audience classifiers such as ‘OMG’ and ‘narked’. Human behaviour is also non-linear - so just because you tweet about something, doesn’t mean you will buy, or vote.

The result? Hertz’s new site, xfactortracker.com. Not only is it a fun way to make sense of X factor related social media buzz, but it also is a potentially influential step towards understanding more about all of the data we have access to.

FreshNetworks Blog: Top five posts in November

Five inches
Image by slambo_42 via Flickr

At FreshNetworks we aim to bring you the best posts in social media, online communities and customer engagement online. In case you missed them, find below our top five posts in October.

1. Google Wave vs Twitter at conferences

There has been a lot of talk and discussion of Google Wave as it has spread though invites. For many people the immediate response is: “I’m here; what now?”. In our most popular post in November, Charlie looked at one example of how Google Wave can be used to add real value: as a conference back-channel. We show how at the Ecomm conference delegates were provided with Google Wave accounts. What resulted was a fantastic showcase of collaboration and crowd-sourcing.

2. How to use Twitter Lists as a free social media monitoring tool

Twitter Lists are great. They are adding real and valuable functionality to Twitter and changing the way that people can use the service. In this post we look specifically at how Twitter Lists can be used as a free social media monitoring tool. How you can use them to track promoters and detractors of your brand and know what they are saying and feeling in real time.

3. PhotoSketch or Sketch2Photo, it rocks

A great app developed by five Chinese students at Tsinghua University and the National University of Singapore. It allows you to turn a simple drawing into a photo. There is clearly always a big jump between a video showcase and a working proposition, but it certainly looks good so far.

4. Live TV and real-time chat: X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing

Watching TV is almost always a social experience. Whether it’s people in the room, friends on the phone, Facebook, Twitter or in forums or chat. People talk to people about what they see on TV. In this post we highlight two ways in which Live TV shows in the UK (namely X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing) are using real time chat and online communities to support their live broadcasts. We look at what they are doing and why they might be doing this.

5. Russian social network Vkontakte.ru plans global roll-out

Back in September, we posted about the success of Russian social network VKontakte (В контакте). The site serves 1.4 billion page views each day to its 42 million users, and attracts 14 million unique visitors each month. In one of the most engaged and fastest-growing social networking markets in the world, it is a force to be reckoned with. At the start of September, Vedomosti (Ведомости), the Russian business newspaper, had reported that VKontakte had registered the domain www.vk.com and plans to begin marketing the social network in twelve new markets globally before the end of 2010. One to watch next year.

How online communities are changing the way we watch television

The End Of Telly-
Image by l-b-p- 09 via Flickr

Earlier this year we posted a series of examples of online communities in the TV industry. We looked at the way ‘old’ and ‘new’ media combine, how television broadcasters and production companies are working with online media. The examples we chose were all of ways in which online communities can be used to provide an additional set of experiences for a viewer, often after a programme has aired. From Channel Four’s Sexperience online community which supported the Sex Education Show to HGTV‘s  Rate My Space online community for people to share home improvement photos and tips.

These communities all have one thing in common - they provided an additional set of experiences for a viewer that enhance or extend their experience with the programme. They are for people who enjoy the programme and who want to engage more or find out more.

Things have changed in just a few months - the latest use of online communities for TV programmes is very different. They are now being used to add a social dimension to the actual viewing experience. Using online community tools to enhance a viewer’s experience while they are watching the actual show. We’ve written before about how two live shows in the UK have been experimenting with this use of social media tools: Live TV and real-time chat: X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing. But a new example from the UK shows how this use of online communities to enhance TV programmes is not restricted to live programmes.

Come Dine with Me is a popular cooking competition show on Channel Four in the UK. The concept is simple but addictive: four contestants host a dinner party for the other contestants on four subsequent evenings. Each host is rated by the other contestants and the person with the highest score wins. It’s a show that has always attracted a lot of discussions online as a quick Twitter search shows. Channel Four has now capitalised on this by hosting its own discussions on its site whilst the show is on air.

The Come Dine With Me ‘Play Along’ community shows how you can harness the conversations that are going on already and also enhance the viewer experience. The discussions in Twitter had always been of three kinds:

  1. People giving their own ratings of what is happening on the show - saying the score they would have given for a particular dinner party
  2. People commenting on the food or the ambiance at the parties
  3. People talking about the contestants - who they like and why, and who they are less keen on

The Channel Four online community now allows people to do this in real time and on their site whilst the show is on air. They allow you to score each contestant against a set of criteria (and see the average score given by your fellow community members). They allow you to chat about what’s happening on screen and the host of the chat prompts you to discuss what is happening right now.

This is a great example of online communities really adding value to a viewers experiences in three ways:

  1. They allow you to interact with other viewers who are sharing the same experience and who are interested in the same things
  2. They are add a new dimension to the programme - letting you take part in the contest to
  3. They have the benefit of being hosted by the same people who are broadcasting (or producing) the programme - you feel like you have inside access to information

The way we watch television is changing. Online communities are changing it. They add a new, social dimension to actual viewing experience. In time more and more programmes will be accompanied by online discussions and debates in this way. It will become the norm for many people to sit in front of two screens rather than just one.

Live TV and real-time chat: X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing

The End Of Telly-
Image by l-b-p-2010 via Flickr

Watching TV is almost always a social experience.  We talk to the people in the room with us. We talk to our friends on the phone, by instant messenger or on Facebook. We talk to people with similar interests in forums and chat rooms. Some of us even just shout at the TV on our own. However we do it, TV often makes us want to talk, share opinions and express ourselves. And some TV programmes make us want to do this more than others.

This week in the UK we saw one TV programme that drove many of us to chat in online communities and social media during the show. Thursday’s Question Time on the BBC featured the leader of the British National Party, saw a record number of viewers and reportedly 12.5 Tweets every second about what people were watching on their screens. Tonight we have two shows which typically attract and a much greater volume of discussions in chat rooms, forums and social media: the X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing.

The discussions and chat that accompanied these shows have been on other sites and using other tools. Tonight, for the first time, both shows have incorporated chat and social media functions into their own sites. This is a significant step for TV broadcasting in the UK. Consumer patterns have changed. We no longer watch a programme with friends and relatives and then discuss it with others the next day or read reviews in newspapers. We discuss and share our opinions in real-time through social media. The discussions and chats that accompany the show are, for the viewers, an integral part of the experience. By integrating chat and social functions into their sites, the broadcasters are hoping to recapture the viewers’ attention and give them the full experience they want.

Strictly Social

Of the two shows, the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing offers a richer experience. Their Strictly Social site allows you to watch the show via BBC iPlayer and chat in real time with viewers alongside the screen. If you don’t want to join the discussions (as many people won’t), you can express your opinions by ‘reacting’ - clicking on ‘wow’, ‘boo’ or ‘gasp’ and seeing the word gain more prominence on screen. You can also guess what votes the judges will give the acts and vote in polls.

The Strictly Social site is clearly designed to appeal to a wide range of Strictly Come Dancing viewers. Both to provide a space for those who want to chat during the live show to do this alongside the show itself. And also to provide tools for other viewers to get engaged. It will be interesting to see how popular these other tools are and how many people use the site this week and in coming weeks. There is much talk that this is the future for the BBC’s website - providing a richer experience for the viewer by combining activities and tools they can use online during the show. The Strictly Social site could be the start of a shift in the BBC’s integration of broadcast and social medias.

X Factor Chat

The X Factor has a simpler site with ITV’s X Factor Chat. The chat site does not sit alongside an online broadcast of the show itself and instead relies on people sitting in front of a TV with their computer. Something we know many people do anyway. On the site, viewers can chat about what they are seeing and this chat is punctuated with polls, controlled by the moderator.

The site replicates more closely the experience viewers would have using tools on other sites. A real-time chat function that allows people to discuss and debate what they see on screen. The difference is that being on the ITV site gives this chat more credence. The role of the moderator should be critical here - being the official online host of the X Factor and letting the viewers and chatters feel that they are getting exclusive access and exclusive discussions.

Overall it will be interesting to see which format is most successful for the broadcasters. Which manages to engage people and, perhaps most critically, keep them viewing the show throughout the show this week, next week and for the rest of their respective runs. TV viewers have always been social creatures. For many this has involved the use of social media, online communities and other tools. Tonight the BBC and ITV caught up with them.

Why all brands can benefit from buzz tracking (not just the X-Factor)

Science buzz!!!
Image by Unhindered by Talent via Flickr

On Sunday, lots of people were talking about Dannii, Danyl and instant X-Factor feedback. If you weren’t one of them (or if you’re not in the UK) let me quickly recap: on X-Factor, a talent / singing / reality TV programme, one of the judges, Dannii Minogue, brought up the sexuality of contestant Danyl when she was supposed to be commenting on his performance on stage. There has been a lot discussed about this and we posted about how Twitter is a great barometer and feedback mechanism in this kind of situation, how the brand that is X-Factor was able, almost immediately, to know what was being said about them and to plan how they should respond.

Like any good brand, the X-Factor on Saturday night would have benefited greatly from buzz tracking. From watching, tracking and analysing what was being said in real time. Analysing the extent to which the sentiments being expressed were positive, or negative, finding particularly dense areas of discussions and helping the brand to identify both what is being said and also where it is being said.

Buzz tracking really is a powerful tool for a brand, both because of the information it can reveal, but also because of the issues it raises that a brand needs to deal with. Tracking and monitoring what people are saying about your brand, products and services will allow you to know, in real-time, when something has happened that needs rectifying, or when something is said that you can use to amplify positive word of mouth about your brand. Knowing the extent to which your brand is being discussed positively or negatively provides a benchmark for you to monitor, and if you track it overtime you will start to see the impact of things you do and say, as a brand, on how people are discussing you.

And this information is very powerful. Both for making immediate decisions, and for planning and monitoring in the long-term. When a brand has a bad experience, and people are talking negatively about it (as happened to brand X-Factor on Saturday night), an effective buzz monitoring strategy will alert you to this shift in sentiment and allow you to identify what has caused this. You are then able to decide first if you want to respond and then how. You can then monitor the impact your response is having and amend or strengthen is as necessary. This information drastically shortens the time brands need to respond and so can have a very positive effect on your ability to resolve what is happening.

In the long-term, buzz tracking allows a brand to understand seasonal changes in it’s image in social media, and to show the impact that various on and offline activities have on these discussions. Work that we have done at FreshNetworks for brands in the travel industry, for example, shows that people tend to be more positive about travel brands at certain times of the year (typically when they are thinking of going on holiday or when they just return) and has helped to show the impact that TV advertising campaigns have had on the positive sentiment expressed about a brand online.

So buzz tracking is a powerful tool for any brand, both for what it tells you and for what it allows you to do. It is an information resource, and one that, if used correctly, can give you a real-time understanding of what is being said about your brand and how people are feeling about it. This kind of information is the ammunition any brand needs to inform its own social media strategy and how it should react on a case-by-case basis. Rather than have to wait to see how an issue plays out over a few days, brands can now get a real understanding of how people feel in real time and then respond to it.