I'm a partner in the advanced analytics group at Bain & Company, the global management consulting firm. My primary focus is on marketing analytics (bio). I've been writing here (views my own) about marketing, technology, e-business, and analytics since 2003 (blog name explained).

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36 posts categorized "Online Communities"

November 18, 2009

@Chartbeat: Biofeedback For Your Web Presence

Via an introduction by my friend Perry Hewitt, I had a chance yesterday to learn more about Chartbeart, the real-time web analytics product, from its GM Tony Haile.

Chartbeat provides a tag-based tracking mechanism, dashboard, and API for understanding your site's users in real time.  So, you say, GA and others are only slightly lagged in their reporting.  What makes Chartbeat differentially useful?

I recently wrote a post titled "Fly-By-Wire Marketing" that reacted to an article in Wired on Demand Media's business model, and suggested a roadmap for firms interested in using analytics to automate web publishing processes. 

After listening to Tony (partly with "Fly-By-Wire Marketing" notions in mind), it occurred to me that perhaps the most interesting possibilities lay in tying a tool like Chartbeat into a web site's CMS, or more ambitiously into a firm's marketing automation / CRM platform, to adjust on the fly what's published / sent to users.

Have a look at their live dashboard demo, which tracks user interactions with Fred Wilson's blog, avc.com.  Here's a question: if you were Fred -- and Fred's readers -- how would avc.com evolve during the day if you (as Fred or one of Fred's readers) could see this information live on the site, perhaps via a widget that allowed you to toggle through different views?  Here are some ideas:

1. If I saw a disproportionate share of visitors coming through from a particular location, I might push stories tagged with that location to a "featured stories" section / widget, on the theory that local friends tell local friends, who might then visit direct to the home page url.

2. If I saw that a particular story was proving unusually popular, I might (as above) feature "related content", both on a home page and on the story page itself.

3. If I saw that traffic was being driven disproportionately by a particular keyword, I might try to wire a threshold / trigger into my AdWords account (or SEM generally) to boost spending on that keyword, and I might ask relevant friends for some link-love (though this obviously is slowed by how frequently search engines re-index you). 

(Note: pushing this further, as we discussed with Tony, we'd subscribe to a service that would give us a sense for how much of the total traffic being driven to Chartbeat users by that keyword is coming our way, and use that as a metric for optimizing our traffic-driving efforts in real time.  Of course such a service would have to anonymize competitor information, be further aggregated to protect privacy, and be offered on an opt-in basis, but could be valuable even at low opt-in rates, since what we're after is relative improvement indications, and not absolute shares.)

4. If you saw lots of traffic from a particular place, or keyword, or on a particular product, you might connect this information to your email marketing system and have it influence what goes out that day.  Or, you might adjust prices, or promotions, dynamically based on some of this information.

Some of you will wonder how these ideas relate to personalization, which is already a big if imperfectly implemented piece of many web publishers' and e-retailers' capabilities.  I say personalization is great for recognizing and adjusting to each of you, but not to all of you.  For example, pushing this further, I wonder about the potential for "analytics as content".  NYT's "most-emailed" list is a good example of this, albeit in a graphically unexciting form.  What if you had a widget that plotted visitors on a map (which exists today of course) but also color-coded them according to their source, momentarily flashing the site or keyword that referred them?  At minimum it would be entertaining, but it would also hold a mirror up to the site's users showing them who they are (their locations and interests), in a way that would reinforce the sense of community that the site may be trying to foster otherwise. 

Reminds me a bit of Spinvision, and by proxy of this old post

October 24, 2009

Activating Latent Social Networks

This morning via TechCrunch  I read Sean Parker's Web 2.0 Summit presentation materials, in which he says that the future belongs to "network services" that connect people, like Facebook, and not to "information services" that connect us to data, like Google.  My experiences at Contact Networks taught me to think of email patterns as proxies for social networks.  So, the following idea occurred to me.

Google has Gmail.  Google allows people to publish profiles.  What if Gmail had a button that allowed me to "recognize" a recipient by linking to his / her public profile when I send an email to him / her?

If I have a public profile and the recipient has one too, by pressing this "recognize" button I would make our relationship "provisionally acknowledged" (like a "friend request"); the link would become "acknowledged" if the recipient agreed.  Further, either side (with mutual agreement) could choose to "publish" this relationship in multiple social nets they participate in: Facebook, LinkedIn, Orkut, or they could even make it fully public.

The more two-way email traffic there is between the two users, the stronger the link is assumed by the service to be.  Note that this wouldn't be scored in a linear way.  Probably some sort of recency and frequency considerations would be involved, just as we had at Contact Networks.

Taking a page out of PageRank (pun partially intended), the scoring algorithm could also consider the popularity of the URLs I associated with my Google profile to consider the "centrality of my node" in the uber-network, and therefore the "value" of my "acknowledgements", when given.  Link-love could be configured by each user to be given by-the-message or by default to different email recipients.  Recipients could also "transfer" this link-love, with permission, to their other web presences (e.g., blogs).

The idea isn't limited to the major mail platforms, either.  Any media firm with an online community has a latent social network that could be defined by the response patterns in forum posts.  Users wouldn't experience the pain and inconvenience of joining YASNS, just a minor modification -- perhaps a welcome one, if accompanied by a little extra valuable information -- to how they interact already in the communities they belong to.  "Activating" such social networks through mechanisms similar to the ones described above would enhance the viral marketing potential of the communities, which would appeal to advertisers.

Since basically everyone uses email, doing this would also "democratize the social graph".  What I mean is that today there are two kinds of networks.  Either they are private -- owned and run by Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. -- or they are "public-but-elite", defined by the link structure of the Web.  In the former case, if amigo ergo sum ("I friend therefore I am"), I exist at Facebook's whim.  In the latter case, only folks who take the time to establish a public web presence and get linked to (say, through a blog, or a social net public profile) exist.  (Reminds me of Steve Martin's excitement at making it into the phone book in The Jerk.)  An open, more inclusive social graph mechanism than either of these currently provides would help bridge the digital divide, among other benefits.

Who's doing this?  The idea isn't entirely original.  Partially relevant: Facebook has just updated its News Feed to consider interactions between users as inputs for how to filter items to each user.  I'm sure this must have occurred to the major portals with email services.  Seems like a natural feature for Google Wave, for example, though I haven't seen it.  Surely (as with Contact Networks) it's also valuable to large organizations to establish "enterprise social networks", inside and beyond. 

Postscript: Gather.com CEO Tom Gerace commented they are working on a patent-pending capability they call PeopleRank that will do what I describe above in the online community section of this post. Google's been thinking about this for at least a year -- how come we haven't heard more yet?

October 22, 2009

Philip Greenspun: Online Community Integration

Philip Greenspun kindly asked me what I thought of one of his recent ideas, "Online Community Integration".  I think it's a good one.  So of course the question becomes, "Why hasn't it been done already?"

It's an interesting question because people have been nibbling at the problem from a variety of related, and sometimes more general angles.  There have been / still are, as Philip notes, major authentication initiatives, like MS Passport and OpenID.  Yahoo! Pipes (example) provides a powerful means for building aggregation services.  We have RSS readers (though not yet branded readers, which I think are still a good idea).

The most obvious answer would seem to be that there's no practical standard, like RSS, for expressing the data structure of a bboard post in an online community.  Why not isn't clear to me.  Since many communities use a much smaller universe of widely adopted toolkits to support their bboards, you might have imagined a standard might have emerged from these?  After all, we have iCal, why not iPost? 

Another reason might be that publishers are reluctant to allow aggregation of their communities' content.  But this doesn't seem to hold water, since they often allow members to subscribe (and sometimes reply) to posts by email, and otherwise expose their content via RSS.

Or, perhaps it might be that users (members of multiple communities) are reluctant to entrust all of their online community passwords to a single publisher of such a tool, or to set up an OpenID.

Maybe it's because the run-of-the-mill email client is a close-enough substitute.  However, it's an ugly way to read threaded community discussions.  I've been trying Google Wave, which looks better for this.  Turns out you can look at public online community discussions implemented as waves.  Since building a critical mass of accessible content would seem to be a key to Google Wave adoption, maybe what Google (or a third party developer) needs to do is extend its Embedded Wave API to allow publishers to expose / transform their online community activity as / into Waves that can then be read in Google's client?

Philip leaves the marketing to prospective entrepreneurs to whom he's freely offered his idea.  I think the answer to the marketing challenge might lie in addressing some of the issues above.

Postscript: Mozilla Raindrop

October 06, 2009

Twitter Idea Of The Day

I just read Clive Owen's piece in on wired.com describing the rise of search engines focused on real-time trend monitoring, as opposed to indexing based on authority.  It's good, short, and I recommend it.

Building on ideas I had a while back, it provoked an idea for a web service that would allow a group sponsor to register Twitter feeds (or, for that matter, any kind of feed) from members of the group, do a word-frequency analysis on those feeds (with appropriate filters of course), and then display snapshots (perhaps with a word cloud) of popularity, and trend analysis (fastest-rising, fastest-falling).  You could also have specialized content variants: most popular URLs, most popular tags.  Clicking through from any particular word (or url or tag) you could do a network analysis: which member of the group first mentioned the item, who re-tweeted him or her, either with attribution or without.

The builder of a service like this would construct it as a platform that would allow group sponsors to set up individual accounts with one or more groups, and it would allow these sponsors to aggregate groups up or drill down from an aggregate cross-group view down to individual ones, perhaps with some comparative analysis -- "show me the relative popularity of any given word / content item across my groups", for example.

Twitter already has trending topics, as do others, but the lack of grouping for folks relevant to me makes it (judging by the typical results) barely interesting and generally useless to me.  There are visual views of news, like Newsmap, but they pre-filter content by focusing on published news stories.

An additional layer of sophistication based on semantic analysis technology like, say, Crimson Hexagon's, would translate individual key words into broader categories of meaning from all this, so you could, at a glance, in what ways and proportions your group members were feeling about different things: "Well, it's Monday morning, and 2/3 of my users are feeling 'anxious' about work, while 1/3 are feeling 'inspired'  on vacation."

As for making money, buzz-tracking services are already bought by / licensed by / subscribed to by a number of organizations.  I could see a two-stage model here where group sponsors who aggregate and process their members' feeds could then re-syndicate fine-grained analysis of those feeds to media and other organizations to whom that aggregated view would be useful. "What are alumni of university X / readers of magazine Y focused on right now?"  The high-level cuts would be free, perhaps used to drive traffic.

July 21, 2009

Facebook at 250 (Million): What's Next? And What Will Your Share Be?

Facebook announced last week that it had passed 250 million members.  Since no social network grows to the sky (as MySpace experienced before it), it's useful to reflect on the enablers and constraints to that growth, and on the challenges and opportunities those constraints present to other major media franchises (old and new) that are groping for a way ahead.

"Structured Collaboration" principles say social media empires survive and thrive based on how well they support value, affinity, and simplicity.  That is,

  • how useful (rationally and emotionally) are the exchanges of information they support?
  • how well do they support group structures that maximize trust and lower information vetting costs for members? 
  • how easy do they make it for users to contribute and consume information? 
(There are of course additional, necessary "means to these ends" factors, like "liquidity" -- the seed content and membership necessary to prime the pump -- and "extensibility" -- the degree to which members can adapt the service to their needs -- but that's for another post.)

My own experience with Facebook as a user, as well as my professional experience with it in client marketing efforts, has been:
  • Facebook focuses on broad, mostly generic emotional exchanges -- pictures, birthday reminders, pokes.  I get the first two, and I admire the economy of meaning in the third.  The service leaves it to you to figure out what else to share or swap.  As a result, it is (for me anyway) <linkbait> only sometimes  relevant as an element in a B2C campaign, and rarely relevant in a B2B campaign </linkbait>
  • Facebook roared past MySpace because it got affinity right -- initially.  That is, Facebook's structure was originally constrained -- you had to have an email address from the school whose Facebook group you sought to join.  Essentially, there had to be some pre-existing basis for affinity, and Facebook just helped (re-)build this connective tissue.  Then, Facebook allowed anyone to join, and made identifying the nature of relationships established or reinforced there optional.  Since most of us including me are some combination of busy and lazy, we haven't used this feature consistently to describe the origins and nature  of these relationships.  And, it's cumbersome and awkward to have to go back and re-categorize "friends". (An expedient hack on this might be to allow you to organize your friends into groups, and then ask you which groups you want to publish items to, as you go.)
  • Facebook is a mixed bag as a UI.  On one hand, by allowing folks to syndicate blogs and tweets into Facebook, they've made our life easier.  On the other, the popular unstructured communications vehicles -- like the "Wall" -- have created real problems for some marketers.  Structured forms of interaction that would have created less risky choices for marketers, like polls, have come later than they should have and are still problematic ( for example, you can't add polls to groups yet, which would be killer).  And, interacting with Facebook through my email client -- on my PC and on my smartphone -- is still painful.  To their credit, Facebook opened up a great API to enable others to build specialized forms of structured interaction on its social graph. But in doing so it's ceded an opportunity to own the data associated with potentially promising ones.  (Like prediction markets; Inkling Markets, for example, lets you syndicate notices of your trades to Facebook, but the cupboard's pretty bare still for pm apps running against Facebook directly.)
The big picture: Facebook's optimizing size of the pie versus share of the pie.  It can't be all things to all people, so it's let others extend it and share in the revenue and create streams of their own.  Estimates of the revenues to be earned this year by the ecosystem of third party app developers running on Facebook and MySpace run to $300-500 million, growing at 35% annually.  
Them's not "digital dimes", especially in the context of steep declines in September ad page trends in, say, revenues of leading magazine franchises, as well as stalled television network upfronts. But, folks might argue, "Do I want to live in thrall to the fickle Facebook API, and rent their social graph at a premium?"  The answer isn't binary -- how much of an app's functionality lives in Facebook, versus living on a publisher's own server, is a choice.  Plus, there's ways to keep Facebook honest, like getting behind projects like OpenSocial, as other social networks have done. (OpenSocial is trying to become to Facebook's social graph as Linux is to Windows.  Engineer friends, I know -- only sort of.)  And, for Old Media types who don't feel they are up to the engineering tasks necessary, there are modern-day Levi Strausses out there selling jeans to the miners -- like Ning, which just today raised more money at a high valuation.  Still too risky? Old Media could farm out app development to their own third party developer networks, improving viral prospects by branding and promoting (to their suscriber lists) the ones they like in exchange for a cut of any revenues.  In this scenario, content gets added as an ingredient, not the whole main course.  

What is true in the new environment is that reach-based ad network plays surfing on aggregated content won't pay any more.  Rather we have to think about services that would generate more revenue from narrower audiences.  The third-party games created by Facebook app developers referenced above demonstrate how those revenues might stem from value through entertainment.  As we speak, Apple and its developers are earning non-trivial sums from apps.  Phonetag has its hands in folks' pockets (mine included) for $10/month for its superuseful -- albeit non-social -- transcription service.  Filtering for relevant content is a big challenge and opportunity.  Might someone aggregate audiences with similar interests and offer a retail version sourced at wholesale from filtering service firms like Crimson Hexagon?  Looks like Porter Novelli may already be thinking down these lines...

Let's push the math: a winner service by anyone's measure would earn, say, $50M a year. Four bucks a month from each person is roughly $50/ year.  You'd then need a million folks, 1/250th of Facebook's user base to sign up.  Reasonability check -- consider the US circulation of some major magazine titles

If your application service is especially useful, maybe you can get $2/month directly from each person.  Maybe you can make the rest up in ecommerce affiliate commissions (a 10% commission on $125 in annual purchases by each person gets you ~$1/month) and ad revenue (the $12 million/year nut would require one dollar per member per month; a $10 CPM would mean getting each of your million users to account for one impression on your service a couple of times per week, more or less, to cover that nut.)

We also have to be prepared to live in a world where the premiums such services earn are as evanescent as mayflies, especially if we build them on open social graphs.  But that's ok -- just as Old Media winners built empires on excellent, timely editorial taste in content, New Media winners will build their franchises on "editorial noses" for function-du-jour, and function-based insights relevant to their advertisers.  And last time I checked, function and elegance were not mutually exclusive.

So, even as we salute the Facebook juggernaut as it steams past Media Beach, it's time to light some design workshop campfires, and think application services that have "Value, Affinity, Simplicity."

Structured Collaboration in Social Media: Design For Analytics (IBM Research Talk Recap)

At Kate Ehrlich's invitation, I gave a one-hour talk yesterday at IBM Research and the Center for Social Software titled "Structured Collaboration in Social Media: Design for Analytics".

The presentation made three main points:
  • Social marketing today is limited by the (un-)structure of social media. (And, most marketers accept the constraints of these media as they exist today, and "reasonably" adapt themselves to them.)
  • Applying "Structured Collaboration" principles to social media design ("unreasonably" adapting the medium) can expand and improve user engagement.
  • These same principles can inform the design of "engagement" for marketing analytics, to make segmentation and targeting easier and more effective.
The presentation included a survey and evaluation of the social marketing landscape today, and described two important shortcomings that limit what marketers can do with it:
  • "Off-the-rack" collaboration structures that don't align -- and often work against -- what marketers are trying to accomplish 
  • Sample bias given the "1-10-90" nature of participation 
The presentation then described and illustrated "Structured Collaboration" principles, and talked about how marketers like Nike are realizing significant results through initiatives that reflect them.  Then, we discussed how the design of these initiatives can reveal segmentation and targeting insights much more readily than the typical application of marketing analytics to conventional social media.

Finally, the talk offered some existing examples for how to exploit these principles cheaply, as well as some ideas for how several firms could apply them to realize their own versions of what Nike, and more recently others like Fiat, have done.

Thanks once again to Kate, Ethan, and Irene, and to all their colleagues for participating!

February 16, 2009

Facebook's New TOS: What About Syndicated Content?

Al Essa wonders how you can retain some control over your Facebook content given its new TOS.  

I license my posts here under the Creative Commons 3.0 license.  I syndicate these posts automatically to my Facebook profile through Facebook Notes.  

Which governs Facebook's rights to my syndicated content, CC3 or Facebook's TOS?

December 10, 2008

MITX "Digital In The Downturn" Panel: 2009 is the Year of the Counting Dog

Yesterday morning I went to an excellent MITX panel discussion, "Utilizing Digital In A Down Economy". Here are some notes:

  • The panelists were grim about the outlook.  Jere Doyle predicted January will bring 1M (!) new job losses economy-wide. Guesses at changes in digital spending ranged from slightly negative to up 10% -- way down from the 20-30% digital growth rates we've become accustomed to. 
  • (One dynamic to keep an eye on: digital has shorter lead times (say, vs. catalog production or TV ads) and therefore the first to get cut; the flip side is it's easier to ramp up again)
  • While the 2001-2002 bubble burst was worse, the landing for the industry was softer because the Fed pumped  up the economy; this time our industry is healthier and the capabilities we offer customers are more mature, but there will be no soft landing. 
  • Old Media's really in trouble now.
  • Measurable Media (e.g., paid search, email) closely related to conversion are faring the best.
  • Digital advertising for branding -- e.g., display campaigns with 0.1% CTR's -- are really sucking wind.
  • Despite all the evangelism of the past 24 months, social media per se won't attract spending (except perhaps as a content-generation vehicle), though specific, close-to-conversion solutions that leverage it (social graph-based extensions of things like Bazaarvoice) are still getting serious looks (I can verify this independently).
  • Emily Green asked, "Are people more willing to trade information for value?" General answers: yes.  More specifically, Ralph Folz talked about the "Value Exchange" concept, using Adidas' MiCoach as an example of how it doesn't necessarily have to be about price (see also this related post).
  • Emily also asked, "Are we likely to see a new generation depression thinking -- a generation of recessionistas and frugalistas?" (Great terms, first I've heard of them.) Ralph: "Huge push in our agency to measure consumer engagement with brands, be more consumer-centric in our analytics, to figure out exactly how people are reacting" (So can we also coin analistas?) (See also this related post.)
  • Panelists' advice for coping: "Cut deep and fast now -- don't be incremental"; "Sometimes the fish just aren't biting, so keep your powder dry"; and, the audience favorite: "Pursue the Cockroach Strategy -- there's always food along the sides!"   
  • I asked, "Top 5 adjustments you'd recommend clients make to their digital strategies in the downturn?"  Answers: Ralph offered,  "My 1-3 are measurement, measurement, and measurement."  Others: "Think explicitly about how to create or highlight value for consumer in all digital interactions," and "Don't ignore global opportunities"
  • Kiki Mills asked, "What will 2009 bring?" Jere Doyle: "2009 will be the year of Survival"; Ralph: "Year of Data"; Emily: "Year of Cash"; Jim Savage: "Year of Accountability"; and poor Tom Anderson, who went last and rightly tried to offer something different: "Year of Mobile" (to which the snarky refrain was "Isn't next year always the year of Mobile?")
  • From the Great Closing Remarks department: Emily suggested reading  Martin Seligman's Learned Optimism, noting optimists' belief in 3P's: "It's not permanent, it's not pervasive, and it's not personal."

November 13, 2008

CMO Club Talk Recap

From Pete Krainik, this recap of the presentation Perry Hewitt and I delivered at The CMO Club Boston dinner last Tuesday evening, complete with video.

Here's Perry's version, including our presentation via Slide:

The CMO Club 11 11 08
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: cgm ugc)

November 12, 2008

Nike+ : Yet Another Good "Structured Collaboration" Example

Good article in Businessweek Monday about Nike+, the social performance tracking service for devoted runners.  Excellent example of "Structured Collaboration"  for more useful and "brand-safe" user-generated content ("UGC").

  • valuable information shared: performance data (mileage, etc.)
  • logical groups to share within (running buddies, virtual races) 
  • ease of contribution and consumption (data synced when you sync your iPod, charts make reading data easier)  
Businessweek notes members have logged 93 million miles so far, and that Nike's share of the US running shoe market has  gone from 48% to 61% in two years.  
Next up, Nike Baller for basketball players.  Follows all three rules as well, and takes #3 one step further by being implemented as a Facebook app to go where its users are.

One thing I like about Baller is that it's designed so that useful information can readily flow from it.  For example, see this graph (data is illustrative) of what you can readily produce out of the way it captures and organizes information.  If you're a Nike marketer with access to this information, you want to be talking to the guys that (as Guy Kawasaki says of political conservatives) are "high and to the right":

Nike baller chart