Archive for February, 2011

Trends in Social Media

DATE: February 25th, 2011

Social Computing Labs in California produced an excellent abstract:

Social media is getting a lot of press. Lady GaGa drove millions of people to give to AIDS by a series of tweets within a campaign. The organization raised $34 million — 10 times more than they had ever raised before. That is very impressive.

But most twitter is, well, twitter.

So when I read the above abstract, I was fascinated with the algorithms they used to understand what made a trend and how that trend decayed. You can read the article for yourself — the math is well beyond my simple mind. The overall learning was: “…we find that the resonance of the content with the users of the social network plays a major role in causing trends.” Put another way a little further into the abstract: “Some users generate content that resonates very strongly with their followers thus causing the content to propagate and gain popularity.”

Twitter trends are based on viral activity. The number of times the tweets is retweeted and commented on and the words within the tweets that are repeated in all of the millions of tweets at that moment. The researchers found that most popular topics decay after 20 minutes… 20 minutes! While that may sound ridiculous — that is the reality of social media. It’s fast and short lived. The other thing that they found was that the strongest trends in twitter popularity were supported by traditional media. Justin Bieber’s movie reviews are big — but then the media loves Justin Bieber.

As I was reading the report, it occurred to me that the trends said something about our culture. We can watch what’s interesting to people by watching twitter trends. For instance, today is George Harrison’s birthday — and it’s all over twitter. But Libya, New Zealand and the, perhaps, Canadian election — all top news stories — do not appear in the top tweets.

The number of followers is another interesting view into the interest in twitter and the power of marketing.

Lady GaGa has 8.2 million followers. BBC World has 100,000. Justin Bieber has 7.4 million followers. CBC has 52,000. 5.1 million people follow Oprah and 1.3 million follow Newsweek. Almost 700,000 people follow facebook — someone will have to explain that to me.

So what?

Well, famous nutty people get attention and ordinary, boring people want to follow them (Britney Spears has 6.9 followers). While content is king — some content is unexplainable.

The other interesting factor that the research came up with was that number of followers and number of tweets did not impact trends. Basically content is king. The trends (once you get past the paid tweets) occur because people are interested in the content and they want to share it. So as I write this, designer John Galliano is facing sexual assault charges and Google is declaring war on content farms. If you check back in a few minutes, you’ll see a complete different list of trends. It’s like being able to listen in to all the conversations at a ginormous cocktail party at once.

It’s difficult to ascertain the impact of social media — or, at times, even to determine which social media interfaces to use. Many people are taking a “Let;’s be everywhere all the time approach.” Which, frankly, I think is ineffective. While you don’t “pay” placement costs — there is a fee to update, follow, track and evaluate. My gut tells me (and experience) that few people are setting social media goals and tracking them. Most often they see it as free promotion. But wasting ones time is never free.

Social media is here to stay. But so is print, TV and radio. In face, I’d even argue that blogs have their place. I’m pretty sure that twitter or other micro blogging sites will not replace well thought research or journalism. Telling stories, sharing news lives. But they live in different forms. We collect information. Twitter does that with aplomb. We explore interesting features. Think of all the hits on You Tube after the Super Bowl and the Grammies. I can see the highlights without wasting 2 hours (wait a minute — I may still waste 2 hours but it will be at the discretion of my direction to a search engine.) Facebook picks up the slack for families and friends.

But in your business or organizational communication strategy, I challenge you to be strategic about your social media engagement — set goals, track results and evaluate.


DATE: February 15th, 2011

Shrek: For your information, there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.
Donkey: Example?
Shrek: Example… uh… ogres are like onions!
[holds up an onion, which Donkey sniffs]
Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes… No!
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry?
Shrek: No!
Donkey: Oh, you leave ’em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs…
Shrek: [peels an onion] NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.
[walks off]
Donkey: Oh, you both have LAYERS. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions. What about cake? Everybody loves cake!
Shrek: I don’t care what everyone else likes! Ogres are not like cakes.
Donkey: You know what ELSE everybody likes? Parfaits! Have you ever met a person, you say, “Let’s get some parfait,” they say, “Hell no, I don’t like no parfait”? Parfaits are delicious!
Shrek: NO! You dense, irritating, miniature beast of burden! Ogres are like onions! End of story! Bye-bye! See ya later.
Donkey: Parfait’s gotta be the most delicious thing on the whole damn planet!

In 2010 PepsiCo launched an innovative ad campaign. Instead of investing in the Super Bowl, they set aside some of their marketing cash and invested in society. It was intriguing. Launching first in the US and then moving the same principle to Canada, they invited people to pitch an idea for social change. Once the projects were selected, they used an online forum that gave Canadians an opportunity to vote for their favourite projects.

Now, one year later, PepsiCo is unravelling the data.

Overall, the experiment engaged hundreds of thousands of people. More than that, it gave Pepsi a viral edge for ordinary people, spreading the URL to their friends and family. Most of all, it is a practical and meaningful assertion of PepsiCo’s purpose statement:  “At PepsiCo, “Performance with Purpose” means delivering sustainable growth by investing in a healthier future for people and our planet. We bring that purpose to every aspect of our business.”

The story behind the evaluation of the yearlong campaign is a fascinating education on the power of the web.

For four weeks PepsiCo used their Facebook fan club as a focus group to understand the relationship between fans and the Refresh experiment. They set the survey up like a traditional focus group; they just used the web as the platform. They allowed the participants to see the answers others gave. At the end of every week they unveiled the findings and told their fans how they would adjust their program. WOW! A focus group that got feedback and could see how their opinions actually impacted the company’s strategy.

But they didn’t stop there.

As we all know, focus groups are influenced by their own sense of “right,” peer answers and societal norms. What they say on a focus group is not always transferred to their decision making.

So PepsiCo dug deep into the comments and social media generated by the site. They wanted to understand the frequency, patterns and velocity of the comments. What topics triggered stronger responses and why. They averaged more than 20,000 comments per day – so there is a lot of data that can be mined. That’s just on their site – the breadth of comments beyond the actual site is many and frequent.

Singh sums it up by saying: “It’s like peeling an onion — you gain a deeper and deeper understanding with each type of research.”

Back to Shrek – there is a lot of insight in that foolish natter between Donkey and Shrek.  First of all, there are many layers to the data. To understand properly, you need to peel away the layers one layer at a time.

But I think there’s more.

Donkey had a few problems understanding the metaphor. While the script is delightful – the reality is, we can get off on the wrong track if we don’t understand the layers we are peeling. It’s important that we have a clear purpose when we embark on research.

While that parfait is definitely a lot tastier than the onion – it might not reflect the data.

Image…. words….

DATE: February 3rd, 2011

So what’s more important words or images?

Now I’m a writer and I still prefer to curl up with a book after a long day in client meetings. So it’s a no-brainer for me. My husband, who has downloaded every movie or TV show that is vaguely associated with “science” (science shows like Battle Star Galactica, Star Gate and Star Trek), is much more intrigued with the images.

This evening I was browsing some of my favourite sites and came up with this stat: psychologist Albert Mehrabian demonstrated that 93% of communication is nonverbal.

Thinking that our words only count for 7% of our communication power was a little startling, especially when I considered the number of hours I spent in English class. Basically, the article suggested that our brain was wired for pictures, not words.

Barefoot promises to communicate with impact, so these ideas caught my attention.

I did a little research.

As it turns out, Albert is often misquoted and his research is a little suspect. The percent used in the article was a little high and misrepresented the whole of the research. But I don’t want to take the power of visuals for granted.

Kevin and I work hard to build a climate within Barefoot that maximizes the effectiveness of every piece of communication material we produce. We are at the cusp of one of the most amazing eras. As the digital world explodes, offering us tools like computers, tablets and smart phones, we can use images and words in ways never before explored.

The article I was reading went on to suggest that we are “wired” for visuals. The linearity of language defies our evolutionary state. I’d say that’s a win for the graphics team.

But let’s analyze that further.

This ad is dependent of the audience’s understanding of the culture, the logo and the prominence of the central image as product placement.

This ad uses the classic technique of attention getting image (especially for its core audience which are bike riders) and a paragraph of copy that is less product and more issue. The helmeted black, leather clad rider could be man or woman, helping build relationship between the ad and the audience, allowing each viewer to self-define. The success of the ad is dependent on the audience.

This image heavy ad is dependent on 7 words: “Find the sousaphone to win free checking.” It’s also dependent on understand the culture of the audience that’s already familiar with Where’s Waldo. By inverting the idea of finding a tiny Waldo in a complex visual, they are suggesting that free checking at the First Bank is easy. It’s cleverly dependent on a bit of copy and the audience’s knowledge.