Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Welcom to The Social Media Wild West Yeehaw!

It seems that the social media market is starting to arrive.  Linked In (public), Radian 6 (bought by Salesforce for $325MM), Tweetdeck (bought by Twitter $40-50MM) and Springboard research (acquired by Forrester) and the list gets smaller and goes on. 

I have often used the analogy that when I started applying social media to business in 2006 that is was midnight at the time.  As I shopped the idea of getting insights more quickly from this new form of data that had a degree of real objectivity I was laughed at.  Everyone said that data was crap because only the teenagers blogged or crazy people/companies are writing that stuff.  Well since then the amount of content increases exponentially by the second and the myriad of ways one can interact with it only explodes day by day.  Start ups are popping up faster than you can see them fall and in reality the times have changed.

Today it is dawn.  The acquisitions above suggest that the market has arrived.  And for the venture capital world that might be true (because the coalescence has clearly begun), but in reality the companies swallowing/using this content are still immature and scared.  That is why I believe it is only dawn.  The sun is starting to come up because companies cannot deny that the data set has hit a sort of "singularity", but their cultures who are filled with people who use it do not tell them to do it in their jobs.  The dawn of social media is definitely here although the disconnect brings up a very interesting conundrum.

For us in the space trying to build a new market and show people how and why they should use it, there is resistance.  As I work from company to company and with partners everyone is still trying to figure out how to get our customers to take the leap and think beyond matching the data to the methods they currently use.  People are still waiting for their leaders to say it is OK.  They are waiting to be sure that they invest correctly.  They don't want to make a mistake and sometimes this analysis paralysis is going to catch a number of companies flatfooted because this rocket ship is flying into the new day faster than those standing on the ground can keep up. 

This is making for a serious wild west like atmosphere.  The market is beginning to snap itself up, the consumers of the information aren't sure which way is up, and the data set increases faster than the US debt.  This could make for some serious challenges for those trying to make heads or tails of when the right time to jump in.  As was often told to me as a kid if you just open your mouth, hold your breath and eat it experience of trying something new can be better than the fear of trying it. 

I would say this to everyone...

If you wait too long the products you are evaluating will change or the culture of those you are working with will be different if they are swallowed (because you will lose your say in how the products develop)

If you don't trust the data you will be so far behind that your competitor will be better prepared to deal with the data than you

If you try to get it perfect the choices will be too great.  You gotta believe in the new to take this leap. That being said, I watch lots of players not getting in early hoping to save a bit of money rather than learning.  This is a huge mistake because the products, data and market are changing so fast that it will be too late.

See what I mean...this argument is getting totally intertwined, circular and messed up. It is just too fast to make sense of.  And those trying to show the market its power continue to wonder why each and everyone of you use this data multiple times a day (how about I take your iphone from you...now how lost do you feel), but they seem to be too afraid to collectively tell their companies that their methods are old and tired.   Everyone uses it but nobody trusts it...I tell you it is the wild west out there.

And it keeps getting crazier, louder and more confusing.  Take a stand, pull out your six shooter and start shooting...chances are you will hit something and your business will get the chance to get those trying to get their guns out of their holster!


Sunday, May 22, 2011

I know why I do what I do...do you?

Where you do you get inspired?  Where do you clear your head?  For me it is often at the movies.  Tonight, I went to the movies as often happens, I am able to clear the cacophony that resides in my every whirling mind.  And as usual, that clarity helps me conceptualize a great many things.  As I sat listening to the music on the way home I thought about social media.  Why?  What importance could this hold?

Actually, it helped me see even further beyond where I am today and the change I am focused on creating.  At my core, I believe I am a change agent now as I have often said, that Innovation is to Pupa as Change Agent is to butterfly.

That being said there is a distinct flow to how we end up in the spot we are at the moment you may choose to read this.  And in this moment I can clearly see the flow of how I got here and most importantly I have the clarity to understand that purpose.

Today...I am a Chief Evangelist taking up the cause of championing social media
Before that...the Global Vice President helping create models to help drive change
Before that...A Technology Broker linking the wonders of discovery to the needs of a business
Before that...A Technology Developer pushing the boundaries of people thought was possible
Before that...A budding innovator studying my trade as a chemist in graduate school
And this goes on and on and on...

But the real question is how is this path created and how do we lose sight as we develop in our career?  And the reason I leave my personal side out (I am a father, husband and son of course), because sadly much of what drives us in today's society is our professional development.  But that is what is interesting, because in our quest as a person and professional we must find truth in why we do it.  For many, it is simply a job while for others it is everything.  I choose to take a wider view of my career.  I often believe what is most important is to be a life learner, because this mindset helps break the boundaries of everything we do on a day to day basis in every interaction we have.  

Because we must have some sort of professional purpose to help us learn, provide, or even feel passion, I ask anyone reading this do you have clarity of how you became what you currently are and do you understand where you are trying to move to?  

As I drove home, I thought about that and realized the theme I must face with each and every step I make is that everything above is about change, learning and taking on challenges others find impossible.  On a personal side, I strive to continuously learn from anyone and everyone around me all the time.  The confluence of these two concepts is all about where I am heading.  To where, you may or may not ask?

I guess I have believed for many years now that it is becoming my purpose to help others see the power of what's possible and what has continued to bother me is how I am watching a population in the country I live turn its back on the fundamentals that create the building blocks for what creates the possible.  What the hell does that mean?   Well I hear everyday how our population of worthy scientists and therefore innovators is dwindling and that we cannot compete.  Even though as you look at where I have been my choices have taken me further and further from the basic science I found passion in as a high school and college student.  But I consider myself lucky to have escaped.  Why?  Because the sum of my experiences up to this point have enabled me to do something more important.  To collaborate, to facilitate others to believe in what they think is impossible, to negotiate with others to believe and most importantly to mobilize people to take what they believe in and go with it.  The sum of my experiences has granted me the fortune of being open to learning from others and taking on challenges that stretch how I think about everything everday.

So where am I going?  My quest and I choose to spell it out here is to take the gifts given to me as a change agent to find a way to help rebuild the innovation foundation that America is losing as the corporate culture takes over everywhere.  I would love to raise money and champion the cause of finding people willing to re-invest in the principles of basic research.  Why basic esoteric research?  Because as I ran from it in the past towards the financial gains the corporate success can bring, my time getting closer to those possibilities is seemingly bringing me back around the importance of simply understand at its fundamental how to break the boundaries of what is possible.  Basic research is just that, the foundation for which practicality is built.  In this case, without funding the fundamentals or the building blocks how can one expect to create a stable house. In our country, basic research has given way to applied research problems and funding for research is geared to the person whose work can be tied to the tangible results that bring application benefits.  I say this slippery slope is wrong for innovation and wrong for our future growth.  Research for the sake of research is becoming a lost art because it cannot get funded.  My close friend is a professor and she tells me that getting funding for the basic work she does is increasingly difficult.

If I can create the financial freedom, I will ultimately go full circle and create funding for professors or people engaged in basic research.  Call it my scientific Gates Foundation.  

Great...who cares...maybe this goal inspires you, but that is not the point of this post.  If you go through how I arrived writing this you can see how each steps is giving me the ability to actually get there...

I left big corporations to work in a startup.  I have excelled as an intrapreneur, but now I am learning to be an entrepreneur.  With this experience in the fast world of new business, I have gained courage to start something of my own one day.  I never would have thought like this had I not chosen to move into the space I am in now.

I work in social media...I have learned how it can quickly get a message out...thus I am now blogging.  18 months ago when I started this blog I wrote one post a month and only had about 200 views until March.  In March, I started being a Chief Evangelist and now I write a few times a week and this blog has gotten over 1000 views this month more than double than last month.

I worked as a change agent of culture at Daymon Worldwide.  This experience will give me the skill to help envision and create the framework to mobilize people to see how to work together to create the catalysis for the cause of making this issue front and center.

I worked as a technology broker who became skilled in negotiating and managing alliances, something critical to making the the organization a reality because partnership with others is possible.  Alliance management is something that builds bridges and those bridges are the foundation for creating new things more quickly.  More quickly because alliance principles say the sum is greater than its parts and it is built on trust.

I worked to develop and implement new technologies while making cleaning products.  This has taught me how to see basic technologies in a way that makes them applicable to solving problems.  And the gift of creating cleaning products for "everyone" has taught me about the consumer variable.  Literally how to put myself in the shoes of someone else when creating a tangible output.   It is a rare gift and I thank Clorox for teaching me this ability it comes in handy everyday.  Linking emotion to usage so to speak.

I was a student learning to be a great scientist who understood how to study variables, become an expert at scientific method and to walk in the shoes of those who truly love science.  It was very painful, but taught me the fundamentals of thinking about technology and possibility because I was charged with breaking the boundaries of what was known by proving something unknown.

And most importantly I can't forget the people who have taught me how to learn these skills, abilities and self evaluation.  They deserve a shoutout (and a link)

Robert Porter Lynch - Who taught me the word Creationship which is state of ultimate collaboration.
Robert Rosenfeld - The mentor who taught the power of people in this journey
John Hommeyer - A business man and mentor who creates innovation in a way that others can see
Helen Eckmann - A woman who believes in the power of leadership and how it shapes others
Frank Cohenour - A man who balances leadership, business and friendship better than anyone
Peter Ford - A scientist with the highest of ethics who teaches people scientific fortitude

What does this all show.  It shows how having vision for what you want to accomplish starts with tackling learning what you need every step of the way.  It shows that those around you can influence how quickly you learn about what you want to do.  And more importantly, to recognize what each experience brings your personally besides the wealth that brings freedom or stuff (which ever you fancy).  But it also shows clarity of path, a linkage between events and most importantly it creates passion as you accomplish things as  you grow and choose to change.

And lastly...it helps you see the gaps that can help you get where you ultimately want to go.  Where ever that may be.  For me, it is to bring back the foundation that we are starting to miss in America.  Innovation the President is said is critical.  I agree, but I believe we need to take a huge step back on get on the balcony so we can see the dance floor.  The dance floor these days is a mess because what we believe will get us that innovation is all wrong.  It isn't about business or what I call the Corporatetocracy which rules us, it is about fundamentals of learning.

I am getting clearer how to get to where I am going because I strive as best I can to be humble and to see the quest to where you want to get starts with knowing you might need help to make it.  

Are you clear?  If not get clear...it will help you cure your frustration and help you get going.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Why social media will change the competitive landscape...

As the large corporation and frankly many people in the corporate world wrestle with how to think about social media data I am sad to tell you the data singularity has probably already passed.  What do I mean by the singularity?  If you ever saw any of the terminator movies (even though this term is well know...I chose to use a more fun way to explain it) you will remember the singularity as the moment artificial intelligence of computers exceeded humans which led to man's downfall.  In the social media sphere the singularity in my mind is when the validity of social media as a data set is no longer a debate. And while I don't have tools to say whether this has truly happened and that social media data as truly representative as normal consumer data, I will say that the rate of change on the volume and demographics is accelerating so fast that it would be hard to argue that is hasn't happened.

Why do I mention this?  Because when I started applying social media to business problems in 2006, I was often challenged with the validity of the data set.  Even though it was a valid concern, I still had enough opportunities to show that this data was comparable to the knowledge my companies had garnered using slower, more expensive and potentially more biased traditional methods.

This brings me to the topic at hand...if social media data is now essentially valid AND there are glut of new ways to tap this data set, doesn't the competitive playing field soon change forever.  What I mean by this is the following.  Prior to having this data, the only way a company could do market research involved very labor intensive and expensive methods like focus groups, ethnography, survey studies among other methods.  Because most of this work could only yield very specific amounts of data on particular projects, the average small business would very rarely invest in this sort of market research.  In general, they would compete on ingenuity, gut and guerrilla tactics.

Over the past five years something is happening.  The analogy I would use is one of my favorite.   Rather build telephone lines in poor third world countries, they simply installed cellular towers.  Now in third world countries telephones are all cellular and the technology literally jumped the infrastructure.  The same thing is about to happen as it pertains to competition from a consumer research perspective.  We are already seeing how a small company can look very big by setting up a virtual store online.  Now it gets even scarier. 


Why?  Because with tools like those NetBase has any company can easily set up their market research shop for one price.  When they do this...they can look at what consumers are saying on any brand or topic at any time from their desktop.  This means they can compete.

A great example recently happened to me as I partnered with one our customers.  One day recently, I went to work in their office developing some data on their brands.  After about six hours, I went over and shared my findings with my partner.  As we discussed the merits of the work I had done, I took the risk to share what I really learned about their business.  For about 5 minutes, I described what I saw as the key problems and opportunities in their business and what they might consider going forward.  The partner I was working with was a very skilled market researcher who spends tons of times studying the company opportunities and issues.  After I finished, I was not sure I was right so I asked if my interpretation of the data was in line with their deep knowledge.  This person looked back at me and quietly agreed with my assessment saying that's what what they saw too.  This person has been a great partner because over our time working together they have become pretty convinced in the power of social media.  But then I added something to our discussion.  I stated, "you know I have really only spent about 20 hours in your company's data and isn't interesting that in that short time I was able to play back to you the issues and opportunities for your business in a manner that I could talk to your leadership and sound coherent.".  My partner agreed and I smiled and said, "I have seen this before.  The true power of social media is the acceleration of one's ability to get "up to speed" on any topic in a short period of time from a consumer perspective."  At this point my partner smiled and saw the power to an even greater degree.

Now imagine you are starting your own business going up against one of the largest companies in the world.  You now have the power to set up shop on the web, create an e-panel of loyal customers to see what they say AND out research your competitor because the data is there for the picking.  You only need a tool like the ones NetBase has to complete your ability to simply be Goliath instead of David.

Big companies better wake up because the day this scenario can happen is here.  Call it the social media singularity and it is accelerating every second...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Importance of Slope - Social media Volume versus Time

As many people in the social media sphere are constantly looking for the ROI on how to apply this data in a predictable and sound manner, what continues to be lost in this discussion is METRICS.  As I stated in my last post, it has been a real challenge to get people to use what I consider strong operational definitions of social media (the listening versus understanding argument).  In fact, as I think about it I see this incredibly powerful emerging data set that is really a mess.

Why is it a mess?

Firstly, because the ebb and flow of information is so dynamic.  This incredibly malleable and wandering data set can actually make it hard to hold.  What works in its favor is the volume is so large that the room for error is probably pretty forgiving.  I mean when you can pull 1,000,000 data points on a particular event or topic at any given time (if you are lucky enough to have that amount of recall) you have to admit the room for error decreases a bit versus holding a focus group of 6 people who are being led by a "neutral" moderator. 

Secondly, social media as a data set is currently a frontier.  People are unsure what they want to do with it or how to approach it.  Can they trust it?  Will it augment what I do or should I replace what I do?  It isn't traditional and is new...how should I fund it?  The misinformation on the data set is troubling.  Only 15 year olds write on the web (even though 55-60 yr old women are the fastest growing segment).  This type of volatility makes for great angst and great opportunity.

And lastly, social media is a real threat that people are not paying attention to yet.  I am bewildered by the fact that large companies don't notice the threat it poses them.  With the right tool in their hands, small companies can now interact with consumers anytime, anywhere from the comfort of their office.  This is going to change the game on how we compete with each other.  In fact, I think this will be a deeper discussion for my next blog post.

What does this all have to do with the importance of slope?

Everything...because we have to first learn how to make sense from the noise before we can understand and predict it.

I have spent so much of the last five years thinking about how to apply social media effectively to produce business results that create Tangible ROI.  Whether this comes from saving money or creating new opportunity, I have always and still believe that application is the name of the game (I will probably keep pounding this from post to post because hey...I am an evangelist and it is my job).

But recently, I have really taken the opposite approach as I discussed earlier today.  I believe it is the development of METRICS that will help turn the tide and create scalability to social media application not the other way around.  So at this point I spend a lot of time looking at our natural language processing capability, our huge index and the power that words can now play in the development of metrics.

And when I think about the concept of Buzz, Sentiment and Passion and NetBase's ability to capture those three counts/measures accurately, I begin to see scalable patterns that can be apply to the issues at hand.  If you use the earlier analogy I made around trying to ring the bell at a carnival and that each measure represents a more sensitive measure of your social media effectiveness, these three counts become increasingly important to consider.

Why?  Because recently, I was looking at an event that intrigued me (Obama's speech on Libya about a month or so ago) and I noticed something very interesting.

Above is a net sentiment chart on the subject of Obama and his speech on libya on 3/28.  The chart gives a look at a selected time period before and after his speech.  The green part of the chart is positively expressed emotion about Obama in the context of Libya and his speech.  The Red part of the chart is negative emotion being expressed about the topic. The blue line is the Net Sentiment or %positive - %negative (form -100 to +100).  You will distinctly see the volume of sentiment expressed climb dramatically when he gives the speech on March 28th.  I have only tracked this study through the day after the speech.
The next slide is a look  the absolute buzz (non-sentiment based sound bites) expressed in the news and on microblogs (twitter) and the % change this buzz represents on the subject (the two lines).  You will notice here that twitter line is climbing at a much higher rate than the news (which tapers off pretty quickly).  In fact, it was pretty amazing to see the "lifecycle" on this event.

The third slide is the same view as the first slide, except it was rebuilt only using twitter content (not the sum of all social media sources like news, forums, blogs, microblogs social networks etc).  What is very interesting here is that the net sentiment for the twitter chatter on this topic is much hired 43% net sentiment versus 24% for all content types.  This actually shows in this case at least that there is a difference when looking at different sources of social media.  

Why use this example?  Because it brings me back to the importance of slope.  What this data suggest is that there is a life cycle for any social media event.  And what some might hypothesize is that each source represents a different point in an events life cycle.  And as you think about different counts you can measure buzz, sentiment and passion (three different but deeper types of social media measures) you have a very sensitive footprint for a social media event.  

The question is this...

If I take the rate of change of volume in buzz, sentiment and passion for an event AND I think about how each source type changes, do I have the secret footprint for social media?  Why is this a footprint?  Because these three sensitive measures tracked across different sources can be studied and become predictive when what an event occur.  Keeping it simple, if the slope is 4 on Twitter for one event and 1.5 for another doesn't this begin to predict the seriousness of one versus the other.

I think this is the foundation for using very simple metrics as a means of teasing out to become predictive of social media events.  And because they happen fast, you better know the event fingerprint.  

Of course this is all theoretical and you will need to be able to get those three sensitive measures to make it work...and that is where natural language processing comes in...doesn't it.  And an index that allows you to react to anything...welcome to my evangelism for a technology that is truly differentiated.

Sorry for the sale, but it is how a customer becomes an evangelist...and that is at the heart of MY social media passion.

Social Media Listening does not Equal Social Media Understanding

As social media develops, I think it is getting increasingly important that the right operational definitions are created.  As I have stated many times, that operational definition or "defining what something means is the core of creating clarity" is the difference between success and failure in any sale of something new whether this is inside the company or from outside the company.

Currently, as I walk across the business landscape trying to get people to believe that social media is going to impact them whether they like it or not.  And one of the great misnomers in social media today is that almost EVERYONE uses the term listening almost exclusively.

I am going to go out on a limb here and say (as I did in my last post) that this is too broad a way to talk about social media.  While it is very true that we are listening to what is going on across all that data, because it is already there and we are peering into to what is being said, there is definitely more to it.  For instance, if I can tell you that in the last 24 hours there were 1,000,000 tweets on twitter MENTIONING a brand, what does that really tell you.  In addition, if someone decided to then give you 50 sound bites for a flavor of what is being said.  What does that tell you?  I would argue...not much at all.  Buzz volumes on specific sites are not going to give you much except a knowledge of how often you are mentioned.  IT WILL NOT GIVE YOU ANYTHING STATISTICALLY OF WHAT THEY FEEL ABOUT YOUR PRODUCT OR ISSUE.  This is the crux of the social media operational definition issue. 


Understanding is something that gives you depth where Listening only scratches the surface of social media's power.  To this end, if you can understand the vastness of what is being said, you can begin to come up with new ways to develop unbiased insights from all that information that is there already.  Understanding can get to the nuance of why someone likes or doesn't like something.  For instance, if people know that McDonald's is not healthy capturing mentions of that tells you little (what listening means).  If you can suddenly tease out the specifics of why consumers think it is unhealthy you are now understanding the key points.  Social media can do that if you have the right methods and the "natural language processing" that can really understand the sentences.  And while our company does have that I come back to the point I always make.   If you have good ability to parse sentences, you can then differentiate them accurately and ultimately have the data quality that gives you confidence.  With this confidence you can then dive into the data in a way that gets you the traditional answer you want when interacting with the consumer in a different way.

So why make a fuss about this?  Because if we don't differentiate these two terms in social media, then people will think incorrectly about what type of social media application will provide them.   If  you are talking about CRM of issues through the PR function, listening to the buzz can be very helpful especially if you can easily react and "stave off" the issue because you can hear the problem quickly.  In this case, understanding would be helpful, but could take too long (as of today) to solve the problem at hand.

On the other hand, if you have an "event" that has the potential to be cataclysmic to you business, there is going to be value in being able to listening quickly and react,  but think about if you can understand what is being said and where it is being said across the event (during the first day).  With listening you might start to react to something so quickly that you are putting out data into the social media sphere that could only add to the chaos (you create more).  If you can understand the real problem being expressed, you can actually THINK ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS AND THEN PROACTIVELY RESPONSE RATHER THAN REACT.  This example to me is the meat of the issue and the reason a better definition is needed.

Understanding in social media is underutilized term and one that needs to quickly make its way into the social media lexicon if people don't want apply social media incorrectly.  I would even argue listening and understanding have a cousin term that I can't even see yet, but creating better operational definition will make social media less of a fad (which it is not) and more scientific in the coming months and years.

I continue to worry for the companies who ignore social media.  It is my job to convince people of social media's relevance and I am actually paid to do this.  That being said, however, I have had the privilege of being involved with social media for 5 years now.  And within that, I have gotten the chance as a change agent to successfully apply it to business problems.  But what concerns me is that companies continue culturally to struggle to fit the social media box into their current measures and practices.  In fact, you would be shocked at how many very intelligent business people will challenge the validity of the social media as a data set.  And then when I ask them what they do first when buying a new appliance or electronic, the smile and say the web.  This shows me they get it but their culture is keeping them from acting because "no one told me to use this data." This cultural challenge and fear is limiting many companies chance to get ahead of the curve.  It is our job, however, to make sure we come up with the strongest ways possible to describe how to think about social media for those who are dancing with it.  Simply lumping everything into the concept of listening does no justice to the power of social media, because it can lead people to think incorrectly about how to apply it.

And because it is my job to help people believe in social media, I take full responsibility in making sure we define it clearly for those interested and do our best to link those definitions to applications that fit their category, business, function, usage case and most importantly culture.

John Lennon said give peace a chance.

In social media, I would say the same thing to separating Social Media Understanding from Social Media Listening.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

why buzz, sentiment and passion are meaningful social media metrics

When people talk about social media the most widely used term to describe leveraging its value is listening.  This is a very good way to describe what is now approximately 420 petabytes/year.  There is so much content I guess the best you can hope to do is just that; listen.  In fact the first time I learned how to put 420 petabytes in perspective I was astounded.  420 petabytes is equal to all the books every written in any language across the history of time...times 3600 (or at least this was a stat that has been shared with me a number of times...so I take it at face value).  Boy that is a lot of content and on a yearly basis it is going to increase even more in the coming years.

But the question for those interested in social media is this...is listening good enough?

In fact, if you are only trying to listen are you even scratching the surface of what is possible in social media?  I would argue you are not.  And that brings us to the point of this post...

Listening isn't enough...you need to understand what it is saying.  And understanding requires that you can pull apart the relationships within the sentences.  If you can do that on mass scale then you suddenly can begin to understand what social media is really saying.  Why? Because if you can efficiently understand the language of all that content you should theoretically have a much more accurate look at the data which then will enable the most important lynch pin in social media...METRICS.

In my experience on the social media dance floor everyone is trying desperately to tell you they can accurately understand what is being said.  But the question is how do they BUILD their data set.  Do they use "people who know where to look"?   If they do then they are at the mercy of what I call the hit by a bus principle.  If anyone who "knows where to look" is hit by a bus while crossing the street then than integrity and accuracy of that data just changed and it is less valid than it was before.  Another thing I always see if people stating, "on this website there were 3.2 million tweets and here are sample of what they were saying".  How is this helping you understand?  Volumes of tweets are interesting because it give some sense of scale between two subjects (the buzz), but it does nothing to help you understand the sentiment (emotion) or better yet the concept of intensity (passion).  It merely allows a small comparison between volumes on websites.  And in the world of metrics that is only worth a bit but not everything.

In fact, how could you translate the number of tweets into ROI on say an advertising spend?  This brings me to my "pitch" (a bit of promotion for my company NetBase).  At NetBase, because we have 80-90% accuracy automatically captured in our Index (we have googled the web so to speak), you can now UNDERSTAND the emotion within the content using a repeatable method to collect the data.  Because this is the case, each search that is done is apples to apples and because we pull this data from content that is indexed, the principle of comparison is at my disposal.

This brings me to the metrics.  It is easy to think about how to apply social media first and THEN build metrics that suit the application.  I choose to go a different direction in my conceptualization of applying social media to business.  I would rather think about the measures I have at my disposal and THEN find the right applications.

What I have spent much of my time contemplating are the usage of buzz (mentions only), sentiment (emotional mentions) and passion (intensity measure like capturing love, like dislike and hate) to help create metrics that will enable viable applications of social media data.  In fact, what I found quite interesting is that in our index for every 100 buzz sound bites, 20 of them will contain sentiment and 2 will contain pure passion (love, like, dislike and hate...while if you include other emotional expressions of passion the number goes up to about 5%).  A good analogy would be the following...when you go to the carnival and grab the hammer to ring the bell...the deeper you connect with your consumers with either your products or online messages the more "response" you will get.  If you "hit it" 1/3 the way up to the bell, you get buzz.  2/3 the way up you get sentiment.  All the way up you get passion.

Another way to say it is this...

If my social media message gets a higher than average number of positive passionate expression on a daily basis without spending a dollar on advertising then I have gone viral and hit the holy grail. 

 That is really what we are all trying to do on social media.  This post for instance (is mostly for me to get my thoughts out), but there is a part of me that wants millions of people to read this and say they love it without every having to tweet it to get people's attention.  Why do I care about that?  Because I like to think about concepts that create change and if my message has the maximum impact without any effort that I can drive a lot more change efficiently.

Now onto measuring your spend.  If we think about those three counts as a means of accurately capturing what is being said online about a brand, I can begin to think about their application to something like advertising.  In advertising we know what the strategy for the ad was.  We also know what we spent on the ad.  But how do we understand the response to it in near real time.  I would propose that social media can be that response using buzz, sentiment and passion  Why?  Because after I start my campaign I can very easily begin to track buzz, sentiment and passion (if they actually ring the bell).  Once I know those counts for a promotion, I can then begin to look more closely at the relationship between these measure.

  • I could look at the the counts in relation to an attribute beneath the brand like customer service versus store cleanliness. 
  • I could take a look at the amount of sentiment generated versus some average across all brands (this will help me see if the attribute like customer service elicits a greater sense of emotion versus another attribute)_.  
  • I could even look at the rate of change of each measure over time and see how the change relates to other events
While these measure seem hypothetical, they are things I am currently exploring with fortune 500 companies.  I write this because my goal is challenge those who read my posts to stretch themselves.  I figured by getting some thoughts around measures into social media sphere there will be more chatter that will get most of those who are thinking about social media beyond their fear of the data.

The point is this...knowing what the buzz is only will never be enough to accurate extract real insight from social media.  It is going to be accuracy in the data that only natural language processing can give you.  It is going to be the ability to capture more measures than simple buzz. And lastly, it is going to be ALL ABOUT APPLICATION AND METRICS.

I always preach in social media the name of the game is application...and that is my game.  Make it yours.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Innovation, the consumer and SaaS together at last! - connecting scalably to the consumer

As much of my writing suggests, my true passion lies in the area of innovation, culture and people.  No surprise there.  But one of the other things I find very fascinating is the framework by which behavior can be changed and innovation can thrive.

During my time within start-up world as Chief Evangelist of NetBase Solutions has been taking my experiences as a Product Developer of Cleaning Products at Clorox and translating those skills to tackling the social media market.  Talk about a chasm to walk across on a string.  That being said, I never realized until recently that when a person is tasked with mixing a bottle of chemicals together with susie home maker in mind and how this consumer will wipe a counter, clean a toilet or even take care of their children you gain the ability to put yourself in the consumers shoes.  This "consumer variable" is something that has helped me think about not only what a good idea is but how to connect with the consumer who uses it.  Many of us have it, but leveraging this knowledge and being a user is critical to helping this personal skill live.

What does this have to do with social media and SaaS companies?  Actually everything.  Most SaaS companies are working to create a solution that consumers will use and love everyday.  It is the lifeblood of a scalable business model.  But what are the consumer elements that give the business model life?  There is no question that a huge portion of this lies in a companies' ability to develop a solution that fits into relevant business processes in a way that provide financial value of some sort on an ongoing basis.  And while this is the tangible effort every company undergoes...is it enough?  In some cases, the answer is yes.  If the software is functional and performs a job that helps the company run better it can simply be the best technology that it can be to provide this value.  On the other end of the spectrum, however, are solutions that require culture change to see them "cross the chasm".  What is the secret to unlock this benefit so the software can scale and grow?  It's emotion.  And emotions that are tied to consumer perceivable benefits to really drive the change.  So the next question what are the key emotions that will help create a scalable consumer perceivable benefit?

There are three (in my opinion) that any SaaS company should think about with each and every feature/function/improvement they consider adding to their offering.

What are they?  Control, Confidence and Efficiency.  As I like to say...take it in.  Think about it a bit.  Why these three?  We have left out fun, easy, smart and many other relevant words.  The reality is this;  every consumer of your product is strapped for time, what to trust what they use on a day to day basis and most importantly have differing needs based on how they like to innovate (and thus control how they do things).  Each of these emotions are critical to unlocking the key to consumer behavior.

A great example of this would be in our own business where our index enables consumer to search on a brand or topic to unlock the emotion and passion within social media data.  What happens when your brand or topic is something like the brand Tide?  Tide can mean a great many things.  But at its highest level it can mean Tide laundry detergent (what you are probably searching for).  But it can also mean the Alabama Crimson Tide or even the Tides in the ocean.  How can you create a query that lets you zoom down to the data you want to look through?   In fact for many months our software (and I am not the most experienced software user although I am good at applying social media) had no way to help you deal with this problem without thinking through the all the key terms you need to separate out the data so to speak.  And as someone who only likes to focus on detail like that for short periods of time, I found myself not using the software.  I was essentially stopped passing go because setting up a search wasn't (do I hear it) efficient.  It took a long time to think through the words you would exclude or include, what context might help your narrow things down or where I might even want to look.  Second, when I did try to go through this process when I had to I was never sure I had set things up right.  So I had no Confidence in my work.  I did have control, because I could choose whatever terms I wanted to make it go.  But this problem at the beginning of our software lacked two of the three emotions (confidence and efficiency).

A few months later we added our disambiguation wizard.  Now before I press go I can look into the search and see what key words are coming up.  I can click on a word see a sample of sound bites to decide if this word is relevant and when I want to exclude it I can see how much data is removed from the dataset.  I can go back to my search query and add more context or more filters or whatever I want and then go back to the wizard.....(you get the idea).

In the end I can cycle through the until my changes yield just that, little change...AND THEN PRESS GO.

This new system takes a few minutes (efficient), helps me know I have the right data (confident) and I can keep or remove what I want (control).  Its the emotional trifecta of SaaS.  Think about it.  Every feature and benefit can be put through such a filter to help on decide whether they are hitting the right emotional consumer targets.

As the title says...innovation, the consumer and SaaS together at last!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Applying social media - Getting beyond the fear

Over the past five years, I have had the privilege to be involved with social media.  And not from a standpoint of creating it.  No, my claim to fame has been applying it and using it for business.  Over the past five years, I have come to trust the validity of social media data and the concept of netnography because I have seen it work.

And while I recently wrote in my introduction to Pipeline 2011 about getting over the fear, I figured I would spend a little time discussing at a high level how to think about applying social media to your business.  At NetBase for whom I champion the social media cause, we have indexed the web and using natural language processing have given people the ability to quickly capture the relevant social media data they are looking for (say a brand like Tide) and allow them to UNDERSTAND the emotion being expressed in the data.  Our natural language processing (something I am not an expert at understanding) enables us very accurately (clocked at 80-90% using independent people measuring its accuracy) extract the emotion in sentences.  This huge index + accurate understanding of sentiment makes one giant database for capturing and observing consumer behavior in their natural habitat.  My good friend Dr. Rob Kozinets calls it Netnography.  This way of doing consumer research is very powerful because you can access this data and observe your consumer from anywhere anytime on any topic from your desk.  Secondly, consumers in this natural habitat usually discuss things in a state free from bias because they don't know they are being observed (we only use the public web by the way...no private content). And lastly, because we have great natural language processing AND have indexed the web the data set is built the same way each and every search so all application work is not dependent on random data collection by people.  It is an apples to apples collection of data that gives you a starting point to work from.

Enough about NetBase...the point of discussing this way of collecting social media data is to share how I collect my data when thinking about applying social media to real business problems.  How do I begin to dimensionalize using social media everyday... I like to think about the following relationships.


This relationship is very critical to successfully beginning to think about the application of social media beyond counting sound bites.  Let's think about it a bit more.

TIME vs. INFORMATION:  In this case social media is a godsend.  When you want to understand consumer behavior and you simply don't have the time to get the information where else can you go?  There are many times when this happens.  A great example is during what I call an "event".  What is an event?  It's a major issue your brand is facing because of something that suddenly occurs on the marketplace.  This could be a celebrity making a verbal gaffe or a company's products making people sick.  Either way, your ability to not only properly react but understand the data at hand is extremely limited.  Normal methods requires days to prep and days to execute.  Social brand trackers don't show real results for weeks after you need them.  How will you have the time to get the information.  Enter social media.  I have had the opportunity to work on a number of "events" in recent weeks and to effectively do this you need some key measures to make it work.  Fortunately, I have such measure at my disposal.  Buzz or how much general comments are being made on a topic.  Then there is sentiment.  Sentiment is the positive or negative emotions being expressed about a topic.  And lastly, there is passion or intensity.  This is a special metric because not all sentiment is created equal.  In fact, only with our natural language processing can we get at the passion count.  Simply tracking the changes in these can be a powerful way for brand to understand a crisis.  In fact, I spend much of my time these days playing with these three metrics to create novel social media business applications.  Things like advertising effectiveness, event management, and innovation insight generation.

RESOURCES vs. TIME:  This relationship is an interesting one.  In the case of social media it about granularity.  This is a case where you wouldn't take the time to spend the resources.  There are many questions that a brand has that it might never answer because it just isn't worth the effort.  I came across a great example a while back.   At my previous company they had a brand that could be referred in two ways.  One way was unique to our company the other was more generic.  This piece of information was a debate for many years.  In about 5 minutes we were able to unlock the secret from social media.  When we checked the more generic way of labelling the product there 437 mentions.  When we checked it our way it was 40.  A 10:1 difference in buzz.  The marketer I was working with at the time looked at me and said we would never spend to find that out but boy does everyone want to know the answer to that question.  The speed and breadth of information that is available makes it possible to now learn what people are saying when it wasn't worth it before.  My good friend Andrew used to look at me when I asked a stupid question and say, "you couldn't possibly care".  I used to laugh and say he was right, I didn't.  Now however, when someone says that about a brand question that is hard to fathom you can possibly care.

RESOURCES vs. INFORMATION:  The most important thing to talk about in social media application.  This is the game changer.  Why?  With our offering, a company can for the cost of about 5 focus groups have one analyst looking at any brand or topic at any time in any way.  Why is this important?  Because a company who could compete in the past because market research is too expensive has just become empowered to do as much market research as they want for about 10% the cost.  This is how big companies will be taken down in the new market research data set that is emerging.  If a small company can develop processes and methods for tapping all the data that is already out there...the game changes.  In the past, these smaller companies didn't have the resources to get that information, but now they can.  If they are hungry and not risk adverse they can now understand consumers with a SAS solution. 

This is just one way to think about social media application but as I am very into rules of thumb and concepts like this, it makes a great way to begin to place your application methods in a particular box.  I have no doubt after 5 years of applying social media that its power is only just being realized by companies.  The ones that aren't afraid to try something new will win...those who stall will become dust.

An analogy I like to use regarding social media is this...

When I started applying social media to the business in 2006 it was midnight.  It was dark and you couldn't see your hand in front of your face.  In fact, I was often laughed at for suggesting this idea, but some people believed.  Those who did started to be converted.  I will never forget the time I was applying social media to acquisition work for one of my previous companies.  During one cycle, we had generated a report on the pros and cons of the product from both a consumer and professional products perspective.  We gave the report to the acquisition team (a great application of time versus information).  They went to a report out meeting with the target.  They had our findings with them.  When one of the VP's got back I asked him how it went.  I will never forget this social media moment...it was my magic moment.  With wide open eyes he looked back at me and said quietly, "it was absolutely amazing, when they presented the pros and cons of the business I already had everything in my hand."

Well today it is only dawn.  Most companies know they need social media but are still bewildered about where to spend or if they can even trust the data.  I have worked across the corporate landscape in this respect having worked with visionaries who are forcing the change from those who know it is important, but are moving yet.  Social media is a Ferrari bus with full tank of gas and a nitrous switch.  If the bus leaves the station, it is going to move real fast.

The question remains when is NOON coming.  The moment when the sun is high in the sky and brightness of the day shines on social media.

My prediction...we are nearly there...the Ferrari bus is revving and the driver has his foot on the gas.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Innovation Rules of Thumb - Preparation - Know Thy Client

When you have a big idea...who do you turn to if you want see it come to life?  Within the corporate landscape, no innovator gets an idea done in a vacuum with no one's help.  You have to rely on others to help make it happen and in many cases your idea needs a client to make it happen.  This client can be an external customer, channel partner or internal stakeholder.  And no matter what you will probably need someone to become the "consumer" of your idea.

When you have targeted your client, what is your rationale for picking them?

One method would be to think first about your idea.  You might say to yourself, I love this idea and it is perfect for THIS client.  In this case, the fit will be mostly about matching idea with client regardless of who the client is, what your relationship is with them and usually how much revenue or success it can generate for you or your company.

I would consider this the traditional method of finding a client for your idea.  This to me is all about the business.  The greatest success is tied to the greatest revenue.  More money equals more success. And this is the most important metric in making innovation valuable.  Because we are all in this to make money right?  (Cue the sales guy dressed suavely in a tie laughing and slapping you on the back).

In fact, picking this method can give the biggest results, it can give the most pain.  Why?  Because people are self interested and when it comes to change they will only engage if it makes sense for them as we have previously discussed.  That is why the rule of thumb KNOW THY CLIENT is so critical to helping you succeed.  If you start down the wrong path at the beginning, how can you expect to make it to the end at all?   There are so many pitfalls to the change agent game, starting off by picking the right partner to make things go is probably one of the most critical things we do.

As an innovator coming up with ideas is like popping popcorn, you put some heat on it many kernals pop.  So rather that pick you biggest idea and match it to the right client, find the right client for the many ideas you might have.  Success as an innovator is a game of big leaps but getting to leap is a game of inches.   You can increase your odds of winning by always going to the right partner.  And this means taking the opposite approach for success.

So what is the rule of thumb KNOW THY CLIENT about?  Very simple...

If I have an awesome that is worth $1B and another one worth $100MM but the client for $1B is someone I can't trust, but the $100MM idea is for someone I have succeeded with many times, forget the $1B idea and go with $100MM idea.

This sounds kind of weird doesn't it?  Picking the less valuable idea over the bigger one.  But if you think about it a bit, it makes sense.  In both cases, you will be asking your company to take a risk and do something different, so it is most valuable to make it happen rather than lose out because of who you stakeholder is for the idea.  As an innovator, good partners are the most important thing to consider in making things happen and this starts with KNOWING THY CLIENT.  The politics of innovation isn't about the merit of ideas, but what the people who make them happen think about the merit of the ideas.  If companies don't innovate and people do, then choosing a good partner will more than likely help great things happen.

And what is most important to remember, KNOWING THY CLIENT is a personal thing.  You know your innovation style and a good client is someone who you jive with, trust, and connect with in how you like to make it happen.  Never be influenced by others.  Know your style and bring it to the party when picking your client to bring an idea.  Trust yourself.

Trust is the oil of innovation because it keeps friction down when working together.  Bring the oil if  you want to make great things happen....

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

One man's rules of thumb for navigating the politics of innovation - introduction

Back to the politics of innovation...

Now that we have delved into why innovators often fail and what makes them successful, there is another key thing to think about...the rules of thumb to live by.  I guess to me having rules of thumb are principles you can use to help you make decisions quickly and when no one is there to help you.  I guess the point here is if you wanna innovate in space (be able to tackle any situation) you will need to keep your wits about you.  There are four key headers for the rules of thumb Preparation, Communication, Influence and Collaboration. 

I will tackle them one at a time (although I have tackled a few already along the way)

here they are...


  • Know thy Client
  • Understand decision-makers personality types
  • Know why you shouldn’t do it
  • Success has many parents failure is an orphan
  • The Concept-Approach principle
  • It’s your fault they don’t understand
  • Know when to start selling and when not to
  • Never innovate by article or book
  • Sell high informally
  • Patience is a virtue
  • Learn how to lead the horse to water to drink
  • Sell you ideas in bits and pieces
  • Always support your allies
  • Look for opposite-minded partners
  • Find bolt-on opportunities
  • There is enough credit to go around 

Pipeline 2011 - Social Media Meets Innovation

On June 1st, I will be the closing keynote speaker at Pipeline 2011, the online innovation conference on product development.  And while I spend a great deal of time talking about innovation theory, I thought I would deviate today to discuss a bit about the subject of my talk...Social Media.

I have had the fortune to stumble upon the concept of using social media within the enterprise since 2006.  In fact, my foray into the subject came about through my interaction with a supplier called Accelovation.  This company eventually morphed into NetBase and after successfully implementing their social media solutions at my two previous companies, I have joined the company as its Chief Evangelist responsible for helping people see the power of social media as a data source for driving the business.

This post is not about what I have accomplished in social media as much as it is about starting a dialogue prior to my talk at Pipeline 2011.  In fact, what I want it to be about is my favorite innovation subject...culture and trust.  About two months ago I discussed the concept of culture based adoption.   This idea, which discussed how new software is as much about getting people to use new tools as it is about changing culture in the process, is at the center of the social media debate in my mind.

For many months, I have learned much about what I consider the slow adoption of social media as a data source.  In working with many companies in many fields, I have heard many reasons why they are slow to integrate what is clearly impacting all of us everyday.  It's not accurate.  It's biased.  Only gen y is online.  Companies are poisoning the data.  The list goes on and on.  But what often amazes me is this.  When confronted by what I consider fear of change within the corporation (a topic of the politics of innovation), I always ask people one simple question.  When you are about to buy an appliance or an electronic product what is the first thing you do?  The all say go to the web and read up.  This to me highlights the struggle social media faces within the Enterprise.  The ENTERPRISE is not telling the WE or the ME (my earlier post) that social media is extremely important.  There is cultural misalignment and therefore resistance to this new and powerful idea.  The proof is in the fact the everyone (ME) turns to the web immediately about hundred times a day through their phone. 

In fact, I had the pleasure of presenting at an offsite in February to discuss how it can be applied.  This company was a one that sits on the tip of everyone's tongue everyday and more importantly is in the heart of silicon valley.  At this offsite, I asked the group to raise their hand if they felt that social media could be a relevant data source.  Not one person out of about 50 did.  I was shocked.  Here I am standing within one of silicon valley's giants and even that company is resistant.  This company does ALL of its business online, but no one is telling everyone who uses the web personally everyday that the conversations online are relevant to learn from.  And I did ask them the question above after no one raised their hands and people smiled and agreed they do look to the web when they buy.

Now many people will say that there are so many tools how do you know what to choose?  This is a true statement, but I guess the point here is that to build a new capability you can't take all the risk out of your experiments.  Even thought I represent a company that sells a profound capability to driving social media insights and analysis, I am a change agent and innovation broker at heart.  I tell any customer I work with that they need to think about a suite of tools just like anything.  Everyone wants one solution to do everything.  And while the market will mature and there will eventually be that one tool, it is important to move from fear to exploration.  We must stop letting social media impact us and move to a place of embracing the change by getting off the wall and asking our partner at the junior high dance to do just that.

How can stay competitive if you are unable to even take the risk to compete....

See you in June to learn more about how social media can make innovation faster, better and cheaper.