Social influence social reality

Below are three interesting research articles that focus on “influence” within social networks:

Determining Influential Users in Internet Social Networks The study proposes a model for determining weak friend links from strong friend links within social networks. This is important because strong links indicate who is an influencer within a network.

Spontaneous emergence of social influence in online systems This study, reported in 2010 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, analyzes the popularity of games within Facebook. By analyzing 100 million application installations, the researches found that once games crossed a break point threshold with respect to popularity with individual users, social influence directly affected overall popularity of a game. And games that did not experience this “social influence effect” essentially disappeared from the online community environment at rates far higher than would otherwise occur in an offline environment. This is important for two factors: (1) here’s an interesting case-study as to how Facebook makes its (“our”?) data available to analyze that wily creature home sapiens, (2) when launching a new product/service within a social network, it behooves a brand to focus on strong influencers (see study above) in terms of product development and outreach.

Seeding Strategies for Viral Marketing: An Empirical Comparison In this study, the authors found that effective viral campaigns within social networks are dependent on hubs (subnetworks of “strong” influencers) and bridges (pathways between “strong” subnetworks). This is important because by targeting hubs, and nurturing activity within these hubs, brands have an opportunity to exert some control over social influence. Of course, this puts pressure on brands to ensure that their product/service is excellent, incorporates elements that appeal to their targeted hubs, etc. If the product/service fails in this regard, it will suffer (see second article above).

Social search versus Web search

This article by CNET, Why Google is Ditching Search, prompted me to look for empirical research supporting the author’s premise. And I found this gem of a research paper, #TwitterSearch: A Comparison of Microblog Search and Web Search.

The Stanford and Microsoft researchers compared how individuals use search in Twitter versus traditional Web platforms like Google and Bing. What the researchers found:

  • Web search can leverage social search to discover additional search queries that are temporally and contextually related, thus delivering a more relevant set of search results
  • Social search influences the perception of online reputation
  • Web search can leverage the hashtag and tagging concepts central to social search (especially Twitter and del.icio.us) to identify and deliver non-spam results that deep link to further relevant results
  • Web search can leverage social search to understand what issues are trending, the nuances of these trends, and then relate these discoveries to search queries and thereby deliver a more relevant result

We’re already seeing these types of things integrated into Google’s search platform through its integration of G+ . And now Twitter and Google are engaged in a PR smack-down .

Similarly, these findings above suggest there is increased opportunity within CRM systems. The researchers found that individuals bounce between social and Web search as they narrow their queries. If a brand is leveraging a social platform (via Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, etc) and focused on SEO, and consumers find consistent redundancy in results for their queries via both search platforms, the likelihood that this consumer will reach out to this brand increases. And if this brand is capable of tracking the source of the lead (what platform delivered the lead) in conjunction with tracking the query that generated the lead (what was actually searched), then the brand can engage the consumer with a higher level of insight. This type of process necessarily promotes high consumer satisfaction (and increased likelihood of lead conversion).

Photo credit: visualpanic

Recent research on social CRM principles

Following is a series of research articles focusing on social CRM. These articles explore different facets of the concepts underpinning social CRM.

Interactive digital advertising versus interactive community (download). This article focuses on what motivates individuals to participate in social networks and what causes these individuals to respond to social advertising.

Advertising on Facebook. This is a well-written article on Facebook advertising best practices, strategies and tactics.

Customer engagement and Facebook pages. This is an in-depth article focusing on many nuances of how to leverage Facebook business pages to increase customer loyalty.

Value-based CRM. This article explores the relationship between marketing, IT, and finance to deliver an effective CRM solution. The authors make some great recommendations as to how finance departments can work with marketing and IT departments to set proper metrics tied to corporate business objectives.

Innovation in social analytics

Data analysis is the new plastics. Remember this scene from the movie the The Graduate?

Below is a curated list of articles from this week of innovative social analytics and business intelligence initiatives.

In this article from O’Reilly Radar, we learn that social network analysis is amalgamation of social science analysis such as sociology, political science, psychology, and anthropology combined with traditional mathematical measurements. At it’s core, social network analysis measures relationships between people and organizations. But cutting edge research is also looking at ways to leverage social network analysis as a form of early warning system for natural disasters. Much social network analysis has been regressive in nature, the future will focus more on real time analysis.

And speaking of real time analytics, the article from the Washington Post makes the argument that real time results may have a significant influence on the up-coming 2012 elections.

Perry is done,” came a Twitter posting from a viewer called (at)PatMcPsu, even while the Texas governor struggled to name the third of three federal agencies he said he would eliminate as president. Another, called (at)sfiorini, messaged, “Whoa? Seriously, Rick Perry? He can’t even name the agencies he wants to abolish. Wow. Just wow.

The key point to remember is that the “real time citizen” is no longer content to remain passive. Additionally, will the “real time citizen” quietly wait for poll stations and voting counts to close in other states before announcing the results of his/her own state? Will be interesting to watch how quiet or loud Mr. and Mrs. Real Time Citizen will react in 2012.

Finally, social app analytics start-up Kontagent snagged $12 million in a Series B round. According to an interview with Kontagent’s founder, what makes Kontagent unique is that does not perform “traditional” social analytics function (such as conversation monitoring, tabulating likes, etc) but performs deep analytics, with a focus on teasing out profitability KPIs, and has a team of data analytics and data visualization scientists working to help clients understand, interpret, and make informed business decisions based on Kontagent’s proprietary data visualization techniques.

 

Influence in the social web and social commerce

http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2010/11/02/altimeter-report-social-commerce-how-brands-are-generating-revenue-by-lcecere/
http://www.briansolis.com/2010/11/the-rise-of-the-social-consumer
http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/150/the-new-influentials.html
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.156.8795&rep=rep1&type=pdf
This article on social media New Influentialshttp://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/150/the-new-influentials.html raises an interesting question regarding “incluence” on the social web: what’s the core driver of influence in the social web when it comes to commerce, a person, her community, or both? The article profiles six individuals who have variously used YouTube, corporate resources, quasi-anarchist tactics, and curation to attract dedicated audiences to their brand (whether personal or corporate). Indeed, the question of “what constitutes influence in a social network” has captured the interest of researches, as is evidenced by the articles “A model of influence in a social network”http://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/49/65/60/PDF/td08.pdf and “Learning Influence Probabilities In Social Networks”http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.156.8795&rep=rep1&type=pdf. Similarly, Brian Solis has written an excellent post on the genesis of the social consumerhttp://www.briansolis.com/2010/11/the-rise-of-the-social-consumer. According to Solis:
When a brand does its job right, it creates an emotional connection. The affinity it engenders contributes to who we are as individuals and how others perceive us. In the social web, sharing our purchases and experiences serve as social objects which are essentially catalysts for sparking conversations. At the center of this discussion is the product. Experiences, impressions, and perceptions cast bridges that link us together. As the conversation unfolds, the hub connects the product to individuals who not only respond, but also consume, where information directly or indirectly influences behavior and opinion. This form of subconscious empowerment seemingly builds confidence according to some new research. As social capital factors into the equation, these conversations represent touchpoints where positive experiences take the shape of endorsements and ultimately c0ntribute to the overall branding process.
Solis’ sentiments are echoed by a recent Altimeter Reporthttp://www.slideshare.net/loracecere/rise-of-socialcommercefinal (also accessed her on Jeremiah Owyang’s bloghttp://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2010/11/02/altimeter-report-social-commerce-how-brands-are-generating-revenue-by-lcecere/:
<div style=”width:477px” id=”__ss_5637236″><strong style=”display:block;margin:12px 0 4px”><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/loracecere/rise-of-socialcommercefinal” title=”Rise of social_commerce_final”>Rise of social_commerce_final</a></strong><object id=”__sse5637236″ width=”477″ height=”510″><param name=”movie” value=”http://static.slidesharecdn.com/swf/doc_player.swf?doc=riseofsocialcommercefinal-101101160620-phpapp02&stripped_title=rise-of-socialcommercefinal&userName=loracecere” /><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”/><param name=”allowScriptAccess” value=”always”/><embed name=”__sse5637236″ src=”http://static.slidesharecdn.com/swf/doc_player.swf?doc=riseofsocialcommercefinal-101101160620-phpapp02&stripped_title=rise-of-socialcommercefinal&userName=loracecere” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true” width=”477″ height=”510″></embed></object><div style=”padding:5px 0 12px”>View more <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/”>documents</a> from <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/loracecere”>lora cecere</a>.</div></div>
Going back to the original question I posited, I’ll say “influence” is a combination of both a brand (personal or corporate) and respect and empowerment of one’s community, but community is the main driver. Solis describes how American Express empowers its community by facilitating conversations along with promoting commerce (and doesn’t this remind you of fundamental concepts discussed in the Cluetrain Manifestohttp://www.amazon.com/Cluetrain-Manifesto-End-Business-Usual/dp/0738204315, particularly chapter four?). But for an empassioned–and spending–community, American Express would not necessarily be influential. Thus, the core question of what defines influence hinges on how committed you are to your community, what value you bring to your community, and how well you are developing and fostering that community.

This article on social media New Influentials raises an interesting question regarding “influence” in the social web and in social commerce: what’s the core driver of influence?  A person? Her community? Or both? The article profiles six individuals who have variously used YouTube, corporate resources, quasi-anarchist tactics, and curating to attract and sustain dedicated communities. Indeed, the question of “what constitutes influence in a social network” has captured the interest of researches, as is evidenced by the articles “A model of influence in a social network” and “Learning Influence Probabilities In Social Networks“. Similarly, Brian Solis has written an excellent post on the genesis of the social consumer. According to Solis:

When a brand does its job right, it creates an emotional connection. The affinity it engenders contributes to who we are as individuals and how others perceive us. In the social web, sharing our purchases and experiences serve as social objects which are essentially catalysts for sparking conversations. At the center of this discussion is the product. Experiences, impressions, and perceptions cast bridges that link us together. As the conversation unfolds, the hub connects the product to individuals who not only respond, but also consume, where information directly or indirectly influences behavior and opinion. This form of subconscious empowerment seemingly builds confidence according to some new research. As social capital factors into the equation, these conversations represent touchpoints where positive experiences take the shape of endorsements and ultimately c0ntribute to the overall branding process.

Solis’ sentiments are echoed by a recent Altimeter Report (also accessed here on Jeremiah Owyang’s blog:

Going back to the original question I posited, I’ll say “influence” is a combination of brand (personal or corporate) and respect and empowerment of one’s community, but where community is the main driver. Solis describes how American Express empowers its community by facilitating conversations along with promoting commerce (and doesn’t this remind you of fundamental concepts discussed in the Cluetrain Manifesto, particularly chapter four?). But for an empassioned–and spending–community, American Express would not necessarily be influential. Thus, the core question of what defines “influence” hinges on how committed you are to your community, what value you bring to your community, and how well you are developing and fostering that community.

Finding user similarities in social networks

This study focuses on how to find similarities amongst individuals using social media based on their behavioral characteristics. Finding such similarities across myriad social networks has beneficial uses: making users aware of other users with similar interests, finding users who comment on the same blogs, and enhancing already existing recommender systems (e.g., Pandora’s partnership with Facebook). Would be interesting to see a real estate application using these theories.

Facebook privacy vs publicity debate

Facebook is at the epicenter of issues surrounding “publicity vs privacy” as marketers seek to leverage the social web to engage existing and new consumers. This CNET article is a really good summary of issues swirling around the latest changes Facebook has made to its data sharing policies. Here are the salient take-aways:

  • Facebook marketing “partners” (e.g., shopping sites, news sites, etc) have seen huge jumps in referral traffic after implementing Facebook’s “social plug-ins”
  • Despite the success Facebook marketing partners may experience, security issues have emerged with the implementation of these social plug-ins
  • Facebook’s brand image is rising with adults 18-34 but dropping with adults 35+

Brands appear to benefit by tightly integrating Facebook into their customer outreach efforts. For example, this MediaWeek article (thanks @ReggieRPR for the heads-up) reports that Starbuck’s Facebook page is valued at $20 million. Nevertheless, the CNET article points out interesting issues that could impact Facebook’s marketer outreach efforts. The core of the issue is the inherent tension between publicity vs privacy; that is, just because someone makes something public does not mean they necessarily want it publicized. Danah Boyd in her keynote address at the 2010 SXSW Interactive made this latter point, as well as the following observations:

  • Technologists’ have a mantra that “privacy is dead”, but this is not true
  • People still care about privacy and the “public by default” “private through effort” dichotomy represents an inherent tension for individuals wanting to navigate online social worlds (Danah was referencing the fact that in many social networks users’ personally identifiable information and activities conducted through these social networks are rendered “public” by default and that users have to proactively change their privacy settings to make such information and activities less public or wholly private)
  • Marketers should remember that just because you can “see” someone does not mean they want to be “seen” by you
  • A Pew study showed that most adult social network users are privacy conscious (see related Pew study here showing that younger adults seem to be exerting even more control over their digital reputations)
  • Product developers need to think through publicity-vs-privacy-vs-control issues if they want to develop and launch successful products that tap the inherent benefits of the online social world

It will be interesting to see whether consumers will or will not readily use Facebook’s social plug-ins as privacy issues continue to gain mainstream media attention. What are your views?

Photo: alancleaver_2000

Online community management and social ties

This study (.pdf) delves into programmatic methodology that can be used to predict strong and weak ties between users of a social network. From a community manager’s perspective, this is important because predictive activities can alleviate some oversight tasks while intelligently satisfying the needs of community members. As an example of practical implications of their research, the authors note that:

When users make privacy choices, a system could make educated guesses about which friends fall into trusted and untrusted categories.

…and…

Consider a politician or company that wants to broadcast a message through the network such that it only passes through trusted friends.

From a marketing perspective, it’s important to understand this as way to drive customer loyalty because as social networks continue to grow, predictive systems that deliver more relevant information in meaningful ways will drive overall customer loyalty. This could be a huge value add for such social network marketing/branding services like Facebook pages.

Related post: Peering Under the Hood at Facebook

List of social web resources 4-24-2009

Blogging:

Here’s a good history of SEO since 1999, which is valuable to understand how things have changed over the last 10 years. Change is a constant with the Internet and SEO…what “worked” yesterday may not “work” today. Thus, focus on passionate, relevant, and niche content as a way to ground your SEO efforts on a solid foundation. My opinion: relevant, niche content will remain king for SEO.

Social networks:

According to comScore, Twitter gained the most visitor traction in March 2009 (9,313,000 unique visitors), a 131% growth over February 2009 (4,033,000 unique visitors).

Social media coolness:

UC Berkeley’s Opinion Space allows you to visualize your opinions relative to others. This article gives a good overview of the process.

Here’s a nifty resource on topics related to setting up Key Performance Indicators for your webiste. KPIs allow you to measure the success and effectiveness of your website.

Mashable has a Social Media Hub series and has compiled a list of the social media scene in New York City.

Peering Under the Hood at Facebook

If one stops and ponders the amount of data and content users add to Facebook on a daily basis, it’s truly staggering. I’ve often wondered what the Facebook data team does with this data and content. Recently, I stumbled across two insightful articles and a video series that sheds some light on this.

The first article discusses how the Facebook data team uses statistical analysis to make informed product development decisions (the article also touches on Google’s use of data modeling and statistics).

Facebook’s Data Team used R in 2007 to answer two questions about new users: (i) which data points predict whether a user will stay? and (ii) if they stay, which data points predict how active they’ll be after three months?

For the first question, Itamar’s team used recursive partitioning (via the rpart package) to infer that just two data points are significantly predictive of whether a user remains on Facebook: (i) having more than one session as a new user, and (ii) entering basic profile information.

For the second question, they fit the data to a logistic model using a least angle regression approach (via the lars package), and found that activity at three months was predicted by variables related to three classes of behavior: (i) how often a user was reached out to by others, (ii) frequency of third party application use, and (iii) what Itamar termed “receptiveness” — related to how forthcoming a user was on the site.

The second article, posted by the Facebook data team in response to this Economist article, gives a very insightful description as to how the Facebook data team uses statistical analysis to answer an important question:

We were asked a simple question: is Facebook increasing the size of people’s personal networks? This is a particularly difficult question to answer, so as a first attempt we looked into the types of relationships people do maintain, and the relative size of these groups.

What the Facebook data team found was that a user’s passive network is 2 to 2.5 times larger than their active network (i.e., a reciprocal network where there is an active two-way communication happening), and that a passive network is just as important as a reciprocal network in building buzz.

The stark contrast between reciprocal and passive networks shows the effect of technologies such as News Feed. If these people were required to talk on the phone to each other, we might see something like the reciprocal network, where everyone is connected to a small number of individuals. Moving to an environment where everyone is passively engaged with each other, some event, such as a new baby or engagement can propagate very quickly through this highly connected network.

I’ll take a leap and say that these findings helped drive some of the reasoning behind the updated profile home page and business page “lifestreaming” functionality. Facebook’s focus on having people set up a profile–and updating this profile–and immediately engage with other people, coupled with an emphasis on increasing a user’s penetration within their passive network, is critical to Facebook’s continued growth. [Update: for an excellent three series analysis of the new Facebook pages go here, here, and here]. We can see an example of this passive network effect below where a Facebook user posted a short note that his twins are soon to be featured on CSI, the news spread quickly and opened up several channels of commentary:

passive network buzz using facebook newsfeed

Here’s an additional link to some interesting insights by Facebook’s former head of data and analytics, Jeff Hammerbacher, into Facebook’s approach to data analytics and lessons learned (these are fairly long videos, but really really fun to watch). Hammerbacher discusses how they analyze terabytes of data in near-real time to allow their various business units to make more informed decisions. My key take-away from the videos is that a graphical display of data that allows users to also “hack” the data to gain deeper insights yields great product development and customer relationship management gains.

New Facebook Home Page Useful for Real Estate Pros

Here’s an excellent article on the PR 2.0 blog about the new homepage design features Facebook will soon release. The article gives a reasoned analysis of the new Facebook feature-set as well as possible implications for brands, individuals, and services like Twitter and Friendfeed.

What could be considered the Wall 2.0 or quite simply, a personal or branded activity stream or timeline for people, public figures, and brands, the company is placing your in-network and external network activity at the front-and-center of your public profile for friends, associates, and followers to not only stay up to date with you[sic] aggregated Web activity, but also participate in the stream.

New Facebook Home Page
New Facebook Home Page

The new Facebook home page likely will have positive implications for real estate professionals. First, the new filter feature presumably allows you to separate your contacts into separate channels, monitor those channels, and more easily converse within those channels. This allows you to use Facebook as more of a social media multichannel marketing tool (i.e., by monitoring separate channels you can prioritize those channels and, thus, respond appropriately and in a timely manner as needed). Second, the real-time “stream” feature will give you an accurate pulse of your sphere’s goings on, which is useful in choosing which contact to engage immediately or at a later time (this feeds into the multichannel marketing nature of the filter feature). Finally, the “publisher” aspect of the new Facebook home page seems to give you a more useful–and engaging– way to update your sphere.

Obama Web 2.0 meets database marketing

Here are two salient take-aways from this great article detailing how Obama eviscerated previous fund-raising records

1) Strategically embrace Web 2.0 and facilitate consumer control over certain elements of an overall marketing plan

Supporters’ blogs and You Tube postings were also brought inside the campaign through the website, where the online team could help consolidate the energy and contacts generated by them.

2) Test, measure, refine, roll-out; keep what works, ditch what tanks; no “sacred cows”

[The new media team], meanwhile, was constantly testing different versions of its call-to-action pages, including requests for donations and voter registration. Did more people respond if it included video or text? Should the sign-up prompts be on the right column or in the center? Should they have a “learn more” button or direct sign-up? Once they discovered the most effective version, they replaced all the others with it. Among their lessons: Video can sometimes be a distraction rather than a help.

Social media and Obama victory

The New York Times has a great read on how Obama embraced social media to help win the election.

Thomas Jefferson used newspapers to win the presidency, F.D.R. used radio to change the way he governed, J.F.K. was the first president to understand television…Senator Barack Obama understood that you could use the Web to lower the cost of building a political brand.

Consider the following:

3,099,323 supporters and 527,783 wall messages on an Obama Facebook page.

136,083 subscribers on an Obama YouTube channel.

This user-generated Obama video has 11,696,725 views as of this posting (and is this a good, bad, or neutral brand impression? Does it matter?):

An interesting theory raised in the New York Times article is that by embracing and using social media’s power to organize and influence–and help raise $600 million–traditional party foundations have been irrevocably shaken, if not permanently altered. Similarly, it seems to me that many firms today are in a place where the political parties were pre-Obama: comfortably employing “tried and true” models to promote, build, sustain, and manage their brands.

Yes, entities like Trulia, Zillow, etc, injected much needed creativity and transparency into the historically balkanized and feudal-like operations of the real estate industry. But the industry has now largely absorbed the impact these entities had and is now challenging them in certain ways (e.g., by demanding accountability in terms of lead quality and conversion as opposed to just click volumes). However, it’s social media that will change the foundations of the real estate industry, just like it did in the recent presidential campaign.

Further, what’s brilliant about social media is that in and of itself it’s transparent. You want the inside scoop on Obama’s strategy? It’s no secret, really, because you can just see what his team put together. That is, you can model your own social media strategy on Obama’s (e.g., look at how the Obama team structured its Facebook page and YouTube channel) and deduce what strategic choices were made by studying the tactics employed. For more strategies, I encourage you to also visit Owyang’s blog.

Facebook Engagement Advertising for Real Estate

Owyang delivers an excellent summary of Facebook’s new “Engagement Advertising” tool. This tool seems well-suited to real estate brands that want to showcase a particular niche or market they serve, particular the “Fan Style” ad targeting luxury verticals (it could also be interesting to allow the Facebook community to “gift” someone a $50,000,000 property to generate buzz on that property using the “Virtual Gifts Style” ad platform).

Managing online “spillover” reputational crises

This paper includes an interesting analysis of online reputation management. It discusses “reputation spillover”, which is defined as a “reputational crisis that impacts a focal organization [and] spread[s] to others.”

Reputation crises are triggered by financial crises or accidents and spread virally because consumer “link” like firms together, even if one of the “linked” firms has nothing to do with the crisis. The paper limits its analysis to “within-industry effects”. For example, a large player in an industry can casts a wide reputational reverb:

In the mid-1980s, the FDA released the results of a study that showed an unusually strong link between a tampon manufactured by Procter & Gamble and toxic shock syndrome (TSS) – a rare, life-threatening bacterial infection (Behr, 1980). The cause of TSS seemed to stem from a unique and innovative material used by Procter & Gamble (but by none of its rivals). In response, Procter & Gamble began a recall of their product from store shelves. Interestingly however, Tampax, the next largest rival in the product category, also began to experience declining market valuation, even while their product was recording record revenues (Metz, 1980). Arguably, had the crisis struck not Procter & Gamble but a much smaller organization, rivals would probably not have faced the same generalized and negative reactions.

Behr, P. (1980) ‘Toxic shocks, tampons under scrutiny’, The Washington Post, L1, Washington, DC.
Metz, R. (1980) ‘Toxic shock and Tampax’, The New York Times, 8, New York.

The paper points out that “any organization is at risk for a negative impact aimed at its reputation due to the actions of others in its competitive environment.” In response, the paper suggests that managers should have response plans in place along “marketing and public relations, legal and technical considerations.”

Gender bias in e-Loyalty programs

An e-Marketer recent report shows that moms are a major power on the Internet.

eMarketer

Notice how FrontDoor.com leverages this fact. And this research article points out that women adopt e-Service loyalty programs at a higher rate if their enjoyment and perceived social presence of the site is high. Notably, the researchers point out that

In particular, online vendors that cater to females may experience more pronounced and positive impacts of conveying a sense of warmth and sociability on their websites.

Notice that on the FrontDoor.com site that “warmth” and “community” is high. Thus, I’d not be surprised if they have a high loyalty rate.

Phishing and Social Media

The semantic nature of social networking has hit, head-first, the issue of phishing. A research paper by Peter Mika, discusses the semantic and colloquial nature of social networks, the findings of which offer savvy marketers unprecedented opportunities to understand how to incorporate social network folksonomies into their brand strategies. Yet this fundamental tenet–i.e., semantic relationships–that underpins social networks is vulnerable to phishing. Indiana University follows this phishing expedition via this website, which also has this great slide presentation.

Indeed, on Facebook I’ve been poked by phishing’s less sophisticated step-cousin, spam. Spam can occur in several different forms within a social network’s “gated community.” The form that’s arguably the most prevalent is an unsolicited message from a “friend”. In my case, I confirmed a “friend” who referenced a friend whom I trusted. Immediately, my new “friend” sent me an unsolicited offer to buy a new product that he/she was selling. Not a big deal in the scheme of life’s more important moments, but irritating nevertheless.

On the other hand, I welcome messages from Rohit Bhargava promoting his new book Personality Not Included. On Facebook, I joined Rohit’s
Personality Not Included – The Official Reader’s Group and expected to receive such messages, given the fact that he set up the group as a quasi-commercial network. Further, by following Rohit, I’m gaining tips on how to use Facebook groups responsibly so as not to offend anyone who decides to join any groups I create.

Launching a Web 2.0 campaign

How do you launch a Web 2.0 media campaign? You don’t. If you’re thinking of “launching” “campaigns” in the Web 2.0 media space, you’ve broken your legs out of the starting gate.

How does a corporate brand manager “launch” a Web 2.0 “campaign” to counter (or embrace) a consumer-generated product review like Dirt Devil vs Electrolux found via the “dirt devil mvp comparison to electrolux” Google search (clicking the page 1, position 1 result takes you to the video product review). Let me repeat this: for the search phrase “dirt devil mvp comparison to electrolux”, the first organic result on Google is a consumer-generated YouTube video. How does one forecast for this eventuality, and account for this within the deliberative, plodding, and corporate-controlled product development and roll-out plan? All the push-marketing tactics cannot totally devalue the kitschy product review from a real consumer who’s having a good time making a video. Will “I” trust the brand, or the consumer?

Here are some considerations while pondering the the concept that brands are no longer in control:

Step 1: Educate yourself on new ways of thinking about business (notice I did not suggest topics confined to “Web 2.0”, which is a simple moniker to encapsulate a new way of thinking about business). Here’s a list of books to read to get going: The Black Swan, The Art of the Start, The Four Hour Work Week, Competing on Analytics, Crossing the Chasm, The Innovator’s Dilemma. If you have other books to add, suggest them an I’ll start a formal book list.

Step 2: Step into the abyss. Yes…join a social network. I started with FaceBook. To follow the progress of building a community from the ground up on FaceBook, follow/join the Mighty Tour de Nez FaceBook Group I started about one of the country’s most exciting, innovative, and competitive cycling events. The key take-away with respect to the TDN is that even though this event has been going for over a decade, draws record crowds and record pro cyclists, building a community on the Web does not happen overnight. To see the power of an established Group, look at the Ironman FaceBook Group. Also, while you’re on FaceBook, add me as a friend and I’ll add you back.

Step 3: Go create a mission statement and have a good laugh.

Step 4: Trust yourself to make mistakes and not care that you’ve done so.

Semantic web optimization?

With social networking sites surpassing search engines in terms of popularity, will the marketing value of search engine optimization diminish over time? This article makes a great case that the usefulness of organic search for consumers may eventually wane.

Interesting question: when a social network community provides answers–as opposed to an algorithm–can anyone really “optimize” their website for social networks? In fact, in this context, one can argue that the concept of “optimization” is a legacy marketing principle more akin to “push” marketing concepts as opposed to “engagement” or “Web 2.0” marketing concepts.

Let’s consider this phrase “semantic social network”. Via Google, I get this result, and via Wikia Search I get this result; as of this post, I am awaiting help from my FaceBook community.

Obviously, Google and Wikia will return a faster result than the community, and arguably the time I am waiting for the community to respond to my request (if it responds) I can peruse the myriad results via the two search engines. What I am hoping for, though, is that the community will point me in a direction that’s more pointed and vetted via its collective consciousness.

Social media marketing campaign?

Contemplating a social media campaign? Don’t go about it in the “traditional” media planning sense. BuzzMarketing has a titillating thought on this concept. And this social media slide show gives an entertaining and educating primer on why traditional media planning will not work well in a social media context.

Social networks, marketing choices

Social networks will change the way real estate professionals interact with their clients. Terms like engagement, conversation, and community underpin social networks. And in “off-line” environments real estate professionals have likely “engaged” in meaningful and relevant “conversations” while building a “community” of long-term clients.

Yet many real estate professionals are reluctant to embrace social networks as a new marketing channel. One refrain I often hear is “it’s hard to get going and sustain my ‘involvement'”. Aside from asking the question, “So when has it ever been easy to earn a client’s trust and payment?”, one also senses a certain fear of not making a mistake, or in not taking the time to fully grasp the profound change that’s occuring.

As to the former issue, fear is, indeed, a legitimate emotion to overcome, but can be overcome with a step-by-step approach to getting involved; and the Social Community section of this Web2.0 map is a great place to begin. With respect to the latter issue, Charlene Li of Forrester Research presents an informative road map of the future of social networks.

Privacy and social networks

Research papers:

Identifying inherent privacy conflicts in social network sites

Assessing the privacy risk of sharing anonymized network data

Proposed algorithm for automatically extracting social hierarchy data from electronic communication behavior

Discusses how rumors, viruses, and ideas propagate over social social networks

Asserting expertise and authority with a blog

You either have high home prices or lower home prices and lower home prices are what we want, and people shouldn’t be afraid of that,” said Robert Shiller, Yale finance professor, in a Reuters interview. Most of us care about our children and grandchildren, and these people have to buy houses so why would we want high home prices. We want economic growth, we don’t want high home prices. 

So, as the slow ride down continues, what’s happening in the realm of social media that will help you when the ride hits bottom and the ascent begins anew? For starters, Business Week Online in its Feb 21, 2008 issue, is a great source for ideas.

Go ahead and bellyache about blogs. But you cannot afford to close your eyes to them, because they’re simply the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself. And they’re going to shake up just about every business—including yours. It doesn’t matter whether you’re shipping paper clips, pork bellies, or videos of Britney in a bikini, blogs are a phenomenon that you cannot ignore, postpone, or delegate. Given the changes barreling down upon us, blogs are not a business elective. They’re a prerequisite. citation

Here’s a tip elite athletes adhere to: remember your competition is yourself and those out there who take the time to do one little extra thing, whether it’s one more hand-eye coordination exercise, or 55 more stairs to run, and it’s that one little extra thing that can separate a winner from a loser.

Ideas circulate as fast as scandal. Potential customers are out there, sniffing around for deals and partners. While you may be putting it off, you can bet that your competitors are exploring ways to harvest new ideas from blogs, sprinkle ads into them, and yes, find out what you and other competitors are up to. citation

Yes, social media will change the way real estate practices are conducted. One way–for the better–is simply to allow you to engage in a more meaningful discussions with clients and potential clients. As a real estate professional, blogs operate as your authority imprimatur. As mainstream media begins to gobble up the blog premise and “commoditize” this presence you will look out-of-date and “old school” if you similarly don’t innovate your mode(s) of communication.

Mainstream media companies will master blogs as an advertising tool and take over vast commercial stretches of the blogosphere. Over the next five years, this could well divide winners and losers in media. And in the process, mainstream media will start to look more and more like—you guessed it—blogs.” citation

Maximum Ride multi-channel marketing tactics

Here’s a great example of multi-channel marketing: the Maximum Ride literary series. The first book in the series refers readers to this blog, which refers readers to this YouTube video.

Real estate professionals can use similar tactics. For example, on listing presentation collateral, refer prospective clients to your blog, from your blog refer clients to your listings. Why the blog first and not your listings?

Your blog operates as an authority imprimatur where your clients and prospective clients can read about your expertise; thus, your blog operates as a 24/7 testimonial as to WHY you’re an expert. Prospective clients want to know “why” they should retain you. Current clients want a reason “why” they should refer you. Past clients need a reason “why” they should reengage you.

Using prediction markets in real estate

Many posts have been written on this paper, Using Prediction Markets to Track Information Flows: Evidence from Google. What’s interesting is the influence of proximity on predictive markets. According to the paper, sharing an office had the highest influence (as opposed, for instance, communicating exclusively via email) and part of cultivating an innovative culture is to optimize physical locations to promote idea sharing, collaboration, etc. Microsoft also experimented with predictive markets to anticipate product deliverables. Innovative real estate firms could employ similar tactics amongst their real estate agent base to predict market changes, buyer behavior respective to such, and use these insights to better manage operations.

Sourcing Web 2.0 customers, serving existing customers

By using Facebook, an agent could create their own Web 2.0 brand while controlling their sphere of influence and network. Real Living has already established this platform for it’s agents (or was it an agent, or group of agents, establishing this platform Real Living?). What a great way to kick start the engagement process while giving agents the ability to serve existing customers and find new customers (particularly echo boomers).

Swarm business / swarm creativity in real estate

Create value for the swarm. That is the overarching goal of a swarm business mindset. Swarm creativity embodies the passion that drives this goal, along with coolhunting as an adjunct exercise. Real estate, as an industry, seems well-poised to take advantage of swarm creativity.

Nicholas G. Carr, of the Economist.com explains the basics of swarm business:

To achieve this status, a swarm-business aspirant must follow three principles. First it must “gain power by giving it away”. For instance the MySpace social-networking site works by granting its users the ability to determine its rules and content. Second, the company must be seen to “share with the swarm”—IBM, for example, has backed Linux’s open-source software with cash and code. Finally, firms must “concentrate on the swarm, not on making money”.

HBS Working Knowledge elaborates on swarm creativity:

There are five essential elements to collaborative innovation networks: learning networks, sound ethical principles, trust and self-organization, making knowledge accessible to everyone, and internal honesty and transparency.

Following Carr’s lead, a real estate firm must first abandon its possessive brand centrality and opt for a more decentralized brand presence. This means consumers, employees, real estate agents, vendors, and management equally “own” the brand. This means, at the core, a firm must open itself up to transparency and honest consumer review; which really means consumer ratings of its website, agents, customer service and then using these ratings as forums–conduits–to engage these consumers as collaborative partners to create a better value proposition. Internally, a firm could create a collaborative swarm between agents, IT, marketing, and management to build on the collaborative concepts derived from the consumer-based swarm insights.

For ROI-minded owners and managers, a swarm exercise is likely a hard pill to swallow, let alone ever digest. This is because swarm creativity lends itself to indirect monetization strategies (as does most social media). This could also be related to the fact that real estate as an industry, at first glance, is not really engaged in new product development processes (swarm creativity naturally lends itself to new product development ideation).

What is the real estate product? A house. What is the service? Representing a buyer or seller while giving advice.

This description is a bit facetious, but the point is that real estate professionals should begin looking at their entire web presence–and service value proposition–as an ongoing product that constantly requires new strategies and ideas that evolves in line with consumer expectations. If 10 swarm exercises yield one new service enhancement strategy that increases customer loyalty and retention, arguably the swarm exercise is worth it; especially if this strategy enhances a full-service agent’s consumer value proposition. In this example, ROI would be indirectly realized: as consumer satisfication increases, referals increase, and competitors suffer a corresponding competitive disadvantage (assuming they are late adopters). By implementing a consumer swarm idea, a firm has rewarded the swarm: first by listening and second by acting on its advice. This, in turn, promotes further honesty and integrity within the swarm and, hopefully, within the firm itself; eventually driving higher ROI over the long-term as internal strategies become integrally aligned with near real-time consumer driven initiatives.

Ceating an engagement index for real estate websites

As an increasing number of real estate firms seek to embrace and integrate Web 2.0 principles in to their websites, many of these firms may encounter a sense of frustration in having to “upgrade” once again to meet, or exceed, customer expectations regarding Internet-based services. Is real estate an Internet based service? Absolutely. With over 70% of real estate searches beginning on the Internet, real estate is decidedly an Internet-based services industry. But what kind of Internet-based services industry?

Rather than an “execute on what I already know” process, real estate is more weighted to a “search and gather” process. Few customers, in one search session, find a home, contact an agent, book a showing, and buy a house the next day. The majority of consumers spend several months, on average, searching for homes, viewing listings, compiling research, and saving preferred property listings before even registering with a firm or contacting an agent (i.e., searching and gathering). And real estate firms have tried to facilitate this search and gather process with their registration systems, drip marketing services, and online appointment making processes. But these tools align more with the “execute on what I already know” (i.e., utilitarian) aspect of the home search process; that is, these elements do not really help a customer determine what attributes to search for in home or community.

So, what should firms do to engage customers earlier and mid-way through the process to facilitate a higher degree of interaction with, and reliance on, the firm’s website to help a consumer define attributes? One way to begin is to set key performance indicators and develop an engagement index.

Creating an engagement index is a great way to assess overall site responsiveness to consumers’ search needs. Eric T. Peterson defines engagement as

Engagement is an estimate of the degree and depth of visitor interaction on the site against a clearly defined set of goals.

He has written a great series of posts on this topic. Part V of his series steps readers through the application of his process. Jeremiah Owyang adds some additional considerations here and here. And this blog actually walks through how to calculate “influence”.

Although these concepts in analytics may seem arcane, by focusing on such, real estate firms can begin the process of smoothly, logically, and economically moving their sites into the realm of Web 2.0. In future posts, I will explore how real estate firms may begin to create and apply an engagement index, and what elements they should focus on measuring regarding such.

Profiling hedonic data in social networks

Continuing the discussion from the McKinsey interview of Cammie Dunaway, she states

[Yahoo!] is using behavioral data–really mining the wealth of transactional data we have about how people are spending their time online and trying to marry that data with attitudinal data…that’s where the most powerful insights can really come from.

Insights into what? It could be many things. Two of the most studied motivational data elements are utilitarian motivations and hedonic motivations. Utilitarian motivations center around goal-oriented behavior (e.g., I logged in to check my email, I checked my email, I logged out). Hedonic motivations are more social in nature (e.g,. I logged in to explore, to analyze, to decide, to eventually take action).

In real estate search, companies have typically focused on rewarding utilitarian behavior, often in a very reactionary manner. Consumer searches site > Consumer registers > Consumer selects home > Consumer is “passed off” to a real estate agent. Of course, the ultimate goal is to consummate a sale. And improving the “experience” of looking for a home on a real estate firm’s website could actually lead to more loyalty, referrals, and sales.

Nevertheless, overly focusing on “experience” at the expense of a goal can scuttle both consumer loyalty and ROI. Thus, balance lies in properly testing and deploying Web 2.0 assets that fulfill consumer goals while logically jibing with the product subject matter.

So how does mining attitudinal data fit this balanced approach or paradigm? Incenting consumers to add profile information that logically fits a goal is one idea. For example, if a real estate firm’s goal was to create a social network on their site targeted at tapping a suburban soccer mom demographic looking to buy a home, logical profile information may be zip code (current residence and desired residence), schools, sports, design preferences, and home type.

Zip code is important because the firm could relate this consumer to an agent who serves that zip code, where the agent serves as the social network ombudsman(woman) to answer questions and otherwise kick-start the group. Secondly, once a firm understands home type preferences and desired location, the firm can relate specific home information, community information and statistics, and other moms in the network to this person. The additional profile information constitutes community building information (e.g., relating moms who have children in similar sports). These steps help build a community and take the burden off the real estate firm to be all things to all consumers (if a mom has questions about how her child can join a traveling baseball team, she could ask the real estate agent, but more likely she’d ask the community). This way the firm’s “social asset” reinforces the firm’s local expertise, which allows for an eventual monetization of this consumer as she “graduates” through the process into ultimately looking at home types and eventually purchasing a home.

Through the tracking of profile data combined with the interaction of the consumer with the group (communications, postings, etc) combined with accessing utilities (e.g., widget downloads pertaining to design elements, video home tours, community data, statistics, etc), a firm could create an “engagement” index to validate whether their site is properly satiating consumers’ needs (Circuit City does this). The experience of this for the consumer is not so much having real estate listings and drip marketing pushed her way, but related data presented in a way that allows her to more deeply engage in the process and begin building a community before actually living in a community. Finally, in terms life-time value, this type of a social network could operate as a forum for a firm–and its real estate agents–to cultivate a valid and meaningful long-term relationship with consumers after they have actually bought a home (thus, closing the circle by adding transactional data with previously compiled attitudinal data).

Engagement marketing, using social media in real estate

According to McKinsey, global companies are increasingly using Web 2.0 technologies to engage their customers. Tapping web services, collective intelligence systems, and peer-to-peer network capabilities were the top three technologies companies were currently deploying or planning to deploy. Respondents indicated that customer acquisition was the number one reason they were deploying social media (the respondents also stated that they use Web 2.o media to more efficiently engage partners and suppliers as well as internal collaborative purposes). Several respondents indicated that social media is particularly valuable in terms of ideation and creation of future products.

In a similar report, McKinsey interviews Cammie Dunaway. Ms. Dunaway indicates that Yahoo’s concept of digital salons (online focus groups) have delivered unprecedented success with respect to new product prototypes and new product development initiatives. Yahoo also measures consumer engagement as a success metric (i.e., share of time spent on Yahoo and the number of media properties “consumed” during this time).

Applying social media to real estate home search is a logical step. Real estate firms should begin experimenting with new forms of engagement. Despite the fact that homes are not commodities novel opportunities exist to deploy social media. Virtual renderings of homes (pictures, virtual tours, etc) offer a rich bed of experimentation and engagement opportunities, and there currently exists technology real estate firms can deploy to support this initiative. For example, Benjamin Moore has a tool where consumers can select templates or upload pictures of their own homes and then change color schemes; Halstead Property has deployed a similar tool. There are 3-D home design platforms available.

 A creative firm could move beyond the virtual tour and allow consumers to actually change the color and layout of a prospective home; or grab widgets that have predefined parameters pertaining to build-outs or additions, thereby allowing consumers to visualize how a home would appear after the completion of such. Rounding out the experience, a firm could allow an agent, or team of agents, to answer questions via live chat and have a local interior design consultants “on call” to do the same. These types of consumer-facing features not only meet the consumer engagement parameters explored by McKinsey, but actually allows consumers to design or alter a product so they can visualize, experience, and “feel” how a home will look after purchase (allowing a consumer to virtually move in to the home and get a deeper sense of the living space). As Mini Cooper and Scion have found, the higher consumer engagement, the higher the return on customer acquisition strategies (measured in engagement and brand loyalty).

Semantic web analytics

Social media has created a challenge for website brand / product managers. Where social media is a rich fount of ideas, product information (negative and positive), etc, website brand / product managers have a challenge in using web analytics from these sources to drive site optimization (in terms of user experience, performance, etc).

Two recent research papers shed some light in the cave in terms of mining Web content. Imagine putting your hand in the Yangtze River and trying to catch a sturgeon minnow between two and three inches long. This is akin to conducting a simple keyword search and then singularly perusing each result to discern relevancy (one’s mind conducting semantic correlations to net down relevant results). The challenge is to derive a tool that drives the “semantic sifting” process higher up in the process, thereby making it more efficient to find relevant results.

Jean-Pierre Norguet, et al, discuss semantic analysis of website usage and how to apply this analysis to on-going website development. Nortguet’s approach combined web server log files, site content records, content calls by browsers, and TCP/IP packets. The Norguet team then ran these through an ontology-based OLAP tool. What it derived was a visual representation of interest values pertaining to certain categories of content. This visual representation demonstrated that despite a category’s breadth of presence across a website, interest value indicators provide valuable insight into consumer use patterns. Nouguet argues that visually displaying interest values allows for intuitive decision-making, which aligns more accurately with mapping and responding to consumer interests.

Michelle L. Gregory et al, explored a framework that allows users to map blog entries, query results sets, understand themes, and see how blog content changes over time. Gregory modified a tool called IN-SPIRE–which uses semantic indexing, among other things, to categorize result sets–to analyze 7,000 blog entries chosen at random. In addition to the powerful filtering and querying aspect explored, Gregory demonstrated how one can use this tool to build multi-lingual analyses using one’s native language. The team also delved into the realm of affect analysis. What they showed was powerful visual representation of positive versus negative feelings about a particular blog topic (taking the pulse of a slice of the blogosphere on a particular topic).

Some immediate applications of these types of analyses–in one’s native languge or across a multi-lingual website–are in improving web product development, mapping political sentiments, or sentiments pertaining to one’s own or a competitor’s product.

Trust indicators in social network marketing

Jeremiah Owyang explains the concepts and value of social networks from a marketing perspective in an easily digestible manner. Yang et al (registration required), Battiston et al, and Hill et al discuss the scientific underpinnings of these topics. Juxtaposing these discussions against one another leads to some interesting insights with respect to social media marketing.

Yang notes that in 1967, Stanley Milgram demonstrated that mutual acquaintances drive social network strength. As Yang elaborates:

“[T]he probability that two of someone’s friends know one another is much greater than than the probability that two people chosen randomly from the population know one another.”

Yang illustrates the concept of this theory by pointing to the success of Hotmail, which grew from 0 to 12 million users in 18 months.

Battiston explores how “trust” factors between actors in a social network affect the dynamics of recommendations in that social network.

“Trust plays a crucial role in the functioning of such socio-economic networks, not only by supporting the security of contracts [sic?] between agents, but also because agents rely on the expertise of other trusted agents in their decision-making.”

What Battiston drives towards is that trust-based modes of recommendation have an inverse relationship to traditional modes of recommendation, which are primarily based on the volume of recommendations as opposed to the value of recommendations. Battiston argues that trust-based (or value-based) recommendations are inherently better at promoting more satisfying results to actors within a social network.

This, in turn, promotes the propogation of sub-group cultures to form within the social network. And as non-trustworthy agents drop out of the network (because prior recommendations did not fulfill specific trust elements as dictated by the requesting actor), the sub-group refines itself overtime. As more sub-groups are defined within a social network, “network neighbors” emerge amongst members of these sub-groups, where these network neighbors operate as conduits between different sub-groups.

Yang demonstrates that sub-group performance, in terms of marketing results, out-performs all others (this was measured in terms of traditional transaction response rate metrics).

Accordingly, marketers must seek out sub-group network neighbors. These individuals are the brand influencers and advocates within a social network. Jerimiah Owyang has an excellent post on the visual display of this information. Leverage Software has developed a product which likely can visually display these sub-group cross-over individuals, thus making the selection of influencers and advocates easier. Perhaps these individuals would be great focus group candidates, “real time” collaborators in product development initiatives, etc?

Mining social network relationships

HitWise has demonstrated a correlation between LinkedIn and Gmail, YahooMail, and Hotmail and a corrleation between LinkedIn and Facebook. Hypothetically now…assume that LinkedIn and Facebook and Gmail, or YahooMail, or Hotmail share their databases, where a user’s email account address is the unique identifier. At this point it’s a matter of relational database mechanics to ascertain unique marketing–i.e., direct response, email, branding, etc–opportunities that these companies can exploit. What they (marketers, Facebook, Yahoo, etc) would likely look for would be “network neighbor” influencers (more on this in forthcoming posts).

Social Network Advertising

eMarketer predicts that in 2007 advertisers will spend $900 billion on social network advertising. As a real estate professional witnessing an explosion in social network sites (e.g., Active Rain, TruliaVoices) aimed at agents (and consumers), what are some first steps to engage this form of real estate marketing?

Step 1: Just understanding it. In this regard experience is the best instructor. Start by creating a LinkedIn profile and then get immersed in Active Rain or Trulia Voices, as voyeurs or members. These venues offer rich playing grounds.

Step 2: Find a blogger who’s singular passion is dissecting the process. As an emerging medium, early adopters keep the bog well-irrigated with creative ideas, foutainhead-like musings, and general full-throttled reasearch. Martin Reed does a great job at this. Of particular usefulness to understanding core concepts are his posts on basic concepts and resources and his monthly top posts page (valuable given it’s stream-of-consciousness threads). Another great resource is Matthew Sherborne. Follow his twitter marketing campaign journey to gain a blow-by-blow analysis and learn from the way he parses the process. Finally, Tranparent Real Estate has very cogently and concisely explained Web 2.0, and its relevancy to real estate professionals. The first post details the core concepts; the second post argues, in part, that social networks will fuel a collective intelligence that will apply pressure on professions to justify the value of their expertise.