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.

 

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 6-12-2009

Brand engagement

This presentation, The Audience is Always Right, by TBWA\ Berlin Media Arts team is one of the best I’ve seen explaining how brands need to reconstruct their core ethos pertaining to consumer communications. It delves deep into a situational analysis and then delivers some very meaningful aphorisms as guidelines:

  • Start with a simple truth
  • Create time, don’t try to buy time
  • Tell a story that makes peoples’ conversations more interesting
  • Leave room to think and ask questions by being imperfect, weird or contradictory
  • Make the idea easy to find (searchable) and easy to tell (spreadable)
  • Content isn’t king. Conversation is king

Online community lifecycle

This research article chronicles major research and studies on how online communities begin, mature, and evolve. The article focuses on a lifecycle analysis (inception, creation, growth, maturity, and death) and success metrics (for example, size and number of contributions and how willing any one member shares details about him or herself and how widely these details are shared). The article is very well researched and offers a compelling list of ideas marketers ought to consider when considering when, how, and why to engage consumers via social networks and other online communities.

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.

Spreading Positive Brand Messages Using Social Media

Although many real estate brand managers have embraced social media and are pushing their executives and agents to start a blog, join Facebook and LinkedIn, etc, many are still reticent to step into the space. Questions like these are fairly common: “What if someone says something bad, or posts a rude comment, or is just really nasty on my public page?”, “How can I keep out the competition?”, and “How can I control what’s being said?”

These are relevant concerns and may stem in part from a generalized mistrust of consumers’ ability to “properly” “understand brand message”, or from feelings of insecurity in the worth and veracity of one’s brand. But sweating the minutia over message, taking a parens patriae like attitude towards the consumer, and adopting a defensive posturing towards one’s competition as a way to temporarily stave the social media tsunami actually play into the hands of any competitor who’s already joined the social media party.

Questions:

  • Do you believe in the transformative power of your brand?
  • Do you believe that your brand is better than your competition?
  • Do you believe in what you’ve built?

If the answers are no, then read these books as starting points to rejuvenate your brand: The Black Swan, Purple Cow, and The Art of the Start. If the answers are yes, then set your brand free with social media. Spreadabilty is the key, and one of the most efficient ways to accomplish this is via social media.

Spreading your message

If you believe in your brand, use the recently updated Facebook Page platform and Home page lifestreaming features to spread your message to your friends, core constituency, and clients. If you believe in your brand, use Twitter like Comcast does via its @comcastcares profile to engage customers and solve customer service related issues. If you believe in your brand, embrace the fact that maybe one of your competitors will “fan” your Facebook Page but then use this opportunity to overwhelm them with the greatness of your brand and use this platform as a subtle recruiting environment. If you believe in your brand, figure out creative and low cost buzz-worthy tactics to get a spotlight on your greatness (look at the buzz that @doverbey created at SXSW: he’s using a wordpress blog as a repository for 100 video interviews and promoting it via Twitter while attending SXSW…and now he’s in the SXSW buzz spotlight as a participant, rather than an attendee).

Social media is here to stay. And the longer you wait to begin using social media to spread your brand message, the the more opportunity your competitors have to spread theirs at the expense of yours.

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.

Brand considerations in social media marketing

This paper argues that allowing consumers to “co-create” or “co-author” products–i.e., directly engaging and encouraging consumers to participate in new product development processes–taps vast wells of creativity while exploiting certain cost efficiencies in terms of labor. Similarly, this paper explores how Web 2.0 will fundamentally (has fundamentally) changed the manner by which companies must brand themselves. Gone is a command and control ethos. Emerging is an empowerment and transparency ethos:

  • engagement replaces interruption
  • diversity and self-expression replace conformism and unity
  • the media of the masses replace mass media
  • granular insights and rich data replaces generalisation
  • conversations in marketing replace control

As examples of this new paradigm, the paper points to Dove’s (note too the related contra-positive consumer-generated videos) and Nike’s strategic Web 2.0 marketing successes.

Revenue considerations of social networks

This paper points out that social network sites such as MySpace and Facebook have huge potential for high advertising revenue gains because “the cost of gaining new customers is practically nothing [since] users join voluntarily and provide their own content through their profiles. In addition, the cost of running the sites’ web servers is relatively low.”

The authors do point out, however, that significant revenue gains might be limited because these sites must constantly innovate to retain and attract new “customers”, it’s easy to launch rival social networks, and consumers have lots of choices as to which social networks to use.

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

Social network marketing corporate forays

Here’s a reason why Microsoft invested over $200 million in Facebook. It’s all about the data Facebook has compiled on its user base and the time this user base spends on Facebook. What’s the “veracity index” for this data? One assumes it’s higher than other data sources, since users’ incentives to enter data honestly is relatively high (why lie to my friends?, why lie about what interests I share with my friends?, etc). Accordingly, some companies are stumbling into this space, and getting ripped because of their stumbles. On the other hand, some other companies are “getting it” (looks like Target’s winning).
Obviously, these companies want to tap Facebook’s rich data stores and its users’ apparent nonchalance concerning how marketers will use such data within the Facebook community (read the comments in this post). Real estate firms (or agents or agent teams) interested in establishing a viable Facebook presence should follow Target’s model, rather than the seeming corporate topdown foray employed by Coke. This is not to say there are no strategy considerations; rather Coke’s plight is a cautionary tale that militates against myopically stumbling into the social networking space.

Social network data mining research 10-17-2007

This paper, Inferring Social Network Structure using Mobile Phone Data, explores how to use social network analysis to predict individual behavior indicators.

Privacy considerations are explored in this paper, Wherefore Art Thou R3579X? Anonymized Social Networks, Hidden Patterns, and Structural Steganography.

Here are some Videos of social network data analysis, and here is a presentation on the same

This paper, Social Network and Genre Emergence in Amateur Flash Multimedia, explores the concept of predicting emergent genres by mining social network data sets, which could be applied to trend-spotting.

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.