Aggregated predictions: what really will happen with social media in 2011

Around Christmas-time I was foolish enough to list my social media predictions. They were a combination of ‘more of this, less of that, same of the other’, and you can still read it if you’re foolish enough to base an entire year that hasn’t happened on the ramblings of one poor gangrel creature.

Fortunately I wasn’t the only one. There are plenty of other gangrel creatures out there, with their own predictions, so I thought it would be interesting to see what other people have said, aggregate them all, and see if we have any agreements. While there are plenty of one-offs (for example I think I’m the only person who predicts the rise and rise of digital agencies at the cost of PR agencies) there are, amazingly, congruencies between people.

Here’s what I’ve found below, but you can see the Google doc I used to compile this, together with the links to the bloggers I read. I got as far as halfway through page 4 of the Google results before I started to lose the will to live, and I might even pick this one up again, but for now, this is where we’re at.

Mobile

There were various takes on this, ranging from the increased importance of check-in sites such as Foursquare, through to the influence of technologies such as the iPad. I bunched them all under mobile, and this is the most important popular prediction, with 11 mentions from Socialnomics, ReadWriteWeb, Fred Meek, 4TM Guide, Lockergnome, Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Trevanian Legg, Ron Medlin, Social Media B2B, and Concepts Marketing.

Alignment with business goals

The gurus are being expunged, dormanted, deleted. Next most popular was the prediction that 2011 will see people really tying social media to business results, with 8 mentions from Conversational Currency, Socialnomics, OneForty, ReadWriteWeb, KnowledgeBlog, Social Media Examiner, Infusionblog, Trevanian Legg, and me. I went on to say that these would yield disappointing results, and I’m happy (or sad, or despondent, or maybe a little morose) to say that KnowledgeBlog and Social Media B2B think so too.

The rise of Facebook

I said that I don’t see Facebook declining any time soon – unlike, say, Google, and who’d have thought that eh? – and I’ve been joined by Fred Meek, Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Hausman Marketing Research Letter, Ron Medlin, Likeable Media and Contently Managed – that is, 7 other thinkers who also think Facebook will continue to dominate, whether through expansion, flotation, collaboration, monetisation, or something else ending in ion.

Amusingly enough, 4 commentators think Facebook will decline in influence, mainly through the rise of niche networks. They are Forrester, ReadWriteWeb, Trevanian Legg and MSL Group. They are, of course, wrong.

More group buying, particularly Groupon

In total 5 commentators think that social or group buying, particularly that exemplified by Groupon (or, in fact, actually Groupon since its valuation last year north of one billion dollars) will be significant over the coming year. They are Socialnomics, KnowledgeBlog, The Next Web, Social Media B2B, and MSL Group.

More content-driven programmes

All social media should be driven by content, but Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Infusionblog, Social Media B2B and Contently Managed think this will happen more in 2011, with tools to help marketeers do this, or to enable their audiences to do it for them.

More consolidation among the large networks

This is something I didn’t mention but I do agree with. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn are irresistible and I don’t think the likes of Diaspora (the open-source so-called Facebook killer) et al are going to make a single dent. So I agree with Socialnomics, KnowledgeBlog, 4TM Guide, Social Media Examiner and Contently Managed on this one.

Again however, there are dissenters. Social Media B2B and GigaOm think there will be a rise of importance from niche sites at the ‘big’ systems’ expense. Silly sausages.

Anonymity and vetting

This is something I really hadn’t considered but does make sense. One of the primary concerns I noted while training at the Social Media Academy last year was that of privacy, that is, how much should I let people know, and how can I tell if people are genuine online? Four commentators mention privacy/vetting issues, and they are Conversational Currency, Socialnomics, ReadWriteWeb and GigaOm.

Video

This one surprises me, I have to say. ReadWriteWeb, Tim Ferriss, Concepts Marketing and Contently Managed all mention the ascendancy of video to some degree. I guess this ties in with the ascendancy of mobile in that we’ll all be glued to our displays watching video while we accidentally fall into water features.

That’ll do pig

I don’t want to give the impression I’m being a bit hasty here but I really need to crack on. Take a look at the Google Docs spreadsheet for the full picture. I might add to it as I go along, but really, go and take a look to see what else people comment on. Of the remaining topics that are mentioned by at least three sources we have metrics (which I guess ties into business goals), advertising, more social search (and less social search!), more workplace acceptance, continued importance placed on social media, the culling of so-called social media gurus (using a blunt instrument I presume), the intriguing and some would say tautological concept of Social Google, more Quora (of quorse – sorry), and more Twitter - again, counterbalanced by some who say less Twitter. Nothing more thrilling than when people disagree.

Twinfluence – Twitter Influence Analyzer

twInfluence is a simple tool for measuring the combined influence of twitterers and their followers, with a few social network statistics thrown in as bonus.

We know that “A-List” Twitterers like Scoble, LeoLaporte, and BarackObama have a lot of influence on Twitter, because they have tens of thousands of followers. However, social network analysis teaches us that there is a “horizon of communication” that extends beyond your own direct contacts, and this is demonstrated whenever somebody “retweets” a message. The significance is that not all followers are equal.

I’ve come across Twinfluence before and generally I don’t like this kind of approach. I find it hard to understand, therefore my clients would find it hard to understand, and therefore even harder to take appropriate action. I also don’t think you can boil everyone on Twitter down to ‘a score’. HOWEVER, despite myself, I find their explanation page fascinating, especially the charts showing typical profiles and how they change over time. I’m still not sure this is something comms people would go for especially, but it’s a ‘nice to know’.

The Science of ReTweets

Retweets is often overlooked as a measure of influence. When someone retweets you, it’s because they found what you said interesting enough to forward it to their followers. They’re endorsing you as an influential person. So, count the retweets, and you get a measure of influence. Although I try my hardest not to share everything Mashable says, you’ve got to hand it to them: they come up with some good stuff. And this page is pretty good. I’m not sure exactly how to use these findings yet, but they might come in handy some time, for me and for you!

What are people saying about… Eurostar?

Eurostar is to rail travel what Terminal 5 was to air travel.

While Terminal 5 was slowly falling apart, I had the opportunity to put together my first ever monitoring dashboard for people who wanted to track what was going on. Since then I’ve played around a-plenty with dashboards and monitoring systems, so while I develop these techniques I thought it would be interesting to do some ‘live’ case studies. And, luckily (for me), Eurostar is a perfect candidate.

So what are people saying about them? I’m sure people at Eurostar would like to know. Fortunately I’ve heard tell that the excellent We Are Social, headed by Robin Grant, are helping Eurostar listen in to the online conversations, so I’d imagine they have a similar setup.

But this one’s mine. Take a look –  click here to see the Eurostar dashboard, or click the image below.

Eurostar monitoring dashboard - click to see the live version

Eurostar monitoring dashboard - click to see the live version

First off, I figure that Twitter is fairly important because people will be tweeting left, right and centre about them. So, I put a Twitter buzz chart at the top, and Twitter updates below that.

As you can see it looks like problems reached a peak on Tuesday, with a daily pattern of people tweeting their annoyance around mid-morning and less so during their lunchbreaks. Today, the volume has lessened which probably coincides with the trains being fixed.

So much for the quantitative. Look at what people are saying. They’re really not happy. Right now I can see the following comments:

  • Some people are still throwing stones at the Eurostar as it passes them
  • Bankers threatening to leave the country over tax rates, but how? Eurostar? Plane?
  • Miles de pasajeros abarrotan estación londinense desde donde parten trenes Eurostar

The first one is fairly astonishing (and I don’t believe it frankly, but who knows?), the second is frightfully witty if you don’t actually work for Eurostar, and the last is, according to my limited Spanish, not entirely positive either – but, bearing in mind Eurostar doesn’t actually go to Spain, shows how the whole of Europe is caught up in this fascinating episode.

Forums are notorious for ill-informed, knee-jerk response (I should know, I used to post regularly to the Computer Music forum, so regularly that I was once in the top five posters by volume). So, I added a Forum section, again with the chart at the top and the threads below.

The forum buzz chart roughly echoes the Twitter chart in that volume seems to be falling. There are actually surprisingly few comments in the forums, telling me that maybe this isn’t the ‘natural’ space for such conversations to take place.

The blog buzz is similar, and again we see negativity abounding. Take this for instance: “Mum’s here – she got a first class ticket which meant Eurostar could get her on the train.” Do what? Are you telling me that people have to buy first class to guarantee a place? And so it continues to unravel…

Finally I thought it might be interesting to look at the photos people were taking – this was particularly illuminating when looking at Terminal 5 coverage, basically showing mountains of suitcases. Eurostar photos seem to consist mostly of queues of people, with comments alongside them such as “And the start of a 36 hour trip home.” Dearie dearie me.

It would be nice – well, not nice maybe, but interesting certainly – to monitor the Facebook group, and social videos. I just put these columns in to get a quick overview of what’s going on. Same for UK, global and social news, Delicious bookmarks, even wikipedia updates – they can all be added, and more. I just put this together to test the system while I’m developing it.

So there you have it. Negativity abounds, and it doesn’t seem as if Eurostar is helping the situation by offering people transit if they pay through the nose. Disclaimer: I don’t actually know this to be the case, but that’s the impression that blog post gave me.

How to deal with all this? I’m sure the smart guys at We Are Social are on the case but it’s probably a priority now for them to do a post-mortem on what went wrong, and how to make it right again – because this won’t stop here. It’s going to take quite some time for Eurostar to stop being a joke, as it did with T5 and as it will for Tiger Woods (another case study in how to get it wrong, including, this time, social media – he could have been contrite sooner and more directly, but that’s another story).

Let’s face it, we work in the world of impressions, reputations and opinions. It’s tricky, and you’ve got to be careful. At the very least, listen.

New Google Twitter search is good but not great

Speed counts. Click image for source.

Speed counts. Click image for source.

When I heard via Shel Holz that Google is now indexing Twitter updates I got a bit excited for three reasons:

1. Were they going to show the total number of mentions? If so, we could count them as a crude index of popularity. Do a search for a term on Google and it gives you the number of hits. Number of hits roughly equates to popularity/ubiquity, and you can use that as a rule of thumb against similar searches. One term gets 10, another gets 1,000, and another gets 1,000,000. The million is probably more important. It’s a starting point.

2. Were they going to include RSS? Twitter searches do. As soon as RSS gets involved with real boolean searching, I get excited. I’m easily excited.

3. Would advertising be supported? If so, Twitter could get a slice and actually start making money.

The answer was ‘no’, ‘no’, and ‘no’.

So while I’m pleased that Twitter has shimmied into the mainstream, and might be getting somewhere towards a sustainable model, it’s not there yet. I cannot use the new feature for that ‘rule of thumb’ count; I cannot pull search results off into any other page/module/widget; and Twitter itself is close  to making money but no cigar, because while we can see the results, we don’t get directed to anyone else paying for us to see them.

I can see why the answer is no to all of the above. The updates just come in so thick and fast. Try doing a search for Tiger Woods for example, and you’re in another man’s inner circle of hell – except it’s outer (ie shared by the world) and very, very fast. Too fast to count, to provide meaningful RSS updates, and certainly to provide contextually meaningful ads.

So we’re still left with a conundrum. How can we measure such fast, ethereal information, and more importantly, how can Twitter monetise it? Perhaps we need some kind of ‘speed’ counter. Not how many updates, but how fast. Maybe speed of information is the new reach.

Will one tweet ever change the world?

Sometimes, you know you’re seeing history in the making in a few video frames. Recently, there’s been a bit too much of it happening.

I watched in awe as the US Senate refused Bush his bailout money – the split-screen showed the politicians’ verdict and the resultant stock market crash like a horrendous parody of the loved-up Woodstock film. Politics and economics have seldom circumvented society so readily.

Likewise two more US-related events. Am I alone in thinking that footage of the majestic rise of Apollo 11 (on YouTube, specifically from 2:05 onwards) is retold in terrible rewind by the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11? The one signalled the USA’s victory over Russia in the race to space, and pre-empted the end of the cold war. The other was a truly apocalyptic event that began the never-ending War on Terror.

A few frames. They really can change the world. So I wonder – and I’m only being slightly trite here – whether a tweet could ever change the world?

You can say ‘no’, now. But consider what are the greatest tweets out there? Are there any tweets that could have been, but weren’t? Or any that were but shouldn’t? And, finally, have any of them had particular resonance or impact?

Tweets that should have been

Today – and this was the ‘seed’ for this post – I read about Cerys Matthews in Guardian G2 (yes I’m a Guardian reader, can’t you tell by my appalling avatar?). She of the ability to render an audience speechless by a single thrust of the hips has come out with possibly the greatest non-tweet ever.

When asked what her epitaph would be, she responded: “Gravestones are like Twitter – you need something short that will amuse people.”

Brilliant. Maybe tweets are like gravestones? And, while she said she didn’t know what her epitaph would be, she’d inadvertently come up with a perfect epitaph. Imagine in a hundred years or so people reading it and saying “What’s this Twitter she’s on about?”

Tweets that were but are no more

Politicians should tweet more. I know about Downing Street’s twitterfeed but I couldn’t find a definitive list of political tweeters.

Maybe they don’t for this reason: In an off the record interview with CNBC, an ABC reporter, Terry Moran tweeted: “Pres. Obama just called Kanye West a “jackass” for his outburst at VMAs when Taylor Swift won. Now THAT’S presidential.”

Great! Hang about. Not great. The post was immediately deleted. But, as GadgetSteria points out, all tweets are cached. Never forget, the web holds everything you ever post, in perpetuity. This is both a blessing – as we shall see – and a curse.

Tweets that were and still are

The greatest tweet I ever saw, I swear is the one that set off the whole Twitter obsession.

Until Mike Wilson tweeted “Holy fucking shit I wasbjust [sic] in a plane crash!”, no one had really paid much attention to Twitter. Then The Guardian (sorry, I really do read it every day) wrote about how he’d tweeted in the immediate aftermath of a plane crash. Most people would have thought of exiting directly. Not Mike. He tweeted. Something was very wrong here. Or maybe right?

You can still see his tweet here. That’s what I meant about it sometimes being a blessing. From that one tweet, an entire scene of chaos emerges.

Then, the next thing I knew, Twitter was everywhere.

Tweets that should be famous

Consider this tweet:

“Mrs. Liebowitz’s cat has gone missing again. He answers to ‘Martin’ and walks with an unfortunate limp. This was only partially my fault.”

No? Doesn’t do it for you?

Then consider this: it was tweeted by Christopher Walken. Suddenly a seemingly innocuous tweet assumes an aura of menace. Why the limp? Whither the cat?

Why only ‘partially’ his fault?

Tweets that are famous

In my albeit brief research for this post I found that other blogs had got there first.

So, check these out:

But none have changed the world

Did Michael Jackson’s death change the world? No. But Michael Jackon’s death did slow the web down. And there is still debate about who tweeted his death first.

Yet

Twitter is becoming our first resource when we want to know what’s happening now. That’s not just their strapline, it really is true. When Google Calendar went down recently, my first reaction was to see if other people were tweeting about it. They were. Then again, when it went down again. Then again when GMail went down.

Bad news for Google, but great for Twitter, especially as it was able to stay up while the world was tweeting about Google being down.

So I wonder: one day, will something truly earth-shaking ever be tweeted first? Will a new epoch come about because someone tweeted it? Will Twitter ever change the world?

Maybe it already has, in the aggregation of what we say – everything, all the time. But one day, whether through a mobile phone somewhere in the Tora Bora mountains, or a tweet from the first human being to set foot on Mars, maybe everything will change at one time.

What do you think?

Would you sack someone if they accidentally got your Twitter account suspended?

I’ve just received an email from a distraught colleague who’s been sacked for getting her agency’s Twitter account suspended.

She reached the 2000 limit of the number of people she was following, so started unfollowing some people and following others instead. Twitter treated this as suspicious activity and suspended the account.

And apparently her bosses have gone ballistic and sacked her summarily.

Quite apart from the employment law issues here, this raises lots of questions that, quite frankly, were asked of me during my stint as a social media bod on the agency side and which were operative in my decision to get out.

Namely:

  • People who don’t know about this stuff think there are millions of people talking about them and laughing at them across the world right now, and it’s just not true. In fact, in the case of this Twitter account suspension, I daresay no one really noticed. However, the brouhaha around this sort of issue is probably because people like me were employed to go around scaring other people into giving us large sums of money by telling horror stories such as The Walmart Blog That Came In The Night and The Awful Case Of The Kryptonite Lock.

This is one reason I got out. I don’t think social media is going to change the world, at least not in the same way some people claim, and I simply cannot stand people who bully others because deep down they’re scared about it all. For every ‘big’ social media story there must be bazillions we don’t know about. For every champagne fountain of success or huge stinking cesspool of failure there is an entire ocean of unexciting, unstimulating social media flotsam and jetsam.

  • What happens now? Click image for source.

    What happens now? Click image for source.

    People who don’t know about this stuff think that people who do, know everything about it. But there is so much to social media, it spans such a huge amount of stuff and is still so new, that no one can know everything. I mean, my friend took Twitter to the limit, quite literally, and whereas I had a vague notion that something happens at 2K, I didn’t actually know what that would have been or how to work around it. Who knows what can happen with Facebook? What should we avoid with YouTube? Or Flickr? Or ZooBoing-Woop or whatever will come around next? I mean, given that the earth is flat, what happens when you get to the end of it? Do dentists really know what to do when they puncture your sinus? Any ideas?

This is another reason I got out. People who know nothing about social media think that you know everything. People who do, think that you don’t. It’s a lose-lose situation.

  • If you make a mistake, surely that means you’ve learned something? It’s easy to get stuff right if you just operate within narrow limits. If you push the envelope then occasionally it’s going to break, but at least you know where that limit is, and how to get there. I see this as a fundamental difference between US and UK philosophies. In the US, you start a business and you fail, means you know how to fail and therefore avoid it in future. In the UK, you’re nothing. This sucks.

And this isn’t a reason I got out, because generally I found the programmes I worked on were, well, fairly tame, so I wasn’t given a chance to really screw up. Blogger outreach? Meh. Monitoring online? Bleh. Nothing like the wonderful things expressed in Groundswell. Like I said, it’s mostly mediocrity (which I guess is a tautology). Not that I haven’t screwed up generally. There was the time that I [INSERT SCREW-UP ONE HERE], oh and the time I [INSERT SCREW-UP TWO HERE], and then again I once [INSERT SCREW-UP THREE HERE] with a cucumber.

So what you think? Going back to the title of this post, would you sack someone if they accidentally got your Twitter account suspended? I guess the reasoning in this case goes that, if you hire someone as your expert, you put faith in them to know about the 2K limit, then having hit it, to avoid activity that Twitter classes as ‘suspicious’. And more generally, if you hire an expert you expect them to know lots of stuff and not screw up.

But it does seem an extreme reaction to me. The whole world is not watching; no one can know it all; and accidents will happen.

If you scroll back up this post you’ll see a poll. Let me know what you think.

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Humans do it better – but do they scale?

Its not right, is it? Click image for source.

It's not right, is it? Click image for source.

Today, two seemingly unrelated but actually very similar discoveries: socialmention is offering sentiment analysis among other metrics; and SpinVox uses people to transcribe messages.

Humans as machines

First, the second. SpinVox.They offer voice-to-text conversion which is something of a holy grail for computing, and given my past interest in AI, I found the proposition fascinating. I haven’t used the service myself but I’ve followed their progress keenly over the past couple of years, having actually done some work for them. At the time, I met Daniel Doulton and Christina Domecq, and they were a powerhouse. You got the feeling that everything, and anything, was possible.

And it turns out that yes, everything was possible, both good and bad, because news is out that their systems aren’t purely tech. They use people to transcribe, in call centres dotted around the world. This is a revelation to me and kind of damages their core proposition. People on Twitter seem to think so too, as does Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC who sees SpinVox not so much spinning as unravelling.

Quite apart from potentially being in trouble by having a call centre in Egypt, contrary to their claims of working within the European Economic Area, it implies to me that, far from having systems that scale, they have human beings that do not.

If their solution truly worked entirely with speech recognition then it would be gloriously easily – and a compelling business model – just to plug in server farms and data centres when load grew. But the ultimate corollary of human transcription is that you have half the world calling, and the other half transcribing. It doesn’t compute.

This would account for their other large headache: money. They’ve been asking staff to take share options instead of money, which was probably ok for Apple in 1960s, but times have changed since then. A while ago I heard Christina Domecq on Radio 4’s Bottom Line programme in which she implied the recession was a huge opportunity.I wonder whether she still thinks this?

She also said her systems ‘learned’. From what we now know, I guess this was the truth but maybe not the whole truth.

Machines as humans

Secondly, the first: the search engine socialmention which scans the social media space - blogs, forums, microblogs etc – for your search terms.

After reading about SpinVox I decided to use socialmention to see what people were saying about it. I noticed with interest that socialmention has some metrics I haven’t seen before (admittedly because I haven’t used it in a while). One of them I ‘get': reach is calculated as the number of unique authors divided by the number of mentions. But the other three – strength, passion and particularly sentiment – I do not.

Strength is ‘phrase mentions within the last 24 hours divided by total possible mentions.’ Total possible mentions? What does this mean? Surely the total possible mentions is virtually infinite?

Passion is ‘the likelihood that people talking about your brand will do so repeatedly.’ This is maybe a bit clearer in that it probably uses frequency of mentions by unique authors. Or something. Again, it’s not particularly clear.

But sentiment is what truly gets me. It talks about ‘generally positive’ and ‘generally negative’ and, being free and openly available, it’s probably doing something similar to Waggener Edstrom’s twendz twitter sentimenting tool which, it seems to me, just uses fairly crude keyword proximity algorithms rather than anything rigorous.

That is, figuring out sentiment, but fairly badly. I used the tool as a test when Jade Goody died. I noticed it would class as ‘negative’ tweets that said “sad that Jade Goody died” – clearly figuring that the proximity of ‘sad’ to ‘Jade Goody’ implied negativity. Wrong.

I’ve done sentimenting myself in the past. I’ve been through search results for clients and figured out whether they’re positive or negative by actually reading them. But I can only do so much, often restricting myself to only a few pages of search results. Machines can do much more – they scale – but can they do it better?

I’ve recently been working a lot with PR measurement, and have had my eyes opened to the crudity of some measures out there. AVE for example, is only good for impressing people. That’s why some PR companies use it to impress their clients, and their clients, in turn, use it to impress their bosses. But it’s total bollocks.

So given the importance of accurate measurement, I would argue that tools like socialmention are actually dangerous. Some people out there might actually be using it to gain insight, and they will be doing so in a wholly unaccountable way. The conversation goes thus: “We’ve found that people are overwhelmingly positive about your brand.” “How do you know that?” “Socialmention says so.” “How does it know that?” “We don’t know.”

They’re not the same (not yet anyway)

On the one hand, perhaps it’s better that SpinVox is using humans because they understand language better than computers, at least for the time being (quite apart from also being naughty by posting their SpinVox grievances on Facebook). On the other, they have some explaining to do because they’ve kind of sort of perhaps maybe possibly led people into believing they were a tech solution, which would imply a much more effective business model if less effective transcription.

Meanwhile, socialmention is an unashamedly tech solution. But it’s claiming to do what humans do, and I just don’t believe that is the case. If they could, SpinVox would be using them, right?