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Thoughts on the Twitter archive deal with Gnip

After turning off the firehose to Google last year I’d been wondering what they would do with their huge database of users tweets as the next logical step appeared to be granting the search giant access to their archives as well. They announced today that they’ve partnered with Gnip to provide the company with every tweet back to March 2006 when the company launched.

As someone who has developed social/ digital personas as part of the larger marketing strategy this is great news. Using data from various social platforms is a fantastic way to get a broad (and granular) sense of what issues most resonate with consumers, how they feel about your products and your competitors. By analyzing that data a richer picture of your customer emerges.

In the past we’ve only really been able to gather data for the past year, but with this announcement the ability to look at trends over time becomes a possibility. Is the same issue recurring? Has customer service improved over time or gotten worse year over year? Are there seasonality trends that weren’t immediately apparent? All of these data points could now be analyzed (or re-analyzed) based on this new data.

Unless you’re a very sophisticated (and deep pocketed) brand storing broad term data year over year and merging it with the same query sets was probably not at the top of your radar. As Gnip merges this data into standard listening tools running ad hoc reports and performing a detailed analysis becomes much simpler.

I’m looking forward to seeing this roll out and doing some digging. What do you think about this move by Twitter?

Image credit: fagalar on Flickr

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Why does Google get social content but not social networks?

It’s a running joke in the digital media space that Google+ is a ghost town. Not entirely accurate as companies such as Ford believe in the space and prominent bloggers still actively participate there, but it certainly didn’t meet the promise that many hoped for – to finally bring a direct competitor (with deep pockets) to Facebook. 50mm active users and 90mm registered users is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s certainly not where the Internet giant was hoping to be. This isn’t the first time Google’s tried to venture into social networks, there were the other Internet services, Buzz and Wave, which became fodder for Internet jokes before being shut down.

On the flip side, Google’s content creation engine consistently churns out compelling content that is shared far and wide and highly praised: think Google Doodles; April Fools jokes; and random Easter Eggs in products (e.g. Map Directions). They excel at it and appear to have a lot of fun doing it. So it should be only natural that if they are that good at creating content that people want to share they should understand how to build products that facilitate that sharing. Right?

Well, understanding the psychology of human sharing and interaction is different from creating cool things that people like to geek out to. Google, at its core, is full of incredibly smart engineers who look at problems logically and have a deep understanding of how the Internet works, how to create workflows, and how their own products can all be tied in together. These are the folks who brought us Gmail that revolutionized email, search which is the backbone of how people find information online, etc. etc.

But these products are all fundamentally purpose built, not discovery and interaction built.

I go to Gmail to read and respond to email. I use the search engine to find things I’m looking for, not to browse the web. I use Maps to get directions and find things. You get the picture. YouTube is different, but it wasn’t built in house, it was acquired after it was already successful and hasn’t really expanded much past it’s original purpose – to watch videos online.

The sticky social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr et al. are all about frictionless creation and sharing which is where the content that Google creates naturally spreads. Google+ is amazingly built. It has so many features that the other networks lack it should be a natural place to migrate our social interactions to. Except, all those features that make sense logically probably confuse the average user. Geeks get it, but geeks already have channels where their buddies are to share on. Circles are actually a really great idea, but the average person looks at that and says, whoa, way too much work! I’d hazard a guess that 9 out of 10 people on Facebook and Twitter haven’t set up lists either (the simplest versions of Circles). Ripples? What are those? Hangouts, which should have been the killer feature weren’t promoted properly (think about how Apple promoted Facetime for how it should have been done), and YouTube integration was an after-thought instead of a must have from day one. I could go on and on but you get the picture. When Google builds social networks they build them through their own incredibly logical lens instead of an average consumer lens.

So, what can they do? I’d suggest taking a look at why their content is so successful and how it spreads (psst, they have Google Analytics that recently added social networks tracking they could take a peek at for some insights). I’d also do a deep analysis of what their competitors are doing from a marketing lens, not a development one. Make it easy to import friends from other networks, make setting up a profile a snap, make it cool (and easy) to be there. Then, in the immortal words of start-ups: pivot…. Hell, even Zuckerberg pivoted by opening The Facebook to non-college kids.

In the meantime, keep the content coming, it’s really good!

Image credit: [Jennifer Horn @ Google]

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Are you prepared for stormy seas as well as calm ones?

As social media platforms and participation become ubiquitous amongst all demographics it’s more important than ever to understand how to navigate both the calm weather and the storms that will inevitably occur. Social media is an extension of life and as such all the same variables come into play. If a customer loses their temper at your call centre rep they will certainly do so in the more public forum of Twitter or your Facebook wall.

It isn’t just about the huge crisis, it’s about day-to-day interactions where customers are upset with something about the company. How you handle the everyday interactions makes the difference between having a sustainable social presence outside of a “push” campaign mentality. It also allows your campaigns to resonate more as your customers don’t see them as your only use of the medium that they are primarily using to connect with their friends, family, and colleagues.

How do you handle the negatives? Be prepared in advance!

First, before you dive right in know that your company isn’t perfect. This is a tough one for most companies, but it’s true. No one is perfect so accept it and move forward with a plan.

Here are some initial steps you can take to get off on the right foot in social media channels:

  • Gather a list of known issues from your customer service department and any other customer facing departments (retail managers, etc). Identify how you are working to fix those issues.
  • Check your analytics – are there specific patterns you can discern? Content paths, keywords, time spent on specific pages?
  • Talk to your marketing team – what offers have resonated in the past and which have fallen flat? Talk to your PR department – what kinds of feedback do they get from journalists and investors? Have there been any big crises in the recent past?
  • Conduct a social listening audit across all of your business units and find out what your customers are actually talking about (your brand and your competitors).
  • Talk to your product development team – what’s coming down the pipe in the next 6 months and how will that impact your customer base (be honest about this; will it be received well without any need for spin)?

Now put them all together to determine what your hot button issues are likely to be and craft a plan to ensure your front line social media team can address them properly and transparently. Make no mistake, it isn’t a script, but an outline of who your company really is: a human-centric business.

Taking these steps and ensuring your employees are all operating from the same playbook will set your team, and your brand up to be prepared for any storms that arise (which they inevitably will as they do in the physical world) and hopefully allow you to mitigate them before they can manifest into an actual crisis.

Finally, keep in mind that it doesn’t stop here: the learning, discussions, info gathering etc. MUST continue. Change happens; be prepared to roll with it.

Happy sailing!

[photo credit: FnJBnN]

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Where are your customers?

There are an abundance of social networks vying for your attention as the social web matures. Not all of them “stick”, but the ones that do, really stick. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Pintrest (and Foursquare within a niche) are the immediate ones that come to mind.

How does a brand determine where to be and how to leverage each network? It’s not as hard as it appears, although it does take research and analysis. Where are YOUR customers? Who are your customers? How does your brand fit with the communication channels they’re using? Does it?

Play to your strengths and your USP (or better, your UVP – unique value proposition) – you can’t force your brand where it doesn’t fit naturally. You can begin to shift your culture to align with your *actual* customers & enthusiasts, but you can’t force fit it. Social media is not a panacea.

I’ve said for years that context is what matters in a social media environment and the best way to provide context to your customers is to be relevant where it makes sense, and in a *context* that makes sense.

It isn’t easy, but it’s worthwhile. If you can determine which social network(s) are right for your brand to focus on you’ll be in a much better place than spreading yourself too thin and trying to be everything to everyone.

Some brands can (and should) be omnipresent across all properties, but they still need to have their objectives and goals at the forefront. They need to understand the *Why* as well as the *How* of their communities interests and passions.

Are you prepared to do the leg work and really listen to your customers and prospects before jumping into tactics? Just because there’s a new shiny object that needs attention doesn’t mean it will do anything for your business. If you can add value to the stream be there with bells on because your customers will appreciate it.

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Working in the Cloud!

I know I’ve been a bit cagey about what I’ve been up to the last two months, but the time has come to share the great news!

I’m joining Cloud AdAgents as Managing Director, effective today. I’m thrilled to be running the Toronto shop, working with some fantastic clients, and a stellar bunch of people as we grow the business and continue to refine our new agency model.

So what is Cloud? We are what the name suggests, an agency that taps into the best and brightest talent from anywhere in the world. We believe that you don’t need to be tied to a desk to do your best work. You don’t need to work in a large formalized structure. Sometimes that works, but it doesn’t for everyone – either employee or client.

We believe in the power of ideas; ideas that can come from anywhere. Quite literally, the World Is Our Office ™. Clients don’t need to be limited to getting great work from a single geographic location, or a single type of cultural experience. We believe in empowering entrepreneurs and freelancers and enabling them to work on large client business as part of a larger team. We believe in giving back to the community, and are really looking forward to what we can all achieve together in the coming years.

We have a foundation in digital and social media, but we embrace integration with all mediums, as they make sense strategically. We believe relationships matter: with our clients and with our partners. We are headquartered out of the espresso bar on Queen West where we have a collaboration space (and amazing coffee & snacks), but most of the time you’ll find us using the digital tools to get things done. Skype. Email. SMS. WebEx.

I’m really excited about being a part of this new agency model and seeing where it takes us. It’s daring, it’s challenging, and it is in the cloud.

And … I like challenging the status quo.

Come by, say hi and have an espresso (just ping me first because I may be any number of places!) :)

You can also find us on Twitter: @CloudAdAgents and Facebook: Espresso Bar / Agency and be sure to check in on Foursquare when you drop by, we’ve got a new deal at the Espresso Bar each week!

ps – look for our new website in the coming weeks!

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