Recommended reading – March 19th 2010

As well as reading material, I also recommend viewing this 5 minute video on a near future social media storm, which is extremely well done:

Mob (a near-future science fiction story) by Tom Scott from hurryonhome on Vimeo.

In addition, I would recommend reading:

Neil Perkin has a fantastic overview of the case for agile planning, and why businesses need to be able to move quick in the current marketplace

Ben Kunz has pulled together the highlights of danah boyd’s recent SXSW talk on privacy in a highly readable manner

In a typically entertaining post, Rory Sutherland makes an oblique case for creativity, and on why the things that can be measured easily aren’t necessarily the best. He also gives props to the Midlands

I liked this Boston Globe piece on Mesofacts – things that change the same, albeit slowly. Things like populations or incidence rates. It is a useful reminder to question the basis for our assumptions

And, finally, Tom Ewing has a preview of his forthcoming MRS Conference paper, where he characterises the “networked web” experience. I liked the point on how the dynamism of the structure works alongside the dynamism of the content.

sk

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Should we listen to every conversation?

Over on the Essential Research blog, I have responded to a post by a social media conversation monitor who eulogised the death of focus groups.

In that post, I have outlined why focus groups themselves aren’t the issue; rather it is shoddy application. Here, I want to expand on that a bit. It is my contention that conversation monitoring is more flawed than traditional research, and should not be used for major corporate decision.

Alan Partridge once declared himself to be a homosceptic, and in a not dissimilar way I am doubtful of the efficacy of social media monitoring.

In terms of numbers signing up, the social space is still increasing. However, the number of active users within this universe will remain limited – the late arrivals will be the more passive and occasional users. This space is increasingly asymmetric, with network effects and power laws distorting the flow of information.

Topics of conversation will by nature revolve around the major players – whether individuals, blogs or organisations. The larger the hub, the weaker the concentration of signal to noise.

As a small example, consider blog commenting. Aside from the odd spam comment, the contributions I get here are all genuinely helpful. Because this is a relatively small blog, there are few people commenting out of self-interest. Moving to the larger sites, comments are filled with spam, self-promotion and unquestioning advocacy/contrariness. Genuine debate and discussion still exists, but it is diluted by the inanity surrounding it. This on its own creates difficulties for sentiment analysis, but clever filters can overcome this.

But despite the internet being open, we will cluster around likeminds. Group think creates an echo chamber. danah boyd has pointed out that teenagers network with pre-existing friends. It is my observation that the majority of adults network with those in their pre-existing spheres. Planners chat to planners. Cyclists to cyclists. Artists to artists. Mothers to Mothers. These categories aren’t mutually exclusive, but the crossover is minimal compared to likeminds.

Remember the Motrin outrage? The mainstream majority remain blissfully ignorant. This may have been because it was resolved before it had a chance to escalate to the mainstream media, but it nevertheless shows the limited nature of social media echos.

Of course, some products or services target the early adopting, tech savvy ubergeeks and so for these companies they should obviously engage where their audience is.

But for the rest? Despite my assertions above, I do view monitoring as useful, but only as a secondary tool. Tracking conversations as they happen is a useful feedback mechanism, but few companies are going to be nimble enough to implement it immediately (once they have separated the meat from the gristle and verified that this opinion is indeed consensus).

Surveys and groups are indeed limited by taking place in a single point in time, and through these it is difficult to extrapolate long-term reaction. The Pepsi taste test being one notorious example.

But there are plenty of longitudinal research methodologies that are suitable. Long-term ethnographic or observational studies can track whether attitudes or behaviour do in fact change over time. These can be isolated in pilots or test cases, so that any negative feedback can be ironed out before the product or service is unleashed to the general public.

This is where traditional research still prevails: the controlled environment. Artificiality can be a benefit if it means shielding a consumer basis from something wildly different from what they are used to.

This takes time though, and some companies may prefer to iterate as they go, and “work in beta”. Facebook is an example of this – they have encountered hostility over news feeds, Beacon, redesigns and terms of service.Each time, they have ridden the storm and come back stronger than ever.

Is this a case study for conversation monitoring effectiveness? Not really. They listened to feedback, but only implemented it when it didn’t affect their core strategy. So, the terms of service changed back but the news feed and redesign stayed. Features intrinsic to its success.

Should Scyfy have gone back to being the Sci-Fi channel due to the initial outrage? Perhaps. Personally, I think it is a rather silly name but it didn’t do Dave any harm. If they have done their research properly, they should remain confident in their decision.

Conversation monitoring can be useful, but it should remain a secondary activity. A tiny minority have a disproportionately loud voice, and their opinions shouldn’t be taken as representative of the majority. When iterating in public, there is a difficult balance between reacting too early to an unrepresentative coalition, and acting too late and causing negative reaction among a majority of users/customers.

Because of this, major decisions should be taken before going to market. Tiny iterations can be implemented after public feedback, but the core strategy should remain sound and untouched.Focus groups and other research methodologies still have an important place in formulating strategy.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeff-bauche/

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Links – 1st February 2009

Part 2 of the Good Stuff, following on from links yesterday to top articles on insights, marketing and advertising, online video and music.

Social media

I haven’t yet read it but I’m sure it is brilliant: danah boyd’s PhD dissertation

The Vitrue top 100 social media brands of 2008 (with methodology included)

Charles Frith provides an excellent case study of how brands shouldn’t engage with social media. Whether the person was officially representing Miller or not, he got pwned.

A Wired journalist experiments with various geo-aware applications and finds out that they are not all that they are cracked up to be

Mozilla have proposed a free, crowd-sourced usability tool which sounds, from this at least,  fantastic

Technology and the internet

One one hand, Kevin Kelly argues that ownership may soon be a thing of the past, and that access is far more important. Bodes well for tools such as Spotify.

But on the other, Jason Scott argues against the Cloud, as it can’t be trusted to safeguard your “possessions”

John Willshire lists several free tools that can be very useful in tracking online consumer behaviour

Discover Magazine offers a counter-argument to Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic article. Through outsourcing the effort required for recall, Google can in fact make us smarter. Not sure I necessarily buy this, but interesting nonetheless

Business and ideas

A great interview with Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the Black Swan, in the (UK) Times

Henry Blodget’s plan to fix the New York Times includes cutting costs by 40%, raising the price of the print edition and – controversially – reconstructing a walled garden for premium content

John Willshire (again) live-blogged the recent PSFK ideas salon in London, and it is well worth a read

Copyblogger has six ways to get people to say yes

A lovely story of a designer recounting his experiences with notebooks. I’ve recently started using a notebook for more than transitional note-taking, but it remains to be seen whether anything useful will come of it

My Favourite Business Book – crowdsourced opinion

And, as always, I’ve been posting slightly more miscellaneous links to my Tumblr blog, which in theory now has comments enabled through Disqus.

sk

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Links – 27th June 2008

Selected links from my del.icio.us feed:

Blog-related

danah boyd’s research on social networking sites

Questions about target audiences for newspaper websites (Guardian) – a more coherent and focused article than I managed here, where I raised several questions about the measurements and content for newspaper websites

Collection of podcasts and videos on the future of journalism (Guardian) – an excellent collection here. Kudos to the Guardian for the excellent quality of guests and debate.

Marketing wheel of misfortune (Armano) – a fantastic post of aspects to avoid/be wary of in social marketing

Photos are being taken from Flickr and sold on eBay (Guardian)

Colour psychology in marketing (Branding Strategy Insider)

Why USPs are still important (Branding Strategy Insider)

Traditional media not dead yet (New York Times)

How is the Internet changing literary style? (Steamthing)

Modelling the real value of social networks (Techcrunch)

The Petabyte age (Wired)

40% of viewing of the Mighty Boosh is done via the iPlayer (Guardian)

The power of consumer generated reviews (Amazon reviews of an overpriced product)

Is this the future of TV? (Mobayboy)

Dan Rather says American journalism is in crisis (Adbusters)

Will the Beatles be the next Guitar Her/Rock band expansion pack? (FT)

Random

Profile on Nelson Mandela (More Intelligent Life)

Graph Jam – excellent site where pop culture is displayed in graph format 

Will killswitches become standard features on technology? (Wired)

Rich people spend more time working (Washington Post)

10 breeds of inner boss (Any Wired)

The 20 most powerful celebrity makers (Observer)

Best desktop media players (Lifehacker)

Outcomes from all Mythbusters episodes

Photoessay of poverty in India (DeviantART)

Literature condensed to 3 lines or less (McSweeney’s)

Internet Movie Car DataBase

The life journey of a tick (Slate)

Custom receipt maker – for all those expenses needs

19 cinematic scene stealing cameos (AV Club)

I would particularly recommend

Blog-related: danah boyd’s research on social networking sites, Questions about target audiences for newspaper websites, Collection of podcasts and videos on the future of journalism and Marketing wheel of misfortune

Random: Graph Jam, Outcomes from all Mythbusters episodes and Literature condensed to 3 lines or less

sk

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