Archive for March, 2010

Corporate snoops

Should employers be able to track everything that their staff say online? Whatever the rights or wrongs, a new product will apparently enable them to do just that.

Social Sentry is a tool marketed by a company called Teneros, and its demonstration at a recent technology event has made some people uneasy. It’s apparently intended to enable employers to stop staff leaking sensitive information like financial results via email. But it’s so powerful it can track what an individual employee is posting on social media sites, even if he or she is using different identities.

It has long been established that an employee does not have a right to privacy when posting at work, using the corporate network. But privacy should be a given when posting from home or from a mobile phone. The question is, will this privacy be respected? If an employer suspects a particular individual of passing on restricted information, my guess is probably not.

And of course there will be a temptation to keep tabs on individuals, in order to understand how motivated they are, and to deal with issues before they arise. Arguably a business could make a respectable case for that. But it would still be an invasion of privacy, and potentially actionable in law. No one wants their boss looking over their shoulder when they aren’t at work.

More information here.

Nestle in hot water

Marketers at Nestlé must be in a state of shock. The company has been caught off guard by the campaign launched against them by Greenpeace on social media sites since March 17, and seems unsure how to respond.

The protest is over Nestlé’s purchases of palm oil from an Indonesian company, which Greenpeace says has cleared rain forest to establish palm plantations. The clearances are causing huge concern, as the valuable rain forest is host to a huge number of unique species, including the orangutan, which could become extinct if it loses its only habitat.

The campaign started with a report on the company’s palm oil use published in Greenpeace’s website, accompanied by a mock KitKat commercial on the Web showing an office worker opening the candy’s wrapper and snacking on a bloody orangutan finger. Nice. The video has been widely shared across Facebook and Twitter and thousands of negative comments have been posted on the company’s Facebook page.

Nestlé mounted a robust defence, getting YouTube to remove the video, although this has not stopped it spreading. It was less successful when it tried to put out the fire on Facebook. Telling users it would delete their comments seems only to have enraged them further, and now its fan base, mostly protesters, has grown to more than 95,000. The brand is trying to convince consumers that its palm oil purchases are negligible, but the signs are it will have to work a lot harder to get that message across.

It’s a graphic lesson in just what social media can mean for a company. Ignoring it is not an option, but having a Facebook presence, as Nestle has, is not just a way for the brand to raise awareness, it provides an instantaneous way for consumers to tell it that its behaviour stinks. Opinion is now divided about whether it should maintain the dialogue or, since the damage is so bad, close the page down and start again.

Personally I’m with the protesters on this one – sacrificing the orangutans just to help our confectionary hold together a bit better is not something anyone can be happy about. But Nestlé is not the only global brand to use palm oil, or, for that matter, to engage in dubious practices that would make consumers hit the roof if they knew of them. Greenpeace’s success with this campaign will not go unnoticed, and other big brands must be wondering if they are going to be next.

Online election fever

Social media has had a big impact on elections in other countries in the past couple of years, notably Iran and the US. The Obama campaign really got a handle on the online thing, winning an important advantage over the Republicans.  It will be fascinating to see how social media affects a British election, and who benefits.

First signs are that the Tories are ahead, at least on Facebook, where a one-month review up until the middle of this month found 4,688 comments and wall posts had been made on the party’s fan page, compared with only 1,229 on the Labour Party’s page and 727 on the Liberal Democrats’. The Tories have 23,800 individuals connected to its fan page, while the other two have only 7,000 connections each.

More Conservative prospective candidates are on Facebook, 69% of the total. Among existing MPs, the Liberal Democrats are most strongly represented with 55%; the Conservatives have 38% and Labour 34%.

It’s a strong start for the Tories, but the key for all three parties where social media is concerned is turning friends into active supporters, prepared to spread the word. I expect we’ll be seeing quite a lot more about this in the weeks to come.

Why social media users follow brands

Here’s an interesting survey suggesting that a business really can benefit from a presence on social media. Nearly eight out of ten respondents said that following a brand on Twitter increased the chance that they would recommend it to a friend, and for Facebook the figure was a healthy 60%.

Why do users become brand fans? On Facebook, the main reasons were being a customer (49%), to show support (42%) or to benefit from discounts and promotions (40%). Just over a third said they did so because they found the brand entertaining. On Twitter, being a customer scored 51%, followed by discounts (44%) and entertainment (42%).

These are quite substantial figures, and should encourage marketers who are already active on either or both of these sites, or else provide an incentive for those who have yet to take the plunge.

Full details here.

The future of social media in an internet of things

We currently associate social media with web-based applications such as Facebook or Twitter that enable people to connect and share content with each other. However, a new kind of social media is now emerging from the so-called ‘internet of things’. As digital sensors and wireless processors get smaller and cheaper, the internet is poised to evolve from a network of users into a network of users and ‘things’ (appliances, mobile devices, vehicles, buildings).

With more things connected, we will be able to visualise information (increasingly in realtime) from more systems than ever before – the workplace, the home, government, public infrastructure, events, even the human body itself. In many areas of life and work, the gathering of content will become an entirely automated process. As the Smarter Planet team at IBM argues in this recent , the internet of things will foster a ‘global data field’, which has the potential to dramatically improve decision-making for individuals and organisations alike.

All of which has some interesting implications for what we think of as ‘social media’. In an automated and object-oriented network, users will begin to leave much richer data trails in the wake of their daily activities; for example, information relating to their employment, travel arrangements, or shopping decisions. Leaving the privacy issues aside for a moment, the internet of things points towards the following changes in the social media landscape.

The first is a more ‘ambient’ form of social media – background information about actions, decisions, movements and discoveries that would have remained invisible in the past. In other words, the data trail left by users will be logged, collated, shared and tagged in realtime, either with friends or colleagues. The second is a more ‘augmented’ form of social media – for example, the superimposition of object- and user-generated information onto visual representations of the world, in a fashion that is geographically relevant and/or time-sensitive to individuals and organisations. Augmented reality, as it is otherwise known, will rely to a considerable degree on information gleaned from sensors and user-generated data trails.

For companies, this degree of realtime monitoring will yield huge benefits for business intelligence, supply chain management and productivity. For friends and family, it will impact communications and the meaning of relationships. For society as a whole, it has the capacity to advance our understanding of both natural and human systems. It will be possible to connect otherwise disparate bodies of information in realtime, identifying otherwise hidden patterns. One possible result is that we find more efficient and sustainable ways of living and working.

Of course, the danger in this transition is that our lives will be subjected to unprecedented scrutiny from billions of sensors. The resulting data trail could well be exploited or stolen. We will see a widening gulf between the capability of these surveillance technologies and what is deemed acceptable or legal from a privacy perspective. For example, as this recent NY Times article describes, privacy advocates are already vigorously campaigning against the deployment of video cameras, motion detectors and facial recognition sensors in retail stores – technologies that are now being used to analyse and manipulate consumer behaviour.

No social media site has a divine right to dominance on the web. Just ask MySpace. Facebook has clearly eclipsed it. The internet is a global social networking tool. People will always use it for social networking but the specific sites they visit will change. After all it only requires you to click somewhere else – it’s not a time-consuming undertaking, like joining a new bank or moving house.

Whilst Twitter is still very much part of the fabric, small voices of dissent are emerging and competitors are starting to nibble Twitter’s turf. Or are they?! Worth a read so you know where trends could be emerging.

The value of the human touch

There are limitations to how far computers can assess what is being said about you on social media networks. Manual intervention is required too. Also there is evidence that computers are struggling to fully comprehend blog topics and forums. Twitter is easier for them because it is shorter which could skew monitoring results in the favour of Twitter simply because they are easier for computers to pick up.

Getting the data is one thing – but you definitely need an experienced team to interpret what is being said and to  be able to properly assess its significance and advise on how it is applied to the business.

This informative piece explores the issues further.

Twitter helps Kodak recover

Some interesting comments here by Kodak’s head of marketing about how social media has helped the company revive its financial fortunes.

Kodak was brought to its knees by the digital camera revolution in the past decade, with sales of photographic film virtually being wiped out and all but three of its 21-strong senior team leaving. Now, according to CMO Jeff Hayzlett, it has reinvented itself primarily as a B2B company, using Twitter to help develop relationships with partners.

Hayzlett has over 11,000 Twitter followers. “I’m directly talking to photographers and commercial printers, our customers, and it’s a way for me to interact directly without filters and without someone else telling me what they said or how they said it,” he says.

Kodak now plans to hire a ‘chief listener’ to keep track of social media comments referencing the brand and hear from customers about their concerns and ideas.

Numbers aren’t everything

It’s easy for marketers to think that large numbers of consumers reached equals success, especially with the Internet, where the traffic is potentially huge. It’s the same fallacy that bedevilled the direct mail industry for years.

This is becoming an issue again with the revelation that trust in friends and peers is declining. According to Edelman’s 2010 Trust Barometer, published last month, the number of people who view their friends and peers as credible sources of information about a company has dropped from 45% in 2008 to 25% this year, a big decline.

This is attributed in large part to the growth of social media networks, and the exposure consumers are getting to all kinds of recommendations that in reality they have little interest in pursuing. The bigger the networks get, the more the commodity of ‘trust’ becomes eroded. It may also have something to do with the increasing business penetration of social media, and the increase in the number of marketing messages flying around.

If trust is declining, does that mean the channel is becoming less relevant for businesses? Not necessarily. Referrals from friends still matter.

But the whole idea of ‘friends’, as hyped by Facebook in particular, is not what one would customarily associate with the term. I was shocked by the ‘scientific findings’ back in January that 150 friends is the most that one person can typically manage, not because it was a vastly smaller number than the thousands that one can theoretically communicate with on Facebook, but because it’s still so large. My guess is that most people’s meaningful relationships number 20 or 30 at most, and for some it’s a dozen or so, if that. These are the people one really trusts.

For a business, there’s an analogy here. It’s the difference between advertising on the one hand, and developing relationships on the other.

If a business treats social media as an advertising channel, a way of getting a message out, the effect will be heavily diluted, because any ‘recommendations’ will be treated with scepticism. If, instead, it searches out those consumers who have a real or potential interest in its product or service, and develops a dialogue with them, it is far more likely to benefit.

Renting access to eyeballs

Brands were used to buying eyeballs on web sites. But no more. This is an inadequate policy in the social media age. Brands need to forge on-going relationships, build and become part of communities to protect their reputations.

Also brands need to become publishers and must distribute relevant content to their audiences. Brands used to rely upon other people creating content and they would fill in the space in between. But now they need to participate. The audience is no longer passive and monolithic. It is active, it is sharing, it is commenting,tweeting, blogging, it is book marking and it is talking 24/7 in real time.

This piece makes some good points and explores the issue in more detail.