Fancy a social burger anyone?

by Justin Hunt

A New York burger restaurant has decided to integrate social media fully into its offering with customers being encouraged to order on iPads and create their own commercials on Youtube.

Is this the start of the re-engineering of restaurants to make themselves more relevant to social media?

Google index gets a Caffeine boost

by Dr Andrew Currah

Search engines are racing to incorporate social media. Last week, Bing announced that it would start adding realtime updates from Twitter and Facebook to its search results. Similarly, Google also announced changes to its infrastructure, which are designed to improve the freshness and visibility of social media in search results. Google’s realtime upgrade is arguably more fundamental, as it is premised on a two-year redesign of the underlying index.

Previously, Google separated its index into layers, which were updated at different speeds. The main layer was usually updated every two weeks. Known as Caffeine, the new system separates the index into billions of ‘batches’, each of which refer to specific websites. Rather than analysing the web in larger layers, Caffeine now trawls content in smaller batches. This enables Google to update its index on a continuous and global basis.

As a result, the underlying index is constantly in flux; it is estimated that Caffeine now analyses hundreds of thousands of web pages every second. According to the official announcement on the Google Blog: “If the Google index were a pile of paper, it would grow three miles taller every second”. All of which has required a significant investment in new hardware and software. For example, Caffeine is built on the new Google File System (dubbed GFS2), which processes and stores content from the web with reduced latency. In turn, GFS2 resides within more powerful custom-built server hardware, which are believed to include new innovations such as solid state hard drives.

In sum, the race to analyse and index the growing torrent of social media is a challenging and expensive process – but one that will increasingly differentiate the web services of the future. The pressure to do so will escalate as more of our digital attention shifts to mobile devices, where recommendations and social search are taking over from straightforward search. Compared to its relatively static predecessor, the realtime web will require companies to nurture a very different set of technologies and skills if they are to remain visible.

Stay alert

by Rob McLuhan

Have you got all your bases covered when using social media? Or are you relying too much on the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In?

Blogger Adrienne Graham points out that most of the training provided for businesses on the benefits and uses of social media tend to concentrate almost exclusively on these three sites. It’s true these are the front-runners, but it’s not just about them, she argues. It’s about ‘a cross section of community sites, blogs, bookmarking sites, photo sites, sharing tools, audio and video tools and some even more advanced tools that are used in conjunction with one another to have a robust social media experience’.

Her point is that the Internet is constantly evolving, and even the biggest sites come and go. What happens if Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In stop being “cool spots” for the “in crowd”?

‘Where will you go then? Where else are you looking to help build your brand? Are you listening to or using podcasts or Internet Radio stations? Are you tapping into video and live streaming sites? Are you paying attention to how people are using various blogging and forum platforms to showcase their knowledge, talent and expertise? What about international sites like Viadeo or Xing? What about the social networking forums like Ning and Collective X?’

Graham says that, as part of her drive to establish a small business, she had no choice but to check out every available avenue. Her article is a useful reminder on the need to stay alert – access it here.

Shock social media eavesdropping horror

by Rob McLuhan

The row about privacy on Facebook makes me wonder whether we are going to see a re-run of the media outrage we saw a while back over junk mail and call centres.

We certainly will if the Daily Mail has anything to do with it. Take last week’s odd piece in which, according to the newspaper’s headline, ‘secret new software allows BT and other firms to trawl internet looking for disgruntled customers’.

Companies such as easyJet, Carphone Warehouse and Lloyds TSB are also monitoring social networking sites to see what is being said about them, the paper fumed. Privacy campaigners have accused them of ‘outright spying’ while legal experts have suggested that firms making unsolicited approaches to customers could fall foul of data protection laws.

To give substance to this, the Mail’s hack found a Facebook user who had posted a comment calling BT ‘a bunch of unaccountable, business shafting, useless b*******’, and who within hours had been contacted by BT asking if there was anything they could do to help. He told the paper that he found this ‘quite Big Brotherish and sinister’, and had since changed his privacy settings so that only his friends could access his page.

Businesses, of course, have a completely different view of this, and one that we at ItsOpen have been enthusiastically promoting. They need to be proactively monitoring the Internet for negative comment, and then stepping in where possible to see if they can resolve the problems.  In most cases customers are delighted to find that the company is actually trying to help, and may even become advocates for the brand in the future. (To be fair, the article did give them the space to make the point.)

Also, if you post an angry comment on a public forum, then you surely shouldn’t be shocked to get a reply from the individual or organisation you’ve slandered. The article implies that BT rang him up at home, when of course it simply posted a comment further down the thread.  So where is the privacy issue? And the point of the call wasn’t to make threats – it was to help.

As for the ‘secret new software’, it’s been around for yonks and is commercially available. And if it happens to be monitoring this site on behalf of BT, let it take note: I’ve had epic problems with the company’s laughable  technical help line recently, and I’d love to hear from it with assurances that nothing of the kind will ever happen again, and perhaps a hamper of goodies to compensate me.

The Mail’s outrage is clearly manufactured, and I’d argue has more to do with the drive to boost circulation than any genuine issue. But is there a serious point here if, in treating businesses as pantomime villains, it changes perceptions of social media as an open forum, and the Internet too, for that matter.

Perhaps we should see this in the context of the conflict between old media and the new, the bitter resentment of the hidebound, conservative press at the johnny-come latelies who have the affrontery to allow views and information to be shared for free.

The new crisis management models

by Justin Hunt

There has been a spate of high profile crises involving major companies – including the likes of Toyota and most recently BP – and what many of these cases are highlighting is the fact that these situations can be severely and dramatically aggravated through poor management of social media.

Typically, highly important companies have no social media strategies in place at all, except perhaps a Twitter feed broadcasting out the same press releases to everyone.

This is largely because these organisations are being advised on the whole by established retained media agencies – well known organisations whose position in the market is based on the old power structures of traditional media.

The heads of these established agencies typically don’t understand social media, and they don’t like social media. It is not part of their culture and cannot be controlled or manipulated like traditional journalists.

These established agencies come from the ‘ring them up and pitch a story’ mentality. These old school types – the ones who made a fortune selling ‘Sunday for Monday’ traditional media stories- are letting major companies down.

The perils of social media might make some people nervous, but the fact is, news is no longer a product which you can control in the traditional way. And one size fits all social media communications approaches are completely inadequate.

Engaging with social media through a crisis requires specialist skills by experts who are immersed in the culture of social media and understand the new rules of production, distribution and exchange of news ( sorry if I sound a bit like Karl Marx!)

The current heads of established crisis management agencies have, on the whole, risen to their position largely by knowing key traditional media editors who will always check their stories first before running with them. Not something that bloggers or users of Twitter do!

The techniques that are used for stage managing events for TV and newspapers will not work in social media. And many of the heads of established crisis management agencies don’t appear to understand how to have effective conversations with the many online. They see influence in terms of reaching the few rather than build meaningful relations with the

It will not be long before smart CEOs and smart communications directors begin to question the amounts they are paying to agencies whose mind set is shaped entirely by old media values and practices.

It is time to define new models for engaging with a crisis, and this means leveraging the powerful tools of social media to boost the delivery of messages and this requires fundamentally new approaches and skills.

It is no longer acceptable if you are a serious communications advisor to scoff at Twitter, or to be hesitating about engaging with blogs. When the crisis breaks, that position will be utterly unsustainable.

Journalists are increasingly turning to social media for stories. They simply don’t have the time to research stories in the way they might otherwise choose to do. And investors are researching blogs and forums to gain insights into companies. Why would they trust the official line when there are experts out there who they trust who are already blogging, or discussing points which they find valuable?

Tragically, some highly important companies seem to only recognise this when a crisis erupts. They should be calling in specialists now and putting social media crisis management training and practices in place.

The figures highlighting the growth of social media involvement are staggering, and boards of major companies need to move fast to ensure they are covered properly, and receive new kinds of advice from new kinds of agencies. Otherwise they could find themselves struggling to deal with issues, because they are ill-equipped for the social media age.

Success can no longer be measured solely by an article in the FT, it has to be measured by coverage on blogs, Twitter, forums, Facebook, specialist forums, digg and all the other plethora of social media networks which can potentially affect the reputation of a good company.

And one final thought. Your established PR agencies might be advising you to put the old corporate videos on YouTube, but that will not work. The audience you are addressing online through social media networks is no longer passive. They expect something valuable, useful and interesting and genuinely relevant. Otherwise why should they pay you any attention?

Your ad agencies might promise to buy you space on social networks but that is not effective enough. You need to be embedded. You need to be part of these specialist communities. You need to understand the new rules to gain influence.

It means getting involved in new ways – and it is not simply a case of social media being just another channel. With the spread of mobile devices, we are going to see ubiquitous news spreading fast through social networks, at any time and at any place. This can work to your advantage or disadvantage but now is not the time to be left behind or be playing catch up.

Social media can enable companies to gain competitive advantages and expand their customer bases. Being afraid or clinging to the status quo will not serve anyone’s interests well in the long run.

To be prepared for a crisis, companies need effective, well-thought through, multi-platform strategies. Of course, traditional media has a role, but the approaches to social media require a different mindset and an understanding of a very different culture.

Kevin Anderson talks with the Social Media Leadership Forum

by Justin Hunt

How do you get successful coverage online?

This new era of social media is creating significant challenges for organisations. Media channels are becoming more and more fragmented, the internet is flooded with content, and audiences are increasingly short of time and attention.  How do businesses cut through the noise and make sure their story is heard?

Kevin Anderson, freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian, is going to be talking to members of the Social Media Leadership Forum about the current state of social media, the challenges and also the opportunities for engaging with your audiences, and the tools that you can use to develop effective strategies.

Kevin has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in  radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines.

If you are a leading organisation and would like to join the Social Media Leadership Forum to speak with Kevin and many other highly influential thinkers in the fast-growing social media space, then please contact us at

Bing incorporates Twitter and Facebook updates

by Justin Hunt

Bing – Microsoft’s search engine – has announced that it is to incorporate updates from Twitter and Facebook. This underscores the huge increase in the usage of social media, and the fact that traditional search engines face threats from social networks where people are searching for information.

People are going to Twitter for real-time updates on news, for example, rather than traditional search engines. Google too has announced that is upgrading its search service.

This is going to make it increasingly difficult for traditional SEO campaigns to be effective for companies. Instead they will need social media strategies, and will have to become more immersed in the social web.

Social Flow helps companies analyse the realtime web

by Dr Andrew Currah

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of social media is the sheer speed at which the conversation changes. In the realtime flow of social media, it is increasingly difficult for companies stay abreast of the conversational context – and in turn, to know when and how to make meaningful contributions.

A new start up, based in New York, takes an innovative approach to the speed/context conundrum. Directed at brand marketers, Social Flow is an automated data mining tool that generates contextually relevant contributions by analysing a company’s Twitter account. For example, the tool follows a company’s Twitter feed, determines which followers are online, what the followers are talking about and what keywords they tend to be using during their conversations.

In the words of Om Malik: “Once the system determines that you (the publisher) has something interesting to offer, it tweets out a link that’s contextual to the conversation. The right link at the right time, theoretically speaking, translates to more effective responses and higher click throughs. Social Flow in many ways is a start up built for the new, data-rich, real-time web with the concept of serendipity as its driving principle”.

The underlying approach taken by Social Flow is similar to contextual search advertising: rather than matching keywords with searches, it matches realtime conversations with brands. However, Social Flow also points to a more powerful approach: by automatically mining the social web, companies have the potential to connect with their followers in a more proactive and relevant fashion.

A word of warning though. An application such as Social Flow ultimately needs to be part of a much wider arsenal of tools and skills. An effective social media strategy ultimately depends on the vision and collective experience of a communications team – regardless of the speed at which any software can analyse conversations.

Datamonitor report

by Rob McLuhan

Datamonitor has a new report for marketers on how to benefit from social media.

The report, called “Opportunities in Social Media: Profiting From Digital Conversation”, offers detailed insights and analysis documenting the drivers behind the continued popularity of online social media. It also provides key country-by-country data outlining social network memberships, internet access, broadband access and mobile phone ownership.

More info here.

Old Coke in new bottles

by Rob McLuhan

Is there anything really new in Coca-Cola’s new social media ‘strategy’? The brand is widely considered a leader in terms of its use of social media, and every new approach it tries out attracts interest.

Its latest one is based on the  “4Rs” – reviewing, responding, recording and redirecting, according to Natalie Johnson, the brand’s digital communications manager.

The reviewing element consists of monitoring popular opinion about its main products, as compiled from social media sites by firms like Radian6, Sysomos and Scout Labs.

Company ‘experts’ will then respond to these comments, through blogs and social media users. The recording element involves placing information with relevance and common interest for placement, ranging from blog posts to short viral videos. ‘People don’t want to hear sales talk … they want information that is relevant to their daily life,’ Johnson says.

‘Redirecting” means giving information to consumers via connections from Google and Facebook to MyCokeRewards. The more links out there, the better the brand’s Google rankings will be.

Nothing earthshaking here. It’s what everyone is doing – or should be. But it makes sense for a leading brand to keep renewing the old maxims in new packaging. The idea that it’s doing something new helps keep its own people motivated, attracts interest in the blogosphere and maintains the perception of it as a leader.

Sometimes just talking about what you’re doing is as important as doing it.