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Is social media killing our ability to think?

According to a paper titled ‘Analytical reasoning task reveals limits of social learning in networks’ published in The Journal of the Royal Society Interface last week, social networks make us less able to think analytically.

Through a set of laboratory-based experiments, its authors – Iyad Rahwan, Dmytro Krasnoshtan, Azim Shariff and Jean-François Bonnefon – found that social learning fails to cultivate the human mind’s ability to engage analytical reasoning. According to the paper’s abstract, “When people make false intuitive conclusions and are exposed to the analytic output of their peers, they recognize and adopt this correct output. But they fail to engage analytical reasoning in similar subsequent tasks.”

This, say the authors, shows that humans exhibit an “unreflective copying bias”, limiting their learning to what their peers are saying rather than the reasoning behind it – even when the effort and skill required is minimal.

In effect, social networks are creating a generation of copycats unable to engage in analytical reasoning. Every like, share, retweet and +1, perpetuates this limiting behaviour, making us appear smart yet actually making us less so.

Yet in a world obsessed by superficiality, celebrity and fame, I doubt many will care.

Who’s winning the war for growth – Twitter or LinkedIn?

Both Twitter and LinkedIn posted Q4 2013 earnings results this week, and both saw sharp declines in their stock price. But what other comparisons can be made from the usage data they made available?

User numbers

Although the two firms use different methods of calculating active users (Twitter has its own Monthly Active Users metric, whilst LinkedIn relies on its own membership data and Comscore measurement), a comparison can easily be made.

Users

Much has been made of Twitter’s slowing growth, but LinkedIn’s growth has slowed even further (a mere 1.6% increase on Q3 2013, which actually showed a sharp decline).

Winner: Twitter

Activity

Again, both companies use different measures of activity. Twitter has its nebulous ‘timeline views’ whereas LinkedIn relies on Comscore’s calculation of page views.

Views

This would account for the marked discrepancy in the absolute numbers seen above, so it is better to look at the growth/decline over the last quarter. Here we see that whilst both platforms have declined, it is actually LinkedIn that has dropped the most:

  • Twitter: Timeline views down 6.9% quarter-on-quarter and up 26.5% year-on-year
  • LinkedIn: Page views down 8.2% quarter-on-quarter and up 9.8% year-on-year

It’s also worth looking at these absolute activity number relative to the user base.

Views per User

Again, a direct comparison between the numbers themselves is not helpful, because of the methods each platform uses to track activity. The trend is interesting though:

  • Twitter saw a 10.5% decline quarter-on-quarter (3.5% down year-on-year) in timeline views per active user
  • LinkedIn saw a 9.6% decline quarter-on-quarter (9.2% down year-on-year) in page views per unique visitor
  • Over the full year, timeline views per active user on Twitter actually increased by 11.8% whereas page views per unique visitor for LinkedIn saw a massive 24.9% drop

Winner: Twitter

Revenue

From the data above, it seems odd that Twitter’s stock price fell by a quarter following its results, whereas LinkedIn’s fell by only (!) 15 per cent. Looking at revenue trends might help.

Revenue

LinkedIn is the clear winner when it comes to net revenue, out-gunning Twitter by a factor of almost two. But Twitter is beginning to close the gap; its net revenues are up 117% year-on-year compared to LinkedIn’s 47.3% growth compared to the same quarter in 2012.

Revenue per user shows the same story.

Revenue by User

In Q4 2013 LinkedIn brought in $2.39 of net revenue per user/visitor compared to Twitter’s $1.01. But yet again, it is Twitter that is seeing the fastest growth in this area, putting on 38.4% quarter-on-quarter (66.5% year-on-year) compared to LinkedIn’s 12% quarter-on-quarter (21.8% year-on-year).

Winner: TBA

So whose stock would you buy?

How Twitter’s user engagement problem affects brands

In case you hadn’t heard, Twitter has something of a user engagement problem. In its Q4 2013 earnings results the social network reported that whilst user numbers had grown overall, both the total number of timeline views and the number of timeline views per active user had sharply decreased, as shown below.

Engagement

Some commentators are putting the decline down to all the user interface changes that have been brought in since the IPO, but regardless of the reason what it essentially means is that my, your and everyone else’s tweets are not being seen as much as they were. In Q4 2013, the average user made 613 timeline views – or 6.7 per day, down from 7.4 per day in Q3. That’s a 10% less chance that our tweets will be seen (and probably more given that the number of users has increased).

And that’s why Twitter’s user engagement problem is yours as well: you are going to have work even harder to get your messages across. No wonder then that Twitter’s advertising revenues increased by over 40% in the final quarter of last year. Perhaps this downward trend is just a cunning ploy from Twitter to get brands spending more of their advertising dollars with them?

Using Twitter cards to drive web traffic

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 12.02.22Twitter ‘cards’ are nothing new. As a user of the social network, you have most likely seen them already. They’re the little content previews that appear underneath a tweet when you click ‘View summary’ or ‘View media’ when the author has posted a link to a web URL such as a news story from The New York Times or a YouTube video. But did you know that you don’t have to own one of the most popular websites to have a Twitter card appear when someone links to your content? Like this:

Anyone with a blog or website can apply to have Twitter cards enabled for their posts or pages. You simply have to include some code in the source of the page that conforms to Twitter’s requirements, then apply for authorisation (which in most cases currently appears to be immediate). This presents a number opportunities to drive traffic from Twitter to your site, particularly as Twitter provides a few different card layouts:

  • Summary Card: Default Card, including a title, description, thumbnail, and Twitter account attribution.
  • Summary Card with Large Image: Similar to a Summary Card, but offers the ability to prominently feature an image.
  • Photo Card: A Tweet sized photo Card.
  • Gallery Card: A Tweet Card geared toward highlighting a collection of photos.
  • App Card: A Tweet Card for providing a profile of an application.
  • App Installs and Deep-Linking: An extension to any Card that provides app download and deep linking.
  • Player Card: A Tweet sized video/audio/media player Card.
  • Product Card: A Tweet Card to better represent product content.

My favourite implementation so far has been from the online fundraising site JustGiving. They use product cards to give every fundraising page a Twitter card that shows the amount raised to date, the charity being supported and a clever ‘donate’ button, like this example shows:

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 11.58.31

This, according to the site’s social and labs product managerJonathan Waddingham, “helps bring more Twitter users back to the site to donate”. Whilst JustGiving has no data showing an increase in donations pre- and post-Twitter card integration, Waddingham confirmed on Twitter that not only did the click-through rate (CTR) increase by 50% when they moved from summary cards to product cards, but that they know that tweets from Twitter buttons have twice the impact of tweets from other sources.

twitter-stats-2013-01

As more site owners implement Twitter cards, the novelty (and with it, click-through rates) will no doubt wear off. But for now, if you’re not already using Twitter cards you really ought to start thinking about what they could do for your web traffic.

How brands should respond on social media

Facebook-reply-buttonThe final stage of the five-step social media engagement model I outlined is response. By following the previous four steps (evaluate, acknowledge, prioritise and classify, and escalate), a brand will inevitably be faced by the question: so how exactly should we respond?

First, any response should include consideration not only of what you want to say, but also who is going to say it and how; responding to a compliment is very different to responding to a criticism. Whatever you do, you must resist the natural marketer’s urge to control, target or infiltrate social media – the resulting fallout will provide perfect fodder for critics, competitors and commentators (especially those in the ‘traditional’ media). However, when done properly, companies are just as entitled as any other individual or organisation to participate in online conversation with their customers, and in most cases it will be warmly welcomed. Contrary to popular media opinion, these people are not just a bunch of activists waiting to attack – although they will if companies appear irresponsible or disrespectful by simply treating ‘their’ space as yet another advertising medium.

The ground rules for participation in social media are undefined and open to constant interpretation. One person’s contact and dialogue is another’s spam and manipulation. But responding with information about your product or position can deliver a number of benefits:

  • it gets your side of a story heard, straight from the source;
  • it can generate word of mouth, assuming what you have to say is worth talking about;
  • it provides instant feedback on what you have to say;
  • it allows you to communicate in your own voice, on a less formal basis.

Responding to negative mentions

Let’s first look at some of the most common negative situations and the kind of response you might consider.

Malicious attacks are directly intended to inflict some kind of reputational damage on an organization or individual. Yet they provide an opportunity to encourage others to support your position. A direct response is rarely recommended, but peer pressure can quickly redress the balance. Let’s be clear: this isn’t the same as rigging votes or posting anonymous messages, but about building a network of friends for a brand that will defend it in times of adversity, like a good friend who defends you in public.

There is a lot of what can only be classed as mischievousness that takes place in social media. People want to ruffle an organisation’s feathers because in their eyes they’ve done something wrong and want them to respond. If this happens, remember that you don’t have to respond directly, but you might want to before someone else does. Each case will vary, but a little bit of humility will go a long way towards showing an openness that could be quite unexpected.

However, the vast majority of negative mentions will probably just be caused by misinformation or misinterpretation, so make sure your communication is clear and honest. There are also opportunities to facilitate conversations and add value to existing communities, but that requires organizations to evolve from wanting to control the conversation to becoming the facilitator of conversation. The objective is to give people more reasons to talk about your company.

Responding to positive mentions

Positive mentions are generally easier to deal with – although take care not to come across as conceited or arrogant. In most cases, it will simply be a case of acknowledging the compliment and thanking those making it. If it’s something really wonderful, then you could also consider using it in some way as part of your own social media marketing efforts, for instance by linking, tweeting or blogging about it in a way that makes the acknowledgement public. Personally, I find companies that do this for every compliment quite tiresome – it makes me think they are vain, desperate or have nothing else of value to contribute (or all three) so think carefully whether you risk turning a compliment into a criticism, purely as a result of how you choose to respond to it.

Social media crisis planning

Social-Media-Crisis-Management-Lessons-Learned-from-British-Airways

In this penultimate post describing the five-stage social media engagement model I outlined last week, I propose a process for escalating the most severe brand mentions.

For most companies, there will come a point where a comment is discovered on social media channels that is so important and so severe that escalation will be required; the single mention that sparks a whole series of internal recriminations. The key to keeping the issue grounded and assessed objectively is to have an escalation procedure in place.

By setting some simple criteria that must be met, you will be able to determine whether an issue requires escalation and, if so, who needs to be involved in resolving it. The criteria will vary from organisation to organisation, but are likely to be based around the following:

  • The influence of the person making the comment
  • The speed at which the comment is being spread around their networks
  • Whether the comment has, or is likely to, attract the attention of mainstream media
  • The number of other people agreeing with the comment or contributing similar experiences
  • The impact of the comment on your company’s reputation

The criteria you choose can be treated individually or in concert (e.g. the person must have high influence and the comment must be high impact). You may even have immediate and trending criteria to pick up both wildfire and slow burn issues respectively. On the basis of these escalation rules, you should be able to easily determine the most important issues that need attention, before they get out of control – at which point you will always be on the back foot, reacting to each new mention.

When it comes to the issue of who to escalate an issue to, try to avoid the default of sending everything straight to the CEO or general counsel. Instead, I recommend you put in place an escalation team consisting of senior representatives from key departments: marketing; communications; sales; human resources; product development; customer support; etc. By doing so, there is a clear and common understanding of the collective responsibilities of the group – as well as a reassurance that the right people are focused on bringing the issue to a satisfactory resolution.

Prioritisation as part of social media engagement

The third part of the social media engagement model I recommend to brands is Prioritisation and Classification. Here’s how it works.

If your listening strategy results in a large number of relevant mentions, it is likely that you will need to prioritise at some point. That way you can deal with the highest priority items first as these are the most likely to escalate quickly before you get chance to evaluate or respond to them.

  • High priority mentions will probably include potentially damaging comments about your products or services, or issues that could have – or already are having – a direct impact on revenue or reputation.
  • Medium priority mentions might include relevant mentions about your organisation or a competitor, such as complaints or compliments.
  • Low priority mentions are most likely to cover blog or forum posts where you get a passing mention or general comments about the company, products or services.

Another way in which to identify those mentions that require a response is to classify them. This can help distinguish comments on products – and even different products – from customer service issues, for example, and general competitive references from news and announcements. It can even be used to segment potential sales leads for quick and easy follow up. This is particularly useful when there is a cross-departmental social media team with different areas of responsibility and, when combined with an appropriate listening platform, can form the basis for routing comments directly to the people who need to respond to them.

On Monday I will address the fourth stage, Escalation.

How brands can respond to tricky questions on social media

In this second post delving deeper into my five-stage social media engagement model I take a look at how companies can acknowledge difficult questions and issues raised on social media in order to buy themselves time to formulate an appropriate response.

Once a brand mention on social media has been discovered and you have decided whether to respond, one of the most difficult elements of social media engagement for companies to deal with is the time factor. In social media channels there is an expectation of – indeed, sometimes a requirement for – immediacy. By the time the PR, customer service and legal people have all had their say, there is a danger that the discussion will have already moved on and you will have lost your opportunity to build a connection with an advocate or build a bridge with an adversary. For most organisations, it isn’t an option to bypass these internal stakeholders, but there are two strategies for dealing with this situation.

Be prepared

It is often said that conversations that take place on social media are a true reflection of the conversations that take place in real life. Therefore, chances are that the issues that get raised in forums, blogs and the like will be the same ones that you’ve already had to deal with as a company. It doesn’t take a lot of work then to adapt and modify the responses you would give to shareholders or journalists and make them appropriate for social media. Make them short and less formal, and put additional detail on your website (at a hidden URL if necessary) that you can link to. If you do this for the most common issues as part of your normal crisis planning and preparedness activities, you will save yourself a lot of running around every time someone mentions it on Twitter.

Buy time

For those new issues that bubble up online, you obviously won’t have pre-prepared statements ready to go. So you will need to buy yourself some time whilst you do. The best way to do this is to acknowledge the mention (note that this isn’t the same as acknowledging the issue or problem), through a simple form of words such as ‘Thanks for bringing this up. I’ll see what I can find out.’ This shows that the brand is listening to people’s concerns and may mean that they are more likely to suspend their final judgement (which will likely be influenced by their peers and your competitors whilst you formulate your response) until they hear back from you. The downside of this approach is, of course, that there is now an expectation that they will get a resolution in a reasonable period of time. So, before you acknowledge make sure that your organisation is committed to resolving issues as openly and quickly as possible, as attempts to brush a problem under the carpet or ignore it until it goes away are only likely to backfire, creating a bigger problem than a single mention in a social network.

Tomorrow, I’ll look at how brands and companies can classify and prioritise social media mentions in order to ensure the right person provides the right response in the right amount of time.

5 ways for brands to use Jelly (and 1 to avoid)

JellyLogo-TealOnWhite

In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a new social network (from an old social network entrepreneur, Twitter’s Biz Stone) on the block. Jelly is an image-based Q&A app available only on a smartphone which, according to the launch blog post, “changes how we find answers because it uses pictures and people in our social networks.”

Here’s the use case that the founders clearly have in mind:

Say you’re walking along and you spot something unusual. You want to know what it is so you launch Jelly, take a picture, circle it with your finger, and type, “What’s this?” That query is submitted to some people in your network who also have Jelly. Jelly notifies you when you have answers.

The reality a few days in is somewhat different:

photo

That said, it’s an active community already. All the questions I have asked have got answers very quickly, and not necessarily from people in my immediate network but those in their networks.

Obviously there’s going to be a bit of silliness going on in the early days, as people test what works and where the limits of what’s acceptable lie. But there are undoubtedly going to be early adopter brands jumping in (most likely with their boots first).

There will be some advising caution, but after a couple of days use here are five ways I think brands could begin thinking about using Jelly:

  1. A/B testing: Jelly could provide a quick, inexpensive way to test alternative visuals (adverts, packaging, logos, etc.) amongst a small but influential group of people
  2. Market research: Have a simple yes/no question to run by consumers? Jelly could provide the answer (quite literally)
  3. Answer questions: Nothing to stop brands answering questions (yet), so offer up an answer if you have something to add. Just remember it’s not about promoting
  4. Monitor answers: No search facility (yet) so don’t expect Jelly to start popping up in your social media dashboard. For now, you’ll need to use the app to see if people are mentioning your products.
  5. Fun and games: Jelly allows people to draw their answers on the picture in question. I’ve already played pin the tail on the donkey and spot the ball!

And the one to avoid:

Posting pictures of your own products! (I am sure the Jelly guys will find a way to let you advertise eventually).