Google Boosts Local Information Related Portfolio Enabling Social and Local Commerce

While cutting down few projects in last few weeks, Google is adding new armour in its portfolio. Last week it bought Zave Networks for deals and coupons . Today, Google bought Zagat which provides reviews mainly on restaurants. This is a bad news for Yelp which is preparing for IPO. Google tried to buy Yelp at 500 million however it was rejected. Since then there are ups and down relationship between them. For example, Google added Yelp results in local searches however it added its Google Places related button in the results such a way the user would go to Google places. Yelp had complained about it. Now, Google added Zagat for reviews and ratings. As per Zagat’s blog, Zagat has established a trusted and well-loved brand the world over, operating in 13 categories and more than 100 cities. It has more than 350,000 surveyors. Zagat established in 1979 and went through different market and focus. It has been trying to encash this new value of social and crowd intelligence. It had put up itself for sell at around $200 million but it seems that it is sold under 60million. It is still a huge amount. Especially when the real value is coming from its content that is populated freely by public. Content is the king! Big Data Zindabad!

Anyway, back to Google! With Google places, Google Reviews (Zagat) and Google Offers + Google Deals (Zavo), google is now positioned much better in completing its local services. With mobile apps, it can very well provide local contextual searches – offers – and of course, advertisements! and make money.

With Google APIs for various these services and possibly Google widgets , Google would be able to help in mobile, local, and social commerce.


Social Media Monitoring by Governments , Intellegience Agencies and Technologies Used

Among many important phenomenon happening in the world, this year, two significant people related phenomenon are happening. One is the social media frenzy has caught up almost all part of the world and  social – political unrest is unravelling various parts of the places. This year Facebook users crossed Google users in terms of numbers and time spent on. At the same time, unexpected social unrest and political regime change happened in MidEast area starting from Tunisia, Egypt and spreading across covering Libia, Yemen etc. No doubt that the advent of social media fuelled the frenzy of these political unrests which were due in many countries where either dictatorial or single person/ party rule was continued. recognizing this correlation, many such undemocratic or psuedo-democratic countries started monitoring the social media. However, it is no more limited to those countries.

In the recent weeks when protests affected Briton, the British Prime Minister David Cameron also expressed the need to monitor (and if possible curb) social media (read comments by Facebook and others in an article in Guardian ). Interesting, right? Briton is one of the great and old democracy. Around the same period, just before anti-corruption movement brought large number of Indian’s on road earlier this week, there were news that Indian government / security / intelligence agencies too wanted to have access to Facebook and Twitter.  so, the largest democracy in the world too wanted to join the social surveillance via Social Media Monitoring. In my humble opinion, it is undemocratic act.

However, I can understand the need of Social Media Monitoring for social trend, identifying terrorism or anti-social . For example, security agencies or intelligence agencies like CIA monitors many online channels (Read news on CIA ‘s investment arm investing in Visible for social media monitoring) and must be monitoring Social media too. It would help in nabbing terrorists like Osama Bin Laden as well as detecting plots like NY bombing.

How is it done? Social media like Twitter, Facebook, as well as various blogs, forums contain a wealth of information in text forms. The information is huge and difficult to correlate, moreover it is heavily text centric, complete unstructured and huge. This need has renewed great interest in text processing, text analytics and is possible through big data computing especially leveraging Hadoop like distributed computing big file systems and databases .

Perception Gap in Why Customers Interact with Companies on Social Media

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As we all know that social media is no more just a fun for businesses. They are seriously getting engaged in social media by doing various things like Facebook fan pages, Twitter, forums, blogs, etc. Social Commerce and Social CRM are important new intiatives in businesses. The customers are also acrtively getting engaged in such interactions. So it is very important to understand why interactions are happening so that the interactions can be properly handled. There are various purposes that customers interact with business on social media.

IBM Institutte for Business Value Analysis recently published a summary paper of survey of CRM on Social media. One of the important finding in the paper was about a perception gap between how the companies, who create fan pages or engage in social media intitives, think about what could be customers value to different aspects of the interaction vs how the customer really think about them.

Here is what they found:

You can notice a gap between how consumers rank vs business rank. Discounts (Deals, offers), purchases, getting product information, reviews, ranking etc top the consumers list. While learning new products, getting information, feeling connected, customer service, to be part of community were ranked higher by the businesses. The businesses gave more than needed importance to feeling connected, being a part of community. At the same time, they missed that consumers give more importances to purchases and discounts. So there are good opportunities for SocialCommerce!

Preparing for Social Media Engagement with Groundswell’s POST approach

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Charlen Li and Josh Bernoff described approach called “POST” in Groundswell:

People, Objectives, Strategy and Technology

People: It is important to understand the customers or target audience behaviour. What are they? how do they engage on social media etc. Based on the customer understanding, appropriate technology as well as media can be identified.

Objective: It is very important to understand what is the goal of social media engagement. Is it for creating awareness via marketing or creating more sales lead or addressing issues of customers or create awareness about the usage of products / services? There are various objectives: They can be : 1. Listening to customers 2. Talking to the customers 3. energizing customers to spread word of mouth or further awareness 4. Customer support 5. Embracing to customer feedbacks or ideas. If you want to map these tasks to the traditional tasks enterprises do then:

Listening means market research(companies traditionally spend $15biilion on market research), Talking means outbound marketing, Energizing means generating sales leads, supporting means customer support and embracing means development or (inbound) product management.

Strategy: What is the expected change by doing the engagement? what is the effective strategy to have it? It is very important to think about how to engage customers and hw will that engagement grow and influence internally as well as externally. Since the planning of social media engagement can take endless time and most importantly while you doit, the market dynamics would force it to change it. Hence it is important to start small but have plan to grow further. Important aspect is to have an idea of how it would impact, what is the endgame, how it would change company. Social media engagement is sometimes like a stirring a beehive. One should be ready with proper strategy to engage the customers otherwise it may backfire. There is no right way to engage social media customers. However, there is a genuine and respectful attempt with some creativity and innovation would definitely help.

technology: Wiki/ blogs/ social networks/ sentiment analysis/ twitter/ forums / what tools should be used? If you are engaged in online community development then proper technology like communispace, or MarketTools/Network insights can be looked into. Considering the volume that one may need to deal with the proper aggregation, filtering, sentiment analysis and summarizing technologies are needed to bring down the endless chatter into some manageable flow of information. For example, MotiveQuest, Nelson’s BuzzMetrics, Cymfony.

Forrester Research’s Technographics Profiles

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Forrester research developed a concept of technographics profiles of people using Social media technologies. This concept for categorization of Social Media users was eloborated by Charlen Li and JOsh in their book,  Groundswell, as well. Forrester research has developed a tool for capturing such profiles of consumers of a business. Here is a nice presentation on this technograohics ladder presented by Josh Bernoff and Jacqueline Anderson.

It defines the people as:

Creators: Write blogs, or upload videos etc.

Conversationalists: Express opinions on twitter

Critics: Comment on others content in terms of review sites or leave comments

Collectors: Aggregates or organizes contents like diggs / topix

Joiners: Connect in social networks

Spectators: Read blogs, watch videos, listen music uploaded by others

Inactives: None of above:-)

Understanding of consumers profile with this perspective is important to decide how to monitor and engage them.

Learning Social Media Engagement from CMO of Converse

Mashable published an interview of George Cottril CMO of Converse with an interesting title:

How Convese become the Biggest Little Sneaker Brand on Facebook

Here are some quotes and tips:

The first suggestion  of Converse CMO was when he encountered 8million fans on Facebook he decided to be a passive listener by “doing nothing”. Its difficult for any marketer to “let it go”. To implement this advise, one has to accept the paradigm shift required in customer enagagement on Social media. He outlined his philosophy: “Our philosophy in social media has been to bring our voice to the medium, which includes acting like a good party guest — we bring something to the table, and we listen more than we talk.” This is  the same advise stressed by Groundswell authors, Charlen Li and Josh Bernoff. It is important to be listener on social media sites that trying to intercept and shape conversations.

One has to understand the pscycology of consusmers. The fans of any brand want to know about product and like offers but it is important to have  an emotional connection . George mentioned that his team is trying to be a good host for that connection for their brand. He emphasised the “two way communication aspect of the social media”

He emphasised trust, genuine tone, and respect are important aspect in social media engagement with the consumers.

Lessons for GoundSwell

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Charlen Li and Josh Bernoff, two leading analysts from Forrester, have written a wonderful book “GroundSwell” which opened up doors to master Social technologies to influence customers and learn from customers in the social media. This book covers from what is Groundswell, how to trigger and ride on the groundswell with a lot of practical tips and steps using case studies.

The authours defined Groundswell as : A social trend inwhich people use technologies to get the things they need from each other , rather than from traditional institutions like corporations. The rational behind the groundswell timing is:

1. People: People depend on each other. They share as well as influence each other

2. technology: Technology and its usage has eanbled people to connect and share with each other.

One should care about groundswell because it is a game changer for many professionals. For brand manager, its a threat because brand is no-longer depends on what and how you project but it is depends on how consumers interact and impress on each other. For a news media, its changing how the news are evolved and distributed.  The groundswell has changed the balance of power.

At the end of this book, the authors summarized the lessos that would help businesses to make social media transition:

1. Never forget that the groundsell is about person-to-person activity. This requires a level of emphathy with people(customers). Blogging, connecting in communities, friending – these are all personal activities and engagement needs to be at the personal level with personal tone.

2. Be good listener: This is an important tips to marketers who often think that they know all and their job is to talking to customers to educate them or impress on them. However, in social media engagement, “the best listeners will end up the smartest”.

3. Be patient: Social media initiatives and apps touch too many parts of enterprise businesses and transitioning in terms of people, process and tools takes time and patience.

4. Be opportunistic: Start with baby steps but have a grand vision in mind and surge with speed when there is a green light.

5. Be flexible: Groundswell is full of surprises. Events happen without your control. This requires groundswell thinking to constantly adjust and learn from the events.

6. Be collaborative: Work collaboratively with those with similar ideas in your company.

7. Be humble: In the social media world, the world power comes only to those who are humble.

These are vary fundamental principles, nothing to do with technologies or apps, but are basic practical tips for mastering social media for businesses.