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 .

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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.

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

http://mashable.com/2011/05/04/converse-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.

When the State Department can focus on Social Media, why won’t businesses too?

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The US State Department’s Bureau of International information Program is focussing on Social Media Network. According to its PR on 28 Jan 2011 published on its website http://www.state.gov/r/iip/  the bureau recognizes that

  • The explosion of social media;
  • English no longer dominates the Web – more than fifty percent of web users speak a native language other than English, and site “stickiness” doubles when a web offering is in the language of the user.
Some interesting comments from its coordinator Dawn Macall:
She outlined following social Media engagement strategy:
1. Social media Focus: IIP will transition America.Gov to directly distribute content to the full range of social networks and existing 3rd party sites where audiences actually spend their time
2. Social media Engagement: Creation of a talent management unit to identify and recruit expert Americans as writers, bloggers, and speakers for IIP and American missions;
3. Social media Analytics of Audience: A new audience research unit, to provide research and analysis on audiences, channels, and use of IIP products.
Acoording to TheHill.com:

The IIP hosts training webinars on social media “best practices.”  Foe example: “We’re teaching people to write shorter, Chunky; chunk the information down.”

The America.gov site also revamped to enable  “two-way conversation between America and people in other countries,”.

so, when even the State Department understands the importance of social media engagement , how can businesses lag behind? Of course, they would surge into the Social Media engagement for their benefits both interms of out-bound messaging as well as actively listening feedbacks and ideas.

My Comments on Jordons'(from LiveFyre) Comments on Facebook Comments :-)

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Jordon Kretchmer from LiveFyre commented on Facebook comments. No wonder he does not like Facebook comments, especially because his company is also in SocialComments.

However, he raised few valid points. The visibility of Facebook comments is wider that it should be. It is based on Social graph. Your comments get displayed in your social circle as well as in the social circle of the friend / page on which you commented. I agree with Jordan that in real life you do not want your comments to be visible to every one but only to the people who are interested or who matters. In that respect, it is important to have a visibility control to the person who gives the comments. It can be based on interests , conversation thread, groups, etc.
There is another issue of about using Facebook comments in your application is who owns the data (comments). Jordon rightly asserted that Facebook wants your data. Yes, for good or bad, every one in web2.0 wants data. Today the User Generated Data(UGC) is the king. It becomes the basis of crowd intelligence, it provides insight about users preferences/tastes, it gives insight about public opinions about event/news/product/topic/subject that can be used for various purposes. These comments are the basis for Social Analytics, Social Media Monitorng as well as social medi engagement. So, not just Facebook but most of the comments sites would/should treat this data as asset. However, if any app / blog / site is using these comments sites, the app / bog / site own should get access to the complete data.

Invasion of Security Forces on Social Networks :-)

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Today, US security forces announced that they would issue security alerts via Facebook and Twitter. Considering the virality of such media, I am sure it would get propagate very quickly. Though that is the purpose of such alerts, the alert would result into a widespread panic and chaos. Hence, the security forced would adapt this as a last resort when all other notification and alerting is done to various administrative and security agencies to be prepared to handle the response.

This launch of alerting on the social media is an example of recent and appropriate usage of socia tech by the government. Other than this, there is another important usage of the Social media that is Social Media Monitoring(SMM).

Social Media monitoring is now very commonly used term in businesses specifically in CRM area by Marketers, Customer Support or Sales force. However, it has usages beyond this class. For example, social scientists and analysts would monitor the media for social trends, social issues as well as impacts of certain events on the society. That is understandable usage. However, more likely that the security forces would also be monitoring the Social medial networks for identifying troubles specifically activities of extremism and terrorism. The security forces already do internet monitoring as in the 2008 report of internet monitoring of terror http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/_files/IslamistReport.pdf. Though this report does not dwelve into the monitoring of Social Media, we can expect that by now, the forces are doing it and able to use the knowledge for detecting and avoiding terror act. However, it may also be intrusing on public privacies.