Kim Kardashian is...Influential?!

Many of us (perhaps unwillingly) were sucked into the recent news of Kim Kardashian’s divorce. Yes people, after a lavish $10M wedding, our beloved reality starlet announced that she and her husband of 72 whole days, Kris Humphries, were calling it quits. Before we laugh the matter off, let’s face the facts: The media went nuts. Within a short while, Kim K-themed hashtags like #ThingsLongerThanKimsMarriage and #Kimkmarriagewasshorter were trending on Twitter and anyone and everyone in social media felt the need to add some kind of personal commentary on the situation.

Some of my personal favorites?

I digress. As much amusement as I got from “listening” to the people’s opinions on this matter, the madness got me thinking about another recent Kim K phenomenon that I had observed as Cymfony’s resident Pharma and Healthcare Analyst.

In July of this year, Kim was diagnosed with Psoriasis, an autoimmune disease which currently affects about 7.5 million Americans. Now, I understand the hoopla behind a failed celebrity marriage … the controversy, the intrigue, the allegations. But the same interest extended to Kim’s state of health?


KK Chart 2

(click the chart to enlarge it)

In the days after Kim’s announcement, discussion about psoriasis increased more than 3-fold! I’ll say that again. 3-fold - proving, perhaps definitively, that Kim’s influence is not to be laughed off.

If we put our analytical hats on, the finding begs the following questions:

  • Does Kim’s psoriasis announcement and the resulting social media frenzy have a significant and lasting impact on awareness of psoriasis as a condition?
  • How does one value such a market event? Is the value greater than an unbranded campaign backed by a pharmaceutical company?

  • How can brands invested in the psoriasis market reap benefits from events of this nature?

Friends, this one is up for discussion. Are we giving Kim Kardashian less value than she deserves?


'Listen to Mom': Important Advice for Brands as Well As Kids

Moms are notorious for using cautionary tales to dissuade their kids from bad behavior. “Quit sticking your head through the banister or you’ll wind up with it stuck like Billy down the street!” You’ve probably heard some of these same admonitions yourself (or maybe you’ve even said them!)

But what if moms, collectively, become the cautionary tale? Such is the case in this brave new world of organized consumer voice. Case in point – Safeway – who found themselves in a social-media-fueled PR nightmare last week following a series of increasingly poor decisions by security staff and management at a Honolulu Safeway location.

On Oct. 27th Safeway management ordered the arrest of a pregnant woman and her active military husband for accidentally walking out of the store without paying for two grab-and-go sandwiches. The story goes that the woman became dizzy while shopping with her husband and 2-year-old daughter so she openly snacked on the sandwich in the store, but forgot to submit the wrapper while they were paying for the rest of their groceries. They were stopped by security after leaving the store, acknowledged their mistake and offered to pay for the sandwiches. Instead they were charged with shoplifting, each required to pay $50 bail, and most egregiously their daughter was taken into custody by Child Welfare Services and held overnight; in short, a nightmare for this young family over $5 worth of chicken salad.

Five days later, the incident was covered on Today, Fox News, and CNN, along with national multimedia syndication through AP and Reuters. But what happened in the five days between the arrest and the media circus? A LOT.

Feeling helpless while trying to get her daughter out of state custody, one of the first things the frightened mom did was turn to her social media community. There she had a voice!

According to the AP’s coverage of the story, “While they waited, Leszczynski vented about the experience on and contacted a lawyer for help with being reunited with Zofia.” Leszczynski is a member of the January 2012 Birth Club on the phenomenally popular where she started a discussion string titled “we were arrested – dd in cps custody” (note: dd = dear daughter in mom community speak). The news spread like wildfire on the site and just a few hours later there were multiple threads, each with hundreds of comments outraged over the ordeal. This protective group of moms continued to spread the Leszczynski’s plight in the days that followed with threads like “Pregnant woman arrested over $5, child taken away by CPS” and “Pregnancy Hunger + Hawaii Safeway = Arrest” which repeatedly called for shoppers to tweet, blog, re-post and speak their mind on Safeway’s Facebook page.

The first public acknowledgment of the incident on Safeway’s Facebook page took place days after the incident, on Oct. 29th. Further, their corporate-speak response (lifted from the official press release) to the emotionally-charged issue did nothing but fan the flames:

Safeway Facebook

Whoa – 1500 comments! Nearly all of which were negative! Shoppers were outraged that Safeway did not immediately drop the charges, and many called for boycotts. It wasn’t until later in the day that Safeway released a statement to media and on their Facebook page that all charges were dropped.

Now comes the speculation - would this story have had such extensive mainstream media coverage if it wasn’t preceded by a not-so-small army of angry moms marching throughout social media? I speculate no. Could Safeway have monitored the initial reaction to the story, quickly learned the pain points and released a timely and appropriate response to all the moms in social media who could so easily relate to the Leszczynski’s plight? Absolutely yes. Instead, Safeway let the social media mom mob dictate the story, and then allowed the mainstream press to cover it in two phases - the first portraying Safeway as a heartless corporation in a time when heartless corporations are enduring their fair share of social media criticism.

So the cautionary tale here: listen to moms – not just your mom, but the millions of social media savvy moms who can quickly mobilize through social channels and cause an embarrassing (and potentially harmful) scene for your brand.

Find out how Kantar Media Cymfony can help you with your social strategy:


Occupy Wall Street - Don't forget the hashtag

A few months ago, I started posting about a topic that I find extremely intriguing – namely, the intersection of physical and digital media technologies and the impact of that convergence on our culture. You can read some of my first thoughts here and see some examples of these technologies at work here. The reason I’m writing today is to share yet another example, this time more cultural than technological.

I had the pleasure of presenting at a Lunch-and-Learn event yesterday where we discussed how to leverage social media analytics (and specifically, how to align with existing research frameworks such as brand tracking). To keep the topic timely and relevant for our audience, we chose to discuss Occupy Wall Street and Banking Fees. In the process of researching, I found many images of protest signs such as the one below:

I find the idea of hashtags on protest signs fascinating, reflecting the slow seepage of digital culture into the physical world. Whereas on Twitter a hashtag has meaning and function – it provides a standard for the system to index ‘themes’ or ‘conversations’ -- that ‘function’ is somewhat lost in the physical world. Or is it? What is the significance of this digital-physical intersection?

  • Are protestors promoting the use of social media?
  • Is this a case of self-promotion? “Look at me! I ‘get’ the digital age!”
  • Or, is the hashtag becoming a non-digital signifier of taking part in a broader conversation?

Techno-sociologists, feel free to chime in! Maybe I read too much into it.

Social Media Listening: Is There Value For the Business User?

As social media listening continues its adoption path into mainstream, it must be a useful tool – one that provides value – for the business user. This is a requirement which Cymfony has long recognized as our customers made the data available beyond the market research, social media, or analytics teams. Those additional users extend beyond the marketing function, to include the likes of product managers, R&D, and even executives who may not even understand the mechanics behind using social media. Making social media listening a function that can help those users make business decisions requires more than simply buying another license to whatever social media listening platform is used. To make social media listening valuable within the larger corporate context, it must be:

  • Accessible
  • Easy to use without requiring specialized training or knowledge
  • Specific for the business need at hand

To that end, our Maestro roadmap has included capabilities specifically aimed at helping our clients make the data widely accessible, and more integrated into, their decision making processes. Our latest release, Maestro 1.6 which was announced this week, simply continues our commitment to supporting this trend.

Consider the following examples, which utilize existing and new Maestro 1.6 capabilities:

New product launch: As you launch a new product, your marketing team wants and needs to keep the product teams (product managers, R&D, regional teams) informed on how the market is responding.

Maestro makes this straightforward through:

  • Dashboard templates for rapidly building dashboards specifically crafted for the launch
  • Fine-tuned filtering options to segment the conversation around target sites & publications, regions, and those that specifically echo the marketing messages
  • Cross tab widget for identifying the frequency (and which specific) posts also mention the competitors
  • Ability to mark, collect in a container, and route the container to the product team need to read (and possibly respond to)

Crisis management: Your company is entangled in a lawsuit about unfair employment practices. Executives, HR, and your legal team want real-time visibility into market reaction and sentiment.

Maestro makes this an easy undertaking by:

  • Threshold-based email alerts sent to the executive team when negative conversation exceeds a specified volume within a given time period
  • Deploying Cymfony Widgets (which is any widget that can be created within a Maestro dashboard) into your HR team’s corporate portal page for them to track coverage and conversation without needing to directly access Maestro.
  • The influence matrix widget deployed into your legal team’s corporate portal page, ranking the posts based on your corporation’s view of conversation reach

These examples are but two of actual uses we already see in play today. In these two cases, and many others unfolding, social media listening can play an active – and continuous – role in daily business making processes by distilling the conversation to those posts which are perceived to have an impact based on the criteria designed by you.

Moms: What Drives Their Food Decisions?

Today, Cymfony announced its new syndicated solution, Cymfony Insights: Moms & Nutrition. As the lead analyst for this endeavor, I want to share my excitement about why it is so critical to follow this growing segment of online moms.

Moms are some of the most highly engaged individuals in social media, and they constantly talk about food. Online dialogue about food surpasses the one million per month mark, presenting a wealth of data that glean insights related to barriers and drivers to purchase decisions. Aggregating millions of social media posts from key mom forums, blogs and social networks, Cymfony segmented and analyzed this data to better understand the concerns and motivations of moms. A teaser of our findings include:

  • Moms are primarily driven by nutrition then money, but this prioritization shifts in the case of dinner;
  • Working moms and stay-at-home moms have different levels of sensitivity towards time; and
  • There is a gap between the ideal state of mind reflected in blogs compared to the status quo portrayed in forums.

These findings and more provide building blocks for brand communication strategies based on the real world challenges of an audience that is becoming the key decision maker in the household. Stay tuned for more bite-sized morsels from the incredible conversation buffet.

the myspace-ing of facebook

Facebook recently announced some major revisions to its Pages functionality, the likes of which impact virtually every client we work with (in a good way... more control, greater impact, better functionality!). Less advertised -- at least initially -- was the announcement regarding facebook's transition from FBML to iFrames support, but this seems like the more substantive announcement.

To summarize the change, facebook Page functionality will no longer be limited to basic FBML 'tabs' and customizations. Instead, marketers will be able to apply their full web development expertise -- dynamic personalization, rich multimedia, and visitor tracking -- to the attention grabbing center column of users' facebook views. Of course, facebook is counting on this reaction from brands, hoping that it will further solidify its role in the social media marketing mix.

Want a storefront IN facebook? Want to personalize landing pages for target consumers? Want to improve on facebook's drab layout? It can all be your with iFrames...

...and that's part of my concern. You see, there are a lot of bad designers and developers out there. Take MySpace in its early days-- boy, were our self-designed profiles ugly and dysfunctional or what! Facebook, in contrast, keeps us fenced in to its well-structured (if slightly dull) content and layout, a decision that seems to have paid off so far as far as long-term use and acceptance.

So, does the transition to iFrames signal the eventual myspace-ing of facebook? Will facebook's loosening terms of service allow brands to "go nuts" with their Pages?... will I be blogging about the Year's Worst Facebook Page Ideas next year? In either case, make sure you're following the changes/opportunities as they develop, and let us know if you have any questions!


from facebook to facetime, pt 2 – 3 paradigmatic examples

In my last post, I introduced the idea of bridging physical and digital social media as part of your marketing campaigns/strategy. Today, I’d like to spend a moment detailing paradigmatic technologies (IMO) that are shaping the space in strange and exciting ways. I’ll avoid basic FourSquare games, flash mobs, and meet-ups, although these are good examples of the most well-known physical-digital applications. So without further ado…

#1 BarCast.TV


Powered by LocaModa and using a network of internet-enabled LCD screens, BarCast allows users who are physically together (at a bar) to interact digitally by sharing messages and photos or by answering quiz questions. The system only requires mobile text messaging (SMS) capabilities for participation, allowing those without high-end smartphones to engage as well.


#2 NordicTrack, powered by Google Maps 


Yes, really – NordicTrack partnered with Google in providing an interactive experience that allows you to virtually run throughout the world.  In the process your treadmill will simulate the terrain by changing the incline, while you can visualize the experience through Google Maps….  You map out a route, either on streets or paths.  If Google has a street view you can actually watch as you are running down the street, otherwise you can get the satellite or terrain view…. I tried this intriguing feature and was able to run down a street in my locale and I could see my neighbor's homes.  Meanwhile the treadmill adjusted the incline as I ran up hills...  One last feature, if this isn't enough.  NordicTrack runs regular races where you can compete against other iFit users. Their last race had 2,000 participants.” (

#3 Amsterdam Square AR Flash Mob


In Dam Square, Amsterdam, an AR flash mob attracted plenty of passers-by. Using free iPhone/Android apps, visitors could reveal hidden images and human statues in the Square (at right: the Beatles walk by). Using their built-in camera phone software, users could even take pictures of themselves with these virtual overlays. Thinking: could we create a virtual Disney World of characters outside of Disney World?



Each of these applications delivers a unique value:

  • BarCast enhances physical gathering with defined digital interactions (such as quizzes).
  • Nordictrack and Google enhance digital gathering by immersing users in ‘physical media.’
  • Like BarCast, the AR flash mob enhances physical interactions; unlike BarCast, the virtual world made available to participants is not limited to defined engagement options. (Our KANTAR colleagues have written about this aspect of 'gamification' and the research implications thereof.)

The keywords in the above bullets are immersion and engagement. When the novelty and ‘hype cycle’ of geo-location and AR subside, only those applications that truly add value to ‘gathering’ will survive. As a wise colleague of mine noted, “there has been a trend toward digitalization and a major shift to the ’virtual venues’ offered by technology… the successful apps of the future will be the ones which swing the pendulum closer to a harmony of physical and digital – we are looking for AUGMENTED reality, not VIRTUAL reality.” Nicely put.

(UPDATE 2/18/2011: we found one more example that perfectly matches Geo-location and AR capabilities... enjoy FourSquare in Hell!)

from facebook to face time, part 1

I’m fascinated by the intersection of social media and real life. The scope of this opportunity first crystallized for me in the early 2000’s during Montreal’s JazzFest – an inconspicuous “wall” for leaving messages (facebook colour scheme and all) was a reminder that social networking runs much deeper than a Web site or mobile app. Social networking – in case you lost sight of it too – is a human trend, NOT a technology trend.


(Montreal Jazzfest "Walls")

As a result, marketers who silo themselves in “digital” or “physical” are inevitably missing the boat. Our customers don’t perceive distinct communication channels; our customers don’t differentiate between a brand on the shelf and one on facebook; and our customers don’t only “gather” on message forums. Then, why are we communicating and campaigning separately? To capitalize on the human experience in social networking, one must consider it beyond technology. The office water cooler is simply a signifier; it is the “gathering” that gives it meaning.

Then, how are we bridging digital and physical “gathering” today? Perhaps most prominent is the rise of geo-location tools such as FourSquare or facebook Places; these tools allow us to bring the physical to the digital, to advertise and coordinate our physical location with our digital friends and communities. Less obvious is the emerging world of augmented reality, or AR, which intends to bring digital information into the physical world. Powered by the growth in smartphones, these tools provide a foundation for connecting the digital and the physical.

Unfortunately, most brands struggle to connect the “brick” and the “click.” Organizations that have expanded to the Web (e.g. appear to be ahead, while companies that are digital natives (e.g. remain there. Moreover, the siloed origins of each creates a dichotomy of expertise and resources – DailyBurn was first-to-market with mobile fitness apps, but it has not even made a dent in the physical world. In contrast, WeightWatchers is slower to innovate digitally (granted, their message forums are some of the best-attended), but the brand has a best-of-breed “physical” program. Perhaps those brick-and-mortar brands are not as doomed as predicted?

Thinking about it another way, many community centers will develop Web sites, but very few Web sites will develop community centers. In this example, though, it’s worth noting that the “community center” is a “water cooler,” one defined by the social gathering rather than by the physical landmark. WeightWatchers members need not meet at a branded “center”; in fact, given the preponderance of GPS-enabled smartphones today, even sharing a landmark or latitude/longitude coordinates will do. (Such is the basis of flash mobs).

  • Then, what’s keeping DailyBurn from coordinating its own “fitness meet-ups” at an arbitrary location?
  • Why aren’t haircare brands mobilizing the curly-haired community at local salons?
  • Why are sporting arenas, casinos, hotels, and other physical “gathering” venues not taking advantage in the digital world? (yes, I’ve mentioned this before… here)

These are critical questions – with the emergence of geolocation and AR technology, digital brands have the opportunity to leap into the physical world at little-to-no cost. Physical brands, too, have an opportunity but in the form of better connecting their real-world investments with their digital communities.

At this point, I’ve hopefully peaked your interest. Next week I’ll detail some of my favorite physical-digital applications – from the mainstream to the totally bizarre – and follow-up with campaign ideas. In the meantime, leave a comment, and let me know what you think!

Is Digital (and Social) Impersonal?

This morning I wrestled with -- what should be a trivial -- annual decision: holiday greeting e-card or printed card (recycled, of course)? The voices within my head (and from my colleagues) called for digital. After all, it’s the ecological-friendly and responsible decision. It’s also current – this is the digital age!

My hang-up about the e-card revolves around its (perceived) impersonal nature. Are they read? Or, even opened? Do they elicit any feelings of warmth or goodwill for being remembered? I’m doubtful.

Could this be the case with traditional printed cards as well? Perhaps, but I always opened the cards that I received, looked to see who signed it, placed it on my desk (or somewhere in my office) as a daily visible reminder, and thought (usually fondly) about the sender. To achieve that same affect with the cards that I would send, I’d take the time to write a little note before my signature and if time permitted, handwrite the addresses rather than using printed labels.

What is it that makes e-cards less personal? Certainly, it can’t be the handwriting! Rather, I tend to think it comes from the perception that it’s broadcast, rather than directed solely to the recipient. Yes, the print card has many of the same characteristics: purchased in bulk, same message & form, and sent to a (often lengthy) list of friends. Does the fact that its digital make it seem more like a megaphone than a telephone? Does the electronic nature of the e-card dictate a faster pace for viewing and discarding? Unfortunately, I think that it does. If so, what does that say about social media?

Is social media by its very nature impersonal? How do social media participants overcome this hurdle?

One way to overcome the impersonal nature of digital is to direct a statement towards another person, by using DM or @username in Twitter for example. Another way is for the speaker to reveal something personal about herself – a thought, characteristic, situation, etc. That personal statement(s), although not directed to a specific listener, can evoke an attachment from anyone who hears it and can relate to it – either in a positive or negative manner. Interestingly enough, when a speaker successfully overcomes this impersonal barrier – by revealing something telling of his nature – social media conversations become more meaningful for everyone listening.  The true meaning behind actions and thoughts emerge.  Perhaps, social media monitoring really starts to be effective when we can sift through the broadcast noise to get at the revealing content, where its speaker has found a way to make social media, truly social –a conversation rather than a microphone.

The First Moment of Truth has Gone Digital!

I have spent the last three years of my professional career at Kantar Retail, mastering the ins and outs of several industry leading retailers to help CPG clients win in today’s highly competitive retail landscape. It goes without saying; over the years I have become quite familiar with the complexities of in store marketing, as suppliers seek to establish and elevate their brands.

That’s all well and good, but here I am at Cymfony in the midst of everything social, where the thought of in store marketing makes me feel like a dinosaur. So, you may be wondering what has resonated most during my first week surrounded by a team of social media gurus. One word: Influencers. The term was defined simply as someone whose words make you do something. Needless to say, I needed more to go on so I turned to Google which landed me in a pile of articles, most of which shared a common theme, social engagement.

With the click of a mouse I was entrenched in talk about online engagement and the rise of inbound marketing. After a bit of research I have determined that we are transitioning to a marketing strategy that no longer relies as heavily on brick and mortar real estate as a marketing conduit.

A few years ago, Procter and Gamble coined the phrase the “First Moment of Truth” which takes place in the store when the shopper interacts with the brand. Those five seconds at the shelf, when the shopper makes a purchasing decision, is considered to be the most important marketing opportunity for a brand. That said, it seems to me that this theory is rapidly evolving as increasingly more people are relying on the internet to make informed purchasing decisions. The first moment of truth has gone digital!

Returning to the idea of a social influencer, it seems quite apparent that he or she plays a major role in online marketing, sharing product news, information, promotions, etc. - and it all happens within seconds. The influencers of the world are thought to make up a very small percentage of the total social media population; however, some have gone so far as to call them “brand ambassadors.”

There is one thing for certain I have learned in the past week, marketing does not just take place at the shelf, more often than not it is taking place before the shopper even sets foot in the store. It sounds fairly straightforward; however, coming from a retail background I want to stress the importance of thinking outside the four walls of the store. That’s not to say that in store marketing, for example, a well executed, innovative display will, by any stretch of the imagination, be meaningless. However, social media will continue to gain momentum as a valuable marketing resource and unlocking the power of influencers will be key.

8 Steps to Begin Your Social Media Measurement Program

Social media measurement programs are custom and unique for each company depending on their business objectives. Clients often ask me when they begin a measurement project “Here are the brands we want to monitor, what KPI’s should we include in our reports?” There are an unlimited amount of KPI's that you can use when trying to measure your brand in social media. You could have a crack team of 20 marketing pros with access to 10 different vendors, have an unlimited budget, and you still could not report on everything in a digestible fashion. You need to go into your program with a plan and a purpose in order to produce valuable and repeatable results.

  1. Objectives: Have a clear business objective before you step into any measurement project. Are you looking at the competitive landscape? Monitor opinions of a product launch? Increase Brand Awareness? Customer Engagement? or Tracking the success of a specific marketing campaign?
  2. Identify Channels: Understand that all channels are not equal and should not be treated that way. Total volume for every mention of your brand over the internet usually does not give you a clear picture on what is happening. Create publication/website groups to improve the relevance in your volume based KPI's.
  3. Value: Only use KPI's that add value. Sure your graph looked really impressive in the slide deck, but what happens when your boss asks where that data came from, or why is that figure important? Have these answers ready for any KPI you plan to use in a social media measurement project.
  4. Repeatable Metrics: Make sure that you are able to repeat the production of your KPI's. If it takes you the better part of your week to produce one metric,  you should find a metric or collection of metrics that are easier to produce.
  5. Change: Be open to change. The social media landscape changes every day, you should be ready to as well. I think you can stop writing to your customers on Friendster now.
  6. Weighted Metrics: Apply weighted values to each metric. Every metric has a different meaning to each company. Don't get stuck using a methodology that was built for an organization in a completely separate marketplace. Use the thought process behind the "Forrester Wave" as an example. Apply a specific weight to each KPI to reach one single score that can be easily shared with your executive team.
  7. Relevancy: When creating your goals and identifying channels you want to track, it is just as important to identify content you don't want included in your data. When using a social media measurement vendor, make sure they are filtering out spam, press wires, or any other unwanted content that could skew your data.
  8. Manual Effort: No social media measurement vendor will be able to automatically produce every piece of data that you need to reach your business objectives. There will always be a manual aspect to a quality social media measurement program and you should designate specific resources for this.

Turning Insights Into Foresight

Last week, The Advertising Research Foundation hosted the inaugural meeting of its Research Transformation Super Council.  To be certain, it was a thought provoking meeting of the minds. Many key points, way beyond the scope of this post, were made during the meeting. My focus here is on the question of how to make market research more germane to the executives and others who utilize the information. Naturally, getting beyond the data to valuable insights which can then be turned into recommendations are critical ingredients, and perhaps stating the obvious at this point.

Throughout the discussion, I kept wondering if the real challenge lay in the simple directive “tell me something that I don’t already know.” Accomplishing that goal captures attention, provokes thought, and creates the perception that there is value in funding and listening to the research. This, of course, does not imply that there is not value in research that validates what the stakeholders already believe. In fact, most market research should be on target with existing positioning and messaging, aligned with the consumer’s current needs and motivations.

The insights get really exciting, however, when the market research can point to evolving or undiscovered needs, beliefs, or motivations. So, how do you turn insights into foresight? To a certain degree, it’s serendipity. And, you clearly won’t find those nuggets every time. Nor can you rely on stumbling on them. Rather, I think it comes down to asking the right questions, following hunches, and not being afraid to follow interesting paths in the conversations.

Social media is an ideal vehicle for getting to those insights which can be considered foresight: it’s conversation not prompted by you, nor does it answer your direct questions. It’s not grounded in a need to validate. But, to use social media for this goal requires going beyond the quantitative measures. It’s about identifying which dialogue is likely to have the themes in the posts, following interesting threads, and using what you find as the basis to ask additional questions. When we tell our clients “something they don’t already know” through the insights we extract from the dialogue, it immediately captures their attention and everyone feels rewarded.

FourSquare and the Venue Sponsorship Multiplier

Everybody that’s anybody in social monitoring has been talking about FourSquare, Gowalla, and other “social geolocator services” over the past couple of weeks. Following the South by Southwest festival and some pretty astounding user growth rate reports from FourSquare, popular digital media channels such as Mashable and ReadWriteWeb have been pushing the importance of this new trend. Add reports that Facebook will be soon entering the location-based services game – in addition to Google’s long-standing Latitude feature – and there’s probably more to this than just hype.  (For the record, we at Cymfony have measured a SUBSTANTIAL jump in FourSquare mentions over the past 2 months.)

There’s plenty of public information already available on the value of location data. After all, customers are effectively saying “I’m visiting your business…right now” from their social-enabled mobile devices. Aggregate this data for a particular industry over time, look at “Top Visitors” for specific locations, or mash it up with Google/Bing Maps. There is no scarcity of analytical or customer engagement possibilities.

I’d like to take a novel slant on this issue, however – namely, the effect location-based services have on venue sponsorships. Over the past several weeks, we have been discussing the importance of Twitter/FourSquare posts in client reporting following the jump in volumes. Beyond brand mentions of retail locations (i.e. “I’m at so-and-so store”), there are a staggering number of mentions of brand-sponsored concert/sports venues as well: the Bank of America Pavilion, TD Garden, and Comcast Center (these are just examples in/around my Boston locale, so don’t read too much into them). 

Here’s how it works:

·         Primary venue sponsors are featured prominently as part of the venue name.

·         These names naturally find their way into the FourSquare/GoWalla location directories, including the brand name itself.

·         When users visit these venues, they “check in” to let others know their location

·         As a result, thousands of “check ins” are published to FourSquare, and users inadvertently drive brand impressions on behalf of venue sponsors. Because most novice users default to publish their “check ins” to Twitter, this channel can become easily flooded as well.  Example.

At first, we were reluctant to use these posts for analytical treatment – the customer wasn’t visiting the brand’s location but rather an unrelated venue. But many marketers at global companies know there’s a lot more to branding than retail visitation. Having thousands of people Tweeting, updating their Facebook status, or otherwise mentioning your brand (in a positive context) has value, even if it’s just to relate “the great time we’re having at the Stones show.” Like the giant signs and advertisements at the Garden, the name of this game is “more eyeballs,” and in this case, every location tweet counts.

Then, should marketers re-value their venue sponsorships based on this extended branding? Should venue owners charge an additional premium for sponsors? Can we come up with a “venue sponsorship multiplier” to quantify the effects of FourSquare and other location services? We’ve been mulling over these questions and others… what do you think?

(Worldwide FourSquare Day is held annually on April 16th… Four, Squared…  get it?)

Short Musing on the Internet and the Evolution of the Mind

The Internet is a brain. There, I said it. It has taken me far too long to publicly utter those words.” - Jeffrey M. Stibel

Comparing the Internet to the central nervous system, to a “hivemind” has become something of a cliché over the years. Yet in thinking about the realm of Social Media, the increased proliferation of the myriad options people have to connect to the world and each other using the Internet, I became fascinated with the converse – how really UNLIKE the human nervous system the Internet actually is. While perhaps no single model or comparison may do justice to the complex system of human communication and information processing that has developed, a discussion about this may guide the understanding of certain aspects of it.

The nervous systems and ultimately brains which developed in organic creatures and finally humans were essentially tools enabling adaptation to the environment: i.e., survival equipment. While initially designed and used to enhance human activities, the complex web of information networks that exists today has de facto become an environment in its own right. We as humans must acquire skills, upgrade our (individual and collective) technical arsenals to adapt to it, to keep up with it – to survive.

One key element (defense mechanism? usability feature?) of the human mind is the sometimes uncanny ability to filter, categorize and selectively process information. If our minds and bodies responded to every stimulus from the environment, our systems would overload in no time – so the brain is able to filter out irrelevant “noise”, focus on and respond to threats and rewards. Harnessing the potential of this fantastic and ever-growing construct that is now the broadly defined “WEB”, and more specifically Social Media networks, requires that same ability to segregate, filter and classify endless stream of stimuli that courses within them. To do otherwise invites inevitable paralysis or incorrect conclusions and adverse (re)actions by the participants – be they individuals, groups, corporate entities or nations.

We as a human race now possess a new, constantly growing and evolving tool that has potential on par with the one that gave such unprecedented advantage to the Homo sapiens over other forms of life on the planet - the original computer encased within each of us: our brains. The ever-growing, highly complex, adaptable and fast system of information transmission and processing is now in the form of the global telecommunications network. We also have at our disposal something never present in the natural world (the very real limits posed by our ultimate energy consumption laid aside for the moment): a nearly complete lack of constraints in the potential complexity, speed and energy in using this system. However, realizing the promise and benefits offered by this network is very much an active, conscious process. 

The mere presence of opportunity is insufficient; to be “lucky”, one must also be thoroughly prepared. We all need better skills and sharper tools in this new environment – the first of which must be an accurate understanding of it. The evolutionary leap has just begun, only now in many ways humankind is both the selector and the selectee in this new process of evolution.

Social Media Helps You Understand the Price-Quality Formula

Throughout the troubled economy, I observed the impact of the recession in people’s attitudes towards consumer packaged goods, technology, communication, travel and other services.  One of the most common themes in social media discussion highlights the fascinating relationship between cost and quality of goods and services. How much is one willing to forego in terms of benefits to achieve savings is a key question.  As I listen to these conversations, I begin to glean distinct personas that appear to have a specific threshold when negotiating between cost and quality. 

Let me give you an example comparing two personas.  

First, bargain hunters.   We all know who they are.  They are easy to spot and relatively simple enough to convert.   Their propensity to buy is driven primarily by a low price point, and this attitude is magnified by the lousy economy.  They predictably go for the cheapest available option, thanks to having the lowest expectations on quality and other attributes.  In social media, they usually drive the positive favorability towards bargain brands.

A slightly more complex group of consumers are those that appear to be willing to pay more for better quality or better experience (as they have had the opportunity to enjoy premium brands in the past), but are guilt-ridden with the idea of splurging due to the current state of the economy.  In conversations, they oscillate between mid-tier and premium brands, weighing the cost-quality benefits.  Unlike bargain hunters, their decision-making is more nuanced and less predictable, but discussion in social media does glean an interesting finding about their propensity to buy.  A premium brand becomes more attractive than ever to this group when they feel that they are getting the product or service at a lower-than-usual price point, even if, technically, it is more expensive than anything else in the market. A mid-tier brand, however, will not be quite as compelling to them even if the price drop is more significant.

The learning: amidst the recession, there is still opportunity to appeal to what consumers want beyond what they simply need, and social media will tell you how.

Marketers know that the price-quality formula is more important than ever in these economic times, and the resonance of this topic in social media substantiates its influence in purchase decisions.  The winning brands – those that generate the strongest sentiment overall – appear to have found the sweet spot in a price-quality structure that appeals to the market majority.  

Many reports claim that the economy is getting better.  To a degree, social media commentary will reflect this.  I look forward to witnessing how the trend in conversations and brand sentiment shift as market conditions (continue to?) improve.  This optimist can hope. 

Hello (Social) World.

I could probably talk for weeks at a time about printing, publishing, and enterprise content management (ECM) as a former technology research analyst. In fact, that was largely my job until 3 weeks ago, when I first joined the Cymfony Insights team. Researching content management, social media, analytics, and automation technologies; I focused on improving companies’ internal and external communication processes - from print to digital to social. Turning my attention to Cymfony, I intend to take advantage of this technology and research background to deliver unique insights about the social media channel, where it’s headed, and how to extract as much market information and leverage from it as possible.

While we are only on the cusp of the social revolution (no Marxist commentary intended), social media monitoring has already catalyzed a vast methodology shift in market research. No longer limited to standard measurement approaches such as surveys and focus groups, burgeoning online content – both social and traditional media – enables a new kind of monitoring. Focused on mashing disparate data sources, dynamically analyzing them, and responding in real-time, perhaps “listening” is a more appropriate term for this methodology.

As we get comfortable in the third millennium, it’s worth considering how far we’ve come from the first blog post and how much farther social media will take us. Penetrating every aspect of our culture, social media has the potential to re-define the way we work and the way we live. In the meantime, the Insights team (and this new member) is dedicated to providing visionary and credible studies of this exciting new world! (Twitter: @omriduek)

Traditional Media Still Rules!

This article in the NYT yesterday shows that traditional media still leads the blogosphere in breaking news by an average of 2.5 hours.

Continue reading "Traditional Media Still Rules!"

Social Media's Role in Healthcare Education, and the Implications for the Marketer

Recently, the Pew Internet and American Life Project published a study entitled The Social Life of Health Information.  The study is quite informative, but as Cymfony's resident healthcare analyst, I found two of Pew's findings to be especially signicant:

1) Over half of what Pew calls "e-patients" (those who rely on the internet for health information) are turning to social media in the course of their research.

2) While 66% of "e-patients" research specific diseases or medical conditions, 55% research specific medical treatments or procedures.  The percentage of "e-patients" who research specific diseases has not increased significantly since 2002, however the percentage who research specific treatments has climbed from 47% in 2002 to 55% in 2008.

Marketing professionals in all areas of healthcare must understand the implications of these two facts.  Let's begin with the first fact that over half of all "e-patients" are turning to social media.  Whereas "non-user generated" healthcare content is generally based on academic knowledge, clinical results, and marketing spin, social media healthcare content is built on patient opinions and personal accounts.  Therefore, over half of "e-patients" are making healthcare decisions based, at least in part, on information provided by other patients.  This makes it imperative that the marketer is aware of these online opinions.  Rather than speaking to patients and potential patients, healthcare marketers must listen first and then develop communications that not only speak to consumers but also respond to prevailing attitudes and concerns.  In this sense, an understanding of social media is similar to the insights gleaned from traditional focus group and survey-based research, though social media provides a platform for unsolicited feedback.  Two other advantages of social media are that conversations are peer-to-peer rather than "moderator-to-consumer", and patients are often afforded a greater level of anonymity in social media.  The psychological differences between these two scenarios likely lead to the expression of more honest opinions.

The second fact, that 55% of "e-patients" research specific treatments and procedures, serves to emphasize the importance of the implications mentioned above.  One of the first thoughts that should cross the marketer's mind when developing communication strategies should be, "the chances are very good that my target market will search the internet for specific information about my product."  The natural follow-up question should be, "what will my target market discover about my product in online media?" 

Pew's study shows that without a thorough understanding of the attitudes expressed in social media, a marketer can not develop optimal communication strategies.

Bride 2.0

Although I read blogs for a living, the thought of consulting blogs and message boards to plan my wedding was far from my mind.  That is, until I read a post that referenced a wedding blog in passing.  Now my wedding includes lots of ideas I picked up from other bridal survivors.  One example is table numbers.  I never knew how creative you could get with labeling the tables.  Instead of large numbers or cardboard signs, we will be displaying notebooks at all of the tables.  Not only will the notebooks function as table numbers, but they will also provide guests with a place to record notes to the bride and groom (idea credited to

This led me to contemplate where else social media would be valuable, and why this would be true.  I settled on: Any industry where a consumer would become emotionally involved.   At Cymfony, we have seen it time and time again, when there is something on the line, whether it be money, a new car, or the perfect tablescape, consumers turn to social media to give or get advice.  Additionally, as they become more prolific, blogs and message boards are gaining a more authoritative reputation.  These aren’t unintelligible rants, but thoughtful opinion.

What I get from bridal blogs that I don’t get from wedding magazines or official websites is advice without strings attached.  I know that when I click through to see how something is done I’m going to get a series of pictures taken in someone’s living room, not an online marketplace.  I have a trust in these women, I feel that they are only there to help me and are looking for nothing in return.  It’s almost like they are my cousin sharing a wedding planning notebook from her wedding last year.

                This changes the media – marketer – consumer landscape.  We are no longer a captive audience looking to follow the methods and ways as spelled out by the publishing house.  Just as banner ads have lost their efficacy in online marketing, so too have magazines and company websites when dealing with matters of emotional importance.

Notes from OMMA Social Panel: Authentic Conversations

I just finished a great discussion about how marketers can create authentic conversations in social media here at OMMA Social. Here are the highlights....

Continue reading "Notes from OMMA Social Panel: Authentic Conversations"