Archive for March, 2009

Objectives First

A while back I wrote a series of posts on communications planning. One of the most popular posts within that series, which still gets a few hundred views per week, was on one on setting communications objectives. As I said at the time:

“As the old saying goes, you need to know where you’re going before you can know how to get there.”

Fast forward to this week, when Skittles re-launched their website with a completely new structure drawn almost entirely from other social media sites:

Naturally the bloggerati took notice, and began passing judgement on the website. The topic quickly shot to the list of top “trending” words on Twitter. While I was bemused that Skittles didn’t seem to be engaging on Twitter despite using the service on its site (Twitter.com/skittles is currently a locked personal account with very little activity), aside from that I tried to refrain from commenting on the effort itself.

Why?

Because we don’t know their objectives. All of the people ripping into this site are doing so with no clue what Skittles was trying to achieve.

  • Is it a short-term effort to kick-start buzz and discussion online?
  • Is it an attempt to position a 35 year-old brand as youthful?
  • Is it to simply raise awareness of the product?
  • Is it a genuine attempt to embrace social media?

We just don’t know.

While I’ve fallen into the trap of evaluating communications efforts in the past without knowing all of the information, this time I’m holding off.

To everyone else out there, who seem to know for sure that the site is a huge success/failure, I say:

“Do you have any idea what equals success in this project for the Skittles brand?”

Is There Still A Personal/Professional Line?

“I feel a client should respect the fact that a personal Twitter or Facebook account is different from when your meeting with them or representing their brand.” – Marcus Andrews in a comment

An interesting division became apparent last week when I asked “Who are you online?” Of the different people who commeted, roughly half said that they acted differently online to offline. Some of the comments from that side:

  • “I am careful with networks that are open and searchable (Twitter, e.g.) to not say anything that might hinder me in the future.”
  • “I pride myself on staying true to my beliefs, but I will change what I say and how I say it depending on the group I’m in.”
  • “I try to keep it industry related as I’m trying to learn as much as I can from all of the PR professionals that I’m fortunate to have access to.”
  • “Regardless of the medium, I always assume my professional contacts may come across what I say and how I behave online.”
  • “I definitely act more professional online than I do in my everyday life.”
  • “Personally I am very different online than offline. It’s not that I’m a bad person or anything offline, I’m just less colorful when I’m online.”

It’s hard to stay professional at all times. Working late last Friday night, I got mad at my computer when it started playing up just as I was about to leave the office, and I vented about it on Twitter. I then got mad at myself (offline) for venting online. Does that reflect poorly on me? Or is it perfectly acceptable to show that you’re human occasionally? Meanwhile, I know I frequently self-censor after re-considering things I’m about to post.

This raises some interesting questions when it comes to companies using Internet research during their recruitment:

  • If online content is written with employers in mind, does it really reflect the person?
  • Should we disregard online content when recruiting, or is this another way to find the people with the smarts to be professional online?
  • Perhaps most intriguingly: Should employers and clients respect the line between professional and personal? Does that line even exist any more?

What do you think?

Test-Driving The New Radian6 Features

Radian6 really got its groove on this weekend, with a whole raft of new changes that close the gap with its competition in some areas and set it ahead in others. I’d had a heads-up that some of them were on the way, but this weekend was the first time I’d had a chance to play around with them. 

 I use Radian6 pretty much daily and have fed a number of thoughts back to the team there, so I was excited to see the announcement of this latest round of changes. Here are the major changes from this release, along with my take on them.

Real-time notifications

One of my big peeves with Radian6 has always been that you could only get notifications of new search results once per day. In a constantly-evolving online environment, once per day simply doesn’t cut it.

With the new enhancements, this issue is removed; replaced by near real-time emails and/or IMs – available through the “configuration” tab. The IM function isn’t compatible with Live Messenger so isn’t much use to me unfortunately (we use MSN at work), but is a nice addition.

This new functionality is only available for new topic alerts, which may be a little irritating, but it’s more than worth taking the time to re-create your alerts so you can be notified more frequently about new posts.

For an example of how effective the new alerts are, about an hour after posting the images from this post to Flickr I received a message from Marcel Lebrun, CEO of Radian6, whose alerts had picked-up my images and who smelled a blog post in the works. Marcel also pointed out another neat feature of these “as-it-happens” alerts:

“When you click on a tweet via As-it-happens alerts, you get to see [a] special page with tweet, bio, recent tweets to/from and can engage.”

I’d missed this until that point – you can now log-in to your Twitter account from the conversation sidebar (see below) and engage with people from there.

“Conversation sidebar”

A little while back Radian6 added workflow features to their service – the ability to assign posts to others, allocate a status and classify posts, and add notes and tags. Very useful, but a little clunky.

With the introduction of the conversation sidebar, Radian6 has taken its first steps towards a workflow system that I can see us using.

The conversation sidebar appears on the left of your browser when you click a link in a notification email, an IM message or your “river of news” widget, while the post you’ve selected appears on the right. From this sidebar you can assign posts to other members of your team, identify your engagement with the post and any future action, assign sentiment and classify the conversation (leads, complaints, compliments, etc).

The “Add to the Conversation” field is a little misleading – the field simply adds a ‘note’ to the post in Radian6. With a title like that, I would expect it to post a comment to the post in question.

This is a significant addition to the Radian6 workflow which, despite its clear usefulness for groups, has been underused so far in my view. The next piece to this particular puzzle is real-time emails when you assign a post to someone, so they don’t have to continually log-in to Radian6 to find their newly-assigned posts. 

As the announcement to customers stated, “The Conversation Sidebar will help enterprise teams scale their engagement, coordinate their community outreach, and track and analyze their external conversations.”

Source Tags

You can now tag not only posts, but also sources. I can see this being useful for categorizing sources, flagging that you’ve previously responded to them, noting where they’re from etc.

The source tagging option is available from the workflow in the “river of news,” and from the conversation sidebar (you can see it in the image above). However, this option does not seem to be available for forums, which seems odd. Not sure why that is – while you might not want to tag things as specifically, it would still be useful.

Comments

This is a big deal for me: the addition of comments to Radian6′s coverage. This was a big gap between Radian6 and its competitors previously, and a big time suck for those of us monitoring online. Pulling blog comments into Radian6, while still allowing the option to exclude them from volume analyses, is very powerful.

Why does it matter so much? As I outlined in my PodCamp Toronto presentation recently, let’s say a car enthusiast writes about GM‘s latest car. If you were Scott Monty at Ford (note: this is hypothetical – I have no idea whether Ford uses Radian6 or not), that would likely not show up in your search results. If, however,  the comments took a swerve and the conversation focus switched to Ford’s latest offering, that still wouldn’t have shown up… until now, anyway. Now that comments are indexed, the comments referencing Ford would now show up in Scott’s dashboard, and he could decide whether or not to engage.

Interestingly enough, the comment indexing is provided by BackType, about which I’ve written in the past. Christopher Golda of BackType was actually in the crowd during the presentation I mentioned above.

One important point: if your profile is close to the boundary between different pricing levels, note that the addition of comments will drive up your montly search volumes and have a knock-on effect on pricing.

New metrics

The new rollout gives Radian6 users a couple of new metrics to use when looking at influence.

While users have always been able to see the number of “on-topic” inbound links (though how they decide what is “on topic” is beyond me) to posts in their search results. The new release adds the total number of inbound links (according to Google) to the analysis widgets. Very handy, and very easy to spot.

The other new metric is perhaps more useful as it’s the first thing, beyond forum views, to track traffic numbers in Radian6. The new release adds Compete.com website traffic statistics into the influencer widget.

However, there are a couple of “buts” here. The first is that this data isn’t free – it runs to $50 per month, per topic profile. The other “but” is that, as with many services, Compete is great but for sites with smaller traffic volumes (like mine), you get “rough estimates.” It also focuses on US visitors. Still, Compete is the leader in this kind of analysis, so this is another step in the right direction.

Content segmentation and analysis

You can now segment your analytics even more effectively, with break-downs available on:

  • Language
  • Region
  • Media type
  • Engagement level
  • Source tag
  • Post tag 

The biggest develop in this segmentation for me, though, is the ability to segment by sentiment.

While, in the past, you could allocate sentiment to posts, until now you couldn’t graph it so it was essentially useless. I’m a little disappointed to only see positive/neutral/negative as options and not the nuances (the “somewhat positive” and “somewhat negative” posts are grouped as “other”) but, again, it’s a good step in the right direction.

You can also sort your analysis widgets by numerous metrics:

  •     Number of posts
  •     Comment count
  •     View count
  •     Vote count
  •     Twitter followers
  •     On-topic inbound links
  •     Total inbound links
  •     Number of unique sources

As the announcement notes, “Want to know which keywords or topics generate the most commenting activity? Which blog post generated the most Twitter impressions? Now you can see the buzz around your topics at a glance.”

Conclusion

This is an excellent set of new features for Radian6. I have quibbles with a few things here and there, and the workflow in particular is a work in progress, but the product is ever-evolving and this is a strong release that adds significantly to Radian6′s usefulness.

The most important features, in order of importance (from my perspective):

  • The addition of comments;
  • Real-time alerts;
  • Graphing sentiment;
  • Workflow improvement via the conversation sidebar (would be higher with the addition of email alerts).