Small Businesses & Social Media: Many Missing in Action?


A recent Reuters release, Small business, social media not mixing caught my eye. The release highlighted a survey of small businesses conducted by Citibank Small Business with the somewhat surprising finding:

Three-quarters of small businesses say they have not found sites such Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn helpful for generating business leads or expanding business in the past year.”

On the face of it, this seems to fly in the face of several studies showing the tremendous impact of social media. Three studies, using online marketing tools used often by small business, come to mind:

1. Paid search

A recent study published by GroupM Search and comScore. showed that consumer’s exposed to a brand’s social media when combined with  paid search programs are 2.8 times more likely to search for the brand’s products when compared to users who only saw paid seach.

2. Blogs

 A HubSpot study of 795 small–to-medium sized businesses that blog found that the average “blogging” small company  gets 55%  more visitors.  Although not addressed in that study, considering that Twitter is micro-blogging,  one would expect it to raise a small business’ web traffic as well.  And certainly  some reports  (eg. O'Reilly's  “Twitter Drives Traffic, Sales”  indicate that it does.

3. Email Marketing

A study by Silverpop, found that combining social networking with email as well can be very powerful. Looking at email marketing reach of emails which included links to Facebook, MySpace and Twitter,  the study found

....shared emails evaluated for the study delivered an average increase in reach of 24.3 percent (based on original emails delivered), and this figure is expected to increase exponentially once sharing becomes mainstream.

Small Biz SocialMedia Wunderkin are Outliers?


You don’t have to go very deep into the social bookmarking sites, to find many fine super-list collections of small business case studies describing spectacular results from social media. Some of the better known include:

52Teas, an online tea e-tail site

CPA for Small Business

Coffee Grounds, a Houston coffee shop

 Kogi Taco Truck

Or check out Jason’s Fall’s recent roundup of small business case studies

Are these well-known small business case studies startling exceptions?  Are they the cherry-picked, well-trained poster children of the Marketing Elite, selling their Social Media Kool-Aid?

Well - as all technology bubbles are prone to encompass a greater sphere of influence than reality can measure, so too with small businesses and social media.


Why Would a Small Business Not be Benefiting from Social Media?

Why would small businesses report  finding little business advantage to using social media, given the remarkably positive results of the above studies?

Certainly, my own experience  with small companies is that they often do not have the resources to blog, Twitter or set up multiple presences on social networks. This in itself is no profound or new insight. The  HubSpot study mentioned that  a considerable number of the small businesses they sampled do NOT blog (nearly half of their total sample, or 736 companies, did not ).  But cultivating a blog is a well-known social media tactic for fully using Twitter and other social networks as a distribution mechanism. (Okay- now we are starting to get somewhere in understanding this...)

Many Small Businesses are Actually Living in Web 1.5

Following this line of thought, there are two simple explanations for the disparity:  First, in line with the fact that only 50% are blogging, many small businesses have unfortunately, not caught up with even the first generation of Web 2.0 tools to leverage the newer social networks and social media tools. 

Many Small Businesses do not understand Social Media integrates with All the Assets within their Current Online Marketing Strategy.

Second, and I believe more important, it may be that many small businesses are not  properly integrating their social media use into their other online marketing activities.

If there is anything we are learning about social media tools and social networks, it’s that they are  not stand-alone devices.  Rather, they are best used when combined in concert with other online marketing  tools and , certainly, when integrated into an overall online marketing strategy.  As the paid search and Silverpop email studies demonstrated well, the effectiveness of these well-known online tools is magnified by their co-use with social media.

Perhaps, stepping quietly and timidly into these tools, many small businesses are not aware of the synergies inherent to social media use:  Social bookmarking, blogging, participation and co-linking across multiple social networks are well-known to exert a compounding effect on a company's brand.

Are small businesses failing at the strategy level, i.e. not setting a social marketing plan in place?  Or are they failing at the tactical execution level, i.e. not integrating their online marketing tools properly?

They Can't Listen when They Aren't There

The answer may lie in the other intriguing statistic uncovered by the CitiBank study, namely,

86% [ of small businesses surveyed] said they have not used social networking sites for information or business advice.

 Wow! There's part of our answer.

If  the small company executives can’t find their way to the experts, surely, they cannot find good guidance to proper use of the technology, including the large cultural shift we are learning is part of the social media experience.

 A very self-fulfilling prophesy indeed!

Your thoughts?  (I'd  especially love to hear from you small businesses that have ventured into social media.)



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The Impatient e-Patient and Health 2.0


After researching Health 2.0 and social media for a client, this marketer (and sometimes e-patient ) now realises we've come along way from the initial heady days of WebMD. Perhaps you relate to my response to the  promotional video here: I was all "pumped up", ready to get online and make an appointment with my doctor. But unless you're in 5% of the population, that probably isn't possible.

The video, like much like the Media, tends to focus on the exciting pioneers and outliers - the purple cows that make  good story-telling.  The story inside this post on SocioSphere3 captures my own patient reality alongside a market analysis of whose connecting the Health 2.0 dots. 


Health 2.0: The Glass Half Full

Web 2.0 and social media promise to bring about a new, more intimate, humane and authentic level of communication between companies and their customers. And healt care is not excluded.

A January 2008 report from iCrossing reported that 34 percent of Americans turn to social media for health research, particularly those in the Millennial (19 - 34 year old) age group.

And as the E-Patient video above shows well, there ar e a host of new interactive health tools, from drug rating sites where patients can laern about drug interactions, online patient support communities like PatientsLikeMe and OrganizedWisdom to numerous personal health widgets.  One of my personal favorites in Health 2.0 tools is Medpedia, where authoritative medical opinions coexist alongside contributions from patients with a chronic illness. Real life meets expertise. Superb!

for a more comprehensive list of Health 2.0 resources, check out Medicine 3.0's excellent post, 25 Excellent Social Media Sites for Your Health or the regularly updated Health2.0 wiki.

The doctors themselves are joining the internet renaissance. According to Manhattan Research's "How Digital is Shaping the Future of Pharmaceutical Marketing" the average physician currently spends about eight hours a week using the Internet for professional reasons, a significant jump from only 2.5 hours in 2002. Even better yet, the report claims 64% of doctors own smart phones and are using them t oconnect with patients around the clock.

According to Ed Bennett's well-known Hospital Social Network List, the hospitals are responding too.


Health 2.0: The Glass Half Empty

Some have called hype on Health 2.0 And it doesn't escape my attention that several of the companies listed in the video and out on the Health2.0 wiki are out of business or are struggling to survive.  But in my view  these are not signs of hype so much as the usual zigzag upward curve associated with technology adoption.

The greater disparity to me is that The Great New World of Social Media is missing from my own physician's office site and hospital site. Maybe like me, you find your doctors aren't online for consultation.  Maybe like me, your doctors do not blog like Dr. Parikh on Salon or Dr. Marchetti on Medpundit.  Instead my patient experience is better described in Dr. Dr. Tom Ferguson's seminal E-Patient's white paper,

" ...For our first generation of E-Patients, going to the doctor's office is all too frequently a Kafkaesque experience of going back in time to when the internet did not exist.".


But here's what really turned on the neon sign inside my brain: All thes sophisticated tools coming on baord -- and yet I still can't send a simple email message to my doctors?

Apparently I'm not along: From a 2008 survey, CNNHealth reported that 49%-55% of Americans want to be able to email their doctors.

This backs up an earlier Pew Internet & American Life Project surveying e-patients desires they have of services from the medical community. Among the most frequently asked-for were:


  • Doctor-to-Patient email
  • How to determine the correct tests and treatments
  • More in-depth information about the quality of care provided
  • The ability to schedule doctor appointments online
  • Direct internet access to online doctors
  • Free access to online medical journals
  • More information about drug interactions
  • Online diagnostic tools or "symptom finders"
  • Access to my medical records and test results
  • Better ways to connect with local resources


While many self-help online patient tools are available today, it seems there are challenges in paving the last mile between E-Patients and E-Doctors.

Challenges for Doctors

1. Doctors are Busy

The notion that primary care physicians and surgeons have the time to learn the tools, tweet to patients and peers, likes in the face of the reality of busy schedules. Not every doctor can be expected t obe like pediatrician, who chats online.

2. Doctors have Limited Knowledge of Social Communities and Tools Available

The wealth os social technologies and useful sites in healthcare is vast and continues to grow weekly.  Knowing the resources and matching the right social networks to a patient base is a time-consuming task.  how do gastrointestinal surgeons lean about The Colon Club to tell patients?  Would more pediatricians have Facebook sites if they knew about the vast number of Millenial moms out there on that site?

A comment left on a health care blog captures the tech knowledge gap well,

"As an executive for  an iPhone-based physician's software company I also see [physicians] grappling with a bewildering array of technology, trying to determine what is worthwhile and what could be an expensive waste of time."

3. Patient Community Management

Many doctors are sometimes loathe to have their reviews posted online, fearing bad reviews. One of my own doctors rating suffered from a patient who misunderstood an allergic reaction to a bandage as a problem with the surgery itself. My doctor simply didn't have the time to go online and correct the misleading choice of words. (Note- in the social media world, responding to this public criticism is actually one of the beset opportunities to correct and respond. In doing so, a doctor can show a broader community of current and prospective patients that you care about the quality of your service and work.

4. Office Staff are often Untrained in web 2.0 and Social Media Tools

5. Health insurers don't reimburse doctors for online consultation.

While insurance companies are starting, it is far from common practice.


At least one populations of MDs  may be underestimateing the business value of the new patient engagement tools to their disadvantage.

Challenge to Boomer-Age Physicians

Many Boomer-age doctors wit mature, pre-Millenial age patient may think they have an installed base comfortable with their legacy communications tools.  And yet a physician that graudatied from medical school  10-25 years ago still needs to stay competitive with today's new "social-media-ready"  medical school graduates.

 Two medical practices embodying the spirit of the new wave of "E-Doctors" are Hello Health and Personal Pediatricians.  Having received quite a bit of media attention, Hello Healthy's tech savvy group of physicians in Brokkly offer appointment setting from smart phones, email, instant messaging as we llas online video consultation.  As a patient, you can login to their website from your own home, creae an account, list your history of medications and medical history.  The win for teh patient is less time i the waiting room. The win for the doc is less paperwork -- leaving more time for staff to focus on service to patients.

Another great example: Dr. Natalie Hodge and her virtual office concept, Personal Pediatricians.  With the help of sopisiticated IT tools, she works mostly via her Apple iPhone. Dr Hodge claims this allows her to spend more time with patients, including visits to their homes.

Wha'ts most interesting about these two concierge practices is that each has developed their own software platform, essentially spin-off businesses, to bring other doctors into the technology fold.  Hello Health's Myca venture provides a web-based software platform that will allow other physicians and their patients to use the Hello Health online tools, including electronic health recoreds.   Personal Pediatricians provides physician affiliates with similar capabilities, calling their online environment "a cloud-based house call".

As the websites of these new-wave services explain, these services promise "to increase care provider coordination while maximising doctor-patient engagement, both offline and online."

These doctor-designed web platforms are still in their embryonic stage. Will the doctor founders be able to manage both their practices and their IT platforms?  Manage customer service?  I'm hopeful --- especially as both services would seem to have an immediate appeal to recent medical school graduates.

But it still seems there's a gap in bringing highly talented , but less IT-savvy doctors forward into the new E-Patient community.


A Social Media Concerge Service for Doctors?

For doctors graduating from medical school more than 10 years ago, it seems a useful service would be social media training and support tools specifically for physicians. I am not talking here about the technical task of connecting physician websites into Facebook, LinkedIn, etc social networks. There are score of web developers to do that.  I am talking about a part technology guide, part trainer, yes, perhaps even part health community liaison for physicians and specialists.

Such a social media concierge could provide customizable services such as:


  • Identifying Patient Communities and New Tools Emerging   Doctors across different disciplines, particularly specialistswith distinct patient  profiles, need to know what social networks their patients are using as well as what new productivity-enhancing tools exist that might be incorporated into their practice. Where do Type I diabetics trade information? What are the names of  the most influential weight management blog?


While Medical IT  conferences and scores of physician-centric Health  2.0 websites exist today, social media concierge would provide more focused services to integrate tools into workflow.  for instance, a cardiac surgeon's web practice might be matched to talented internet surrogates covering cardiology on OrganizedWisdom. These surrogates provide a wide realm of specific health information - far more than any single doctor or his staff could provide on their own.


  • Physician and Staff Office Training. As a third party dedicated to knowing and tracking the new social media tools and online resources, the concierge could train both doctors and  their staff on the best set of services.


  • Online Reputation Management By scanning the myriad of patient social networks and doctor review service, a concierge service could keep track of physician reviews and patient ratings, alerting a practice to any complaints which should be addressed.


Connecting the Docs to Connect the Docs


Will physician portals like MycaHub become the new online doctor offices?  Will medical schools include social media Health 2.0 courses?

However, the future unrolls, social media and mobile technologies are no panacea: It will take time to interweave these tools seemlessly into the larger fabric of the healthcare system and for doctors and patients to fully appreciate their benefits. Hopefully there are many more impatient e-patients like me!


Six Marketing Lessons of the NetFlix Crowdsourcing Experiment

Here we follow up on the marketing highlights of last week's post on the $1 Mn NetFlix Prize announcement.

Why did the NetFlix Prize attract so much attention?

Here's one reason.

At a time when many companies are still afraid of social media   –  here’s NetFlix crowdsourcing their engineering knowledge, offering up customer data, knowledge often safeguarded inside a company’s IP sanctum sanctorem.

It’s bold.  As many other  news sources and this blog reviewed last week, it’s probably the best use of crowdsourcing to date.  And, to many,  it’s scary.

What specific lessons does the NetFlix Prize teach  that can deployed inside and, more importantly, outside, your own company?  I see six lessons for companies. (BTW - what's scary about any of this depends on which, if any, of these lessons appears alien to your company culture.)

1.  Share with your industry’s research community.

In order to improve their recommendation engine’s accuracy in predicting the movie likes of their subscribers, the starting point for the NetFlix contest was their offer of a precious data set:  100 million ratings from over 480 thousand randomly-chosen, anonymous customers on nearly 18 thousand movie titles.

To win and take home a prize, the NetFlix contest rules also specified

….. you must share your method with (and non-exclusively license it to) Netflix, and you must describe to the world how you did it and why it works.

 If you look at Wikipedia’s definition for the open source process, we see from the first few paragraphs that NetFlix pretty much followed it. (You only need  substitute the word “database” for “source code”) In the full open source tradition,  NetFlix didn’t  just sequester the submitted solutions for their own company use – they fed it back into the community knowledge base.

2.  Maximize the number of prizes you give away.

In many ways, NetFlix really offered many prizes to many different shades of stakeholders. (BTW- here's a key concept in crowdsourcing. Broaden your definition of who is a company stakeholder.)

 Note several of these "prizes" are free, posing no additional cost of goods for a company. (This doesn't mean some of these prizes, such as the customer data set, aren't tricky to manage, as NetFlix' current vexations with consumer privacy advocates now show.)


3. Keep them motivated for the long haul.

Tough challanges like solving a design problem, optimizing a movie database recommendation system for subscribers, can take months or years to make progress. In fact, the more valuable the problem being solved is to your company, the longer it will take.

The answer: Milestone or Progress Prizes. Per the NetFlix contest rules ...

Serious money demands a serious bar. We suspect the 10% improvement is pretty tough, but we also think there is a good chance it can be achieved. It may take months; it might take years. So to keep things interesting, in addition to the Grand Prize, we’re also offering a $50,000 Progress Prize each year the contest runs. It goes to the team whose system we judge shows the most improvement over the previous year’s best accuracy bar on the same qualifying test set.

 Complementing the Progress Prizes, NetFlix offered a leaderboard  for the contestants and media to watch.

 Why is this  gaming approach a key strategic element? Not only did this give contest entrants a sense of momentum, more significantly, it allowed NetFlix to incorporate incremental improvements into their product along the way.

4.  Use competitive energy.  Build in a “Last Call”.

After each prize submission, NetFlix  made  a public announcement that allowed all other teams to submit a better alrogithm within a 30-day window.

(For an idea of the sporting drama this lent to the final days and even minutes of the competition between BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos and The Ensemble teams, check out Wired’s piece.)

Marketing-wise, this “Last Call” phase resulted in heightened PR and media attention to the contest, with the top tier media and techno blogosphere all tracking the contest’s progress with bated breath.

5.  Keep the attention of the virtual talent --- even when it’s all over.

To maintain the momentum (and perhaps preempt advances of companies seeking use of the newly identified talent) NetFlix launched a new contest on the very same day of the award announcement.

6. Warning: This new marketing territory may be No Country for Old Men

 Okay - this one's definitely scary.

It’s a new day when open systems, crowdsourcing and bold marketing combine.

Are the rules changing?

NetFlix along with the many others bravely deploying crowdsourcing indicate they are changing.

Too often marketing and engineering are separate silos within a company.   What NetFlix did here breaks across several  silos, brilliantly interweaving a marketing initiative in and out of the R&D process, while also outreaching to the wider research community – giving them a virtual engineering department of  51,000.

For those  afraid of open source process as putting their IP at risk – perhaps its time to think of the risks of not doing it, namely, much longer product cycles than your competitors.  

As in the movie No Country for Old Men, it really pays to know in advance what you're looking at: Is it an oxygen tank or an air compressor used as a weapon?  So too could be crowdsourcing in the hands of your competitors.  PH...SSSST!


Useful new articles from others

ComputerWorld: Crowdsourcing takes Center Stage at DEMOfall 09

EbizQ   Crowdsourcing: Five Reasons it’s Not Just for Startups Anymore



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NetFlix Recommends That You Watch...Crowdsourcing!

Source: Zoom-in of AT&T Researcher Yifan Hu's interactive map of the Netflix movie database

As scores of the world press corps and blog world reported on Monday, NetFlix, the video rental service, announced the winner of their $1 Mn contest to improve their movie recommendation engine – all aimed at looking for a 10% improvement. Simply put, the underlying basis of the contest was to seek out  an algorithm to address one of the core challenges for a video recommendation system, namely,  " Will you like this movie you haven’t seen before?"

This blog post is not going to retrench the news reported so well by The NY Times, The Washington Post and 400+ others .  Rather  I'm going to look at this contest from the perspective of a marketer and psychologist who sees it as a phenomenal marketing experiment .   Don't let the somewhat whimsicial titles of news articles fool you (eg. “Flash! Movie Tips form your Robot Overlords" or  CNN’s "Box  office boffo for brainiacs" ): NetFlix' three-year long contest seems to have provided one of the most compelling reasons for e-commerce merchants to take the technique known as “crowdsourcing” seriously -- very seriously.



The Core Problem: Find Me Stuff I Like

To answer why NetFlix paid $1 Mn for a seemingly small 10% improvement in their CineMatch taste and preferences engine, it’s helpful to look at the typical NetFlix customer experience.  My own experience with NetFlix resonates well with  NPR’s interview of Clive Thompson, writer for Wired and the NY Times and someone’s who has been researching the NetFlix experiment since its beginnings. Thompson describes:

….when I joined Netflix I had like 20 movies I wanted to see, so I saw those. And once I'm done, I can't really think of any other movies I want to see.

 [Editorial note: So here the user sits in the classical psychological state known as the “overchoice paradox” – when faced with too many choices, nothing happens. Not good.]

So if they want to keep on charging me 17 bucks a month, they have to be active in helping me find new stuff or I'll go four or five months without renting any movies and I'll be, like, why am I spending 17 bucks a month, right? Their business model is incumbent upon keeping you renting movies.


He's is spot on with this last one-sentence business analysis. A recommendation engine can be key to what  users do next, leveraging another  well-known psychological principle operating here: The Principle of Least Effort, or more simply, people  will naturally choose the path of least resistance or "effort".  In the NetFlix context,  it's easier for video subscribers to leave unrequited than take on the onerous chore of exploring a 100,000+ movie title system.  But a reccomendation or taste engine changes that.

For NetFlix, the problem was that their internal engineering team was stumped on how to get a 10% improvement in their recommendation engine, CineMatch. (After all this is a  very immense and complex data set). In a marvelous act of both insight and bravery – the company decided to run an open contest, offering the best mathematical minds on the planet a chance to interact hands-on and test their immense database of  100 million + movie-rating data points - all for the chance to win a $1 Mn prize. (The privacy of actual user identities in the data set was of course protected.) Interestingly, per The Washington Post,  when the contest launched in 2006, the first entrants took just three weeks to improve on what Netflix's internal team had been able to do on its own.



The Contest: A Dramatic ScreenPlay Itself


While I promised not to retread yesterday’s news tires, it bears saying that the manner in which NetFlix promoted the contest and the response  to it is the stuff of an exciting screenplay itself.  Here’s a summary  of some  of the more exciting stats:

  • 51,000 contestants entered
  • Those contestants ultimately merged into some 40,000 teams
  • Participants included researchers from over 186 countries
  • Only in the final nail-biting 24 minutes did the team BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos edged out the team The Ensemble with the winning submission. (Both teams did complete the 10% solution.)

BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, the first and winning team, consisted of a group of statisticians, machine-learning experts and computer engineers hailing from the US, Austria, Canada and Israel. The Ensemble's 30 members come  from Australia, Canada, China, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Poland, The Netherlands, and the United States.


What's the Significance?

1. Recommendation engines are a high stakes game across many e-markets. Beyond NetFlix’ use of user ratings,  recommendation engines  are well known to users of  Amazon (as well as many other e-tailers)  for product sales, Pandora for music suggestions,  dating sites and social networking sites, such as Digg and Glue. We 've all seen  their traces online from the  tell-tale phrases such as  "People you may like..." "People who bought this also liked X, Y, Z".    Indeed, these engines are regarded by Forrester Research as critical mainstays  of next-gen ecommerce sites, translating the "overchoice paradox" into a cross-sell opportunity. According to  Thompson, two-thirds of all movies rented are picked because people had them recommended by the computer. 

2. Engine Improvements Address Recurring Revenue. NetFlix and others with subscriber models are keenly aware that the more accurate their engine is, the more likely they will have better customer retention and, most importantly, more recurring revenue.

3. Crowdsourcing is Now A Viable Marketing Solution and Perhaps A New Imperative. On a marketing plane, NetFlix's contest  legitimizes crowdsourcing, establishing it as a viable means of propelling (relatively) fast engineering progress. This point is well made in the NY Times published statements of Chris Volinsky, one of the leaders of the Pragmatic Chaos team and a scientist at AT&T Research. describing the mix of different statistical and machine-learning techniques used in their solution,

[It} only works well if you combine models that approach the problem differently.  That’s why collaboration has been so effective, because different people approach problems differently.

His statement captures the essence of why crowdsourcing works: Diverse approaches coming from diverse cultures, not a corporate monoculture, throw new light on a problem.

3. Machine Learning May be as Cool as Cloud Computing. On a more technical plane, NetFlix’ high profile contest, long-watched by the online technical community, has shown the spotlight on too little discussed techniques.  Per Gavin Potter, one of the few social scientists competing in the competition,

[The contest] has widened the awareness of machine learning techniques and recommender systems within the broader business community. I have had many,many requests from businesses asking how to implement recommender systems as a result of the competition and I guess other competitors have too. The wider non machine learning community is definitely looking for new applications (see my previous posts for some examples) and this can only be good for the field as a whole.



Take-Aways (Your Prizes)

Just as NetFlix provided data to consumer behavior researchers, their contest also provides  powerful information to all companies which use recommendation engines to encourage online product sales.

1. It combined two powerful techniques: prize economics and crowdsourcing.  By openly sharing their research database with data-thirsty researchers, the company virtually expanded their engineering department by 51,000 engineers and scientists.  You don’t have to look at engineering salaries or consulting fees to know that a $1 Mn marketing prize spend was a great deal for their R&D budget. Could your company too use such an outlandish technique?

2. With this highly promoted contest, NetFlix effectively chased out the identities of thousands of talented engineers and scientists who have further benefited by participating in the contest. Your company now has  the talent identified for your own company’s potential benefit. (Judging from Gavin Potter’s blog, smart companies have already started their outreach efforts to these experts some months ago.)

3. Here’s one of the more valuable lessons of the experiment:  The winning solution was based  on more than math skills. Whether you read the highly illuminating backtrace comment history on the Pragmatic Chaos blog or the recent press release from The Ensemble, it’s absolutely clear that teamwork was a key part in the journey to getting to the 10% improvement solution.  The members of the top teams in particular hold highly strategic technical knowledge, project management and timing skills.  These promise to  position their future clients in a highly advantageous position in producing world-class recommendation engines.

4. Finally, ff you are  wondering if these movie database research results really apply to your company’s particular market category, I invite you to read through some of the enlightening market-oriented questions raised  by Media Unbound, a software firm known for their recommendation services and one which tracked the contest in its final 30 days.   After reading these, it's more obvious that the whole field of recommendation engines has benefited from the NetFlix event.


Okay, a 10% Improvement– But Will It Blend?

Among their questions, Media Unbound raises a truly critical one in terms of the full marketing impact of the NetFlix experiment: Will the 10% improvement through the algorithm  result in a noticeable improvement in the Netflix subscriber  experience?   Comments from NetFlix CEO Reed Hastings seem to suggest so - “It will allow us to double the accuracy of suggestions to customers”.

But is this really a given?  Even while the mathematicians and engineers are leaving the playing field, it seems the pychophysicists and marketing scientists need to come onto it. Will the 10% be visibly felt and experienced as a substantial improvement by the typical NetFlix customer?  

Consider this. In the branch of psychology called psychophysics, they speak of a Just-Noticeable-Difference in perception or a JND. Here’s an example that may bring that concept into familiar light.  If you are sitting in a very  dark room, a 10% light increment will be very detectable and highly noticeable.  However, if you are sitting on a sunny beach, the 10% increment won’t be noticed. By dark, the light change is greater than one JND, while in a bright environ, the light change is less one JND.  Translated for NetFlix, the question is whether a NetFlix video subscriber, selecting among hundreds of thousands of movie titles using the new algorithm, is going to readily detect the difference to affect their satisfaction and retention.

 So bring on the next set of scientists! Let the games continue! (And they do. With the prize award, NetFlix also announced a new $1 M prize contest, focusing now on the tougher problem of subscribers with more sparse rmovie ratings.)


I’d love to know your marketing thoughts on the crowdsourcing implications of the NetFlix experiment.  Is this, along with crowdsourcing use by StarBucks and others,  the sign of a new way to run engineering departments? Do you see this  as the path for faster product innovation?


In my next post – I’ll talk a bit about the best-practice marketing tactics NetFlix used to promote their crowdsourced contest.





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Using Twitter for Business (once again with more feeling)

Due to popular demand (errr well- a few folks asked! ;-))--- I just uploaded onto SlideShare "Using Twitter for Business", a presentation I gave about a month ago at the Disney Entrepreneur Center in Orlando in cooperation with my SocioSphere3 comrades, Penney Fox and Mary Recchia Brown.

If your company has sat on the fence about Twitter - here's a great opportunity to click through a good deal of research, get our distillations, learn some of the lingo and - in less than 15 minutes-  pick up on some of the most compelling reasons to consider the implications of Twitter and Web 2.0 for your business. As The Economist put it so well, "Twitter is the ultimate low-cost recessionary marketing tool".

Warning and a Promise:  This workshop was designed  for Real Beginners and covers:

  • The Basics and Etiquette of Tweeting
  • Case studies - large and small company stories and statistics
  • Business applications
  • Useful tools for measuring and monitoring your online reputation
  • Above all - the reasons we believe Twitter and microblogging are changing the way all businesses engage in marketing and customer service. Right here.  Right now.


Looking for more updates to this?  Check out my delicious bookmarks on the topic! 





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What if The Beatles and The Pope Used Twitter on the Same Day?

Posted on Tuesday, July 7, 2009 10:00 PM EST

Admittedly, that's an absurdist title. But, as I'll show, perhaps not so absurdist given recent postings on Twitter.

Believe me. I am a great fan of Twitter: I'm as ardent an advocate, passionista, social media evangelista as nary can be found in the Southeastern United States. I carefully curate my small Twitter feed. I endeavor to keep a pretty high S/N ratio of information flow. I promote Twitter as a highly-effective low-cost new media channel to clients. Why I don't even attach much credence to recent forecasts that Facebook (through its continuous "Follow Twitter's development path" updates) ultimately prevails over Twitter.

But something, well, specifically four tweets and their associated blog postings, struck me as a bit odd yesterday.

Mind you, not one of these postings alone seen on separate days would capture my extended attention. However, that all of them occurred within the same 24-hour period definitely captured the cross-correlators within my pattern recognition system.

It all started with the subject of a Friendfeed posting yesterday....

What If the Beatles Used Twitter?

This somewhat whimsical blog post of course asserted that The Beatles would have doubled their professional and personal fortune if they had been able to mirror their lives on the Net, much as celebrities MC Hammer [1 Mn+ followers] and @britneyspears [2.28 M followers] do today.

Okay- I'll buy that argument: Twitter access would have made Beatlemania larger than The Sloan Great Wall. (Hint: largest known physical structure in the Universe). Sure.

While still ruminating on that, oddly enough, I encounter a tweet leading me to...

What If the Buddha Used Twitter...


A thought-provoking, sometimes profound and definitely charming piece, Soren Gordhamer's article in yesterday's Huffington Post focuses on how the key figure in Buddhism would use Twitter. For instance, he writes...


Better than a thousand senseless verses is one that brings the hearer peace. -- The Buddha

The second [approach] is that the quality of our tweets matter much more than the quantity of them. One meaningful tweet a day is much better than posting numerous tweets that do not add value to the world. Of course, what "adds value" can be debated. There are a lot of silly tweets and links to videos that bring smiles to millions of people. Tweets do not have to be serious, but I think the Buddha would say that the real mission of life is not to produce large quantities of anything, including tweets, but it is instead to make a positive impact. One tweet that does that is better than a million that do not.

Yes, I thought, this too all rings true. And in fact Soren's observation is a great palliative against some of the depressing scores some of us get from the Twitter grader/scorer algorithms. To be ranked a "Great Tweeter", many of these programs insist you tweet with the frequency and ferocity of @cnnbrk (CNN Breaking News).

Perhaps Soren's observation even makes us look a bit more sympathetically at the AdAge twitter lashing that some marquis name ad agencies took yesterday --- for not tweeting enough or properly. (With some 8000+ click-throughs to the original article link so far, there's clearly a swarm of on-lookers to watch old media get bashed for not being cool enough to fully and quickly enough imbibe their social media juice.)

Here I think: Hmm..Buddha should know. Even at the most conservative estimates, there are some 300 Mn to 1.3 Bn Buddhist followers worldwide. Compare that to Twitter's 10-20 Mn followers (loosely correcting the Comscore estimates against the 60% "Qwitter" factor from the A.C. Nielsen study. (Luckily, Twitter isn't competing with Buddhism for venture capital...)

Some hours later... I stumble upon a tweet from the intellectual Utne Reader, informing me...

Okay- this is getting big. The Beatles.  The Buddha.  The Pope.   How many marquis name co-brandings can be out there in one day alone? (Okay- I'm stretching the papal reference i know...)

What possible other illustrious groups can we associate the brand name Twitter with?

Surely, there are no higher authorities -- after all this is one 24-hour timeframe here, folks.

Well, rock my K.D. Payne sentiment analyzers, folks, if there wasn't one more in the daily queue...

Twitter Suggested for Nobel Prize


By the end of the day, no less than the Silicon Valley Business Journal confides that "Twitter Suggested for Nobel Prize". That's right, Mark Pfeile, a former Deputy National Security Advisor for the Bush administration, is apparently nominating Twitter for the Nobel Peace Prize. True enough- with foreign journalists and media thrown out of Iran, Twitter provided oft times the only window to the world to follow the post-election Iranian situation.

As The Christian Monitor put it,  "... in the past month, 140 characters were enough to shine a light on Iranian oppression and elevate Twitter to the level of change agent."

Most remarkably, Twitter's SMS news service included the participation of more technically-inclined Twitterers (eg. John Perry Barlow and the EFF) who aided in getting the news out of Iran via proxy servers. This provided us with a humanity-bonding linkage to news events that the world had not previously experienced before.  (So I hope it's clear: It is not at all my position to dispute that Twitter deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.)

What Then is the Point of All This?


My point here is simply that such a 24-hour tweet roundup of Twitter associations with some of the world's mega luminaries has me feeling --well-- just a bit of woozy "story stock" sickness.

It's as though someone were trying to pry my jaws open to swallow a 15-course meal including oysters rockefeller, roast duck, foie gras pate and baked trufled brie en croute - all down my gullet in one swallow. Frankly - it's feeling March 2000-ish (the period immediately preceding the dotcom bomb where new e-commerce stock valuations were running their highest).

Now what's particularly a little uneasy-making is that any one of the these stories has merit. But the gestalt of their conjoint appearance, while not arousing suspicion of a strategic PR initiative, at least makes one think that some of this confabulation is encouraged. Perhaps it provides a "psychic PR bridge" for Twitter investors, a much-needed bridge until the much-awaited hard-nosed monetization model appears.

To me, Twitter is a fabulous technology. But that doesn't mean it needs confabulation.

What do you think?

Is Twitter over-hyped? Do these articles centering on "What if [INSERT FAMOUS NAME HERE] Used Twitter" enlighten or obscure?




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Iran's blogging revolution

In honor of the unfolding events in Iran, we offer this fine video, courtesy of the The Vancouver Film School.

Iran: A nation of bloggers from Mr.Aaron on Vimeo.

Other sources for tracking the ongoing Iranian events include:

Breaking Tweets

The Huffington Post's Iran Updates (VIDEO): Live-Blogging


10 Ways to Change the World Through Social Media (guest post by Max Gladwell)

Note from Lisa: This is a guest post from Max Gladwell, founder of #EcoMonday on Twitter.

Per Rob Reed, the web strategist and voice behind Max Gladwell, this post is part of a grand social media experiment to publish the first collective, simultaneous guest blog post from Max Gladwell. Rob's goal is for this article to be published simultaneously on 100 blogs, thus inspiring 100 simultaneous conversations from various points of view.


Our children will inherit a world profoundly changed by the combination of technology and humanity that is social media. They’ll take for granted that their voices can be heard and that a social movement can be launched from their laptop. They’ll take for granted that they are connected and interconnected with hundreds of millions of people at any given moment. And they’ll take for granted that a black man is or was President of the United States.

What’s most profound is that these represent parts of a greater whole. They represent a shift in power from centralized institutions and organizations to the People they represent. It is the evolution of democracy by way of technology, and we are all better for it.

For most of us, social media has changed our lives in some meaningful way. Collectively it is changing the world for good. Given the pace of innovation and adoption, change has become a constant. Every so often we find the need to stop and reflect on its most recent and noteworthy developments, hence the following list.

Please note this is not a top-10 list, nor are these listed in any particular order. It’s also incomplete. So we ask that you add to this conversation in the comments. If you’d like to Retweet this post or take the conversation to Twitter or FriendFeed, please use the hashtag #10Ways.

3510970897 1e71f53fee m 10 Ways to Change the World Through Social Media1. Take Social Actions: The nonprofit organization Social Actions aggregates “opportunities to make a difference from over 50 online platforms” through its unique API. It recently held the Change the Web Challenge contest in order to inspire the most innovative applications for that API. The Social Actions Interactive Map won the $5,000 first prize. The result is a virtual tour of the world through the lens of social action. “People are volunteering, donating, signing petitions, making loans and doing other social actions as we speak — all over the world. To capture the context of the where, this project uses sophisticated techniques to extract location information from full text paragraphs.” You can also join the Social Actions Community, which is powered by Ning…which now boasts more than one million individual social networks.

3511782550 e3a4f6715f m 10 Ways to Change the World Through Social Media2. Twitter with a Purpose: This list could be exclusive to Twitter. The micro-blogging sensation was featured on our first two lists (a three-tweet), and it’s certain to be a fixture. From Tweetsgiving, the virtual Thanksgiving feast, to the Twestival, which organized 202 off-line events around the world to benefit charity: water, it’s become the de facto tool for organizing and taking action. Tweet Congress won the SXSW activism award, and celebrity Tweeps Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Rose Tweeted their two million followers about ending malaria. Max Gladwell recently initiated the #EcoMonday follow meme as a way to connect and organize the Green Twittersphere.


3510970955 e9abc77e79 m 10 Ways to Change the World Through Social Media3. Visit White House 2.0: Inside of its first 100 days, the Obama administration has managed to set the historic benchmark for government transparency and accountability. The President’s virtual town hall meeting used to crowdsource questions from his 300 million constituents, complete with voting to determine the ones he’d have to answer. All told, 97,937 people submitted 103,978 questions and cast 1,782,650 votes. The White House continues to raise the bar with its official Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter channels. In so doing President Obama is not just setting the standard for state and local government in the U.S. He’s establishing the world standard. The Obama administration is spreading democracy not by force but through example. Because you don’t have to be an American citizen to be a friend or follower of White House 2.0.

3511782420 3e86500d1c m 10 Ways to Change the World Through Social Media4. Claim your Zumbox: What happens when all mail can be sent and delivered online to any street address in a paperless form? That’s the big question for Zumbox, which has created an online mail system with a digital mailbox for every U.S. street address. And while the answer to that question remains to be seen, it promises to be as liberating as it is disruptive. A key quality for Zumbox is that it’s closed system much like that of Facebook, only instead of true identity it’s true address. This will enable people to better connect with their communities including their neighbors, local businesses, and the mayor’s office. The primary agent of change, though, might not be that this uses street addresses but that it enables direct and potentially viral feedback, which is a virtue that e-mail and the USPS do not offer. The first methods are to request exclusive paperless delivery and to block a sender, but others are certain to evolve such as real-time commenting and ways to share mail with friends, family, and colleagues. Welcome to Mail 2.0. (Disclosure: Zumbox is a client of Rob Reed, the founder of Max Gladwell.)

3511782298 aecb6a094e m 10 Ways to Change the World Through Social Media5. Host a Social Media Event: This is the year of the social media event. No meaningful gathering of people is complete without an interactive online audience, especially when it’s so easy and cost effective to pull off. Essential tools include a broadband connection, laptop, video camera, projector, and screen. Add people and a purpose, such as entrepreneurship. Promote it through social media channels, and you have a social media event. A recent example in the green world is the Evolution of Green, which was hosted by Creative Citizen, a green wiki community. It celebrated the launch of a new Web property, EcoMatters, while also establishing a new Twitter tag. By posing the question, “How can we go from green hype to green habit?” and including the #GreenQ hashtag, it sparked a conversation between attendees and the Twittersphere in real time. Thus was born a new mechanism for getting answers to green questions via Twitter.

3511782346 d39787b982 m 10 Ways to Change the World Through Social Media6. Travel the World: More than anyone else, Tim O’Reilly knows the potential for social media to change the world. In his opening keynote at this year’s Web 2.0 Expo, he called for a new ethic in which we do more with less and create more value than we capture. This provided the context for SalaamGarage founder Amanda Koster, whose presentation followed O’Reilly’s. The idea is that social media has enabled each of us to have an audience. Whether through Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, or a personal blog, each of us can have influence and reach. What’s more, it can be used for good. SalaamGarage coordinates trips for citizen journalists (that means you) to places like India and Vietnam in conjunction with non-government organizations like Seattle-based Peace Trees. The destination is the story, as these humanitarian journalists report on the people they meet and discoveries they make. Their words, images, and video are posted to the social web to gain exposure and because these stories just need to be told.

3510970933 4215de025b m 10 Ways to Change the World Through Social Media7. Build It on Drupal: You may not have noticed, but the open-source Drupal content management system (CMS) has quickly become the dominant player on the social web. While we still prefer WordPress as a strict blogging application, Drupal has emerged as the go-to platform for building scalable, community-driven Web sites. It powers, a key part of President Obama’s commitment to transparency and accountability. PopRule uses it as a social news platform for politics. And Drupal will soon become the platform for Causecast, a site where “media, philanthropy, social networking, entertainment and education converge to serve a greater purpose.” This is especially significant because Causecast CEO Ryan Scott is transitioning the site off of Ruby on Rails because Drupal has proved more efficient, user friendly, and cost effective. (Disclosure: Max Gladwell founder Rob Reed is co-founder of PopRule.)

3511782362 0de2746b66 m 10 Ways to Change the World Through Social Media8. Green Your iPhone: Looking for an organic diner within biking distance that has a three-star green rating? There’s a app for that. It’s called 3rd Whale, and you can download it for free. (Except that the star rating is actually a whale rating.) Complete with Facebook Connect, this iPhone app locates green products and businesses in 30 major North American cities. It uses the iPhone’s dial function to select a category (food), sub-category (restaurants), and distance (walking, biking, or driving). In Santa Monica, this might give you Swingers diner for its selection of veggie and vegan fare. You could then get directions from your current location using the iPhone’s built-in Google map, rate your experience on the three-whale scale, and write up a quick review. 3rd Whale recently released a new feature that integrates green-living tips, which can show how much energy or waste you’ll save by taking a given action.

3510970833 cb57221988 m 10 Ways to Change the World Through Social Media9. Unite the World Through Video: Matt’s dancing around the world video inspired many to tears. Today, more than 20 million people have viewed his YouTube masterpiece, where he performs a kooky dance with the citizens of planet earth. The most recent example of this approach is Playing for Change, which connects the world through song. The project started in Santa Monica with a street performance of the classic Stand By Me and expanded to New Orleans, New Mexico, France, Brazil, Italy, Venezuela, South Africa, Spain, and The Netherlands. The project was superbly executed via social media, complete with a YouTube channel, MySpace, Facebook, and Blog. It’s received tremendous mainstream media exposure and also benefits a foundation of the same name.

3510971003 fb095231da m 10 Ways to Change the World Through Social Media10. Rate a Company: The conversation about corporate social responsibility (CSR) takes place across the social web on blogs, Twitter, and YouTube, but a central hub for this information and opinion is still to be determined. SocialYell seeks to address this by building an online community around the CSR conversation, where users can submit reviews of companies together with nonprofit organizations and even public figures like Michelle Obama. The major topics are the Environment, Health, Social Equity, Consumer Advocacy, and Charity. The reviews are voted and commented on by the community in a Reddit-like fashion with both up (Yell) and down (shhh) voting. The site is relatively new and still gaining traction, but there’s no question that a resource like this is needed to shine a bright light on CSR and and other related issues.

11. Publish a collective, simultaneous blog post on a universal topic: As Nigel Tufnel might say, this list goes to eleven. Let the #10Ways conversation begin…

Final note: This is Max Gladwell’s third list of “10 Ways to Change the World Through Social Media.” The first was posted a year ago today on, and the sequel followed five months later. If a single headline can capture the Max Gladwell raison d’etre, this is it.


Postscript: Want a 12th way? A great way to go green and join the social media revolution is to check out Contxts, a text message replacement for business cards that only requires you have a text-messaging mobile phone.  Read  what LifeHacker wrote about it.


Poll: What is the biggest barrier to integrating social media into your business?

There's no doubt: Social Media use is on the rise...a frenetic rise. According to ReadWriteWeb, a new report about Enterprise adoption of Web 2.0 technologies, by Awareness, Inc., shows that employers are increasingly allowing staff to use social media applications in working hours. Awareness puts the figure at 69 percent of businesses in 2008, up from 37 percent last year.

Facebook users now number over 200 million. Twitter usage is growing in excess of 1000% month to month.

Yet many companies are holding back. What are your company's concerns? ROI? Risk of legal exposure? HR resources to own the responsibility? Tell us what you think by taking our quick poll below. (You'll be shown the cumulative results gathered so far.)


(Poll closes June 30, 2009)


You may also be interested in reading our Emerging Case Studies on Twitter and Participatory Marketing.

Or check out Chris Brogan's Delicious bookmarks on Social Media Case Studies.


"The Most Significant Environmental Photograph Ever Taken" (Galen Rowell)

The "EarthRise" photo taken from Apollo 8 on Dec. 29, 1968 by Bill Anders. The Earth is rising over the horizon of the moon. (This is oriented per Ander's original shot, with the moon to the right.