Social networking Web 2.0 Web metrics

Social media measurement – brand awareness and trust in the cultural sector

There has been a flurry of activity amongst web analytics companies and in the marketing world to devise complex ways of measuring social media activity. As much of this interest in devising a way of measuring and comparing social media ‘success’ comes down to monetising social media activity through the sale of advertising, these measures don’t easily translate to the cultural sector. Advertisers are after a ‘ratings’ system to compare the different ‘value’ of websites but as we know from old media (TV and radio), ratings don’t work well for public and community broadcasters who don’t sell advertising and have other charters and social obligations to meet.

We know that visits, page views and time spent aren’t the best ways of understanding our audiences or their levels of engagement with our content, and with social media it is all about engagement. If we aren’t selling advertising space to all those eyeballs focussing their attention on our rich and engaging content, then what are we trying to do?

I’d argue that it is about brand awareness. Not just brand awareness in terms of being top of mind when geographically close audiences are thinking of a cultural activity to do in their leisure time, but about linking the perceived authenticity of the information contained on your website to your brand. More and more there is ongoing research into how museums are perceived as ‘trusted’ information sources, and importantly politically impartial sources. But this perception relies upon an awareness on the part of the online visitor that they are indeed on a museum website.

This user awareness is, I argue, not a given, especially now that such a large proportion of our online traffic comes via search. Looking into the future, search will be an even greater determinant of traffic, even if your real-world marketing prominently displays your URL (as it should be doing by now!). Looking at your real world marketing campaigns around your URL you will probably find a spike in direct traffic but a similarly sized spike in brand name searches – we are finding this with the Sydney Design festival at the moment. The whole of Sydney is covered with street advertising from bus shelter posters to street banners, all promoting the URL. The resulting traffic is a mix of direct and brand name search based.

The problem is, now, the brand no longer is just represented in the online environment on our own websites.

One of the first things I talk about in my workshops and presentations is that even if your organisation is not producing social media about yourself, then your audiences almost certainly are. If you aren’t aware of what your audiences are saying about you, what they are taking photos of, or recording on their camera phones, then you are missing a unique opportunity to understand this generally highly engaged tip of your audience.

It is possible those who blog about their experience in your organisation, upload their photos and videos, are going to be those who are potentially your most (commercially) ‘valuable’ customers – high disposable income, high levels of interest and a desire to participate and communicate/advocate to others about your organisation.

They are probably the most likely to climb the ‘ladder of engagement’ from potential visitors through regular visitors to members and finally donors/sponsors. They may not always have positive things to say, but by hearing their gripes and grizzles, you are able to understand and address issues that impact how your organisation is going to be promoted through word-of-mouth. And word-of-mouth is going to almost always be the most ‘trusted’ type of marketing recommendation.

So how do we track these conversations that occur publicly but not on your organisation’s website?

Mia Ridge recently pointed to a great summary of the easiest to use ‘ego search’ tools and methods by which you can easily keep track of your audience conversations. Another favourite of mine for small scale tracking is EgoSurf.

Sixty Second View has compiled an ‘index’ of how these kinds of ego search results might be compiled to generate a figure to compare with competitors and other organisations. Their methodology, whilst very complex, focusses on assessing how connected the people who are talking about you actually are – this allows for a determination of effective reach, and the trust that may be accreted to those in the conversation.

(top level summary mine only)

a) Blogs that are talking about you – what are their Technorati rankings, how high are their Google PageRanks, how many BlogLines subscribers do they have etc

b) Multi-Format conversations – how popular/connected are the Facebook and MySpace people who are talking about your organisation

c) Mini-Updates – frequency and reach of Twitters

d) Business Cards – LinkedIn connectedness

e) Visual – Flickr influence and popularity can be used to determine how connected and visible posters images of your organisation are. This can be applied to YouTube as well.

f) Favourites – Digg, connectedness

This approach is useful as it provides a detailed analysis of the spectrum of social media that your organisation is probably already represented in. It can reveal areas where your users are’nt talking about you, and it can illuminate areas of your own site that receive unexpected user attention. Not only that it focuses on who is talking about you. On the downside, it is a lot of work – but in undertaking even a cut down version of this methodology it will force you to examine the different impacts of types of social media.

For example, are all blog posts about your organisation equal? When you check the Technorati rankings of the commenting blogs you will find that some have greater reach and authority than others. The real world equivalent here is the different weightings your marketing team probably already gives to print media mentions in national broadsheets versus local weeklies; or the difference between a TV editorial and a local radio mention.

Is this really the job of the web team?

Unless your organisation has a marketing team that is expert in online marketing then the answer must be yes. Web analytics in five years time will be all about measuring offsite activity.

Conceptual Interactive Media Social networking Web 2.0

Open vs closed

As I have been thinking about my upcoming presentation at Web Directions South there have been a lot of interesting maneuvers out in the commercial web space.

First, a while back Facebook opened their platform to developers allowing content from other providers to interact with Facebook profiles in Facebook. This, coupled with the enormous media coverage that this move got, is in part the driver for Facebook’s phenomenal growth of late. ‘Facebook as a platform’ has made Facebook ‘sticky’ and given everyone who uses Facebook more reasons to go back to look at their profiles on a very regular basis. Whilst most of the Facebook applications are only marginally interesting (do we really need another chain letter-style application?), the best ones are those that turn a Facebook page into an aggregator of personalised content from other sites – Flickr, travel maps, Last.Fm, RSS feeds etc. People who have completely tricked-out Facebook profiles could (and this is what Facebook hopes) feasibly use Facebook as their home page and access everything they need via Facebook.

Now, Netvibes has come along and flipped this. Netvibes is a personalised aggregation portal a bit like iGoogle (formerly MyGoogle). We have been experimenting with it for the Culturemondo network (see the public Culturemondo Netvibes aggregation as an example)

Netvibes has developed a very nice Facebook widget, to bring Facebook’s own data into its network meaning that Facebook-specific data – notifications, friends and data from your profile can now be aggregated into Netvibes, making Netvibes the one stop ‘attention’ shop for tricked out Netvibes/Facebook users. As Mashable points out –

Facebook is now one of Netvibes’ biggest rivals. Before Facebook, who offered to aggregate your friend’s Flickr photos, YouTube videos, blogs and the rest? Netvibes, of course. In fact, Facebook profiles are now a lot like a Netvibes startpage.

So now that Facebook has stolen some of that sheen, they’d [Netvibes] obviously like to create a mini-Facebook within Netvibes, rather than losing users in the other direction. They want you to use Netvibes as your homepage, and visit Facebook only incidentally, rather than aggregating all your stuff at Facebook and never returning to Netvibes.

The tension is indicative of what’s happening with aggregators: they’re all motivated to keep you on their own platforms for as long as possible, rather than giving you absolute freedom to take your identity wherever you like. Right now, it’s hard to make money without owning the user’s identity in some way; user lock-in remains the strongest business model, even though superficially they exist to hand more control to you.

What is interesting here is that what is happening is much more than a battle over attention between two competitors. Facebook can close access to Netvibes but then risk a small proportion of users leaving its network (mostly the super tech-savvy, bleeding edge experimenters). On the other hand, Facebook’s own survival likely relies on them further opening their network – the initial steps towards openness, coupled with usability, is at least part of the reason why some users have started migrating profiles from MySpace, which remains defiantly closed.

The reality is, in the future, both Facebook, Netvibes, MySpace are all better off letting their users move freely between networks – that way they remain at least partially relevant, although in deep competition. Otherwise new audiences which are so critical to their business models and desirable to their advertisers, as Fred Stutzman points out, will go to whichever is ‘coolest’ at the time. Ross Dawson also comments on this, too, spotting a trend ‘towards openness’, pulling recent moves by Plaxo into the picture as well.

I’ll be coming back to this theme over the coming weeks. There are enormous opportunities for the cultural and non-profit sector here – if we can all adapt fast enough. Ideas of attention and brand are just as relevant for us as anyone, possibly more so with the limited budgets in our sector,

AV Related Digital storytelling Interactive Media Powerhouse Museum websites

True Design – Powerhouse Museum’s latest digital storytelling productions

We are very lucky to have within our museum a pair of media production labs – SoundHouse VectorLab – where the public can do short, low cost courses in video and music production. A spinoff of these facilities is a series of digital storytelling projects. Usually these projects are run in regional and rural communities and with at-risk youth as a means of engaging and stimulating (and diverting) creative energies.

However this time the museum has worked with a different audience – professional designers. As part of Sydney Design 07 and with our design portal, Design Hub, the museum has released a series of digital stories written and produced by practicing designers. A series of short, two minute video pieces were written and produced in an intensive two day workshop in small teams run in the SoundHouse VectorLab and organised by Nicole Bearman (Design Hub editor), and Helen Whitty (from the Education and Public Programmes department). True to digital storytelling methodologies, ultimately these stories are about the process more than the final output – skill sharing, collaborative narratives, cross-disciplinary communication.

This project offered participants the opportunity to contemplate their design practice through a new medium and to present for the viewer a significant insight into design processes, inspirations and working life. It also gave them the opportunity to collaborate and network with industry peers who they might not otherwise get the opportunity to work with, such as curators, editors and writers.

Take a look.

They are screening in the galleries in high definition during Sydney Design, and will also be later syndicated to other media.

(update – there is an interview with Peter Mahony in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Spectrum section today. It is not yet online but once it is I will link it)

Imaging Interactive Media

Smashing Magazine round up of data visualisation

Smashing Magazine has put together a fantastic round up of a lot of very nice data visualisation sites and approaches. There’s a lot covered, plenty of links to explore, and much to inspire those of us dealing with huge amounts of otherwise impenetrable data in our collections.