Will Businesses Like Facebook’s New Reaction Buttons?

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New Data Will Reveal How Customers Really Feel

If you recently updated your Facebook status, you may see a wide array of responses that goes beyond the fabled “like” riposte the social media platform has become known for. Last month Facebook unveiled “Reactions,” which offers its users five additional ways to express their opinions on everything from pictures of your cats to your brash political musings. While it will certainly give users more choices in how they interact with friends, it will also give businesses deeper insights into customer sentiment.

Reactions are essentially an extension of the like button, with six different buttons, or “animated emojis” (ask a millennial): “Like,” “Love,” “Haha,” “Wow,” “Sad” or “Angry.” Despite the public outcry for a “dislike” button, Facebook did not include one because the company felt it could be construed as negative. But that won’t stop people from using the “angry” button when they do not like something.

While this may upset a friend, it can actually help companies react and respond to complaints. What’s more, it may even help us predict trends and threats we may have not previously seen.


“I think it’s definitely possible to draw true insight from this, but you’ll need to do some very careful analytics before forming any meaningful conclusions.”

-Nipa Basu, Chief Analytics Officer, Dun & Bradstreet


Dun & Bradstreet’s Chief Analytics Officer, Nipa Basu, believes the new “Reactions” will be an opportunity for businesses to better understand their customers, but notes it will take a deep level of understanding to make perfect sense of it.

“I think it’s definitely possible to draw true insight from this, but you’ll need to do some very careful analytics before forming any meaningful conclusions,” explains Basu. “These ‘Reactions’ are typically based on real-time human emotion. Sometimes it will be fair. Sometimes it will be unfair. But if you have a large sample of a lot of people’s emotions reflected then you can begin to ask if that says something about the customer experience or the product or service from that business, and go from there.

“Then comes the second part. Does it matter? Looking deeper at what the comments suggest and how they correlate with the different types of ‘Reactions’ being received, a good analyst will be able to draw more accurate insights. Looking at both types of responses together will help understand what customers really felt.”

This is what Basu believes will make social sentiment analysis that much more effective. Not only will it open the door for brands to assess the success or relevance of their content, as well as measure customer satisfaction, it may paint a deeper picture about total risk and opportunity across industries that could benefit others.

“When you utilize a company like ours, where we already have our pulse on the health of global businesses and industries, and combine it with these social ‘Reactions,’ we can start to understand the correlation it has between business growth or degeneration,” said Basu. “Can looking at the amount of ‘angry’ comments predict the future health of a particular business or industry? Quite possibly. This is paving the way for even richer data that can drive even smarter analytics.”

The UN’s Lessons in Data Inspiration

unglobalpulseFive Smart Elements of a Global “Data Revolution” 

The United Nations recently held an event called “Data Playground” at the Microsoft Technology Center. The goal, according to the UN, was to “celebrate momentum around a ‘Data Revolution’ for sustainable development.”

(The tweets were particularly interesting and you can find them here: #dataplayground)

As goals go, that’s a pretty lofty one. Over the course of the evening, attendees heard presentations about crowdsourcing of data, interactive data visualizations, big data analysis and how to creatively tell stories based on data. In other words, they were having the same kind of conversations that are happening throughout executive suites around the world.

Of course, in this case, the goals are more social than business. UN representatives talked about how opening data to the planet can be democratizing. And how the act of simply asking people questions in zones affected by strife can be as much a part of providing some dignity as activating the actual results and insight from the information gathered.

To this end, there were maps of tweets after the massive Nepal earthquake. A team from Microsoft presented a climate visualization project. But a big part of the evening was spent explaining how the UN itself was already using Big Data to support 17 new sustainable development goals.

These goals were adopted by the UN’s 193 member states. While governments and community organizations are key, the UN has also said that “the new Global Goals cannot be achieved over the next fifteen years without data innovation” and “effective data collection, curation and utilization can enable a people-centered approach to sustainable development.”

The connection of this kind of data inspiration to what businesses must manage was not lost on us. And as we looked closely at the number of Global Projects the UN already has in place to further its development and data goals (you can see the full list here), we found five to be particularly notable:

  1. Crowdsourcing food prices in Indonesia: Food prices, and sudden spikes or drops in prices, can impact developing communities in big ways and lead to economic and security issues. In many rural areas, where food is sold in stalls or local markets, governments have no way to monitor prices. So the UN enlisted a group of citizen reporters, armed them with mobile phones, and built an app that lets them record and track prices of food.
  2. Monitoring biodiversity in Zimbabwe: The reduction in biodiversity, where plants and trees become more homogenous, can be problematic as it leaves them more susceptible to environmental issues or disease that wipe them out. So the UN has built a data visualization map to make it easier to track changes in populations of some animals and vegetations that are being threatened by fire or poachers in the hopes it will help policy leaders make better decisions.
  3. Citizen feedback for governments in Indonesia: The national government wants to decentralize and hand more power and decision-making to local governments. But these smaller bodies have fewer resources and less tech savvy. So the UN created a project to let citizens offer rapid feedback that could be rapidly analyzed to help local leaders make policy decisions. The feedback was also available on a public digital online dashboard to foster more transparency.
  4. Using social media to support forest fire management: Also in Indonesia, the UN created a system to monitor tweets about forest and peat fires. The UN found that in many cases, local residents were tweeting early about things like haze and visibility, possible indicators that fires had broken out. The hope is that earlier detection could help local firefighters react more quickly.
  5. Mobile phone data to track immigration: In Senegal, a group from the UN began monitoring anonymous mobile phone data to observe large changes in mobility. That is, when a large group of people suddenly decide to move elsewhere in a very short time frame. The UN hopes this can also be an early-detection system for potential humanitarian issues, like conflict or food scarcity. Again, the sooner a problem is spotted, the faster relief agencies or policy makers can respond.

 As several speakers noted, many of these projects are relatively new. But the hope is that they can be scaled across more regions over time to have a bigger impact.

While the issues are different, the way the UN is striving to experiment, report back results in a transparent way, and discuss failures and successes in an honest way, is a good model for any executive leader tackling the challenges presented by Big Data.

How Brands Fail Customers on Social Media

Jurgen AppeloIt’s great to dream about all the amazing things companies can do with Big Data. But that doesn’t mean brands can afford to ignore the most basic, obvious data points they’re receiving from their customers.

As it turns out, many companies are not paying attention to the signals they’re getting from customers via social media. According to a new study from social media and analytics company Locowise, this is a particularly big problem on Facebook.

Locowise looked more than 900 Facebook pages for different brands that had collectively received about 300 million likes over the course of one month. About half of those pages allow other people to post messages to them.

The surprising statistic is that 65% of those pages that allowed publishing didn’t respond to any of the posts. Not a single one. That included 4,000 posts written by other people that did not receive a response from the company. That’s a pretty terrible state of affairs.

Overall, 87% of posts to these pages went unanswered, according to Locowise. This seems like a huge mistake for any company concerned with its brand and how customers and prospects interact with it. Fortunately, Locowise has some advice. 

Disable publishing unless you can support it. It’s a bad idea to invite people to post messages to a social media website and then appear to ignore their feedback. It’s like inviting someone to participate and never showing up yourself – a move that’s likely to leave unhappy customers feeling even more frustrated and annoyed. 

Disabling the publish feature sends a clear message that says, ‘Hey we can’t talk to you right now through this channel.’ Then, when you have the resources to dedicate to interacting with customers on Facebook, you can turn it on. Now the message is, ‘We’re here and ready to talk to you.’

Live up to that promise by acknowledging every post, even if it’s just to send a reply like, ‘Thanks for being a fan’. At the very least, brands must respond to posts that raise concerns or complain about your product or service, Locowise says. Ideally, those responses would be fast – within an hour – to show your customers you care about their experience with your brand.

This seems like basic, social media common sense. The last thing a company should be doing is taking a channel that generates feedback from customers and using it to create a situation that makes the customer service experience even worse.  Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly what’s going on.

Image credit: Jurgen Appelo

IBM + Twitter = Great Potential for Insights

10779582136_12541357bf_z (1)The buzz at the IBM Insight conference last month was all about IBM and Twitter announcing a new alliance to integrate Twitter feeds into IBM’s Watson Foundations platform. It’s a solid marriage, bringing together the real-time aspects of mobile and social with IBM’s cognitive computing platform that promises to make extracting meaning from data easier for the layperson.

It’s an idea that has a lot of people looking forward to 2015 and beyond, to see just how the new technologies will change our data practices – and potentially solve some of today’s most tenacious and irritating problems.

Five Problems Worth Solving

  1. Data Integration – Despite many advances in tools and best practices, this particular headache always seems to stay just one step ahead of ever-more sophisticated solutions.
  1. End User Experiences – With today’s mobile technologies, many people now hold in their hands computing power that puts early super computers to shame. What we don’t yet have is an intuitive way to access, analyze and drill down into data to extract valuable insights. Until business intelligence gathering can enter the cubes of business managers and sales reps, strategic decision-makers will continue to starve for information while they drown in data.
  1. Building Customer Profiles – When it comes to building a 360-degree view of the customer, companies need a connective layer that can interrelate social handles, emails, contact information and current employer. Verifying, checking and linking data elements together is a critical piece of the puzzle, requiring identity resolution and advanced monitoring capabilities to glue data points together to create depth and richness, and then keep nuanced profiles in synch.
  1. Garbage In, Garbage Out – Keeping data clean and accurate will continue to be a problem – and it will grow as data volumes climb. We talk a lot about data quality at D&B, for a couple reasons. There’s a lot of data being created every day. The pace of change has picked up, meaning basic contact and business data that were correct two weeks ago are now out of date. But for those who can scrub it and analyze it in a timely way – and who know what they’re looking for – today’s data holds the potential for some very savvy business moves.
  2. Framing the Right Questions – People talk about Big Data as if it were a panacea for all business problems. It’s not. A big hurdle in unlocking value from data is knowing what questions to ask. Today, Big Data projects are often driven by IT departments. And who better to deploy these incredibly complex initiatives? The problem is, it’s the front-line, customer-facing business folks who know what questions need answering. And in my experience, those conversations are just not happening often enough.

IBM has put together an interesting set of analytics and Big Data technologies, including analytics for Hadoop and new IBM Watson Analytics with elements of data visualization and predictive analytics. They’re tackling data integration hassles with the cloud-based IBM DataWorks. And they’ve started rolling out developer tools with Watson Developer Cloud and the open-source Bluemix platform for managing diverse apps, from mobile to social and beyond.

It’s a big step for Big Blue. And it shows real progress – and courage – from Armonk to take on some of the toughest challenges facing businesses today. Watson is shaping up to be the kind of holistic, comprehensive platform that could help tame data and make it useful. For more details, including how Twitter’s acquisition of Gnip laid the path to partnership, see Bizmology post IBM and Twitter to Mine Data Gold from Tweets.

Image credit: Anthony Quintano

Business in the Social Era: Every Employee Must Be “@Customer Expert”

ClintSugarThis post originally appeared on SugarCRM’s blog on Oct. 30, 2014.

Think you know who in your organization is part of your customer service team? Think again. The fact is that almost every employee is potentially customer-facing in today’s social era, compliments of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, to name a few.

Fifteen years ago, the customer relationship management dynamic was entirely different and much more finite. Back then employees in just a handful of departments engaged with customers through traditional channels — email, phone, chat or face-to-face. But the landscape evolved and direct lines of communication to customers have been extended to everyone in an organization — even back-office or “invisible” employees — via social channels. (Here at SugarCRM, for example, several of our engineers might blog for us, and these blogs are read and commented on by our customers.) This practice is not unique to SugarCRM. Many companies encourage their employees to responsibly engage with customers via Google+, Twitter or other social channels.

Unfettered access to a range of employees is a major benefit to customers who want to connect with company representatives apart from those in the marketing, sales or customer service departments. Today’s customers want to make a human connection with “regular people”, and know, like and trust those they do business with. Social media facilitates this type of connection. But the challenge is ensuring customer engagement is consistent and effective across the company regardless of which communication channel is used. It’s also important to provide value to the customer in each interaction, so having critical, up-to-date customer information at hand is critical throughout the customer journey.

In a recent article on ZDNet, best-selling author Paul Greenberg argues that customers’ voices, amplified by social media these days, makes them feel entitled to an amazing customer experience at the speed of light, and woe to companies that don’t give it to them. He also goes on to say that if companies want to provide an amazing experience, they really need to understand, and be in close contact with, their customers. They need to be engaged with their customers. What a concept!

So, how do you stay ahead of this challenge and create a customer-centric culture at your company? Here’s a start:

  • Choose a CRM system that extends across the organization to all employees. With traditional CRM systems, we see that they are typically relegated to users in marketing, sales and support. If CRM was extended to everyone in the organization, imagine the customer relationships that could be nurtured and imagine the level of customer satisfaction that could be achieved.
  • Pick a CRM that is social-ready with an advanced user experience. Sugar helps you manage all social interactions with collaboration tools and contextual intelligence within a single dashboard.  This turns every individual into a customer expert by uniquely personalizing their interactions, creating a 360-degree customer view and driving true customer loyalty.
  • Recognize that great customer service is not solved by technology, but rather supported by it. Truly becoming customer-centric may require significant cultural changes inside an organization. Invest in this initiative. By getting every potential customer-facing employee to understand the value that they bring to the organization as a brand ambassador, and equipping them with the tools and information to facilitate superior customer experiences, the results will be overwhelmingly positive.

In our hyper-connected world, it’s imperative that all employees have the same access to customer information to deliver a consistent experience and avoid appearing fragmented and siloed. In essence, all employees can/should evolve into “customer experts.” This is how you ensure customer experience integrity is maintained in the 21st century.

This mission has guided SugarCRM throughout its decade-long history — well before the social media wave hit our shores. The company was, after all, founded on the idea that customer relationship management is more than marketing, sales or customer support automation. We have always inherently championed the individual, and emphasized that each customer-facing employee (these days that means everyone with a Twitter handle or Facebook profile) should be empowered to create extraordinary customer relationships.


Twitter’s Turmoil: Was It the APIs?


It’s been a rough few months for social media giant Twitter. Its COO Ali Rowghani resigned, Vice President of Media Chloe Sladden left, and it got a new CFO.

That’s a lot of upheaval at a time when the company is struggling with a big problem: flat-lining growth in its user base. Which is interesting because just last November, the San Francisco-based company seemed poised for big things. It had completed a successful IPO and was touting better reliability of its service. What went wrong?

It’s a bit of a puzzle. When Twitter first started, it was widely praised for being a model of a new “open” company that did a few central things and then let developers have deep access to its API to build the applications and services users wanted. In 2011, the company boasted that third-party applications had grown from 150,000 to 1 million in just one year – a remarkable jump by any measure.

But Twitter needed more than a large number of apps hooking into its service. It needed new sources of revenue and was looking to build an advertising business. Open APIs made that difficult, however. Developers were using them to create apps with different user experiences, so serving and tracking ads across a million different apps was challenging, to say the least.  It needed consistency to make the advertising model work.

So in 2012, Twitter changed course on its API policy. It began limiting access to its APIs and putting user caps on non-Twitter applications, a move that alienated some third-party developers.

The move worked to jumpstart Twitter’s advertising business. Whether it was worth it, however, is a matter of debate.

It may be that controlling access to APIs is the only way to create a sustainable business model for a consumer-facing communications service. On the flipside, developers are the lifeblood of any platform or service. Irritating them can have negative consequences that play out over many years.

There are no right or wrong answers here. But anyone looking to create a business model based on APIs should be aware of the trade-offs between technology liberation and control, and between investing in a developer community long-term and turning a quarterly profit. As Twitter has shown, it’s not an easy path to navigate. Tread carefully.

Image credit: MKHMarketing

You Have Your Customer’s Email. What’s Next?


Many businesses do a great job collecting their customer’s email addresses. They’re also using social media like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare to build awareness and affinity among customers who use those sites. Customer emails and social handles are great assets for marketers to have. Unfortunately, though, at most companies, they are being grossly under-utilized.

Are you making the most of customer data?

Start by asking yourself these questions.

  • Are the email addresses you have from your customers for their business accounts or personal accounts?
  • Are the email addresses current? Do they work?
  • Most importantly, do you know which of your customers have high social influence scores in social media?

When an email is linked to a social handle, you know the email is functional. Since users of social websites mostly use personal emails, matching an email address to a social handle is an effective way to make a business-to-person connection.

Matching Email to Social Profiles

The D&B Data Exchange provides an API that can take an email address as input and match to a user’s social handle, resulting in greater insight about the customer. It can reveal basic demographic data, a list of the social websites they belong to, and their social influence score.

So why is a user’s social score so important? A person with a high social influence score may bring in many more leads than a person with a low social influence score. Additionally, leads from customers with high social influence scores are often higher quality as well.

Take the emails of your customers, and find out their social influence scores using the real-time API from the D&B Data Exchange. Next, leverage those customers with high influence scores to help build your brand. Prioritize their feedback on your products or services, and even invite them to try new offerings before you introduce them in the wider market. If your influencers like the product, you have probably increased the likelihood of having a successful product launch.

Image credit: Giovanni Saccone

Quality Data Drives Quality Business Decisions

Bizmology_BiesadaThis post originally appeared on Hoover’s Bizmology.com on April 16, 2014.

Garbage In, Garbage Out (or GIGO) is a phrase coined by computer scientists that means something produced from materials of low quality will also be of low quality. Conversely, quality input will result in quality output. Indeed, quality — specifically data quality — is a subject that occupies the mind of Paul Ballew, D&B’s Chief Economist, and Chief Data and Analytics Officer. Ballew and his team are charged with arming D&B customers with the quality data and predictive analytics they need to make smart business decisions.

Ballew emphasizes data quality and why it’s so important to businesses in this interview, especially in The Age of Big Data. “Data quality is a multidimensional issue for today’s organizations. It equates to having and leveraging insights that can move your business forward,” says Ballew, adding, “The pace is defined by the quality of the insight.”

Good decisions rest on a firm foundation. And quality data is that foundation. The four dimensions of “quality data” are: completeness, accuracy, depth of insight, and data latency. “Decision makers today need that level of completeness, accuracy, depth of insight, and timeliness to make good decisions,” asserts Ballew.

If that sounds like a tall order, it is for most organizations. The business world is littered with the missed opportunities and casualties that result from poor data quality and lack of data management. (Case in point: Apparently, J.C. Penney’s ex-CEO Ron Johnson either failed to gather or consult data that revealed how wedded customers were to periodic sales events before changing the store’s pricing strategy and alienating shoppers in droves.) Successful companies rationalize data to make fact-based decisions and increasingly are using new sources of data, such as social media, sentiment data, and transactional data, all of which are valuable sources of insight that can be leveraged for competitive advantage. “The bar has really gone up,” Ballew says. “Twenty years ago, having any data was sufficient. Now we’re looking for high-quality data across all these dimensions.”

Adding to the complexity is the fact that data degenerates over time: Phone numbers change or are disconnected, CEOs are hired and fired, and bankruptcies happen. As data decays, businesses can find themselves struggling with data governance and stewardship. Proactive companies look to tools, including CRM systems, supply chain management, and business intelligence partners, to get the most from their data. Ballew notes that while these are all necessary tools, “What’s perhaps more important is having a good data governance structure.”

Creating a first-rate data governance structure is itself a multidimensional process. First, businesses must identify what they’re trying to accomplish. Then they need to bring all their data and analytic assets to bear in an environment that’s responsible for those activities. “Finally,” says Ballew, “it’s important to go beyond your data and analytics team. You should have your users be involved in the process, and that includes folks from marketing, finance, and IT.”

Creating and managing an integrated data program is a team effort, and a complex one at that. But the result can be summed up very simply: Base your decisions on quality data and they will be good decisions.