Big Boulder: Transition at a Massive Scale with Ken Little of Tumblr

Ken Little, Director of Engineering from Tumblr, weighs in on what it’s like working inside a product team to release features and align long-term priorities.

Ken Little of Tumblr

Gnip recently announced Tumblr as a partnership. What’s makes Tumblr unique?

Tumblr has two big uses:

  1. Blogging platform – it’s the easiest way to blog, lowering the barrier to creativity online while simultaneously allowing users to have control over content creation.
  2. Content consumption platform – rather than going to all of the blogs you like to see the content for the day, follow a feed of what’s happening in your curated network.

Tumblr’s platform f

osters creativity and the community itself backs up this effort. Gnip had early access to the first firehose and its data science team geeked out. One of the first things they noticed was that certain pieces of content spread rapidly. Chris Moody asks Ken about the recipe for speed and Ken credits the reblog feature. While Tumblr does provide likes, by far and away their success is owed to their reblogs. Rob Johnson notes that visual content plays a big part too. In terms of data on that side, all visual content has some kind of textual component whether it’s a caption or a structured tag. Tumblr users, for the most part, are tumbling for an audience. Content is meant for the general public and bloggers want to be found. One of the most successful methods of discovery online right now is through the tag system. Ken uses the popular example of Tumblr users making an animated .gif of a scene in a TV or a movie to relate a moment they perso

nally felt in their own life. “All roads on Tumblr lead to animated .gifs,” he says with smile.

Tumblr also has native integration for SoundCloud and Spotify. Ken likes to watch a specific track move its way around communities along with all of the commentary. Describing brands that are using Tumblr successfully, Ken talks about the Adidas football blog as appealing to all soccer fans. Coca-Cola’s content is reblogged constantly because it is themed on happiness, paging through an endless utopian summer. Users get to partake in the content as they would in any other place. The Hunger Games movie team put up a blog called Capitol Couture and rather than just posting standard movie trailers, they created a fashion blog set in the Capitol’s fictional dystopia. It’s an extension of their larger narrative and therefore exciting to its fans. New York Fashion Week is also covered live on Tumblr as it occurs annually. One of the things that makes Tumblr a success is how visual it is, lending itself as a snug fit for industries like fashion and entertainment.

Once a blogging platform gets an international foothold as Tumblr has, the ratio continues to climb. Tumblr says it is number seventeen in terms of national reach. 2011 was a crazy growth year for the company. With a fairly small and growing engineering team, this can be challenging. The focus was keeping the product stable while still building momentum and forward motion. As they reached a point of stabilization, they recognized the value in all of the data and they wanted to open their doors to the social data market using Gnip. It was a natural next step.

Big Boulder is the world’s first social data conference. Follow along at #BigBoulder, on the blog under Big BoulderBig Boulder on Storify and on Gnip’s Facebook page.

Big Boulder: Social Media Analytics

Zach Hofer-Shall of Forrester Research, Susan Etlinger of Altimeter Group, Nathan Gilliatt of Social Target and Shawn Rogers of Enterprise Management Associates discuss emerging trends in analyzing social data.


Social Media Analysts at Big Boulder

Chris Moody introduces the group by touching on the widely-felt skepticism regarding available tools for social media monitoring. Susan opens the discussion by talking about the need for deeper customer insight and innovation opportunities in general. Spinning the wheel dependent upon what a company’s needs are, the quality of the solutions varies. Nathan says many people confuse web analytics with social media analytics. You’re measuring traffic in both, but the data doesn’t always overlap. In this sense, there are silos within social media analysis. Falling into the trap of siloing can kill a business because you err on the side of ending up with irrelevant data. Zach admits that he doesn’t know a single company in existence that  that can monitor everything in terms of social data. There are new technologies coming out regularly but two problems are presented:

  1. Each new product has a new end goal.
  2. A single kind of technology can’t serve a company across departments.

Shawn talks about the necessity of sharing data from application platforms. If you want to connect insight to strategic KPIs for a company or build that insight into work processes outside of the sales departments, there is currently a big level of frustration. Susan says this is all a symptom of the problem with social data today: there are two different markets, publishing and measurement, that are confused by both talkers and listeners. The question isn’t where data should live within in organization, but rather where it shouldn’t. The same post could have countless impacts on a company depending on its inner analyst; the CMO, the lawyer, the customer service head, and so forth. Zach thinks the public relations world has to prioritize crisis management over any kind of data.  Susan argues for compassion for professionals in public relations, saying they are often lost in a data world. In many cases, public relations people hold the budget and are the ones that have to problem solve immediately, often while they are not privy to the relevant data.

Theoretically, what if an analyst has all of the time in the world? Observing information over time and switching tools during that process creates a big headache. Flow throughout a predetermined amount of time needs to be understood on a deep level and companies often don’t have the bandwidth to measure things so religiously. As if that wasn’t enough of a hurdle, engagement means different things to different people. For some brands, the time their customer spends on its website is more valuable than a purchase transaction. For others, the reverse is true.

Nathan points out that it’s a tall order for companies to standardize algorithms. Shawn feels the same way and tells us that even when a company manages the difficult task of agreeing on a definition of engagement, it’s up to the vendors and suppliers to empower their early adopters to engage. Zach describes two disparate worlds: social media strategists and community managers often don’t understand data and data people don’t often understand community and social media, yet they are all expected to co-exist in ROI harmony. Susan says a variety of approaches is more politically correct and that marrying a variety of methods can enrich a company across its departments.

The biggest issue we face now is that the analytical steps for reporting are too far apart. Setting up the analysis, measuring the data, communicating it intelligently, and then acting upon the insight in a meaningful way in a short amount of time is incredibly difficult. Simply put, what is determined from the data that becomes actionable and improves the company? The quality of insight is more important than quantity of the data from which it derives. There are two ways to solve problems in 2012: software (the actual tools to measure data) and people (the analysts). To bridge the gap, data tools need to become more intuitive to provide valuable insights and people need to think more critically.

Big Boulder is the world’s first social data conference. Follow along at #BigBoulder, on the blog under Big BoulderBig Boulder on Storify and on Gnip’s Facebook page.

Big Boulder: Boulder and the Rise of Entrepreneurial Communities

Brad Feld from Foundry Group talks about Boulder entrepreneurship and how Boulder built an entrepreneurial community, and the lessons Boulder has learned along the way.

Brad Feld

What makes Boulder the special place that it is? Many people don’t engage fully in experiences anymore when they are able to get lost in the noise of an urban sprawl. In Boulder,  people are held hostage in a dense startup community. The dynamic of Boulder is that everyone realizes how visible they are and can be.

Internet has changed the way we think about society to a very broad, horizontal network. It can be chaotic and messy and many companies are trying to generate the mess or organize it. This shift began in the mid-90′s and then accelerated. In 2000 and 2001 when the bubble burst, people feared web technology was to be feared and could no longer be wildly successful as it had been. In actuality, the world was just ten years early. There was a period of time after the burst when it was especially painful to be an entrepreneur. In 2003 at the beginning of the web 2.0, many realized they weren’t done creating. Since then, there has been a steady drumbeat of activity in Boulder that brings us to where we are today. Brad shares the four principles he believes have made Boulder the tightly-knit success it is:

The Four Principles to Build an Entrepreneurial Community

  1. Any startup community has to be led by entrepreneurs. Government, big companies, universities, and non-profits can’t lead.
  2. You have to take a very long-term view. If you look at Boulder between 1995 and 2000, you’re not impressed. But if you back up to the 1970′s and then look all the way to today, you see the progress.
  3. Be inclusive of anyone who wants to engage in any way. That engagement isn’t a hierarchical structure by any means and it’s important be welcoming to everyone. Assume good intent and allow people to lean in and participate.
  4. Create geographical meaning and activity for the engagement mentioned in the third principle. In Boulder, a visible example of that is TechStars and Startup Weekend, which both began in Boulder.

Give before you get is a contant theme in Boulder. When you remove the expectation of getting something in return, you create powerful, positive force in a relationship. The four principles Brad describes can benefit any community.

Big Boulder is the world’s first social data conference. Follow along at #BigBoulder, on the blog under Big BoulderBig Boulder on Storify and on Gnip’s Facebook page.

Big Boulder: Engaging with Customers Online with Wendy Lea

Get Satisfaction’s CEO Wendy Lea on how brands are learning to provide social customer service, how Get Satisfaction’s platform is evolving, emerging businesses cases of Get Satisfaction and how Get Satisfaction views social data.

Wendy Lea of Get Satisfaction

The heart of the product at Get Satisfaction is to help companies connect with their customers online, wherever they are. “We talk about ourselves as a customer engagement platform that allows companies of all sizes and industries to build a community and have conversations,” Wendy says. It’s about the organic nature of consumers engaging with companies, also known as the outside-in model. In the beginning, individuals needed service and support and would find one another through Google searches about their issue. Suffice it to say that when customers are talking to one another about a product, they usually have quality idea. If the company gets out of the way, these ideas incubate and then amplify, creating huge potential.

47% of the activities inside a Get Satisfaction community are questions about the product itself, not specific problems about the product. This is both a sales and customer development opportunity and marketers need to be paying attention. The solutions to the use cases need to make sense to the businesses, i.e. not a horizontal come-one, come-all frenzy of suggestions from the market. Everyone is used to ratings and reviews technologies and Get Satisfaction is finding that companies have more success when they embed their customer and community interactions inside their purchase place. When a customer’s transacting in the flow of a purchase and they have a question, often not getting a response is what causes them to abandon their cart and not follow through with buying. Customers helping customers to expedite a transaction is a whole new market.

Rob Johnson of Gnip talks about the intrigue that led Wendy to get involved in the social conversation world. When Get Satisfaction was first pitched to Wendy, she recognized it as a simple model: true relationship building. Companies don’t always have the courage to be public about conversations. She knew the opportunity of the social CRM is what matters most. Get Satisfaction is sitting between the social web and systems of record but it’s a freemium, SaaS model and now has 3,000+ paying customers. Wendy describes the words “brands” and “engagement” as jargon. Get Satisfaction’s mascot is even named Jargon. “Being from the South, I like to talk straight,” she drawls. It’s not about run-on sentences that mislead or confuse the customer regarding solutions. It’s about productive interactions inside each conversation. When this happens, relationships are built around not only the product but also around the interest in the product.

Skills, process, and legal issues for each employee online all come into play. For example,at a big corporation, what details are even allowed to be public? Bringing value to the conversation happens when customers connect with companies on a human level. “Cut and paste crap does not work in a community,” Wendy says. Community managers have to hone their skills because jumping into the conversation too early can kill a good idea, too late can reflect poorly on the company, and it’s crucial to let the flow incubate somewhere between those two extremes.

Wendy also offered her insight on how to successfully scale community management. “As social media conversations grow and proliferate, and they will, that’s when community managers become facilitators. It’s not one to one and it’s not a call que so it’s also easier to scale. You’re basically gathering a party under a tent and you need that tent to be structured enough to expand.” Get Satisfaction likes to keep its communities open so as to not limit any potential conversations. Get Satisfaction also scales by pulling in all departments in to support the community managers in a cross-functioning capacity.

Big Boulder is the world’s first social data conference. Follow along at #BigBoulder, on the blog under Big BoulderBig Boulder on Storify and on Gnip’s Facebook page.

Big Boulder: The Social Cocktail with Chris Moody

Chris Moody, the COO of Gnip, kicks off Big Boulder by talking about the social cocktail and the ingredients that go into it.

Chris Moody of Gnip

Chris Moody tells us Gnip is founded on the idea that social data represents unlimited innovation. “This full room proves that there will be unlimited, exciting applications,” he says. 100 billion pieces of data are created each month and Gnip is going to understand what makes each set of data unique. Over 90% of Fortune 500 gets content indirectly from Gnip. The variety of people in attendance at Big Boulder is representative of the dense social data ecosystem.

There are many different data sources, which is good news and bad news. New coverage platforms added by Gnip this year inclue WordPress, IntenseDebate, Disqus, Tumblr, and Sina Weibo. So how does an entrepreneur or company prioritize and organize the data that is important to a specific set of customers? This is what Gnip does.

Chris and his team focus on two different dimensions of social data:

  1. Reaction Time: ranging from ultra-fast (example: Twitter at events) to slow (example: the comments on a blog post or a shared video.)
  2. Depth: Data is about the what. Twitter is concise and deals with the immediate, “This is so adjective!” It’s difficult to get into the reasons in only 140 characters. Platforms like YouTube and Tumblr are at the other end of the spectrum and tend to boast deep, personal content. When you begin to overlay business use cases over these different data sources, you see the social cocktail. On one side is public relations and crisis management. If you have a client looking to manage a crisis, the priority is your speed in rectifying the situation. If a person complains that their cell phone is on fire, you don’t need to ask them how they feel about it. It just needs to be immediately addressed. On the other side is brand management: what does the collective universe think about not only you but also your competitors? If you’re the cell phone provider with the faulty and explosive device, what was said about you and what was your response?

Chris brings up an example slide of the market response to Netflix earnings last year. The world’s reaction to the opening bell on Twitter was very fast and factual. It demonstrated information based around how correlated the stocks were performing, or the what. Blogs had a half-life on the curve, well past the end of the trading day when blog content and a variety of opinions began to go public, or the why. Comments to this kind of content peaked much later by comparison, the next day in this case.

There are two noticed patterns in social data: expected and unexpected. It’s also important to observe whether the occurrence is a routine or an event. Generally speaking, no one expects a hurricane. Likewise, the social data around a natural disaster spikes drastically as soon as it occurs. We’re continuing to understand this action because new sources are constantly adding new conversations. As a second example, JP Morgan’s surprise trading loss illustrated a strong story in the comments of its articles, animated political .gifs for humor, and theories. The story shared was factual and the reaction to the story was highly narrative and emotional. As a third example, a recently shared image of the new Urban Outfitters line went viral not only because of Urban Outfitters’ huge market but also because the image was so easily sharable in a micro-blog format.

The message being driven home at Big Boulder today and tomorrow is, “Where is this industry going?” In an interview style format, Big Boulder is Gnip’s first conference and panels are conducted around the data science of what we collectively think and feel.

Big Boulder is the world’s first social data conference. Follow along at #BigBoulder, on the blog under Big Boulder and on Gnip’s Facebook page.