If Your Brand Falls in the Woods and No One Hears it, Does it Make a Sound?

For a percentage of iMessage users in the world, there was a frustrating period in recent weeks that has caused some angst, to say the least. There’s nothing worse than relying on a system that suddenly starts to fail you. Thankfully, for most, iMessage hasn’t quite hit the classification of enterprise level, but it’s definitely in play as a communication system for a lot of folks in the workplace. For a majority of users though, it just means they missed a note from their spouse about picking up some bread on the way home from work.

When dealing with software, there are differing levels of importance (and opinion) about the quality of your software and how it matters to its users. For folks on the space shuttle, it’s pretty important that software is functioning correctly and is tested without fail. For medical device folks, similar story.  Compare that to Candy Crush, and well, you get the point. What enterprises are finding more and more are the “mission critical” social aspects of their business. When thinking about the evolving industry of social data, it’s important to know that everything your population is saying about you is critical. It is absolutely mission critical to your business to see every Tweet, read every blog mention, see every comment about your business. You never know when the impact of that social activity will become viral. Consider the “United Breaks Guitars” video or the sponsored Tweet by @hvsvn for a complaint about British Airways. Those are both aggressively seeking resolution within social media, but there are countless others that aren’t as creative that can impact your business. The importance of my message really surrounds the old adage of, you don’t know what you don’t know. What happens if you think you’re paying attention to what everyone is saying about your brand, your company (your livelihood?) and you don’t see it?

Social data has completely become part of the critical IT infrastructure that needs to deliver in realtime, all the time. Some of our most successful partners are employing a wide variety of data sources into their product solutions so that they can see the whole picture, and monitor with confidence. At Gnip we refer to this as the social cocktail, well, mostly because we like cocktails, but also because it’s a blend of a varying set of ingredients that make a complete product. As my buddy Dave Heal points out in his latest blog post, they also want reliable, certifiable data that they can count on. You can’t rely on the timeliness of scraped data if you’re building any type of engagement product, so you need that reliability of a firehose in your infrastructure. If a complaint over Twitter goes viral and you don’t get notified in your system because of delays, you can imagine the impact. Sales leaders can’t go into meetings without the knowledge that something went viral about their product and marketing can’t respond to bad PR if they didn’t know something negative hit the wire.

It’s sometimes hard for big corporations to turn the ship on a dime, but it’s impressive to watch them change their product lines to digest streaming data from multiple publishers, adjust their rules on the fly, have the vision to ask for historical insight into social data so they can plan forward, and help drive industry change through the Big Boulder Initiative. When you get a phone call from your customer asking if you can help them build better signaling in their systems to alert them of the one activity in the 4 billion social activities Gnip delivers a day, it puts that missing text about picking up bread in perspective.

Commercial Evolution of Social Networks

Over the past four years Gnip has seen many social services come and go. Not surprisingly, a pattern has emerged in how they evolve, and the degree to which our customers need their public data. There are generally three distinct phases a social service goes through, and how the service does in each phase impacts how it ultimately participates in the broader public social data ecosystem which can complete a full commercial cycle. This cycle being one combining consumer use (often buying intent, or expression) with commercial engagement (identifying need in time of natural disaster, or ad buying).

Phase 1: Consumer Engagement
​A social service must engage us; the end-users/consumers. Whether via a homegrown social graph, or leveraging someone else’s (e.g. Facebook Connect), in order for a social service to become useful, it needs users. From there, those users need to participate in self-expression (from posting a comment, to retweeting a tweet) and generate activity on the service. There are a variety of ways to compel us users to engage in a social service, but the social service itself is solely responsible for the first experience. The vision of the services’ founders yields a web-app or mobile interface that allows us to take action, leveraging the expressions laid out by the app itself (e.g. sharing a photo). If users like the expressions, discovery methods, and sense of “connectedness,” you’ve got a relevant social service on your hands.

Phase 2: APIs; Outsourcing Engagement
At some point a successful social service realizes the potential for outsourcing the expression metaphors that make the service successful & useful, and they construct an API that allows others to RESTfully engage with the service. In some instances the API is read-only. In some instances the API is write-only; sometimes both. What is key is that nine times out of ten, the API is meant to drive core service engagement via other user-facing applications. A classic example of this would the zillions of non-Twitter Inc clients that “Tweet” on our behalves everyday. One look at the endless number of Tweet “sources” that flow through the Firehose and you’ll realize this engagement potential.

The exceptional API is one that has broader social data engagement ecosystem consumption in its DNA. Typical social services consider themselves the center of the universe, and that not only will they capture all consumer engagement, they will be the root of all broader ecosystem engagement as well. However, success with Consumer Engagement does not guarantee commercial engagement; not by a long-shot.

Some services execute phase 1 and 2 simultaneously these days.

Phase 3: Activity Transparency; Commercial Engagement
Allowing other applications & developers to inject activities into the core service is obviously valuable, however it is only part of the picture. Social services with broad social and commercial impact have achieved this by addressing commercial needs for complete, raw, activity availability. For example, in order for someone to deploy resources in a disaster relief scenario effectively, they need to make their own determination as to what victims need, where they are located, and general conditions surrounding the event. The social service limiting access to the activities taking place on the service, by definition, yields an incomplete picture to downstream commercial consumers of the content. The result is a fragmented & hobbled experience for commerce engagement.

Another key component to commercial engagement is realizing that the ecosystem of data analytics and insights is well established, complex, and interwoven. Massive investments have been made in the market over the years, and brands want to leverage that fact. It is illogical for a social service to address the endless needs of the enterprise by building their own tools. Attempts to supplement this market comes at the potential expense of losing focus on building a great consumer experience.

The most impactful, useful, and valuable social services that Gnip customers leverage for their needs (ad buying, campaign running, stock trading, disaster relief), are those that acknowledge that they are not an island in the ecosystem. They complete the cycle by providing unfettered access to one of their most significant assets. In trade, the relevance of the social service itself is maximized because commerce can engage with it.

A good example of how impactful this transparency can be is Twitter. Consider how Twitter is used across new, as well as traditional, media. They’ve completed the cycle with a strong offering of Phase 3.

All three phases are not required for success, but all three are indeed required for success in the broader public commercial social data ecosystem.

Plugged In To Gnip: Shining A Light On Social Data

Plugged In To Gnip

Today we announced our Plugged In To Gnip partnership program. Although this is an important milestone for our company, we believe this program clearly marks the beginning of new era in the quickly maturing social data ecosystem and that the benefits of today’s announcement will be felt by the end users of social data analysis for years to come.

As we’ve often said, we believe social data has unlimited value and near limitless application. Countless companies, governments, and researchers are now making critical decisions based upon this data. Much of the emphasis across these applications to date has been on the analysis and insights layer. At the same time, there has been clear recognition that the analysis and insights derived from these various solutions are only as good as the underlying social data they are built upon.

In the early days of the ecosystem, the options for accessing reliable, sustainable, and comprehensive social data were very limited. Solution providers that were building upon a sound data layer didn’t want to reveal their proprietary data acquisition secrets. Providers that did not have sound solution, wanted to avoid the data discussion all together. As a result, companies were talking about their solutions without shining a light on the critical data layer portion of the equation.

If social data is going to reach its full potential, the underlying data must be reliable, sustainable, and complete. As an industry we must shine a light on social data so that the data layer is analyzed and scrutinized as much as the application itself. As the world’s largest provider of social data, Gnip has a unique view of the ecosystem and of the organizations that are committed to highest level of social data integrity. At its core, the Plugged In program is a way for us to collaborate with these advanced data organizations to keep driving the ecosystem forward.

There are lots of benefits to partners participating in the program including early access to new data and new features. But, the big winner is the end user. Plugged In To Gnip partners can confidently certify to their end users that they have complete and authorized access to the best social data in the world.


Big Boulder: Creating the Social Data Ecosystem with Twitter

Ryan Sarver and Doug Williams of the Twitter platform discuss the launch of commercial public social data nearly two years ago and how the Twitter firehose has evolved.

Doug Williams and Ryan Sarver at Big Boulder

Ryan and Doug of Twitter have been there three years and describe the experience as “learning as you go.” What excited Doug was for the first time was that there was an open data source on the web, and he became the API evangelist. During the last six years, Twitter now has 140 million users. During that incredible growth page, the scaling has been tough for the company yet having that many users has created many opportunities for people to build products on top of that social data.

Several years ago, Twitter decided to change how data was syndicated. Twitter was built to serve consumers, so at the time it was hard to take resources away from that to support the API. Two years ago, Twitter was receiving multiple requests and weren’t able to provide enterprise-level support for features. At the time, Joe Fernandez of Klout was in the same building and was making multiple requests because Klout felt they could create much cooler features if they had access to more types of metadata. Wanting to focus on serving the consumers that were using the product but still wanting to support the API, Twitter decided to work with outside companies such as Gnip to provide its social data to provide that enterprise level support. Twitter decided to select a small number of companies to provide the data because they wanted to know where the data was going and how it was being used. Doug Williams called working with Gnip one of the most successful partnerships that Twitter has ever had. But it was important to Twitter that by providing companies with data, they wanted to create value for both directions. The companies represented at Big Boulder are helping to create a better audience, encouraging companies to invest time and resources into Twitter.

One of the most frequent questions that Twitter is asked if they’re going to do analytics. What Ryan and Doug talked about is that they’re going to continue to build out baseline features,  but they’ll rely on other companies to provide the features that companies need to do business and interact on Twitter. They want companies to get the analytics they need and recognize that the analytics that other social media companies provide add value to Twitter. When people get the analytics they need, they understand the value that Twitter provides and it powers their decisions to use Twitter and advertise on the Twitter platform. They also talked about how Twitter is firmly committed to providing Twitter data and are invest in by making sure companies receive all the tweets they need.

The conversation segued to the firehose, which Gnip still receives requests to have access to the entire firehose but most companies are realizing that they really don’t need it. Receiving the entire firehose can be prohibitive because it can be too much to consume and expensive. Ryan and Doug talked about how they will continue to license the firehose when it makes sense but the overall trend is to service those use cases less and less. Each case is evaluated on a case by case basis. Twitter is committed to ensuring that businesses have a clear path to getting the social data they need, as they recognize businesses are being built around the Twitter data.

Last week Twitter announced expandable tweets, or as they call it internally, In Tweet Media. This is an exciting advancement for the platform because it provides more options to chose how your content on Twitter gets consumed. Publishers want to have control on how that social data gets syndicated. Since news is frequently breaking on Twitter, publishers want to be able to tell their stories on the platform, allowing them to drive greater distribution with Twitter.

So exactly what is Twitter doing about spam? A lot. According to Ryan, the spam prevention team is one the largest at Twitter, and they’ve made several acquisitions around it. As they pointed out, spam is still a problem for email which has been around for many years. Spam is an ongoing battle that they’ll have to fight for the existence of the program. Doug talked about how when people test the Gnip platform, they often start a new account and then the tweet can be marked as spam and doesn’t make it through. Doug said to the delight of Jud and Chris, “messages marked as spam that you sent from a test account is Twitter’s issue, not Gnip’s issue.” The takeaway is not to create a new account to test Twitter.

Twitter now has 140 million users, and 400 millions tweets every couple of days. Yet the team still sees lots of room for growth, and that they’d love to see everyone with a phone using Twitter. In fact, they talked about during the Q&A with how often Twitter is used during protests that they put much consideration into making sure that Twitter can be used without a smart phone and that Tweets are quickly delivered across the world. As they’re trying to encourage more use, they recognize that much of the world knows about Twitter, but the gap is to help people understand why they need to be part of the platform.

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.