Tag Archives: privacy

OneAmongManyDataMiningTwitterPrivacy

Feel free to view any one of my tweets. Just don’t look at all of them.

Most of us know Moore’s Law:  the number of transistors on circuit board will roughly double every 18 to 24 months.  While this number has not held absolutely firm, it is the fulfillment of this prediction that has led to the exponential increase in processing power and storage of our computers.  These computers have led to an increase in the amount of data that can be processed in any set period of time, but perhaps as importantly, it has led to the ability to create a small enough computer that it is always with you . . .  the phone.

Online communications isn’t new, but the ability to never be more than a few seconds from the network has made it so we can communicate and express ourselves at any time. 

If you are active on Twitter, you are likely to create in the range of 1000 “what’s happening” tweets or more appropriately “what’s happening, interesting or valuable” data points a year.  Those 1000 tweets result in over 10,000 words. Those words can be linked to the time posted.  If you include where you are tweeting from or use a social check in service like Four Square, your location is thrown into the equation. Even if you don’t share this information, there are ways to track locations in the photos you share. Follows, followers, retweets and @ messages then produce a social graph of who you are connected to.

With just those data points, the who, what, where, how and sometimes why, can all be determined. Every tweet might not provide that information, but with a click of a button and less than a second, all your Tweets can be examined with modern computers.

The value of all our 140 character tweets has not gone unrecognized.

You might not think Klout is very advanced yet, but they are just an example of what a publicly facing startup can do with a couple million dollars. They now have full access to all tweets, they are updating almost every active account on a daily basis and they are providing a meaningful metric.  Influence is just one of hundreds of metrics that will eventually be based on our social media usage.  If Klout can figure out how to use our tweets to determine influence, other metrics won’t be far behind.

While I don’t care if any one person or even a thousand look at my tweets one by one, I am uncomfortable with the idea that I am providing the entirety of my tweets to any organization who can pay a couple hundred thousand dollars a year to Gnip (one of Twitter’s preferred data resellers), and come up with algorithm to turn my tweets and everyone else’s into a detailed personal profile.

A consumer product company marketing to me based on my interests is the least of my concerns.  These profiles could be used to target vulnerable individuals for scams, exclude people from participating in juries, decide how credit worthy a person is, decide if someone should be hired or fired and used to profile individuals based on their political beliefs.  And unlike credit bureaus that have some minimal level of accountability, many of these metrics will be developed outside of the view of the public, making it impossible to monitor or opt out of them.

The ideal solution to all of this isn’t clear. Private Twitter accounts aren’t trackable, but if we all go private, the Twitter experience will be lessened.  Twitter has yet to find a way to make money, and not surprisingly data is their most desired product at the moment.  At this point, I would much rather have multiple ads, then have all of my data sold to preferred Twitter partners, who can then sell that data to whomever they choose.

Working with corporations, I understand that they are often slow to act. This inertia will keep them from acting quickly on our individual data, but well-funded, focused independent organizations and even governments are already understanding the value of this information and taking steps to use it.

It is possible that this issue will gradually come into the public conscious, and if enough outrage exists, there might be more clear regulations on social media data collection.

While I wait, I will continue to use Twitter.  It is too valuable a communications platform to give up on. But I am going to give serious consideration to making my account private.

Do you have any thoughts on ways to maintain data privacy while not hindering the power of social media?  I continue to struggle with solutions and am very interested in your thoughts.

What Hedge Funds can teach businesses about social media.

When I try to convince businesses decision makers to start doing ongoing social media monitoring, they nod in agreement.  They understand it makes sense to know what people are saying about their company, products and competitors. It is important.  But lots of things are important.  Budgets are limited and social media costs are high.  

 For example, a terrible made up quote for emphasis:

“Quit asking for more money.  We like the social media results.  Don’t try to up-sell us on something marginally valuable.  My C-Level executive only started asking me about this Twitter thing two months ago.  Hence, why we hired you, and you are here.”

OK, I have never heard that response, but I have heard undercurrents of it.  You understand that the managers, VPs and executives are not dumb, but they also have tons of good ideas coming at them all the time.  What is one more?

 Well I think I have finally found the key metaphor/analogy/example that will finally break through and make them realize how big social media monitoring is.  The New York Times ran a piece about how Wall Street and hedge funds are using social media content to make some of their high speed trades.  They are doing what some of the best in the social media industry have been doing this past year:  figuring out what is being said, who is saying it and whether it is meaningful.  According to this article, some traders have found profitability by monitoring online sentiments.  That is powerful.  Powerful enough for me to tweet about it (thanks to @infoarbitrage for tweeting the link), but yes, so powerful I had to write beyond those 140 characters about it.

Hedge funds have figured out how to use social media monitoring to make money, so what?  Bare with me through one paragraph of background on hedge funds for context.

No matter how far you are up the corporate ladder in business, if you are interested in how money operates, you are interested in hedge funds.  Their secretive nature, exclusivity and the ability to make large amounts of money has made them into an idol of the business world.  Most business people don’t think about them frequently, but when they do, they often look at them with awe.  Taking massive amounts of money and the best minds, ideas and tools to make even more money.  In that last several years hedge fund have taken a hit due to high-profile Ponzi schemes and an economy that often seems on the brink, but they still have a lot of cache.  Try talking to a mid-level stock broker and you will see many of these emotions when discussing hedge funds.

So now take all that excitement and tell the business decision maker this:

Hedge funds have figured out that social media monitoring provides real time metrics that are actionable in the toughest proving grounds: securities and derivative markets.  We can create a similar solution and add tremendous value to your company by providing better information to make decisions.

Too wordy for even the corporate world?  Not really, but how about this:

Hedge funds have figured out that there is gold in that social media content.

Ok, for real:

Hedge Funds have figured out that monitoring social media is important.  So important they can use this information to make significant profits in a highly competitive market.  Would you like to take those same cutting edge ideas and use them to benefit your company?

Here are a couple follow-ups that pinpoint some benefits to the individual decision maker:

  • Do you want to be the go-to person in the company when they are trying to figure out who their customers are or what they want or yes, even how much they are willing to pay?
  • Do you want to be able to immediately provide data that is actionable with almost any project?

I don’t see how they say no.  Some will because they go with what they know until they have to change.  And some will say, “Get out of my office, your tone is not appropriate for the corporate environment.” ;).  But those who do say yes are setting themselves and their company up for opportunities that can truly boggle the mind.

But is monitoring at this level possible?  The short answer is yes.  The longer answer is that sentiment analysis is still very early in its development.  I have had success doing monitoring of one large company that has thousands of mentions a day.  Using automated sentiment analysis and combining spot checking by hand has led to a valuable database of opinions and actionable executive reports. Three products I have found helpful and are a good place to start your research are Sentiment Metrics, Vocus, and ECairn.

So what is the take away?

  • If you are in marketing, get familiar with monitoring, because it is going to be in high demand for the next five years and beyond.  Being part of the conversation is important, but knowing what is said is going to become an equal part of the equation.  If you are already involved in social media, make sure your focus includes monitoring.
  • If you are in PR, get out ahead on this.  You likely already provide “Share of Voice” insight, make sure you combining that with monitoring across all channels including social media.  The future is looking clearer and clearer, get out in front on this.
  • If you are a small business owner, get familiar with many of the free monitoring tools. Google Alerts, Mention Notifier, Twitter searches, and basic @ mentions can be combined to provide you with a good overall view.  You might not be willing to pay for sentiment analysis, but your monitoring is less expansive and can be done using automated alerts through social media tools.  Monitoring doesn’t have to be all about numbers and keywords.  If you read what people are saying about your company, you can use your multi-hat roll as a business owner to figure out how to use that information to improve your business.
  • If you are decision maker in a larger organization, drive the conversation in your PR and marketing departments towards an exploration of social media monitoring.  If you are looking for quicker action bring in a consultant to provide a path to a solution or hire an agency that has a proven record of monitoring and can show you the whole process before implementation.

I am sure by the tone of this post, you can tell I am excited about social media and monitoring.  If monitoring isn’t the theme for social media in 2011, it certainly will be in 2012.  Lets go do some listening.