From Social Graph To Product Graph: Engaging Through Interactive Product & Content Display

Whenever I have purchased an electronic gadget, I have had a hard time deciding on compatible accessories or products that are related to my purchase, and their necessity. Questions keep popping in my head: Do I really need it, do I need some research on accessories as well, am I buying the right thing? And this has always made me admire the Amazon website as I find most of the answers right there. What I am talking about is their “also bought” and “considered” section on any product page.

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I have also been a fan of Social graphs or Relation browsers (above), an aspect that I used in my professional networking venture Zitara. If we talk about some of the offerings available, we could look at Touchgraph that graphs Amazon books and clusters the results, relationships between them, etc. There are a few others e.g. Thinkmap, Constellation Roamer, that are relatively well known.

In my opinion, interactive product graphs within any e-commerce site that has numerous products to display, would make our selection & decision-making process much easier.

They should display the following aspects: Competing products that fit my budget (range), accessories (per product), product reviews, friends (degrees away) that bought any of the products within my selection criteria, etc.

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This would facilitate ease of selection, faster decision making and effective user engagement:

  • Ease of selection: As demonstrated above, based on parameters aka ‘faceted search’ and by applying weights to your selection criteria
  • Decision making: Range of information right from a list of related accessories, friends who seem to have an opinion on that product, #reviews/ratings
  • User Engagement: Ability to make this as interactive flex-based chart so everything gets compared and decided right on this very page

Non-impulse buyers, such as me, probably waste 40-60% time by postponing their decision, as they feel they do not have the right data or adequate information to make the right decision. By becoming a one-stop shop for content (by sourcing, partnering) and an interface that aids decision-making (rather than confusing the buyer by giving him too many options to compare), an e-commerce site should definitely be able to take up the conversion rates up by 10-15% and reduce the time spent on indecision by 40-50%.


Idea Map: Multi-directional Growth & Revenue Impact

As a Product Evangelist (or Manager), one of your primary responsibilities might be to come up with something new all the time e.g. innovative business/revenue models, new features, product enhancements. Your sources of ideas might vary: it might be through listening to your customers on their immediate needs or going beyond and conjuring what they might like a year from now. Some of your ideas might be related to what your website is doing and many of them unrelated.

Till last year, I used to maintain all these ideas in excel and usually would build an AHP model around it, get my bosses/peers to rate them, and believed some of the best ones would bubble up to the top of our list. However, I slowly realized that this was not the best way to go about it. In fact analysis of competing ideas/constructs should be done in multiple ways to ensure appropriate ‘sanity checks’. Many of your ideas might have some undercurrents that need to be expressed and judged qualitatively.

One of the ways I have started representing my group of ideas is shown below. It’s an Idea Map of sorts. First let me explain how it works.

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The x-axis is all about revenue impacting ideas, and the y-axis about experience impacting ones. On the x, the ideas on the left are related (also termed organic), and those to the right unrelated (inorganic). On the y, the ideas as they go up are about new features, and below about adding depth to existing feature sets.

Just below the x-axis, I also have boxes to call-out the extent of revenue impact these ideas promise. The arrows suggest how revenue impacting ideas (x) are related to group of features (y) suggested. You will have to take care of the granularity of the ideas mapped, so that you don’t end of comparing a tactical enhancement with a strategic business model.

Just to make sure I have all the disclaimers in place: This is a cross-sectional comparison. To restate the obvious, one should never compare ideas that have their relevance across a wider time span/horizon. An idea that has its relevance 2 years from now should not be compared with one that a customer expects to be delivered tomorrow. Similarly, ideas that are necessary for business continuity should not be compared with those that are experiential. They sit in separate comparison buckets. Talking of buckets, while I maintain these group of ideas across time, I also theme the ones I have into the following 4 areas for any online business model (website): New Business Model, Traffic & Conversion, Monetization, and User Experience. You could add Ad/Affiliate Networks, Social/Mobile as separate themes, but I believe they will fall into one of the four.

So if you think this makes sense, go ahead and try it out. If not, please do share your views on why this won’t work. I would be more than happy to hear from you.


Social Media Strategy: Listen, Identify, Formulate, Engage and Action

Searching for the phrase ‘Social media strategy’ (SMS) on any search engine would probably fetch a million results for sure, and new ones each day as they keep getting indexed. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how to build a social strategy. Even I have a few thoughts on this topic. What I am expounding below are portions that are a little more grounded, actionable and generic enough to be used by any organization.

Most organizations are able to clear SMS101. This includes creating a webpage on Facebook, Orkut, Twitter, Flickr, Hi5 either themselves or by hiring an agency that can do this by end of day. The agency also spreads the word, and the pages end up having thousands of followers (clients, employees) or listeners. The buzz keeps going for a couple of months where they keep informing their ‘avid’ fans about events, new products and other newsworthy items. However, in a few months, the action dies down. They see that the number of likes/comments to an announcement are now down to multiples of 10. They start wondering what happened to the millennials (the chirpy folks who are our fans)? Aren’t they supposed to respond and be virally active? Bah, humbug, this things doesn’t work, it’s overhyped. Time to cut budgets and shoot someone.

But hold on, we also hear a few success stories e.g. Dell generates 3 Million in Sales via Twitter, Coca Cola Expedition 206 on Facebook, Starbucks ‘Via’ Launch & 7 Million Fans on Facebook. They seem to be pulling it off quite well? How did they do it? Does it really work or are these success stories cooked up, vaporware, marketing gimmicks to fool us into believing or generating further buzz on how cool these companies are?

Here’s my take. A social game-plan is a collective effort (organization-wide) and requires a multi-pronged (and multi-objective) approach. Since you have to engage with many listeners and speakers at one time, one approach (size) will not fit all. Plus, it’s a long running episode/rally with a difference. Action begins slowly but stalls immediately if you take the foot off the pedal.

Hence, you require careful planning. The approach to a social game-plan needs to address the following five stages of listening,  identifying, formulating, engaging and action.

STAGES ACTIVITY PARTICIPANTS
Listening What are the millennials talking about us?
Which social networks are relevant?
Hear the sentiment, follow the trend, analyze the reasons, keep discovering their online hangouts
Social/Web Analytics Team
Identifying Who are the influencers in there?
Identify the ‘relevant’ influencers, people who are active, have many ‘responsive’ friends and have the right demographic to be of interest to us
Research Team
Formulating Who from within the firm can participate in the engagement?
What all can we talk about?
How frequently can we engage?
Formulate the topic plan just as you decide promotion campaigns – topics of interest and owners/participants
Business, In-house Social Expert , Marketing
Engaging Participants and their Role-play on a Social platform:
– Support Team (address queries)
– Product managers (seek ideas and explain feature, next release)
– Evangelists (explain the vision),
– Active ‘socials’ (Spread the word, Invite friends)
– Active bloggers (Create the hype before launches, versions)

Topics of discussion and initiatives on a Social platform could include:
Contests, Product launches, Promotions, Countering the sentiment, Clarifications, Supporting queries, Troubleshooting, and much more

In-house Social Participants
Actions Eliciting desired action from the Socials around:
Trials, awareness, purchase, traffic. Creating actionable events through appropriate messaging
Evaluating the ROI for each social engagement and campaigns. This shall help identify what works and what does not. Read my post on Metrics for related insights.
Social/Web Team, Business, Marketing

Here are some implementable action sequences, grouped into 9 facets of any social media strategy. While this might be a basic approach to formulating your strategy and making sure you have left no stone unturned, innovative ideas are essential to generate exemplary success.

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We need to remember that the onus of formulating a social media strategy may lie with a few, however, the act of engaging with the end-customers on a social platform has to be wide-spread (through in-house social influencers, across the organization) to ensure virality and momentum.

Every organization would have active FB status updaters or Twitter tweeters. How many times have they written about your firm might be a good question to analyze? Can all of them convert into effective marketers, without making them uncomfortable: calls for a new rewards and recognition clause to the HR policy, doesn’t it? Think about it.


Key Elements of E-Commerce: Traffic & Monetization

To summarize the success of a website (through Fermi’s paradox), one would essentially need just two primary metrics: what’s the traffic and how well are you monetizing that. Monetization could range from a few basis points (basic ad impression), a commission (%age of GMV) or direct product sale.

Let’s look under the hoods of these two primary metrics. We could think of 6 drivers and probably 12-13 sub-drivers, as shown below:

Traffic: Partner, Search engine, Promotions and Word of mouth (social/online and offline).

Monetization: Advertisement and Transactions (independent of type e.g. subscription)

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Most of the efforts to improve the performance of a website can be bucketed and accounted accordingly. However, let’s try to analyze when these drivers become significant during a ‘online’ business cycle.

  • Start-up: Search Engine, Word of Mouth + Social Marketing & Memes
  • Growth: [Start-up]  + Advertisement, Transaction
  • Maturity: [Growth] + Partner, Promotions
  • Decline: [Maturity]  + New disruptive idea | Graceful exit

However, irrespective of the phase, ‘Innovation’ is an indisputable driver for any online business offering and it’s success in the online world. The degree of innovation need may vary. In my opinion, ‘Innovation need’ is an inverted ‘U’ across the business cycle e.g. very high in Phase 1 (startup), moderate in the middle where you may not want to experiment too much with what seems to be working (except usability), and Phase 4 (decline). Organizations that are able to come up with a new disruptive idea in Phase 4, reverse their growth trajectory once again, the other have to conjure a graceful exit strategy.


Google Page Rank vs. Social Influence Rank

Many of us might be well aware of Google’s Page Rank algorithm, SEO techniques, and the fact that they work quite well serving the information seekers and the publishers (content creators). Hence, pages with high rank or on top of SERPs are usually relevant and highly recommended. However, as a publisher, you do need a degree of technical sophistication and SEO jugglery to be able get a higher rank despite creating perfect (relevant and unique) content. Well, nothing comes easy these days, isn’t it?

All (except creepy crawlers) welcome to the Social party?

Enter social. It would have been logical for search engines to gleefully jump into these environments and start indexing content (tweets, reviews, discussions, images and videos). Socials generate content at a speed faster than most e-groups, photo-sharing sites and probably a terabyte of content while we blink during the peaks! However, socials (read Facebook) have kept search engines at bay, and rightly so as it’s their territory, their data, and they want to protect it well. Who wants ‘free’ exposure, not them for sure? It’s only now that things are opening up with Facebook and Bing, but in a controlled way.

Would something like a Google Page Rank have relevance within a social context?

If you ask me, with some tweaks, a big yes! However the context (social network) might require a different approach, but with a little more thought we can achieve better applicability. So let’s see how we could draw some parallels:

Page Rank in Social: A ratio of links vs. sinks, which way they point and how deep does this linkage run might have direct affinity to my friends (links), their friends and friends of friends on a Social e.g. Facebook. On Twitter, it might find semblance with followers (links) and following (sinks).

SEO Parameters in Social: What are the top 5 parameters deciding a website’s SEO success: Links, URL, Meta Tags, Page Content and Sitemap.  On a Social, similar parameters might be: Connections, Profile, Presence (across Socials), Vocation (content that we create e.g. tweets and posts, topics one alludes on, images/video we upload).

Web Page Rank Social Influence Rank SIR Components
Links, URL Connections: Friends, Followers and following

– Relationships strength
– Speaker or listener

Meta Tags
Profile Strength

– Tags, Interests, Profile

Sitemap Social Presence (Where else am I?)

– Socials (FB, Orkut, Twitter), Blogs, eGroups

Page Content Vocation, Domains or Expertise

– Content created: Posts, topics, images/video, expertise

– Topics I like/share

 

Talking of Metrics in Social: Impressions might correspond to number of profile, tweet or post views. Actions might range from a re-tweet or comment all the way to traffic generation to an external site which could result in another ad-impression or a successful transaction (if landing on eBay or Amazon). We could conjure new metrics e.g. APC (action generated per centi, 100 posts or tweets) for the socials.

Who would be interested in looking at my Social Rank?

Well, both you (profile publisher) and the marketing firms (buyers) who are searching for social influencers.

If you are a person with a high APC i.e. Socially active, 100s of friends, write 100s of posts/tweets per month on a topic close to your heart (vacations, food, bikes, clothes, cameras), and your friends listen, reply, like, and share what you have to say, you are Hot property for marketers! You, without realizing why, might start receiving special privileges, freebies, coupons, and much more. The marketing firms would fall over each other trying to entice you to say something special about their products. Social moderators would throttle their eagerness so that they don’t disturb the magic you are already creating within your network of avid listeners.

Socials might tag you based on the type of content you create, calculate your Social present value (APC * Value-created through ad-impression or transaction). They might even rate you on a 5 point scale between limits e.g. ‘active initiator’ and ‘passive reader’. As you progress towards being an active initiator (i.e. a person who disseminates as well as acts upon what he reads), your SPV keeps going up!

Relevance To Social Media Strategy?

This, as a package, could be valuable to marketing firms grappling with either ‘how to kick-off their social media strategy’ or ‘I have a FB page, now what?’. Social media strategy is all about increasing user engagement and recollection through content dissemination. The fact about ‘out of sight’, out of mind’ is much more prominent in this environment. So, as a marketing firm, if I have the ability to create unique content, and I am able to leverage a group of relevant (tags) Socially active (APC) profiles, who shall disseminate my messages, we have our Social media strategy clicking, whatever be my objectives!

I have created a framework that might help solidify this ranking mechanism and provide L2 details. Watch this space for a follow-up note!