Friday, December 16, 2011

Pottingers, Wikipedia, & WikiLies

Last week, The UK newspaper The Independent revealed that Bell Pottinger, a leading PR agency, had engaged in the covert manipulation of Wikipedia entries related to some of its clients. Using multiple, anonymous accounts, staff at the agency had eradicated negative information, inflated positive references, and altered the facts of numerous Wikipedia entries. It also became apparent that agency executives routinely pitched to clients and prospects their ability to alter Wikipedia entries as part of their services.

I propose that henceforth we name an entry in Wikipedia that has been willfully manipulated a "Pottinger" in their honor. I challenge readers to create the "Pottinger" Wikipedia entry.

Your immediate reaction to this story might reasonably be this – how stupid can you get??? My reaction was a little different: I’m a marketing professional with over 15 years’ experience running PR programs for big organizations, and I must confess to having altered Wikipedia entries too.

A few years back I started a new job at a well know technology company, and on my second day got a call from the CMO: Could I come to his office immediately. When I got there he showed me the Wikipedia entry for a senior executive. I was shocked. The entry had been altered by several anonymous people and contained openly slanderous statements. Some of the changes seemed downright bizarre. I had a Wikipedia account (I’d created a number of entries years ago), and I worked to get the changes removed and details corrected. It was an uphill struggle because I didn’t disguise who I was, but eventually things were made right (then right again, as the entry continued to be changed). We made no attempt to catch the perpetrators – that was too complex and time-consuming.

Of course, unlike Bell Pottinger, my actions didn’t breach any of Wikipedia’s guidelines (that I know about) or hide any truths – in fact, the reverse. And I’m not alone: I know of many instances where company employees or agency staff altered entries related to their employer or client, almost all correcting wrongs, adding missing information, or providing context. Wikipedia is a crowdsourced entity, open to anyone; laudably democratic, but ripe for abuse, neglect or simple error. Fixing things can feel unnecessarily arduous and often frustrating.

Needless to say, none of this excuses the stupidity of Bell Pottinger. They’re dolts, with a history of ethical issues.

However, you can’t argue BP is a unique case, or even out-of-the-ordinary. Far from it. There’s a long history of Wikipedia abuse. WikiScanner, Wikipedia Review and others have catalogued many examples over the years, and others have pointed to the inherent problem with a trust-based, crowdsourcing model for gathering information.  Indeed, Wikipedia deletes over a thousand entries every day.

In general, crowdsourcing anything should invite scrutiny and skepticism. We certainly shouldn’t assume that Wikipedia is the bastion of unalienable truth. And unfortunately, nor should we think of Bell Pottinger as an anomaly – expect continued revelations of WikiLies as Wikipedia, already the sixth most visited website worldwide, gains in significance.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Fortune 500 Lag in Social Media Adoption, To Their Great Cost

At the end of last month McKinsey published the results of their fifth annual survey on the ways organizations use social technologies.

For the most part, the results are a snooze: The adoption of social media tools, from Twitter to Quora, is steadily rising; measurable benefits are steadily if slowly increasing; and the sophistication in the way organizations use social media has seen significant gains. All good, although hardly ground-breaking news.

But wait. The McKinsey people aren’t anything if not thorough, so they also tried to show a correlation between adoption of social media and self-reported organizational performance (that is, market share gains, operating margin compared to competition, and being first in industry market share). To my surprise, on the latter measure – showing a link between market share leadership and adopting social tools – the correlations are mostly negative. This suggests that the adoption of social media is adversely associated with being a market leader, a counter-intuitive and strange result. If it were so, then the good people at McKinsey should be telling the titans of industry to flee Facebook, ban blogging, and terminate Twitter post-haste.

But wait. The researchers’ explanation of this is that “while market leaders may use social media technologies within the organization, they might be less inclined than market challengers to push for a full range of benefits [and use social media externally].” So, according to McKinsey, they suspect that market leaders as a group are actually under-utilizing social media.

This sounds plausible. Indeed, very detailed research by UMASS Dartmouth shows that for blogs, about 23 percent of the Fortune 500 (large, market-share leaders) have corporate blogs, compared to well over 50% if the Inc. 500, a list of the fastest-growing companies compiled by Inc. magazine. There are similar results for corporate adoption of Facebook and Twitter – the Fortune 500 lag the rest of industry, especially the fastest-growing companies.

Put these two pieces of research together and we have strong data suggesting that large, market-share leaders – think companies like WalMart, Exxon-Mobil, Proctor and Gamble, Hewlett Packard, Boeing and Dow Chemical – are collectively failing to extract value from the social media revolution. These findings play into the stereotype of the lumbering, bureaucratic multinational that often enjoy a market-share lead but fail to take first-mover advantage of new innovations.

And the research clearly shows that the price of late adoption of social media is very high indeed.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Latest Update: A Definitive List of Social Media Measurment and Monitoring Tools

Way back in April 2010 I compiled what I boldly claimed was a definitive list of social media measurement and monitoring tools. Since then, I've updated the list a couple of times and critically reevaluated my 'definitive' claim: Most likely, I've missed a lot of solutions and have certainly struggled to keep pace with the constant changes in the evolving social media measurement market.

My latest update saw numerous changes, reflecting increasing competitive pressures in a very cluttered marketplace. A half-dozen companies have disappeared completely, and several others have moved on to provide different solutions only tangentially related to social media metrics. There's also been a small number of acquisitions, most notably buying the market-leader Radian6 in March this year. The net result is that the total number of solutions has fallen, although the quality of the survivors is very high.

If you're looking to buy a social media measurement solution there's a few important takeaways from all these changes:

  • It's a Buyers Market
    Despite the predicted consolidation, there's still an abundance of companies supplying solutions. Companies are eager to get your business and you should be able to cut a deal for the right solution.
  • Buyer Beware!
    Expect the consolidation to accelerate over the coming year. Be cautious about companies that aren't able to demonstrate good market traction, supply a full list of references, or just seem too desperate; they may well be gone in a year or two.
  • Understand Your Requirements
    There's a broad spectrum of solutions out there, and every day new features are being added. Make sure you have a strong understanding of what you need to do and how a tool will help you do it. Take a look at the guides from many industry analysts (mine is here).
  • Recognize that the Market is Still Maturing
    There is no perfect solution out there. Sourcing data, avoiding spam, providing adequate filtering, integration to marketing automation systems, providing easy-to-configure dashboards and reporting, alerting for your customer services folks... these are just a handful of important issues that are still being worked out.
  • The Giants are Coming
    Finally, we 're still waiting for the obvious market giants... Google, Microsoft, maybe Facebook... to really enter this market. There's been ongoing rumors that Google was going to release a full-blown media monitoring solution; if they ever do, it could upturn the market and put an end to many of the companies I list. Stay tuned...