New year, new destinations, new focus

You may have noticed somewhat of an absence of new content on here, and having declared reform in my last post, it seems I haven’t followed through.

But new year means new starts, right? And with that I’m bringing a new 2014 focus to my blog – still talking about everything to do with social media, but taking it on a bit of a world tour. So armed with my iPad, a 2 hour plane journey ahead of me and Instagram, I give you my first social media #ViewFromThePlane.

photo (1)A snowy Munich #ViewFromThePlane

I want this to be a series documenting the places I’m going to be lucky enough to visit this year, taking a look at how social media differs around the world. Many people make the mistake of thinking that social media is a one size fits all type channel, but there’s a whole world of social networks out there waiting to be explored.

So first stop, Germany. Not hugely exotic you may say, but actually pretty interesting from a social media perspective. From what was initially a relatively slow start, social media is now very much mainstream for the German population, and with this has come a shift away from a more reserved attitude to sharing personal information in a social environment. One of the reasons social media uptake wasn’t as rapid in Germany as it was in other markets was the concept of opening up ones life to people you didn’t necessarily want to share with. You wouldn’t tell everyone at a party everything you’d done in the last week, so why do it online?

But looking at the social trends in Germany, we see this mindset is very much shifting – for at least a significant proportion of internet users. And looking at the top sites used its very much leaning towards those that are geared up for personal connections without the unsolicited intrusion that was first associated with social media (yes Facebook, no matter how much you try to trick us into making our content public, we will prevail). Unsurprisingly the top sites are Facebook, YouTube and Google+, but I’m not that interested in those (although interestingly German is seeing a greater usage of Google+ compared to its European counterparts); what I am interested in is those local networks.

First up we have (Who-Knows-Who) – the second largest network in Germany, and particularly popular amongst the non-academic in the south of Germany. But the recent plateau in page visits is suggesting that the community has reached a saturation point. has suffered a similar fate – what was the third most popular social network in Germany in 2012, is now too seeing a decline in members engaging within the network. With 5.6 million members it’s still a game player, but the game may be taking an extended half time break.

And then there’s the trend being mimicked that we saw across the rest of Europe (and the world) of the younger generation taking offence at seeing their parents on Facebook and consequently leaving it for something far cooler and newer to the social world. In Germany, the platforms the kids are flocking too is schuelerVZ where you’ll see almost exclusively high school students.

So why the social media uptake now? Well of course time has been a good stamp of approval – a slow and steady uptake has meant those observers have sat back and seen that actually you don’t have to share everything with the world. And the increase in mobile usage across Germany has certainly been a contributing factor, with over 10 million people accessing social networks on their mobiles every day, social on the go has become the norm.

And looping back to the idea of privacy and data protection, it suggests a reason why these local networks are so popular. If people in Germany are choosing their social networks based on the available privacy settings and how safe they perceive their data to be, then there is perhaps comfort in going where others are – safety in numbers.

So what can we learn from our cleverly cautious friends in Germany (clever in the fact that they watched others make social mistakes, learnt from them, and then did social at their own pace)? Other than of course Facebook is dominating, the main learning for me is the importance of understanding culture and behaviour. We may think we all behave the same because geographically we’re very closely linked, but don’t be fooled by that short plane trip; we don’t all need to share a selfie every three minutes.

Next stop, Belgium.



When mathematicians aren’t so anti-social…

Social network friend clusters

Social network friendship clusters

As someone who loves social media and has a sometimes not so secret love for maths (love is a strong word, maybe a heavy appreciation and respect is slightly more accurate), the data analysis side of our online behaviour is something that I find pretty exciting.

Anyone who’s ever studied maths will know Stephen Wolfram – he’s your go-to guy for any maths related crisis (oh yes, they exist). Over the past year, he has been running Personal Analytics for Facebook – a research project designed to give users the facts and stats on their personal accounts with some funky graphs and charts. Pretty cool. But the point to the project was to obtain (completely transparently) a mass of data that would allow for in-depth analysis and provide a snapshot of Facebook usage across the world.

The full report is pretty lengthy, but there is so much that we can use to 1) build a case for Facebook (and social media as a whole discipline) and 2) extrapolate the data to develop intelligent forecasts and ROI measures for our campaigns.

And across the ocean, another Facebook study has been conducted – one that alleges to map obesity rates to Facebook activity. Published in PloS One, this Harvard Medical School study concludes that our interests listed on our profiles determine our likelihood of being obese. The idea is that there is a relationship between the lifestyle habits we endorse online and our real-world health.

The research team explored the content users across the US were listing as their interests, what they posted to their timelines and the content they liked and shared. All of which apparently leads to a conclusions about the likelihood of obesity. As pretty well put by the study authors, the potential of this type of data understanding “could be harnessed for intelligently targeted health interventions, such as through online and mobile messaging”. A very, very interesting concept for someone in my line of work.

Looking at these pieces of data analysis lead me to what I deem to be a pretty important conclusion. Never underestimate the power of data.

We are often blindsided by the all singing all dancing social media campaigns we see and get ahead of ourselves when coming up with our approach. But the most intelligent and successful social media initiatives are those that are founded in data, research and well-considered strategy.

With the rights tools and know-how, we can understand our audiences in such great depth as to pre-empt what they will be looking for, where they will be looking for it, and how.

As Wolfram puts himself, “it feels like we’re starting to be able to train a serious “computational telescope” on the “social universe”. And it’s letting us discover all sorts of phenomena, that have the potential to help us understand much more about society and about ourselves.”

So to do social right, embrace your inner nerd and learn to love the numbers before jumping in. And if that’s just not possible, come to me and my team, we love data!

Read, love, share.