Social Media – How Do We Know It Works

Based on a presentation delivered by Shanti Mangala, Senior Solutions Architect at Perficient


Defining Social Media

What’s the difference between Web 2.0 and social media?  Web 2.0 is the set of tools that allow us to create social media. Social media is collaborative content and this is what we will be focused on.

In social media, you are saying, “This is my content. Can you give me some feedback or make a correction?” With social bookmarking or rating, you don’t even necessarily have to create the content. You could bookmark an article on the web and forward it to someone. Within a few clicks, you could be creating your own social media network.


Advantages of Social Media

The more sources of content you have, the more points of view you are getting. Provides built-in checks and balances in the system. CEO could post a blog and the intern might have a comment. This leaves him feeling empowered and gives everyone a voice, encouraging employees to put forth better ideas and have more conversation.


Using customer forums. If I am stumped by something, my initial reaction is to look through the forums and post something if I don’t see something. Previous problems and their fixes can be posted online and users can help other users. This provides a more efficient feedback loop. Companies can also mine their forums for relevant trends. The trick for companies is to not spend too much time trying to discern traffic patterns.


Microblogging (such as Twitter) gives quick updates for people who don’t want to take time to ready lots of stuff and can provide quick responses to customers.


Robert Scoble, a noted blogger and technical evangelist, had some interesting things to say about social media. While having his taxes done one afternoon, Robert sent out a Twitter update saying that he was at HR Block getting taxes done. A few minutes later, he gets an update from an HR Block customer service rep asking if everything is going alright while he was still there. That kind of response sends the message that – We are here every time you need it. As a result, the customer feels valued.


Ten years ago, there were few people that used e-mail. Now, we can’t live without it. Bridging the gap is important. Blogs give executives and managers a way to connect with their employees and customers. Plus, blogs archive everything and give you a more effective way of distributing information just in time. Once something is posted out there, it remains out there indefinitely.


Let’s take, as an example, a Tip of the Day that gets distributed by e-mail daily. The user gets the tip regards of its usefulness at that time. After a while, most of those e-mails are probably ignored. Now, if I have that same tip of the day on a blog. Users can go the blog when they need that information or when they have time to read them. A blog should create an engaging outreach between you and the people that you are writing the post for.


With wikis, information can be added and edited by anyone. Over time, wikis can decentralize information so that no one person has to be the knowledge base. Don’t have to rely so much on individuals and can instead pull up archived content. In another example, Robert had gigs worth of information in his e-mail, but it was gone when he left the company. The info would still be available if it were in a wiki.


Profiles are another way that Web 2.0 is changing the business environment. A large part of working on a project is figuring out what people do what things. There could be someone working right next to me who is an expert on Oracle Internet Directory, but I might never know it because that is not what they currently do. Online profiles can eliminate the 4 or 5 hours trying to find people who have a matching skill sets.


Social bookmarking and ratings gives us a quick, easy way to share information that we think is interesting. When I encounter a list of links on a page, I don’t know who recommended a particular link. If I respect the authority, then I will have more faith in their ratings and knowing who makes the recommendations makes a difference. Say that, our Senior DBA recommends an article on rebuilding online indexes in 11g. Then, I might be interested in seeing that simply because she recommended it.


Tagging is where I can identify what categories of users might be interested in a particular article. For example, adding an Oracle tag to a BEA Weblogic post makes it accessible to searches by a whole new audience.


How do I control content on the corporate Intranet? On an Intranet, everyone is identified. Putting their names on a post makes people much more careful about what they say. You often hear about people who were disqualified for jobs because of inappropriate posts they had on their MySpace pages. It’s only when comments are anonymous that you see people less careful about what they post.


The last and newest of the social media tools are virtual worlds. This past election, both presidential campaigns had a large virtual world presences complete with protesters. IBM takes this very seriously. On Second Life, employees can go to an IBM virtual island and interact with fellow employees there. Nissan designs and gives away virtual cars. There is even a currency that is pegged to the dollar.


Business Uses for Social Media

Del Monte. Del Monte wanted to know what their customers wanted and how they felt about new initiatives. So, they created a number of community sites that were not directly tied to the company – sites like I Love My Dog and Moms Online.


These sites used an open source infrastructure and let people talk while they listened. From the volume of postings about rhinestone dog collars, Del Monte could see that there must be a demand for rhinestone collars. From site registrations, it knew who the interested dog people were and could send coupons to those people identified through the site.


Since product launches are so expensive, these sites provided an efficient way to test product ideas. Because customers were volunteering this information instead of answering a bunch of survey questions, it gave them a good source of feedback. Plus, people were more likely to be honest with other customers.


Southwest Airlines. Southwest posted a belated blog about the FAA safety problems after the results had become public. Found out that their customers’ feedback was overwhelmingly negative. Customers were very upset that the investigations had been ongoing without any notice. If Southwest had posted about the FAA investigation initially, customers might have been a lot more understanding.


American Institute of Architects. How do you make people talk together and work together as a community? How do you establish yourself as an authority? Provide an online library of articles, videos, and user forums.


Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance. How do we make our employees more productive? Give them a platform to talk or vent through blogs and RSS. By giving employees an online place where they anonymously vent, they improved the morale and inspired more employee loyalty. I know that I can make more money elsewhere but I’m here because I like the people, culture, etc.


Avenue A (Razorfish). Create a dynamic corporate Intranet that stretches across 14 different locations. They opened up their Wiki site to all employees and engaged their employees at the grass-roots level. 10 people updating an intranet that no one reads is not very useful. 1000s of people updating an intranet that people rely on for news is invaluable. Put all those capabilities of a portal instead of forcing a portal on their employees.



  • Visitors and Page views
  • Referrers
  • Opt-in rate
  • Page Load times and Performance
  • Entry and Exit Paths


Social Media Metrics

It does not make sense to use the same metrics for social media. 6,000 customers posting negative feedback on a blog entry like Southwest is probably not a success. Social media looks for a return on influence not a return on investment. Plus, the goal is not necessarily directly related. Purina did not realize any direct revenue from the I Love My Dogs website, but there might be an indirect revenue stream.


Another selling point is that something small and local can quickly go viral where it spreads around the web like Wildfire.


When I was researching Flex, I found out how to use it from a blog posting on Adobe’s web site. They gave me the tools to learn how to use it. If those tools had not been unable, I would have been frustrated and given up on the product. Social media is about dealing with people, not hits. So, it has to be measured using a people-centric approach.


Stick rate is the amount of time that users stay and move around the site. Obviously, the more time people spend on your site, the better. You also have to look at how much activity is coming from people as opposed from yourself. If you are producing almost all the content, then it is not leaving an impression on people.


It’s critical to track subscribers. These are the people who get your RSS feed or are posting on your site. If a hundred people subscribe, then that’s better than thousands of hits because those hundred people are actively involved.


Meme velocity is another social media measurement that looks at how fast this idea propagated. Oracle writes about E2O, but who else is talking about it? When ideas and conversations from your site can spill over to other sites, that’s another definition of success. The links that are created can improve your site’s link popularity and help with your SEO efforts. The best kind of link is one that is unsolicited and is in a post or an article.


Building a Social Media Site

Start with clearly articulated goals. Ask yourself, “Why do I want a blog?” Starting a blog just because someone else has a blog is not a good reason. If someone is looking for the site as a means to collect marketing info, then they are not going to be interested in employee retention.


The web tools have to fit an appropriate Web strategy to reach your audience. What tools are you going to use to reach your audience (blogs, wikis, RSS)? If you want to build up a customer forum section of your site, then a discussion forum would be your best bet, not an RSS feed. But periodic technical updates or new product announcements might be ideal for an RSS feed. is a cautionary tale about what can happen when companies try to experiment too much with a successful website. After CNet bought the site, the bustling forums were brought down and revamped with ads and an updated interface. Afterwards, the most popular forums appeared at the top instead of appearing within a directory.


Then, anonymous posts were disallowed. This discouraged the kinds of frank conversation which had defined the site. Shortly afterwards, former users of rebuilt a competing version that resembling the older version of the site and two-thirds of the traffic dropped off to the CNet-sponsored Urbanbaby web site. The moral is that web consumers are notoriously fickle and will easily switch if they are not getting something of value from your site.