Wednesday, March 28, 2012

SIRI usage, and the future of voice interfaces

Business Insider just published an interesting tidbit on SIRI usage and how it's 'low'.

Given SIRI's limited scope and capabilities I think those numbers are amazingly high - and they are a clear indicator that people want this technology.  Today SIRI is the digital equivalent of a lobotomized assistant who can perform only the simplest of tasks.

My personal favorite of how SIRI falls short is the statement "SIRI call me an ambulance" -- if you tell her to do that, she'll respond with "Okay, from now I'll call you /an ambulance/".

Apple needs to let developers extend the SIRI interface with our own capabilities. That's when the real power of voice enabled phones will be unleashed.  We can only assume this is coming eventually. Prior to launch, Apple had Nuance (the company who makes SIRI) remove features like the ability to update Foursquare, and Facebook, but nothing has been announced yet. 

Although there are lots of things that future versions of SIRI will likely have. Besides extensibility, people should expect to see new capabilities such as:
  • Personalization: expect SIRI to learn your voice, and be able to manage more than just security to your phone. That also means being able to understand your commands while the radio on the car is on. 
  • Initiate a conversation/provide assistance - examples include:
    siri: "you seem to be lost, perhaps I can help."
    siri: "it looks like you're running late to your important business meeting, should I send an email for you to let them know when to expect you?"
    siri: "i just checked and your flight has been delayed, want me to search yelp and find a place to grab some coffee?"
  • Maintain context in a conversation: currently siri is a one statement = one command, it cannot remember context in a conversation, for example:
    me: "where can i get a healthy snack?"
    siri: "how about subway."
    me: "no i don't really feel like a sandwich, how about a smoothie?"
    .. so today that second statement would confuse siri, once she's provided an answer, she's done.  Context also can involve personalization - for example me: "dammit siri, i hate subway" - siri: "got it boss, no more subway".  context is important, because obviously i meant subway the restaurant chain, not the mass transportation vehicle.
  • Hold/queue information until it's appropriate:
    siri: "you seem to be stopped at a red light, you got a text from xyz that says ..."
    me: "i'm going to the gym for an hour, greet callers, ask them if it's an emergency otherwise tell them i'll call them back"
  • Interact with other siri agents: this will be extremely useful for example letting people in my friends and family be able to update my social calendar or activities automatically.  For example having a shared grocery/shopping list across multiple members of a family, or letting certain people be able to proxy my personal calendar, and list of like's/dislikes.   For example - "see if matt wants to get together for a drink on either wed or thurs night" - if Matt is also a siri user, the exact date and location can be
At this point SIRI is out in front, but it will need to innovate to become really useful.  The computing power is there, and there are certainly enough people (myself included) who would be more than happy to pay extra for those services listed above.

Even if SIRI doesn't get it, an equivalent android app will be able to be extended by native apps on the device in the future - and that's when the real interesting applications can start being created.

On a personal note - I can't wait to voice enable shopping (and purchasing) by extending SIRI (or equivalent application).  It's unlikely that one vendor (ex: nuance) will be able to deliver every capability, instead it should focus on letting apps register to handle certain types of statements.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

THE Comprehensive Guide to Social Media Measurement

Finally! An actionable guide to measuring the effectiveness of social media!
*This is Part 5 of a 5 Part series on actionable ways to successfully use social media for business.


Note: This is a beefy article. It's meant to be a comprehensive guide for anyone that uses social media and does not yet measure it. The best way to digest it all is by trying each suggestion while you read along. Bookmark this page and come back to it as you learn. I have a nice spreadsheet to make this a lot easier too... comment if you're interested.
I couldn't have created this post without the critical help of popular web analytics experts Stephane Hamel and Gary Angel .

First, What You'll Need...

1. A Web Analytics tool, like Google Analytics

2. To know how to create advanced segments in Google Analytics to find a lot of the numbers.

3. To set up your Google Analytics to track both traffic AND conversions from social media sites.

4. Familiarity of Google Analytics' Social Reports. Over the next few weeks, Google will release Social Reports to help figure out the value of your social marketing. Here's what they will include:
  • Overview Report: how much money comes from social channels
  • A comparison of social conversions to total conversions
  • Both last-interaction and assisted conversions
  • Whether goal conversions peaked after a video/post was published.
  • Which articles on your site get the most interactions

Ready to begin?
Ah, Social Media. Still fresh, interactive, and elusive. Or is it? If you think that social media cannot be measured, you are missing out on some great data and even extra revenue.

Social media largely depends on a quick response time. Because of this, your data needs to reflect short term, quick response goals. Even more critical, though, is the long-term, trending data to make actionable business decisions.

(This article is broken up into 2 sections of measurements: (1) By Objectives to business goals and (2) by quick/longterm measurements by Social Media site.)

Now for the Real Stuff
Remember in my Social Media for eCommerce Businesses post when I told you there are five general things that Social Media can be used for in a business setting? If not, here they are:
  1. Customer retention
  2. Brand advocacy
  3. Customer/tech support
  4. Top-of-funnel” activities-- This includes branding, product discovery, and awareness
  5. Learning more about your customers

Depending on what's important to your business, these can be starting points for creating your social media measurement goals. You are most likely interested in increasing sales, right? Well, instead of throwing money at all or nothing, these 5 objectives can be vehicles to bring you to your ultimate goal and keep you focused on your return on investment (ROI).

Measurements by Objectives
1. Customer Retention (one of the most important metrics)
If a large percentage of your customers purchase only once, never to be seen again, social media can help! But how do you measure whether your efforts are actually working?

First, you can check Google's new Social Reports (rolling out soon) to see how many initial sales and visitors come from a social media site. Then, you'll want to track repeat customers:
  1. Log into Google Analytics and create an Advanced Segment that Includes “Transactions” Greater than 1.
  2. After you save it, you can look at those users' sources (Facebook, Google+, etc). Remember, these are only the repeat customers that have not deleted their cookies and have repurchased on only one single device.
  3. You can also create an Advanced Segment for customers coming from each social media site and then view their behavior.

Once you've identified your repeat customers from a social source, you want to learn how to get more of those types of customers!

Engagement: Marketing studies have shown the relationship between engagement and customer retention since about 2006. The connection is obvious: People that engage with a brand after a purchase (usually) are happy with the purchase, and will remember the brand because of the interaction.

Engagement Formula:
Engagement=interactions/total views.

Long Term Trending for Customer Retention:
  1. Find which types of posts create the most engagement! Break down all of your posts for a particular social media site into groups. These groups can be based on your customer segments, the types of Facebook users (bottom of the post), videos, jokes, quotes, or anything else. Make sure to post more of the ones that received the most engagement!
  2. Figure out the behavior of repeat customers: Create an advanced segment in Google Analytics for the number of purchases greater than 1, and see if particular sources are increasing in repeat business.

2. Brand Advocacy
Advocacy itself is difficult to measure, but finding how many people are recommending your brand, and measuring if that number goes up or down over time, can be helpful if you have an advocacy campaign.
  1. Twitter has many third party search tools, and an internal one too, where you can measure brand mentions and recommendations.
  2. Another way to go about measuring brand mentions is through the many online Sentiment Tools. Keep in mind that these tools are not 100% accurate because they cannot detect sarcasm and other inflections.
  3. The long (and more accurate) way: Measure your brand's positive mentions by conducting a “site:domain” search: You can utilize Google's powerful search engine to search within a website for any word you want to measure. Go to and type in [ “your brand name” ~great] without the brackets, and replacing “your brand name” with your actual brand name! You are essentially asking Google to search only in for your brand alongside synonyms of “great”. You can change to any other social media site, and the ~great to any other positive or negative word you want to measure. The word next to your brand name that represents the positive mention (like ~great) will depend on your brand and industry. It could be ~recommend, ~check out, etc.

3. Customer Support
Product Testing- Social Media sites can be used as a very large focus group. Don't be afraid to ask your customers what they think of a new product, or one that you aren't sure you're going to create yet. This can save a considerable amount of time and money as opposed to more traditional methods. To measure this will depend on your business type. You may want to measure the amount of product innovation ideas, enhancements to business processes, or any other number of things.

Monitoring- Monitor your brand and competitors' brands for customer pain points that you can potentially solve with products or services. This information can be used for product/process innovation and creation. A free tool to get you started is called SocialMention. You can also monitor who is talking about your brand, what they're saying, and how much your branding efforts are paying off.

4. Awareness, Discovery, and Branding
i. Measure your brand's positive mentions by conducting a site:domain search (described above). Is it trending upward or downward?

ii. Reach is a potential measure of exposures to your brand name.
Reach= total people participating/ Total audience exposure

iii. Branding:
Other than getting your hands dirty by surveying your target demographic, here are some branding activities that you can measure on social media:
  • Sentiment by volume of posts = Positive mentions/total mentions of your brand. Make sure you are measuring non-professional posts, so that you are getting an idea of only your consumer sentiment.
  • Share of voice = brand mentions/total mentions of all brands (monitor this over time to measure branding efforts)
  • Number of positive reviews
  • Number of mentions of your brand's value proposition (the thing that sets you apart from everyone else)

Long term measures for Branding: To me, branding is the most important thing a company can do. When a customer is ready to purchase a product that you sell and your brand comes to mind first, it can reduce the customer's buying process, and can even lead to a higher customer lifetime value. The ROI from the money that you invest into branding can be determined by your overall brand equity. Apple's brand is worth much more than their physical assets. The difference is the equity of their branding efforts (Brand equity =Value of company-Total assets).

5. Learning more about your customers
Ask them questions! You can measure the quantity or quality of data that you receive. Some of it may be invaluable. For example, you may find that your Facebook customers all enjoy hanging out in one place or that you have three completely different customer segments that you thought were all grouped into one.

Measurements by Social Media Site
Quick Response Measurements:
  • +1s of content: Log in to Google Webmaster Tools, click on +1 Metrics and look at the reports for Audience, Search Impact, and Activity.
  • Logged in users that visit your site: Set this up by reading this article.
  • Traffic to your website from specific posts: Log in to Google Analytics, view the sources and find the URL from your post.
  • Engagement=interactions/total views. You'll need to create an Advanced Segment in Google Analytics that looks like this.    
  • Engagement: interactions divided by total views. This can be easily found in Facebook Insights
  • Value of a Like (below)
  • Reach: Facebook Insights
  • Fan Count: Facebook page
  • Visitors that go to your site while logged into Facebook:Set this up by reading this article.
  • Traffic to your website from specific posts: Google Analytics Traffic Sources, search for the post URL
  • Follower Count
  • Conversation tracking: Twitter's internal search engine
  • Brand mentions: Twitter's internal search engine
  • Retweets in numbers and by type
  • Reply count
  • Traffic to website from specific posts
  • Repins from your original pins.
  • Pins from your website by other users: use Pinterest's internal search engine
  • Website traffic from Pinterest
  • Traffic to website from specific posts

Trending Measurements:
  • Website traffic from each Social Media site (Create Advanced segments in Google Analytics)
  • Traffic to website from all posts from each social media site (add your numbers from specific posts)
  • Conversion rate of users from each Social Media site (Advanced Segments in Google Analytics)
  • User demographics: Facebook insights, Advanced segments in Google Analytics and viewing demographics from Social media
  • Brand mentions from each social media site: Search for your brand name in each site. Twitter and Google+ have many ways to do this. For the sites that don't have good internal search (like Facebook), use Google's [ “brand name”] feature. Just type everything within the brackets into a Google search, and replace “” with the social media site, and replace “brand name” with your brand name! For example, type [ Coca-cola] into Google (without the brackets) to see all the mentions of Coca-cola on Facebook!
  • Brand equity = Value of your company-total assets


Quick response Value of a Like from Facebook Ads
Value of a Like for a specified time period= [(conversion rate X amount of referrals from Facebook after ad for time period) X (Avg ticket price) / Total amount of Likes obtained from a campaign]-acquisition cost and any other expenses you deem necessary.

Example: If you get 300 Likes from a Facebook ad and 200 of those people go to your website, and 1.6% of them will convert. So 3.2 (or 4.16) of them will buy. If the average ticket price is $50, you just made $160 (or $208). $160/300 fans from an ad= $0.53 per Like.

Compare this to the acquisition cost of each Like (in Facebook's Ad Insights):
Your ad spend for the time period was $95 and you obtained 300 Likes, so $95/300 likes = .32 cents. .53-.32= $0.21 cents per Like.

Note: This is the INITIAL value of Likes obtained from an ad campaign. Keep in mind that as you continue to interact, and after you stop advertising on Facebook, the value of each Like, and the lifetime value of each customer, will continue to increase exponentially compared to the continual decrease of Fan acquisition.
2nd Note: there is also long-term Branding value to the impressions from the ad that we are also ot taking into account.

If you made it this far, congratulations! I hope this helped you. Commit to viewing this data once a week, month, or quarter, and enter it into a spreadsheet, while simultaneously viewing the data from the following time period.

    Friday, March 16, 2012

    Using DDOS Attacks to Boost Search Engine Rankings

     A few weeks ago we had a client attacked for the purpose of taking the site offline.  This was most likely done by a competitive company who wanted to usurp their search engine rankings.  The attack was done by computers in countries that have no laws prohibiting DDOS such as Ukraine, Vietnam, and China.   Speaking with the person who does DDOS mitigation for our ISP we learned this is actually fairly common.  Hopefully this was a one time attack, and they won't make a habit of it.

    For anybody who is interested in how the whole episode unfolded - here are the details:

    We had a client ( attacked this weekend by a Distributed Denial of Service attack. The first DDOS was an asymmertric HTTP attack and went on for over 48 hours from Sunday at around 6am until Tuesday around 10am, we had it mitigated by around 11am PST on Sunday.   Then Tuesday at 2am we experienced a full blown DOS attack where they generated more than our 225mbps bandwidth cap and effectively prevented any traffic from reaching us, our upstream provider fixed this by inserting a null route for the IP address to beautystoredepot -- and they were down until the attack was over, or until we could figure out how to filter it. 

    BeautyStoreDepot sells beauty supplies out of their warehouse in Texas. In this case there were no threats or ransom.  The site is not politically affiliated.  They had no irate customers. What they do have is excellent Search engine ranking -- and at this point we believe the purpose of the attack was to take them offline and hurt their search engine rankings. 

    Google is very concerned with shopper experience, and it punishes sites which go offline or are slow, and takes them off the first page results. 

    A bit of research (aka Google: SEO DDOS) shows that there was a 1000% increase in DDOS attacks since last year, and that according to a recent report 7% of all attacks are done by competitors.  A short conversation with our upstream provider DDOS response contact confirms that DDOS attacks against SMBs are becoming more and more common, especially during peak buying holidays. 

    In this case 100% of the servers conducting the attack were out of the United States and in countries like China, Ukraine, Vietnam -- all places that have zero laws against making "excessive requests" to take down a server, especially one in the USA.  The local police in Texas had no idea and referred BeautyStoreDepot to the FBI, who merely will compile statistics and not take any action. 

    In the first attack - Zoovy chose to keep our client online - by dedicating 10 servers, each capable of 250 requests per second, and employed sophisticated traffic modelling to identify the requests and return HTTP 403 (unauthorized) responses.  In the second attack (a flood of spoofed UDP packets that maxed out our pipe @ 225mbps) we took offline and waited a few hours, then changed the DNS to point at and directed the attack at them.  At 12:25am on 2/15/12 the original asymmetric HTTP attack resumed, this time pointed at CloudFlare which replayed the attack to us. We went ahead and took the original block list we had compiled from the first attack and used CloudFlare's Threat Captcha response to filter out the likely candidates while we reconfigured our servers to work better with CloudFlare's (the site never went down), by 1:30am we had successfully mitigated the attack which continued until 8am, then stopped for 2 hours until 10am .. it's now 11am and I'm writing this blog post.

    This identifies how different providers will handle this, and it's an interesting thing to re-consider in a hosting contract -- i.e.: is  traffic/bandwidth really unlimited?  Is the hosting infrastructure on a cloud that can handle that type of attack and can adapt to different kinds of attacks?  The Internet is littered with stories of this happening in the past year and they are probably going to be more and more common in the future.

    This new trend is alarming because it shows that even if a company does everything right and gets #1 in the ranking -- it's much cheaper for a competitor to hire some bad guys to take a website offline than try and beat them fair and square.  The competitor may not even hire the bad guys directly, a hungry SEO company employed by a competitor needs to deliver results - by any means necessary.  It could also be a bad guy looking to move counterfeit goods, and to do that it's important to find new customers -- and the easiest way to "find" new customers is to take them from existing businesses. Criminal enterprises really sprung up on marketplaces like eBay where they could move counterfeit goods with relative anonymity.
    But in the past few years Marketplaces like eBay (Paypal) and Amazon have gotten good at filtering out criminal enterprises leaving only the Google/SERPs as the only location for these criminals to peddle their wares.  The competition on the SERPs is as fierce as it's ever been, because consumers are leaving Google for the more "app" centric Internet on mobile and tablets.  ECommerce numbers are reported in aggregate - so it's hard because while the e-commerce pie itself is still growing rapidly, the portion of the pie originating from SEO and CPC is actually shrinking. These criminal enterprises need to maintain their revenue by any means necessary.

    The interesting part is by poisoning the SERPs by taking legitimate businesses offline, this will only accelerate the adoption of marketplaces by consumers. Criminal enterprises still need to make payroll, their operators still have house and car payments just like everybody else. I won't say what does in sales, but lets say - that the business dynamics of stealing legitimate business --- especially if the bad guys don't actually plan to ship any product, or will ship counterfeit products in its place -- it's good, easy, cheap money. Another interesting impact of attacking well ranked SMBs is that they don't do enough in sales to warrant immediate action by law enforcement across the world. Now we've already seen counterfeit cisco router boards ending up in Cisco's own distribution channels - the idea that somebody in China could knock off Shampoo, Makeup and/or other beauty products is very real.

    Wednesday, March 14, 2012

    The next trend in website and user interface design: real

    I was reading an article at SAI Business Insider today about how much the authors of Angry Birds are probably worth ($2.2b) and it reminded me that I wanted to do a little write up about some upcoming design trends.

    In an increasingly digital age people seem to be drawn to the nostalgia of simple, elegant, and real. As a population here in the United States we seem to yearn for a time when technology and machines were still possible to understand and when things were "real".

    There is a trend in online games and interfaces of incorporating "real world" interaction. A good example of that is the smash hit Angry Birds, where users must use a combination of puzzle solving, timing, and 2-dimensional physics to slingshot birds at structures guarding pigs. (Yes I know how dumb that sounds, but it's actually pretty fun). I think the distinction that made Angry Birds a smash hit is because of the way it let people use a touchscreen on a tablet or mobile phone to replicate the 2-dimensional physics found in the real world. 2-dimensional physics are the same ones that would be found on a Billiard table, or a pin ball, or classic arcade games like Asteroids -- but those physics were lost in most modern video games. Other games like Sony's smash hit Little Big Planet is another example of employing physics and simple machines to solve problems.
    (And from what I understand Sack Dude from LittleBigPlanet has a whole series of new games and endorsements coming out.)

    Keep in mind the games that exist today will have an influence on tomorrow's fashion, style, and technology. For example I've often said that texting wouldn't have been nearly as popular with kids if they hadn't already developed mad thumb skills playing Ninetendo, or PlayStation.

    I think young adults - specifically those who have now grown up in a world where any answer was only a Google away and email is "a relic from the past" that they need to use only to communicate with Mom and Dad. This next, upcoming generation of consumers has never even heard of Napster, or AOL Instant Messenger. They know there was an internet before Myspace, but they really can't imagine what people did with it. I think they have a certain degree of fatalism with regard to the obsolescence of their own digital childhood and that makes them drawn to things that appear to be real (and therefore more likely to withstand the test of time).

    So if your web-business involves being on top of design trends for young adults, then it might be time to consider incorporating more of those 'modern' reinterpretations of real world physics and materials into your user-interface and website design.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts!