Tag Archives: data usage

It’s Not Just Data

There is an interesting case that was argued before the Supreme Court the other day and it just might have an impact on your business.  There was also a lawsuit filed in an unrelated matter that could have the same effect.  A third item is a study that’s kind of scary. Let’s have a quick look at them and think about what they might mean to anyone who gathers information about their customers. 

First, the case before The Supremes.  It involves Spokeo, one of the large data aggregators.  Spokeo’s information about a consumer was almost 100% wrong.  As Justice Kagan said, “They basically got everything wrong about him. They got his marital status wrong. They got his income wrong. They got his education wrong. They basically portrayed a different person.”  The plaintiff was seeking a job when he filed suit, and worried that the errors in the report would affect his job search.  The other suit involves Ashley Madison.  They were sued for allegedly misleading users by inflating the number of women who belonged to the service.  As we have found out from the data hack, only a small percentage of the profiles belonged to actual women who used the site.  The company hired employees whose jobs were to create thousands of fake female profiles.

I suspect that a third form of data abuse will be in the courts shortly, as a recent study found that the average Android app sends potentially sensitive data to 3.1 third-party domains, and the average iOS app connects to 2.6 third-party domains.  None of the apps notify users that their information is being shared with third parties.  Data that’s wrong, data that’s fake, and data that’s shared without permission.  I suppose if we could get the fake guys to populate the wrong guys, sharing it without permission wouldn’t be a big deal.  Since it’s your personal information, it is.

If you gather data (and who doesn’t), you have a responsibility to keep it secure and not to use it for purposes beyond what the owner of the data (that would be you and me) reasonably expects you’ll be doing with it.  If you’re disseminating data, especially data that could impact someone’s life and not just your own business, you need to be sure it’s accurate.  And if you’re making stuff up, please just go away.

They’re not just data points, folks.  They’re people.  Maybe they’re lawsuits in waiting, or maybe they’re your spouse, kids, or parents.  Let’s be careful out there, ok?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

Who’s Working For Whom?

Ever encounter a situation where things seem backwards? Maybe you’ve seen a parent being told what to do by a child or a customer being berated by a service rep. It makes you wonder who is in charge or who is working for whom. I have another thought along those lines today, and it has to do with data. There was a post from AdAge by their data reporter, Katie Kaye who wrote the following about the NY Times piece on Amazon: 

The article should inspire us to question the value of decisions based entirely on data to create business efficiencies at the expense of human empathy and the arguable imperfections that can benefit any organization or project.

I like that. It makes you ask who is in charge here: the humans or the numbers. We all ingest more data than we can consume, and, unfortunately, some of us allow that massive intake to be regurgitated as unconsidered decisions. That’s a bad idea. The data is there to serve us, not the other way around.

I’m the first to say that we need lots of data. Without impartial feedback, we’re flying blind, and data can help us make better decisions. The key there is “help US”.   Data without the context of a plan is useless. Data that’s not actionable is useless.  Data that causes us to overreact, however, is  dangerous.  If you watched any election coverage last night, you probably heard a lot about early results and the need to wait for data from key precincts.  How many times has someone in your organization overreacted to an early piece of data, only to find out that it was not at all typical of the overall results?  We need a plan, we need context, and we need a little patience.

When we chase after outliers, we’re working for the data.  That’s backward.  Data, and all the other technological tools in our arsenals, needs to work for us.  Make sense?

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Blinded By The Light

Yesterday I wrote about using data as a flashlight. There is, of course, a problem inherent in flashlights that is also true about data. If you look at a flashlight the wrong way, you become temporarily blinded. Let someone shine one into your eyes in a dark room and you’ll understand. Data can be blinding too.  

For example, it’s great to have big ears and to listen carefully to what is transpiring with respect to your company or brand in the social sphere. The problem is that we all know those with the loudest mouths tend to be the least satisfied. Some are just chronic complainers; others are trying to get something for nothing. Taking their buzz as gospel can drive you insane as well as point you in the wrong direction. Obviously they can’t be ignored, but that’s a beam of light we need to be sure is aiming in the right direction.

Ratings and reviews are other sources of excellent information, but be sure that as you’re researching (both those of your own brand and those of your competitors) that you’re not falling prey to fake information. There are companies that hire scammers to write them, as this piece explains in detail.  Place what’s out there publicly in the context of your own customer service data and support emails.  Are there large differences?  Complaints that are never made privately but seem to be a steady drumbeat publicly?

I like this quote:

The paradigm has historically been to do some qualitative studies to develop hypotheses for testing, then validate and measure through quantitative studies. The only difference now is that, in addition to intimate panel-based research, we also have the ability to get much more input from a panel of millions.

So as you’re using those million beams of light, don’t forget context and source.  Make your data set as comprehensive as possible before drawing conclusions.  Failing to do so means blindness rather than illumination.

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One Thing You Can Do Right Now For Your Customers

Attention business people! We have a problem. OK, many of us have more than one, but the one to which I refer is pretty important so listen up. In short, our customers don’t trust us. Think I’m kidding?

The latest Pew study is out and as the release about it said:

In the almost two years that have passed since the initial Snowden (former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden) revelations, the public has been awash in news stories detailing security breaches at major retailers, health insurance companies and financial institutions. These events and the doubts they have inspired have contributed to a cloud of personal “data insecurity” that now looms over many Americans’ daily decisions and activities. Many find these developments deeply troubling and want limits put in place, while some do not feel these issues affect them personally.

Some may not feel that but the vast majority do. Most folks believe it is important that they be able to maintain privacy and confidentiality in commonplace activities of their lives. Most strikingly, these views are especially pronounced when it comes to knowing what information about them is being collected and who is doing the collecting.  Compare that belief with the data:

  • 76% of adults say they are “not too confident” or “not at all confident” that records of their activity maintained by the online advertisers who place ads on the websites they visit will remain private and secure.
  • 69% of adults say they are not confident that records of their activity maintained by the social media sites they use will remain private and secure.
  • 66% of adults say they are not confident that records of their activity maintained by search engine providers will remain private and secure.
  • 66% say they are not confident that records of their activity collected by the online video sites they use will remain private and secure.

So what can you do right now to help?  Be transparent about what you’re collecting and why.  Don’t bury that information in your Terms of Service.  Explain who has access to the data, how it is shared (or not) with business partners, how long it’s retained, and offer to present the user with a copy of everything you have.  Most importantly, to the extent you can, allow the customers to opt-in and explain why that’s a good thing for them.  Turns out it just might be a good thing for your business too.

Do you do business with people you don’t trust?  Why should your customers?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

Staying In Second Gear

Imagine you’ve purchased a brand new Ferrari 488GTB.  You are now the proud owner of a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission which is in a vehicle said to be capable of 205 mph.  I don’t know about you but I would for damn sure want to find a place where I could get it out of second gear and let the machine perform to its abilities.  It would be a waste to leave it in second gear all the time.

English: Ferrari 458 Italia, pictured in London

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought about that as I read about the Relevancy Group’s 2015 version of the email service provider study.  What struck me was how many of those companies that rely on email marketing are underutilizing the wealth of data they have. Instead they relied on less advanced customer data attributes to segment audiences for email marketing campaigns.  As the eMarketer summary stated:

General demographic and geographic data were the most common metrics used for segmentation, and the only ones used by more than 35% of respondents. Meanwhile, other easily measured data points such as email clicks and open rates were used less frequently—especially the latter—and most marketers were unable to leverage metrics beyond the email realm such as past purchases and spending habits.

How very 2001, although I’m not surprised.  The sad reality is that many companies have no plan, no system, no KPI’s, and no ability to mine and utilize the bulk of the data they already have.  Just over a quarter of marketers have some sort of ability to create a single customer view across channels.  I suspect those of you who aren’t marketers have some of the same issues.  Data can live in silos or be fragmented across reporting lines.  A big problem which gets bigger every day.

How can we get the rest of the email marketing world out of second gear? Part of it is understanding.  It’s nice that many of the marketers surveyed planned to focus more on segmentation and targeting, ranking it the top email marketing priority for 2015.  But unless there is a better understanding of what’s being collected and a commitment to a single repository from which all stakeholders can draw, I don’t see them reaching  top speed in their marketing.  You?

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Dark Social

I will admit upfront that today’s screed is a little wonky.  You might want to stay with me though – you might just figure something out about your business as we go.  Ready?

The topic today is what’s been called “dark social” traffic.  No, these are not teenagers cruising Main Street late at night.  It refers to people coming to your website based on a link that’s been shared to them socially.  In other words, when I see an article I like and share it with a friend via email or messaging, most web analytic systems don’t really get how the recipient got to the website (although some are beginning to).  Since they clicked on a URL and went directly to the site (not from another website), it’s reported as direct traffic which is a big dumping bin of mostly unknown sources (even though it’s supposed to be users who came by typing the URL or via bookmark).  With me so far?

I did a little exercise on one of my client’s site traffic.  I looked at direct traffic which didn’t enter the site on the home page, an indicator to me of dark social traffic since people don’t generally type in long URL’s.  11% of their traffic was dark social.  With another client it was 34%.  I did some research and it turns out that those numbers are pretty typical – The Atlantic Monthly, which receives 5M monthly uniques, reports 60% of traffic from dark social.  Smithsonian Magazine realized it was 82% of their shares. Why is this important to you?

If you’re spending time analyzing your data to make better marketing decisions – which audiences to target through which channels, which content is socially relevant, etc – knowing what’s being shared and by whom is important.  The client I checked usually has a somewhat older skew and we use that in marketing.  The dark social traffic, however, demonstrates not only a higher rate of sharing of content among younger (18-24) people but also a higher conversion rate.  Very interesting and actionable data point.

The broader point is one you’ve heard before.  We need to spend time thinking about how our customers and potential customers come to and interact with our brand.  We need to formulate good questions and try to answer them with the data.  Data for data’s sake is useless.  Using data to drive actionable business decisions is where we are right now in marketing and business, at least where I and my clients are.  You?

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Sick Reviews

Today’s Foodie Friday Fun finds us at the intersection of food, data, and social media.

New York Skyline

(Photo credit: CJ Isherwood)

Yes I know we’ve been here before but today’s tidbit concerns an article in the NY Times the other day. The NYC Health Department conducted a pilot study using Yelp reviews to see if they could identify unreported outbreaks of food-borne illness.  Despite what some may think, not everyone calls the city to let them know they got sick eating someplace.  What many folks do, however, is post something on social media.  Since Yelp is the go-to site on dining out, it would make sense to start here.  One can easily see the effort expanding to other likely places – Twitter, Trip Advisor, etc.

So what did they find?

Using a software program developed by Columbia University, city researchers combed through 294,000 Yelp reviews for restaurants in the city over a period of nine months in 2012 and 2013, searching for words like “sick,” “vomit” and “diarrhea” along with other details. After investigating those reports, the researchers substantiated three instances when 16 people had been sickened.

Doesn’t sound like much but it’s a start.  Maybe you’re aware that Google tried something similar to help spot flu outbreaks.  There is a bigger business point here.  What the city is doing is growing big ears.  They’re learning to use the vast amount of self-reported data to eliminate problems in some cases before they’re actually reported via the official channels.  The three instances they found were open for business with no complaints on the official record.  Inspections turned up unclean conditions at all of them.

The real question is how are you going to do something similar in your business?  Maybe you’re watching your Facebook page for negative comments or responding to people pinging your brand account on Twitter.  What are you doing to get beyond those quasi-official channels?

I wrote the other day about the need to improve data quality.  Sure – in theory a bunch of vindictive people could trigger a health department visit by writing up negative posts containing keywords or phrases.  In theory, I could win the U.S. Senior Open.  Neither is likely to happen.  What is likely to occur, however, is that your competition will find new ways to seek out and use information to drive their businesses forward.  Will you be there with them?

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Filed under digital media, food