What does checking in to a place really mean?

Traditional Market Research methods like telephone and email surveys are very slowly (tortoise phase) giving way to more innovative ways of collecting data. You might be doing it and not even know you are giving out data.

Typically, Market Research firms will look for a nationally representative sample. They will reach out to their panellists who have opted in to answer surveys either via email or phone. Although this is a great way to get representative sample, panellists are getting harder and harder to reach.

Increasingly people have less time to sit at home waiting for phone calls and younger age groups are simply not interested in answering lengthy surveys. However, corporations are waking up to this new reality that simply going to people who may or may not be using their product is not cutting it anymore but they are letting users of their product or service feed information to them voluntarily via “check-in” functions on various social media apps.

For example, let’s take a look at the social media app Foursquare, founded by a start up in New York, is immensely popular in large urban areas where younger age groups (18-34) love trying out new hip and happening spots. All one has to do is check –in to a restaurant, bar, event or anything for that matter (even a religious institution). Up until recently, all a Foursquare user had to do was check in to a location, and compete with friends for most number of check ins. Foursquare has been collecting WEALTH of check in data for four or five years with never letting on of its intentions.

That is till last week when it did a major overhaul of its app and re-branded as Swarm. Whereas check-ins still remain the core of their functionality but it has now started selling ad space, customizing ads based on what people check in and where. With this approach, companies don’t have to go looking for passive panellists and wonder if they may or may not frequent a venue or a store and may or may not use their service or product. They are using the data that we are already giving them via various channels (Foursquare is just one example) to customise user experience. For example, Checking at Sportcheck as an 18 year old might show me an ad for a different brand than if I was a 54 year old. Pepsi and P and G seem to be the first ones to jump on board with this trend. Other than that Swarm is customizing local searches where you can easily see what your friends are up to in the neighbourhood (who said Social Media is driving us apart!!). 

This might scare some of us as we are giving away too much personal information but some of the ways this data is used should be protected by privacy laws i.e. they can use my demographic data to design their products but they can’t use my personal contact information to send me junk. I do not want to say traditional Market Research methods are dead as someone always needs to test a new concept amongst a clean sample but companies are getting increasingly innovative (and if they are not, they should) with the way they collect information from their user base.

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Arab Spring: How it changed the world in more ways than one

When one repressive Government after another started to topple in early 2010/2011 in the Middle East (also know as “Arab Spring”), people truly believed it was the start of an era where social media would help connect like-minded individuals in countries where mass gatherings were prohibited.

Little did we know, this moment in history would not inspire governments to get their act together and listen to the disgruntled youth but quite the opposite. From democracies to dictatorships, legislation and bills started passing where every post, every tweet would be monitored. In some cases the monitoring has gone a little extreme. In Russia, for example, Government agents in an attempt to “crack down” on homosexuality pretended to be gay and put up profiles on gay dating websites and ended up arresting unassuming people looking for love.

Keep in mind, the “Arab Spring” was not when the Governments started to pay attention to social media. In 2009, during Iran’s “green revolution”, Iranian intelligence scanned Facebook and Twitter for any anti-government messages being posted. 

For the most part, one could argue that this kind of surveillance actually protects the masses from possible terror attacks or what have you and in the past arguably terror attacks may have been prevented. But then incidents like this occur, where during the 2011 Federal elections, a teen was kicked out of Stephen Harper’s rally for the simple reason that her current profile picture on Facebook showed her posing with Michael Ignatieff (leader of the opposition party at the time). 

Right at this moment, the Canadian Government is trying to pass bill C-13 which would require telecommunication companies in Canada to hand over all personal information to the Government. So no, this will not happen on an ad-hoc bases through a Freedom of Information (FOI) but by law every time you sign you sign up for a cell phone plan, your information will be passed on to the Government.

Pardon my partisan tone in this article, as it could be any Government of the day that could get on a power high and pass these kind of laws. And my qualm is not necessarily with Government protecting us but more so with Big brother Orwellian approach where anything innocent we post on Social media could be used against us in a humiliating manner, maybe even this post.

Vitaminwater: A pioneer in social listening

Year 2009 – the world is reeling from the economic meltdown, Obama has been elected for just under a year, major corporations are slashing their marketing budgets which also includes market research budgets.

Most companies had a market research department that would collect data, provide it to the marketing department that would create a marketing brief or a plan where one of the bullet points discussed the advertising strategy. The advertising strategy would then be passed on to Advertising department who would discuss various mediums of advertising – TV, billboards, print etc etc. And finally capital would be spent on measuring the advertising performance. You get the picture, this process became too expensive in the post-madoff world.

Enter Vitaminwater, one of the pioneers in crowdsourcing. Not only did they find a clever way in 2009 to crowd source their newest flavour on Facebook while most corporations were still figuring out Facebook. They also managed to collect market research data at the same time. In short, using an app on facebook, they came up with a competition on Facebook to introduce a new flavour of Vitaminwater. A few things were accomplished using this approach – engaged with their followers instead of just passively throwing posts their way, created buzz about their brand, collected data, measured activity using facebook and came up with a new flavour that their fans actually voted for.

I am not privy (I know right?!) to Vitaminwater’s accounting information but back in 2009 this was a genius marketing strategy to not only efficiently using slim marketing budgets but also adapting to the rapidly changing times. I am not sure if Vitaminwater was the first company to use this style but it was definitely one of the first. Since then many popular brands have been using this cross-media approach (e.g. Doritos). Vitaminwater Canada used this approach again during the 2014 Winter Olympics to introduce a new flavour.

I guess the moral of the story is not just to thing outside the box, but listen outside the box. Heck break that box, listen to what other boxes outside you are thinking, make them break their boxes, put all boxes in a magic bullet so that you have a mixture of one fine clay and then mould that clay as the times change. No seriously, fuck the box.

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Mayor tames the Wild West of social media

Few years ago, if anyone mentioned “Calgary”, things like Rodeo, Cowboys, conservative cowboys would come to mind. Enter Naheed Nenshi, a young Harvard-educated councillor who protested a 6% pay raise given to councillors by donating 6% of his income to charity.

Naheed was at the right place at the right time during the 2010 Mayoral elections. Calgary and Calgarians in particular were fed up of stereotypes that painted their city as conservative and regressive little diversity and zero creativity. Nenshi started off his politicial campaign on a grassroots level – a facebook page. Soon his ideas resonated deeply with Calgarians. A “purple” wave took over the city. Twitter was heavily used to garner organic support. Nenshi was voted in with 40% of the vote, easily defeating two of his main opponents.

Nenshi’s sharp focus on his core messages delivered through social media tools in 2010 and winning in a region that was used to seeing politicians hold on to power for decades was nothing short of a revolution. Rest of Canada definitely started to see Calgary in a more favourable light as a modern, progressive city.

One may agree or disagree with his policies but even after the election he has stayed consistent in being accessible to the public. While politician Joe Smith (or Joe Smith’s entourage) tweets about Joe’s visits to a gala, or formulation of a new policy of their government, Nenshi personally replies to his constituents and followers on twitter sometimes even giving sharp pointed responses backed with facts. He has managed to shed the image of stuffy politician. Huffington Post has called him “The coolest Canadian Politician on Twitter” in an article highlighting his infamous tongue-in-cheek replies.

Without Social media, Nenshi may or may not have won but with social media Nenshi and his team were able to tap into the apathetic youth municipal vote. It was certainly helpful that Nenshi delivered targeted messages in his campaign and remained consistent across all mediums and has built a solid personal brand for himself.

Now if we could only have a Mayor swap program in place, that would be ideal (le sigh)