What are Facebook / Twitter Worth?

There have been a lot of rumours flying around over the last couple of weeks about Twitter having a valuation of around $10 billion.  That’s quite a lot of cash for a company that supposedly lost around $40 million last year, and is forecast to do about $150 million in advertising revenue in 2011 according to emarketer.  Its a similar story over at Facebook, where a valuation of around $50 billion has been placed on the company.  That’s about a quarter of Google, despite only having revenue of about $1.8 billion last year.  Since costs for Facebook in 2009 were around $500 million, the company is definitely profitable – although how profitable is a big question.

Eric Schmidt, outgoing CEO at Google has suggested that this is evidence of a new dotcom bubble in progress, and if you look at a graph of Facebook’s valuation according to investment over the past few years, there is a bit of an upward trend:

value of Facebook based on investment in the company
value of Facebook based on investment in the company

Why so much?

Facebook currently has almost 600 million users, and they capture an awful lot of information about each of them.  this is data that is fabulously valuable from a marketing perspective.  Although Facebook only earns about $3 per user per year at the moment, there is enormous scope for increasing this.  Their advertising is still in its infancy, and although it is highly targeted, it is not that successful at driving volume of clicks – although they do convert really well.

Facebook also has more products under development and going live.  Their deals offering is attractive for businesses, and could potentially be a huge market with great revenue opportunities.  Facebook also have an opportunity to start to offer some kind of off site advertising model similar to Google AdSense, which based on the increasing value of behavioural targeting display advertising, and AdSense, could become a bigger revenue generator than on site advertising.  Another big opportunity for Facebook is their mobile apps and website.  Right now neither of these run the advertising, and a significant volume of interaction with the site is done on mobile – about 150-200 million people primarily interact with the site on their mobile phones rather than via the normal web interface.

Is a value of $100 per user good value for Facebook?  Maybe.  Although they are earning around $4 per user at the moment, this will grow quickly as more businesses enter the auction for traffic, and Facebook get better at converting views into clicks.

The other thing to remember about the current valuation of Facebook at around the $50 billion mark is largely fuelled by the Goldman Sachs investment at the end of last year.  The value of that investment of $385 million or so was mainly strategic to put the bank into pole position for managing the IPO of Facebook which is likely to happen in 2012, and would earn the bank several billions in commission for running the process.

So What about Twitter?

For Twitter the picture is not so clear.  Sure they have a fast growing user base, but they don’t capture anywhere near as much data about members as Facebook, and this will always limit how accurate their in stream advertising can be.  Promoted trends and tweets are a reasonable driver of revenue for Twitter, but they lack control over some of the other advertising that goes on the site.  Kim Kardashian is rumoured to earn about $60K every time she promotes a link to her 6 million followers.  She might well be worth it too, based on the traffic that one of her bit.ly links gets:

Clicks on a Kim Kardashian Twitter Link
Clicks on a Kim Kardashian Twitter Link

Twitter have experimented with a lot of different revenue earning models, and things are getting better for them.  Apparently although they still lost money in 2010, each user was reaching a several dollar value, and with about 150 million actual users, they have potential to earn more.

The real value of Twitter is probably not confined to the individual users it has, but the aggregated data that they provide.  Beyond trend data and hot items, Twitter sentiment provides huge insight into the shape of markets, and properly tamed, and with strong analysis could be used for predicting more than popular movies.

Are they worth it?

It would be easy to say that no, Facebook and Twitter are in no way worth the kind of valuations that are being thrown around about them, but that really overlooks the value that Data has in an information economy.

When you consider that the cost of the last UK census was about £250 million – about £10 per household, and acquired far less demographic information than Facebook captures in a single day, the true value of Facebook becomes apparent.

Ultimately, having  real time population data that incorporates relationships, employment, product preferences and state of mind for 600 million people could be worth far more than $50 billion, it just depends on what you are able to do with it.

Data are useless

…without analysis

That might seem a little bit dramatic, but its true.  In the truest sense, data are the basic raw numbers that underlie things.  Without context, they are worthless.  Here are some data:

19, 15, 34, 13, 17, 25, 22

That’s not going to be very helpful to anyone.  Sure you can do things with it, but unless you know what the context of the data is, any transformations you make won’t have any more value than the initial list of numbers.  Once you have some context for the data, it becomes somewhat more valuable.  It becomes information.  Let’s say that the list of numbers above are the number of visitors to a website a seven days.

With some context to the data, we can start to do something with it:

We know that the average number of visits per day is 20.7, and that there was a big spike on Wednesday:

That to be honest, is just about all you can do with this limited dataset.  It triggers some questions:

  • What happened on Wednesday to cause the increase?
  • Is this week typical?
  • Where did the visitors come from?
  • What did they look at on the website?
  • How long did they stay for?

I remember seeing Google Analytics for the first time about 5 years ago.  At the time, services like AWStat and Hitcounter were about the best you could hope for – some people still rely on a hit counter – and the limit of analysis that you could perform on a very limited data set was crippling to any kind of campaign optimisation.

Of course, you could always trawl through the log files for hours, but this really wouldn’t tell you anything other than the fact that you really needed to get out more.

Marketers, should always want to know more about their customers in order to ensure that they can improve products and targeting, and analytics helps to do this.  We can find trends, uncover keywords that trigger conversions, and follow the path through a website that offers least resistance.

Connecting Online with In Real Life

However, no matter how effective your online analytics are, the biggest challenge is to tie in this information to the real world.  Analytics still lacks context, still lacks any anchor to what customer motivation really is.

There  has long been a trend in online marketing to follow the rabbit hole of analytics through to its conclusion, but the fact is, that unless there is a way of tying this data into actual customers, you will always be looking for more context, and no matter how comprehensive the data your cookie captures as the visitor makes their way through the site, you cannot see what the difference between the 5% of customers who reached the website using “keyword 1” and bought something, and the 95% who didn’t.

The benefit of social media integration into the DNA of any online marketing activity is that it allows you to know more about your prospects before they arrive at the website, and prequalify them.    Rather than looking at conversion as the final point in the user graph, you need to look deeper into your data to find out who converted, and then look back at why they converted.

A lot of businesses have analytics that stops at the point of sale and doesn’t track through to the customer information within their database, however if you can bridge this gap and correlate the exact user and their exact purchases with the keyword that they entered the website for, you can then find out more about them online.  By looking at Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, phone books and so on you can find out a lot about people – how old they are, what their other interests are, where they work, what they do.

When you find common factors in your customers, you can then go back and look for more of the same, tailoring the message that they see in the search results, or through advertising to their demographic using Facebook – essentially chasing them as hard as possible.

Sometimes Pixels Aren’t Enough

Today is St Valentine’s day – or Hallmark cards day if you’re a cynic.  It’s the one day of the year where you can get away with stalking in real life rather than on Facebook, and the one day of the year where you should feel completely free to express yourself in words.

I wrote a card for my wife this morning and left it on the kitchen table so that she’d find it when she came down for breakfast. That’s about as romantic as I get.  It was a nice card though, and a lot of thought went into choosing it.

The thing is, when I left the house, I realised that cards are just about the only means  of communication that hasn’t transferred online.  Sure, there are those crappy e-card companies, and there are plenty of places that will personalise a card on your behalf, and send it with a printed message inside, but a proper card from a proper shop is still the best way to make someone feel special.

There are some things about the future that I think will be a struggle to deal with.  Imagine the day when all of your Christmas presents come in the form of a download rather than a physical item.  Books in PDF Format, MP3 albums, and streamed games and films.  I’m willing to bet that if Ann Summers could find a way to broadcast a pair of knickers, they’d do it in an instant.  Special occasions are getting less special every year, as the things that make them so are gradually eroded.

Traditionally, St Valentine’s Day has been the day where you could declare love for someone anonymously, send them a message that was only for them, a message that was there to make them feel special.  Sadly, as we migrate all of our communication online, like birthdays and Christmas, the card is being replaced by a few words on a Facebook wall or an @ message on Twitter.  And that’s pretty sad.  If anything, its a bit worse than the text message barrage for new year, because at least text messages cost something, and take a little bit of thought.

St Valentine’s Day should be more than:

i<3 u

on a Facebook wall.

It might be corny, it might be over the top, and it might be mostly about making a few quid for Mr Hallmark and his card making chums, but to be honest a couple of quid for a card, and a few minutes to write a message that only she will read is a small price to pay to make someone feel special.

X

The Dark Side of SEO gets in the Headlines

Yesterday the New York Times published a story about how a large US retailer had apparently been engaged in some fairly dodgy link buying as part of their SEO activity and consequently been hit by the Google Ban Hammer.  Predictably there followed a mass debate on Twitter and the various SEO forums about the rights and wrongs of the behaviour and ban.

The story goes that JC Penney used the automated link building service TNX to place thousands of anchor text rich links to their key category pages, and as a result, dominated US Search results for a huge range high volume keywords over the busy Christmas and New Year period.

The article even drafted in an SEO expert from a New York Web Design firm (?) who described the behaviour as:

…the most ambitious attempt to game Google’s search results that he has ever seen…

So, some automated link service that costs a few quid a month to place is the “most ambitious” attempt at Black Hat SEO in history? Nah, its a little bit of drama, and it also leaves a fairly nasty taste in my mouth.

JC Penney Didn’t Know?

SEO clients absolutely should know what is going on in their name, marketing directors would know which TV channels they were appearing on, they would know which magazines were going to run features about the company.  They should also know who is blogging about them, linking to them, and writing news stories and reviews about them.

If link building is part of an SEO Campaign, it should be conducted in line with brand guidelines.  I’ve worked with retailers who had restrictions placed upon by suppliers about what kind of language could be used to describe products.

If JC Penney were spending any amount of cash with their agency, you would expect that to be accounted for, for the cost of any links to be reported so that the value of them to the campaign could be ascertained.

There is so much back end analysis that goes into a retail website to improve conversion at all stages in the funnel that I find it hard to believe that a savvy online marketing manager would not be asking questions about the campaign.  That’s why when Darcie Brossart says:

J. C. Penney did not authorize, and we were not involved with or aware of, the posting of the links that you sent to us, as it is against our natural search policies,

I’m actually inclined to believe her, but it doesn’t make her innocent – it means that she’s ignorant, and when you’re responsible for a website, you need to be in control of everything.  You might not be able to control who links to you, but you should know who does.

Was JC Penney’s SEO Company at Fault

Absolutely – even if they didn’t place the links themselves.

Pretty much any SEO Company – particularly one that could sign a blue chip like this would have access to a reasonable level of technology and internal processes in place to review things like inbound links.  Why?  Because SERPs are an expression of relative probability.  The Google search results are essentially a comparison list of websites that might be relevant to a particular phrase.  They are ordered to represent the probability that they are the best match based on a list of weighting factors, and this list includes links.

Competitor campaign analysis allows an agency to see what everyone else is doing in a particular vertical – this is almost certainly how the JC Penney links were uncovered.  What’s alarming is that the back link profile of JC Penney is so bad.  a quick scan of Yahoo Site Explorer suggests a lack of focus, almost no relevance from the sites being targeted, little or no consideration of brand when applying links, and precious little quality control.

There are fewer links to the website from news providers and genuinely interested parties than we might see from a UK retailer of similar importance.  This again suggests that the SEO agency weren’t really doing much link building – after all, why wouldn’t you just contact a news site that wrote a story and ask for a link?

Would you say anything?

In my experience, clients are often quieter when things are going well than they are when things are going badly.  Fewer questions are asked during meetings when the site is ranking well and traffic is up than they are when you are behind targets.

If you were an SEO agency running a campaign where links were not a consideration, and you saw rankings improve consistently, would you risk upsetting the apple cart.  I’ve known guys in SEO who have claimed credit for everything positive even when there is zero correlation between their actions and the results they are seeing.

Dark Forces at Work?

If you take the idea that the SEO agency and JC Penney are being honest and that the links were not placed by them, you come to the uncomfortable conclusion that they were the victim of a targeted attack from a competitor.  Does this happen?

Yes.

Have I seen it?

Yes.

Have I been asked to do it?

Yes.

Have I done it?

No.

In fact, I know of very few SEO agencies who haven’t had client’s request that they carry out negative SEO techniques against a competitor.  How many do it?  I don’t know because it’s not something you shout about.  It’s not something you shout about, because it’s against the law, and if you got caught for it, you would face a substantial damages bill.

If I wanted to run a negative SEO campaign against a client’s competitor, I would probably build a stack of artificial links via TNX, or better still via Digital Point, because it’s dirtier.  Then I’d file a spam report.  Once I’d done that, I’d kick up a fuss on a few of the bigger SEO blogs and forums to grab some attention, and force someone’s hand.  I’d follow the path I see in the NYT article, because as soon as you call the integrity of Google’s results into question,  they pretty much have to do something immediately as damage limitation.

What Can You Do?

A negative SEO campaign is pretty much the silent assassin, the first thing you know about being the victim of one is the feel of a razor sharp blade slicing through your rankings.  You can keep an eye on your back links via Google Webmaster Tools, and check for malware on your website on a daily basis.  You can maintain a high quality website that is difficult to hack, and you can behave ethically in what you do on line to ensure that if there is a spike of anomalous activity, you have a better case for saying it wasn’t you.  But essentially, when the shit hits the fan, you’re still going to get a kicking.

You need to set up Google Alerts for your brand name.  You need to use a social monitoring tool to track mentions of your website, you need to understand what the normal situation is, and you need to recognise when things change.  SEO is not about changing your meta tags, it’s about understanding the topography of the web in your local area, and using that knowledge to put yourself in the best position.

If you don’t understand what matters for your group of keywords against your group of competitors, you will never be able to rank above them without getting your hands dirty.

What Can Google Do?

Google can do whatever they like. :-/

Seriously though, Google can do what they’ve always done, evolve their algorithm over time to better represent user behaviour.  Google absolutely have to do something about the link economy that PageRank has created.  It is easy to spoof popularity by paying – ask any politician 🙂 – what is harder is faking interest.

They’re getting there…

As more social networking signals are being considered, and results are becoming personalised to the individual based on the interests of their connections, genuine relevance is getting harder to falsify.  Which is better for users and search engines alike.

Ambitious? Maybe

So, was this:

…the most ambitious attempt to game Google’s search results…

ever?

Well that depends.  It depends on whether it was an attempt to get JC Penney to rank for a few competitive search terms using a fairly well known automated link building script, or whether it was an attempt to leverage the gravitas of a story in a major international publication to out a competitor at the end of a fairly obvious negative SEO Campaign.

Who will challenge Facebook

Since they overtook mySpace a few years ago, Facebook has been the dominant force in the social network market. With a userbase that is now approaching 600 million people, Facebook has become the single most important content sharing platform on the web and one of the biggest revenue generators of any advertising company.

Conventional wisdom about any market leader is that they will be replaced.  A more innovative, aggressive and agile competitor will be able to give their customers more for less, and they will be replaced. It doesn’t matter whether you look at the 1900s or the 2000s, eventually, every market leader goes into a period of decline.

People have been asking for years what the Google killer is, and despite the best efforts of Cuil, Blekko, Clusty and others, Google is still there at the top of the pile, and grabbing more business each month.  Despite this, Microsoft Bing has been slowly chipping it’s way into the market, and thanks to the Yahoo tie up, Bing is now a credible competitor.

Microsoft have played the long game in search, and it is starting to pay off.  Could they do the same in social?

When you look at the software market, Microsoft managed to establish themselves well in every vertical from OS to gaming thanks to a philosophy of making things work better together.  For all the criticism of the company for their business practices and the occasional dodgy product, the fact is that without doing something that is largely better than the competition, they would not be so dominant.

Gaming too – XBox was a great console.  xBox 360 is better.  Both have been successful, and with Kinect, it may well take over from Wii as the biggest seller.

The thing about Microsoft products that is most exciting from a user perspective is that they fit together so well.  Whether you are sharing data across programs in Office, transferring music from xBox to Zune, or editing photos, the fact is that Microsoft helps.

Indirect Benefits

Interconnecteness is a big thing for Microsoft.  The more people are tied into their products, the harder it is for them to switch to an alternative provider.  By overlaying social media, and cloud storage onto their productivity suite, Microsoft are able to better retain their client base.  Social is all about the indirect benefits that it brings to the company, rather than the direct benefits of simply providing a bit of fun.

The chances are that you have a Live account already. There are around 360 million active accounts that people use to cover Xbox live, MSN, Zune, hotmail, Office Live and MSDN.

Microsoft are no stranger to Social Media – they were touted as a possible suitor for Facebook at one time, and have a pretty big advertising tie up with Facebook thanks to the two way Bing integration.  Microsoft also get people.  They might not be beloved within certain parts of the tech community, but that’s mostly because certain people have a long memory, and aren’t that keen on Microsoft’s closed source software.

However, ignoring this bogeyman reputation of Microsoft in the tech community, people do love them (grudgingly).  They buy Windows PC, invest in Office for their business, use Bing, read the news on MSN, and share thoughts on Messenger.

All of these services are tied together well – SkyDrive offers 25B of online storage, which is more than you would ever need for your photos.

The challenge for Microsoft would be to convince users that Live was a social network to rival Facebook.

Facebook are going to IPO soon, and it is at that point where they will suddenly experience a need to monetise their users more aggressively, because they will be answerable to their shareholders.  At that point, user experience will almost certainly suffer, and potentially push users into the waiting arms of Microsoft, who have alternative ways of building a revenue model around users.

Microsoft provide collaborative solutions for businesses, with a philosophy of keeping a tight rein on their customers to retain them.  I don’t doubt that they could do the same with consumers in a social network.

Why celebrities get Twitter right, and you get it wrong

I follow a couple of celebrities on Twitter, and I expect that you do the same.  In fact, I’m pretty confident that almost everyone who uses Twitter has at least a couple of superstars in their following folder.  I guess that there are even people who signed up for Twitter solely to get their dose of celebrity tittle tattle straight from the horse’s mouth rather than reading it in Heat magazine.

Admittedly, celebrities get a lot of their followers on the strength of their popularity, but the chances are, if you’re a reasonably sized company with any marketing budget, as many people have heard of you as have someone like Iain Lee who has around 25,000 followers.

If you’ve ever looked enviously at the follower counts of other people on Twitter, the chances are that you’re doing Twitter wrong.

The biggest issue with a lot of corporate Twitter streams is that they are all about the company, and rather than being a two way stream, they are a one way shouting session that reads like this:

Buy our stuff

Buy our stuff

Buy our stuff

Buy our stuff

Read our blog

Buy our stuff

…and so on…

Who wants to read that?

The reason why celebrities are so popular on Twitter is that it breaks down the impenetrable barrier that is perceived to exist between ordinary people and them.  We all live vicariously through the exploits of others – whether becoming engrossed in a movie or watching a football match, we live out our fantasies indirectly without realising it consciously.  The celebrity Tweeter gives us access to a world that is ordinarily closed to us.  We get insight into the daily lives of Stephen Fry or Demi Moore, and that’s terribly exciting.

Typically, a celebrity Twitter feed will look like this:

I just did something cool.

I’ve just been somewhere awesome.

@somefan thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

I’m with @anothercelebrity at some place

My new DVD is out.

The difference is obvious:  Not only do they talk about something other than product, they recognise the fact that they are using a social network.  They interact with other people, give them a chance to be part of the discussion.

All too often, you see a lot of inbound comments to a business twitter address, but very few outbound responses.  There is a lack of engagement.

Celebrity Tweeters become popular because they say something interesting to their followers and understand them, a lot of corporate tweeters fail to get traction because they are trapped in a mentality that the feed needs to be all about them.

Your website is about you.  Social Media is about your customers.

Response Tactics

Unhappy customers are more likely to tell people about a bad experience than happy customers are to talk about a good one.  Ten years ago, this wasn’t so much of a problem for big business – If I had a bad experience with my bank, I would be able to tell a few people at work, and they would nod and reciprocate with their own horror stories.

Now, I’m a bit more connected.  If my bank pissed me off, it would go on the blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, on Linked In.  If I was really annoyed about it, I might take the time to write a review at Review Centre or another site.  Rather than 10 or 20 people knowing about my frustration with dealing with an employee in a call centre who was unable to do anything for me, a few thousand people would know.  Also, my review might start showing up in the search results against the name of the bank, and could potentially put customers off joining them.

I’m probably directly networked to around a thousand people, and when you add in the people who re-tweet, or like my comments on Facebook and share them with their friends, the number could be much higher.

And I’m not the only one.  The average Facebook user has around 190 friends.  Bad news travels fast these days.

Reputation Management

One of the main reasons why social media is getting so much air time at the moment is because board directors at big corporations are getting an accurate picture of what their customers really think.  In the past, sentiment would generally be captured via customer satisfaction surveys, but these typically fail badly because the questions are not structured well enough to get a good picture.  Also, real statistics such as complaints or customer churn are difficult to measure in context.  Banks, rail companies, and big retailers are understandably unwilling to divulge sensitive information about how badly they treat their customers.

Twitter is different.  Here’s a quick look at the comments about Barclays this morning:

Barclays Bank Twitter Stream
It's not looking good for Barclays

Sending a tweet in the heat of the moment is easy.  Too easy as far as companies like Barclays are concerned, as each of these tweets is indexed and searchable instantly.  A single news story can generate a lot of feedback about a company.

Monitoring

If you take the position that social media is the new customer feedback form, then you put yourself in a situation where you need to be able to do something useful with that information.  I’ve said before that monitoring and measuring is an essential part of any process.

Use technology.

There are plenty of options available for monitoring the social web.  Radian6, Ubervu, MBuzz, Alterian.  There is no excuse not to know what people are saying about your organisation.  And once you know what they’re saying, you need to know what to do about it.

Responding

Social Media is a two way channel – you can talk as well as listen, and participation is essential if you are going to make your customers happier – or at least understand why they are so upset.

The most important thing to do is to have someone responsible for responding who actually has the power to make a difference.  Customers are frustrated enough by the placating voice of a call centre worker who can’t do their job, having a similar person in charge of responding on Twitter is likely to do nothing to sort out their problems.

When Not to Respond

Not every comment wants an answer, and it’s important to understand that.  Sometimes, it’s better to say nothing than to stoke the fire.  It takes judgement to know when to say something, and when to stay quiet, and the fact is that you won’t always get it right.  Think about the person who is commenting, and look at their language.  How angry are they? Do you think that you can talk them down?  If the answer is no, then leave it.

Consider how influential the person is.  If it’s a Twitter account with no followers, or a blogger with no readers, then making a comment will probably just add fuel to the fire and draw attention to the problem.

How to Respond

When you do respond, make sure that you respond decisively.  Don’t put off the problem, and try and pull the attention away from whatever channel you are using.  Contact the person making the comments, and find out what their problem is.

Offer them a solution that meets their needs.  If you’re only going to fob them off, don’t bother responding at all, you’ll only ever make things worse.

Track Things

There is no point in just responding and forgetting about what you’ve said.  It’s vitally important to actually understand what is being done, and what the impact is.  How many complaints are you handling, what is the nature of them, do they fall into categories, what can be done to improve the situation.

Prevention is Better than Cure

Pro-activity is essential.  If all you do with social media is respond to complaints without learning anything from them, you might as well throw money into a pit.  Use the feedback as the basis for developing your product.  If you can make your customers happier, they will be more likely to stay with you.  If you take the easy option of just trying to bury the truth through a response strategy, rather than taking action to eradicate the causes of complaints, you will need to keep doing the job forever.

If the common feedback is that your customer service is atrocious, take action to improve it.  If your products are shoddy, make them better, if your hotel rooms are dirty, clean them.  Treat social media response as a short term solution, and remember that the cost of retaining customers is generally lower than the cost of acquiring new ones – particularly if you have the challenge of a bad reputation to content with.

Exactly What I Wanted

I wrote a post yesterday that was basically about using data gathered from observing systems to predict future behaviour within those systems.

I used diabetes as a means of illustrating a complex system, and when I tweeted the post, I used the #hastag “#diabetes”.

Almost immediately, I received a response that looked like this:

The idea of automating a Tweeted response to a trigger keyword is nothing new, and a lot of people are doing it: I wrote a piece of software a while ago that was designed to automate response advertising via Twitter based on keyword usage – contact me if you’re interested in it, I’ve kind of let it wither…

Anyway, I thought I’d pay a visit to the website that was being linked to, and found this:

An irrelevant spam website.

The point is, clearly InezCGrant0’s creator has invested a certain amount of time into building a Twitter advertising system, and then selecting a list of keywords that they wanted to target, and writing adverts that are reasonably compelling to attract users to click.

Then, rather than providing some content that they can monetise based on their audience, they just directed me to yet another crappy make money online website.

Disappointing.

Is More Data Always Better?

I call Jade my little girl, but the truth is that at 10 years old, she’s almost as tall as me, and I think that she’d probably win a fight.  Anyway, last year, Jade was diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes, which means that she has to take four insulin injections each day to substitute for the fact that her body no longer produces any.

Diabetes can be life threatening as the body fails to control sugar levels effectively over time, but provided that you manage the condition well, the risks are minimised, and for most people, aside from inconvenience, there is little impact on quality of life.

There are to ways to manage diabetes, the simple way, in which you take a standard dose of insulin at regular periods throughout the day, and eat appropriately, or the more complex way in which you set the insulin dosage in line with activity and the calorie count to maintain a stable level of blood sugar.

Because Jade is only 10, she manages her condition by taking a standard dose ahead of meals, and then eating normally.  She measures her blood sugar 4 or more times a day, and (because I’m a geek), i put these into Excel, and built some graphs.  This is what hers looks like over 4 randomly chosen days:

Insulin and Blood Sugar Levels

What’s immediately clear about the graph is that there is a lot of variance in the blood sugar levels – this is not unexpected, as diabetes is an inability of the body to control blood sugar.  It seems to me though, that this is a poor management system, and it would be better to use variable doses of insulin and maintain the blood sugar levels within tighter bounds.

The problem is, that a dynamic management system is inherently more difficult to achieve, as it requires more data – you need to understand more variables, however there is a major benefit in using a dynamic management system, and that is that you control the condition fully and can live an entirely unrestrained life, rather than living to the limitations of the management system.

So, how would you set up a dynamic system to manage the condition?

It is absolutely essential that you measure everything over a period of time.  You need to understand personal responses to specific conditions, and be able to understand the exact modes of cause and effect that your body has.

The key indicator is blood sugar level, as that is what you are managing, but it is also important to recognise the factors both external and internal that impose on the system.

Things you need to measure:

  • Blood sugar
  • Calories obtained from food
  • Calories spent through exercise

Ideally, you would want to measure the blood sugar levels both before and after exercise, and also before and after food, but it would also be advisable to measure them more frequently so that you can see what kind of responses your body has to food – how long it takes for the food to be digested and enter the blood stream, and how quickly sugar levels fall for a given dose of insulin compared to a given calorific intake.

When you have data about a system, you can start to draw conclusions and use those conclusions to predict future behaviour.  For example, if you know that it takes a dose of 5 insulin to reduce a blood sugar level from 17 to 6, and you know that a meat pie will move your blood sugar level from 6 to 17, you know that you require a dose of 5 to control the meal.

Likewise, if you know that a 30 minute run will reduce require 350 calories and it takes 15 minutes for your digestive system to release calories from food, you will know that you need to eat a snack 15-20 minutes before you run, and tak an appropriate dose of insulin to manage the take up of blood sugar when you are running.

When you are able to measure data accurately, it is much simpler to understand underlying trends within the system and make forecasts about future behaviour.  You control the blood sugar levels with insulin doses based on comprehensive knowledge about what your calorific requirements are to sustain a known level of activity, and a acquired data about the levels of insulin that your body requires to control the sugar.

The point?

Well, the point is that with any complex system, whether blood sugar levels, or website traffic, the more data you have about the way in which the system behaves, the more you can do to control it.

Charity Plug

Science costs money, and Diabetes research is expensive.  If you’re planning to make any donations to charity, or are looking for someone to be the recipient of sponsorship money, I’d recommend Diabetes UK.

It’s Not You, it’s Me

Have you ever been out for a drink with someone who spent the whole evening talking about themselves?  If you have, the chances are that the next time they offered, you found a good excuse why you couldn’t go.

A person who only talks about one thing is dull.  A person who only talks about themselves is bloody rude and dull.  The thing that they have in common is that no-one wants to listen to them.

Traditional advertising was all about speaking to a specific audience and telling them about a particular product, and this works just fine on a one way medium but when you try that kind of approach on line – particularly through a social channel, it comes across like the guy at the party who just wants to tell you how awesome he is, over and over and over  and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

Dull.

All too often you see a Twitter Feed like this:

Social Engagement: You're Doing It Wrong

If I followed these guys, my only reward would be the same basic message cropping up in my stream once every 5 minutes or so telling me that I can get a car insurance quote fast.  Useless.  I’m willing to bet that the 268 people who follow this particular company are also auto updating spam feeds that have been set up to auto follow anyone who follows them.  Aside from any limited SEO benefit that this stream of spam might be getting, I would guess that there is zero benefit from this exercise in terms of sales.

Here’s a different way of selling car insurance via Twitter:

Social Engagement: Doing It Better

In this example – which is admittedly from a much larger organisation – the tactic is to provide advice, support, conversation.  Sure, it still links to deals and offers, but it is also much less obtrusive – after all, despite the fact that AllState are tweeting reasonably frequently, they are mostly @messages, which clog up people’s feeds.

On the rare occasions where Allstate post a link within their content, it gets hundreds of clicks because their community is engaged with them.  On the other hand, @uscar_Insurance post the same link around 200 times a day, and it gets around 2 clicks.

Social Media is all about interaction – about being sociable – it’s about relationship marketing rather than product merchandising.  Sure, there is an opportunity to sell, but that should be the secondary goal – think about it as being an opportunity to get to know more about your market rather than just being yet another place where you can stick an ill targeted billboard and hope that the right person sees it.

As a basic rule, the majority of what is said by a person in a conversation should be for the benefit of the person they are talking to.  Keep to the same rule when using social media, and you won’t come across as being aloof, rude, or dull.