Trends in Social Data

We spent a lot of time at this year’s conference talking about using social data from an adtech perspective. While we had some compelling breakout conversations on using data in government or in the space of social justice, much of the conversation was centered around how brands can better use social data for more targeted advertising and conversion opportunities. The final panel of the conference wanted to break out of the mold a bit and talk about varied other uses for social data–what were we missing when we focus only on advertising?

Crisis Communications

Hayes Davis from Union Metrics spoke of a specific use case involving an app owned by a couple of B-list celebrities that was going south fast. Certain events triggered a general public anger at the app and its creators. Davis talked about how data, in this particular situation, can be used to monitor the conversation surrounding a crisis for a brand. When the data assists as a listening tool, organizations can get on top of major problems quickly and determine the communication that needs to go out to the user base to pivot the conversation, or at least to control it and continue monitoring.

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Trendsetting

Giles Palmer of Brandwatch discussed the use of data in terms of being able to forecast or predict certain trends. As an example, Palmer noted that people are more likely to buy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream when it’s raining outside than they are when it’s sunny; this particular brand is viewed as comfort food, which is something consumers tend to crave when the weather is less than ideal. For another client, Palmer’s group was looking at hairstyle trends globally: through social listening and data collection, they were able to determine that most cutting-edge hair trends came first out of South Africa. Having this kind of insight allowed the brand to continue to monitor specific styles and trends coming out of South Africa, giving them the ability to stay ahead of the curve globally as a brand trendsetter.

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Emergency Management

Prior to extremely frequent use of social media, emergency teams may not find out about major issues needing their attention for several hours. Ted Bailey of Dataminr spoke specifically about things like major fires that previously took hours to be able to contain, leading to much more destruction and devastation because of longer response times. With the advent of real-time updates on social media platforms like Twitter, companies like Dataminr are able to crawl social platforms for such updates, resulting in a significant reduction in time between the event first happening and emergency personnel being notified. When emergency personnel are notified more quickly, they are able to respond more quickly and contain the situation, mitigating the damage and devastation that could have taken place.

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In all of our conversations surrounding data and its varied uses, it is, of course, important to focus on marketing and advertising because brands must have data access and proper analysis to know how to create better experiences for their customers. However, the potential uses for data still exist on a plane we know far too little about. At future Big Boulder conferences, it’s the collective hope that we can continue to uncover new use cases for social data, as well as new and lasting impacts for brands, but also for the general public good.

Engaged Communities

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Big news, promised Noam Cadouri from Reddit, as he took his seat on the Big Boulder stage. For the first time, Reddit is making commercial terms available for platform data through a partnership with Socialgist. Now what exactly, you might be asking, does that mean for me? Well, Reddit (known as “The Front Page of the Internet”) is a platform on which users can interact via pseudonyms – without any connection to their name or face – about anything. If you’re a brand, parsing through the literally millions of message boards to understand references and frequency and sentiment is simply not possible; until now, of course, because companies will be able to run queries and figure out all that information with a fraction of the grunt-work. And Socialgist customer, Brandwatch, is now the first to compliantly make this new premium data offering available to brands around the globe.

Reddit is a unique platform with respect to users’ adherence to the site’s rules, because “subreddits” are monitored by thousands of volunteer moderators in addition to Reddit itself; it really is a study in crowd-sourced community-regulation. Which, of course, raises the issue of free speech – that is, how, if, and when aberrant or aggressive users should be disciplined. All platforms, Codouri mentioned, make decisions based on their corporate goal. Reddit’s goal: to create welcoming spaces online.

Reddit is a space that gives people freedom from social pressures and the ability to express themselves creatively, however they choose to do so. – Noam Cadouri

Since users maintain anonymity (or pseudonymity) on the site, they are free to talk about anything they want (you can create an account with only a username and email, i.e., no demographic data at all). As a traditional marketer, the lack of data might be just enough to make your eyes glaze over, but, as Mr. Cadouri pointed out, Reddit is a fantastic tool for marketers. In many cases, subreddits are the largest aggregation of passionate, pure, followers available. Which means, basically, a focus group where the most honest and unadulterated feedback is available on a massive scale.

As Reddit continues to explore the ways in which they are making their data accessible, companies will develop better ways to use that data. A useful application, Cadouri mentioned, was the ability to measure sentiment toward a brand before and after an ad campaign runs. In many cases, Reddit’s transparent feedback from honest and eager users is the most accurate way to tell a brand’s story over time – if you can get through all that data. Which, by the way, is possible.

The Instagram Platform

When Instagram first arrived on the social platform scene in 2010, they were a small-time, mobile-only social sharing app available only on iOS, working on changing the types of content we share and the ways we share it. Now, seven years later, the app is still leading the pack in visual content sharing, but has become a burgeoning social tool for businesses looking for new and relevant ways to connect with their customers. Vishal Shah, Director of Product Management at Instagram, stopped by Big Boulder Friday morning to give the audience some impressive stats on Instagram’s growth over the years, as well as some direction about where they are headed.

 

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In its early days, the network was a lot smaller and its audience was focused on sharing more “casual moments”: this is what I’m eating, this is who I am hanging out with, this is my dog. While those casual moments are still important to much of the user base, most of the network users have begun thinking of the platform as a “highlights reel” of sorts. Instagram’s product team noticed this shift in focus as the platform grew and did its best to pivot along with it, asking themselves, How can we capitalize on what our users like? How do we “fill in the blank spaces” between highlights?

And so Instagram Stories was born. Giving their networks the opportunity to follow along in an almost-live capacity, Stories is a way for users to capture, in motion, what is going on for them in that moment, and link short videos or pictures together to create a “story” their followers can enjoy about their lives.

What’s shocking to hear is that, since the launch of Stories nearly a year ago, a whopping one third of the most viewed Stories have been created by businesses, whose formal presence is also a recent addition to the platform. While businesses have long been on Instagram as independent accounts, only in the last couple of years has Instagram decided to cater to them by offering advertising opportunities. This last year, the platform also gave businesses access to their back-end insights and data on organic impressions and interactions, allowing business accounts to see what is working and what is not from a bird’s eye view.

“When the business platform was started, it was mostly ads-focused,” said Shah. “While advertising is obviously still a major area of focus, we now also think about businesses as a ‘first-class’ relationship type–how can we help them see and improve their organic presence, and improve our API and insights?”

What they are doing seems to be working: the platform is now 700 million strong, with 100 million of those users coming on in the last year. Businesses are using Instagram to reach these potential consumers in new and different ways–Shah did point out that much of this type of interaction is still experimental on the part of brands–but should know that it’s not a platform for all brands, all the time. Said Shah, “We’ve always been very transparent about advertising: if it’s not working for you on our platform, don’t spend money on it.”

Shah noted that the social sharing tool is still primarily a top-of-funnel activity, so businesses should expect to drive more awareness-based activities than conversion activities. He pointed out that, while mobile is a primary point of access, it’s still not used much for purchasing. While there are transactions that occur on mobile devices, it is, by no means, the majority of transactions. Shah embraced this reality, sharing that social media has long been an important step in discovery and consideration; the product team is constantly working to make the discovery and consideration element even more helpful for both users and businesses. One of the ways the platform capitalizes on this piece is the ability for users to explore and find new business or user accounts based on locations or hashtags. If businesses are in a user’s area, or they’re savvy enough to use the same kind of hashtags their target demographic is seeking out, they can easily be found on the tool.

Also worth noting was that the team found their users like being able to save photos: taking screenshots of images to save for later or reference. The product team built in the ability to now save photos inside the native app; as a matter of fact, if a user takes a screenshot of an Instagram image, a notification is triggered to ask the user if they would instead like to save the image inside the app. Figuring out smaller tweaks to make the visual content sharing platform more user-friendly has always been a top priority for the brand.

So what’s next? We’ve already seen an acquisition by Facebook, ad implementation, insights availability, and the Stories feature, to say nothing of a spike in users, a logo change, a UI change, and a move toward a rank feed versus a chronological feed–where do they go from here?

Primarily, Shah’s team is interested less in removing steps from awareness to conversion for the brands, and more interested in removing the friction typically involved with those steps. By making businesses and product information easy for users to access or find, they can take out some of the headache involved in that process. Additionally, they are able to leverage some of the infrastructure, insights, and other resources from parent company Facebook in order to continue to enhance the platform.

“Almost everything we do on my team is centered around making businesses successful,” said Shah. “The next steps are to determine what information is most helpful to businesses and give them the best way to access it. It’s one thing to show data, it’s entirely another to show something interesting and insightful that tells you something about that data.”

Additional Takeaways:

  • Instagram users typically only see about 30% of the content posted by the accounts they follow; the switch to a rank feed, or relevance-based algorithm, was meant to hone in on what the most valuable 30% was for each user.
  • Shah mentioned the logo change briefly: “Yeah…there were a lot of memes about that one.”
  • Over 200 million people are utilizing Stories every day, more than 40 million more than other similar platforms and functions.
  • There are whole generations of people whose first device was a phone and not a laptop or desktop computer. While it would be easy to think that these were only younger generations, Shah has found that much older generations are this way as well.
  • When asked whether they would ever switch to an “opt-in” function for a chronological feed versus a rank feed, much like the Twitter platform, Shah responded that it’s unlikely. “We’re here to deliver the best experience for our users, and a rank-based feed is what we feel is the best experience.”

Making Decisions with Social Data

“Data” is such a general concept–one can just about use words like “information” or “stuff” interchangeably. Of course, such data is widely available to brands who want to collect it, but it’s pretty useless unless they know what to do with it next.

The Big Boulder audience had the pleasure of hearing from panelists Gloria DeCoste from Nestle, Beverly Jackson from MGM International Resorts, and Brad Ruffkess from The Coca-Cola Company about how exactly such large global brands are using social data to improve their product experience for their customers.

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When it comes to social data, it can be difficult to determine how to best analyze it in order to move forward and provide consumers with a more pleasing brand experience, especially for CPG brands such as Coca-Cola and Nestle. Do social fans arrive because they already love the products, or are they made aware of the products because of an existing social brand presence?

“It’s difficult for CPG companies to say, ‘We did this online and then a sale happened,’” said DeCoste. Due to the quick turnaround conversion nature of CPG brands, those attribution events are hard to properly document and understand. As the brand was able to scale and grow their penetration inside of the social sphere, they did eventually see the data tied to it: impressions online were converting to offline sales.

Jackson spoke from a different industry experience entirely, with a much more limited and targeted audience: “We saw that the people who were most likely to like or engage with our content also were not actually the people who were able to afford our brand or would ever book with us.” Jackson said that this led the resort chain to expand their thinking from “beds and heads” into a more fully developed portfolio approach: what are the other things we serve and sell and how can we leverage our social presence to increase awareness and conversions on those things?

A notable connection between all the panelists was their management of an actual portfolio of products as opposed to one singular product brand. “If a person drinks eight beverages a day, I want for them to drink products in our portfolio as many of those eight times as possible,” said Ruffkess. “Social data can give me the information I need to try and put those products in front of you, based on your other behaviors.”

These brands also attempt to harness the power of influencers by utilizing user-generated content. These kinds of posts are essentially “free content,” saving the brand the trouble of creating additional content, while also allowing the brand to reap the benefits of engagement or A/B testing: if this user’s photo of a fountain played really well with social followers, it can be used in other capacities to increase interest and engagement. When social listening produces insights about slang terms or phrases being widely used across the internet, brands can capitalize on this by implementing such phrases into their own campaigns, like Coca-Cola’s #ThatsGold campaign executed during the last Olympic games. Brands should, of course, be cautious about using fleeting slang terms, either inappropriately or too long after they’re “cool”: no one wants to be the brand using “Netflix & chill” incorrectly.

Examining social data can also help with knowing how to provide more personalized experiences for individual customers: does a customer love to bake cakes, but not cookies? Brands like Nestle can use these social insights to provide more highly targeted content toward customers who prefer one or the other, resulting in a higher conversion rate because of more accurately targeted content.

Product research & development seems to be an area shockingly left untapped by social data & insights. All of the panelists agreed: it would be an incredible move forward to begin using this data to determine what their customers like about their products, along with what they don’t like, in order to create new products for their portfolio. Unfortunately, none of the brands seemed to, as of yet, be implementing these social insights to this advantage.

“Marketing has always been about understanding your customer very deeply, at their core,” said DeCoste. The data brands are able to mine from their customers has seemingly unlimited potential, and even major brands are only truly scratching its surface.

Additional Takeaways:

  • While agencies are common players inside of major brand spaces, it’s important to know what is lost when another party is responsible for collecting and scrubbing your data before you get a chance to see it. What kind of interpretations are lost in translation?
  • Social data is an incredible asset where users freely give of their information, unlike other spaces. “My loyalty card at my grocery store is actually tied to my pager number from 1989,” said Jackson. “I don’t want people to have my phone number!”
  • When a brand has a portfolio of products widely differing from one another, social data can help direct the right products to the right people: family-friendly resort properties versus party properties, for instance.
  • “Our instinct was to put our name in every hashtag,” said Jackson of MGM. “But you don’t learn anything from your customers by forcing yourself on them. Be on the outside and listen first.”
  • The gaming industry is having to entirely change the way they operate. If millennials don’t know Wheel of Fortune like the generation before them, they’re less interested in playing a slot machine themed after that game. Millennials are less likely to want to sit at a slot machine siloed away from everyone else; the industry is having to accommodate by learning about how this generation wants to play games.

An Inside Look at Twitter

Out of all the conversation happening around Twitter and it’s future, one question seems to keep the Twitter-sphere buzzing: “Is Twitter Relevant?” For those still confused as to which answer is right, we can safely say “YES”. Chris Moody sat down with Twitter’s own Joel Lunenfeld, VP of Global Brand Strategy, to find out more about how the company is staying relevant in a changing society and give a glimpse into the world that is Twitter.

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It’s hard to argue against the importance of a company that has essentially become the “cultural operating system” of the majority of the world, let alone a service that accomplished this in just over 11 years. Recently on Twitter, we’ve seen examples of this ranging from political figureheads holding unfiltered conversations and impacting a community, a global discussion about climate change, and even to Wendy’s bestowing a teenager from Nevada a year’s worth of chicken nuggets for receiving the most-retweeted tweet of all time. We suppose food does have a way of bringing people together.

As far as Twitter’s place in the world of consumers, there is a slight gap between how many people recognize Twitter as a brand (which is over 90%) and how people understand and operate within the platform itself. It’s unlike differing social platforms, many of which host users connecting with friends and family. In fact, within the past year, Twitter has refocused their public brand, which also included a change of their category in the App Store from “Social” to “News”. This plays along with the solidified idea that Twitter is a place where users go for Moments, to seek out trending news, and where open dialogue exists between users who had no way to speak with each other before.

Joel Lunenfeld also expressed that Twitter is constantly improving their platform. According to Lunenfeld, “there has always been more good than evil in the world but evil has had a larger marketing budget.” However, Twitter is breaking that trend and helping users gain back control over the narrative. We’ve seen this in times like the 2015 Paris attacks and the more recent Manchester attacks, where users come together and use hashtags like #prayforparis and #prayformanchester. Similar in idea, brands like Dove are also controlling a more positive narrative with their “#RealBeauty” campaign, which is optimistic, hopeful, and changing the messages said about young women in particular. Basically, all of this is only helping to create a better online environment. We look forward to Twitter’s continued future into cleaning up data from negative thoughts to spam accounts.

So, if you’re still asking yourself “Okay, but is Twitter dying? Everyone I know is saying that it is…” then let us put it this way: Twitter is the #1 tool for business, the company is made of people who truly care and believe in their mission and, most importantly, Twitter is a company that will outlive us all. Twitter “will change the mode of transparency for years and years to come”.

And this all makes sense, seeing as how Twitter is the largest public archive of human thought to ever exist. (And if that doesn’t give you excited goosebumps, we don’t know what will!).

Influencer Marketing

“Influencer marketing” is a buzz phrase we’ve been hearing in the marketing world for quite some time, but does it actually work, and to what end?

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Devon Wijesinghe, CEO of InsightPool, would respond with an emphatic “YES”…provided you actually know what you’re doing with the data you receive.

Five years ago, it was common for brands or agencies to dip their toes into the influencer marketing space by asking for influencers in large pools: “We want mommy bloggers.” The problem with this old approach, Wijesinghe argued, is that it’s too broad–not all mommy bloggers are the same, much like no two mothers are the same or, if he is to be believed, no to women are the same.

“Don’t get me wrong,” said Wijesinghe, “the ‘Mom Mafia’ is important, but the old model completely misunderstands the way we target.” The former methods used to find influencers for a brand typically boiled down to age, demographics, and life stage. But audiences are complicated, he argued, and not all of an influencer’s followers will be interested in each and every thing they say.

The question in the new model, to continue using mommy bloggers as an example, is not who are the mommy bloggers, but how are they influential, and in what spaces? Are these bloggers focused on the day-to-day activities of child-rearing, or on cooking food children will eat, or on the brands they use in their house, or even on having a glass of wine at the end of the day and remembering that no one is perfect? When marketers get more granular in terms of the audience they want to attract, that’s when influencer marketing really starts to work its magic.

In becoming more laser-focused on a specific audience (mommy bloggers who have multiple children, are the primary caregiver, and prefer Cabernet to Chardonnay when they’re attempting to relax), marketers can begin to pull together data that will start to flesh itself out into a very specific taxonomy. Mommy bloggers who blog about being a mom in a rural or religious community versus mommy bloggers who blog about being a mom in a major city. When taxonomies become clear and specific, marketers can start seeing where the audiences get segmented based on the data: this audience only engages this mommy blogger when she talks about lipstick, while this audience engages her when she talks about making food for her kids. Clearly segmented audiences provide opportunities for highly targeted advertising with more focused voices: all keys to increasing awareness, conversions, and ultimately, ROI.

But what else can we use this kind of social data for in lieu of advertising? Wijesinghe stressed the importance of understanding the entire story before advertising even begins–a brand can think their audience desires one thing when, in fact, the data will tell a different story completely. He told a story of an automotive parts client who assumed that their audience of likely buyers would be men who liked NASCAR. When the data was actually collected and reviewed, however, it was found that their most likely buyers actually ended up being women who liked Formula One racing–talk about being off-base. Once the brand was updated on and embraced the data presented, they were able to switch gears, as it were, and advertising voices to cater to this new audience, which resulted in a 10X conversion rate.

When looking for influencers, Wijesinghe urges marketers to “go organic” whenever possible. Networks of influencers sound tempting: it’s easy for marketers to feel they’ve hit a gold mine of verified influencers interested in being paid for their endorsements of specific products. The problem with this, however, is the potential lack of true loyalty investment on the part of the influencer. For instance, if an influencer is endorsing a Mazda, but driving a Mercedes in their personal lives and is caught in the act, all trust and credibility is gone…and you can’t get that back. “Earned [influencers are] going to deliver what you really need in the end,” said Wijesinghe. “That way, [the endorsements] are just based upon the data as opposed to being based upon how much someone wants to get paid to talk to an audience about something they have no freaking clue about.”

“We have a tendency to make sweeping generalizations on race and gender when we really can’t,” he said. It seems, then, that the general theme of this year’s conference is emerging, and it’s simple: we can attempt to start with data, but we really need to start with a specific hypothesis of what we think is happening in our audience. Once we have a hypothesis, only then we can test it–the data that emerges will either confirm or deny what we thought to begin with.

AI and Cognitive Solutions

It’s hard to get people to learn about – and be interested in – any new product. It’s perhaps even harder for B2B products, which tend to be less intuitive (and let’s just say it: less fun to think about).
IBM’s Watson hasn’t had this problem. Though it has no user interface and isn’t a consumer product, the bundle of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning services known as Watson is arguably a household name (thanks in part to a successful run on Jeopardy).

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Beth Smith, General Manager of Technology at IBM Watson, joined Big Boulder Chairman Chris Moody on stage this morning to discuss the state of AI.

What do the uninitiated need to know about AI in 2017? Here are four places to start:

  1. AI helps read through data humans don’t have time to review
    AI technologies like Watson are (rightfully) associated with the act of thinking – commonly referred to as “cognition” within the industry. But one of the first places AI tools can help is just by reading at scale: humans don’t have the time or capacity to review millions of pieces of information when starting a project – Watson does.
     

    Researchers at the University of North Carolina’s Cancer Center trained Watson on all their literature on diagnosis and treatment of the disease; they then had Watson review patient records and treatment plans. Watson made the same decisions as the Cancer Specialists 99% of the time. For 300 patients, the AI suggested alternative courses of treatment that it discovered with its big data literature review.

  2. You may hear about AI a lot, but tools like Watson aren’t yet used to their full potential
    As it stands, business leaders are aware of Watson and its peers, but few have grasped the field’s near limitless applications. So to-date, most AI implementations have focused on the most intuitive use: deepening customer engagement.

    Chatbots and other consumer-facing, digital experiences are where most people will experience Watson in 2017. And IBM has big goals to make sure Watson’s “talked” with everyone: by the end of 2017, Beth and her team are working to make Watson speak with a billion people around the planet.
     
  3. Businesses that succeed at implementing AI have both interested executives and folks in the trenches
    According to Beth, it’s not enough to have executives interested and aware of AI technologies: the people “on the ground” need to be fluent and interested, too.
     

    “Data Science teams seems to have exploded over the past two years,” said Beth. In her experience, this bodes well for adoption of tools like Watson. “Ideally, there’s people playing in the data sandbox already” with a solid understanding of how Machine Learning and AI work, so when more complex systems like Watson are implemented, there’s less to learn.

  4. AI doesn’t replace people – Watson still needs teachers
    Watson is a quick learner, but it still needs a place to start. When Watson gets deployed, it’s still  built on a human training the system.
    “Many successful companies have established a center of excellence to observe Watson, and offer it more training when it needs it,” said Beth. Though the tool is smart enough to notify its human handlers when it needs to learn more about an idea, interaction, or outcome, ongoing human observation is key for making sure AI technologies run as effectively as possible.

What’s next?

“We’re transitioning from programmable, rules-based computing to a cognitive era,” said Beth. What does that mean for humans? For one thing, technologies like neural nets don’t require programmers to anticipate every possible condition of an interaction. The upshot: businesses get more time to focus on growth and refinement – while patients and customers get better services, quicker.

Understanding Audiences

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Facebook’s approach to sharing data is changing, says Kunal Merchant, Audience Insights Partnerships Lead at Facebook. Facebook is now developing new ways to provide user data, which was music to the ears of the few hundred social data experts in the room. We heard Kunal discuss the role of data at Facebook internally – “Data is Facebook’s religion… Nothing is published, developed, or acquired without data to back it up” – and externally – “Users are the most important thing by far. If we’re going to present our data to the public, user safety is the most important thing and won’t be compromised by anything or anyone or for any dollar amount. If it’s going to compromise user experience, Facebook won’t do it”.

Too much data, though, can be paralyzing and overwhelming, especially for start-ups and small firms that must sift through it manually. With increasing access to data, said Mr. Merchant, must come better tools to interpret  it. Facebook isn’t trying to simply provide or distribute the data – the “firehose”, he called it – they’re trying simplify data-driven decision-making.

Everyone wants the firehose, but what do you do with that?

Facebook, as we know, has changed the way advertisers reach their audiences, but not the content audiences are served. Throughout the next decade, Merchant said, content will catch up to targeting: “Big steps have been made in reaching the right people and the right times, but content needs to be better.” Of course, as audiences get smaller due to improved targeting, just as much new content must be created to remain relevant to these increasingly specific audiences. The Creative Platforms department at Facebook, Kunal said, is developing tools to make creating relevant content scalable and easier for ad agencies. This nascent industry, we heard, is only beginning its life-cycle.

If we’re treating social data as a real-time focus group, we’re being unfair to ourselves. Real focus groups take months and hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we’re fine with that. Anything with social has to be immediate. If anything, we need to spend more time examining what we have.

Welcome to Big Boulder 2017!

Welcome to Big Boulder 2017! On a beautiful morning in Boulder, Colorado (following a delicious breakfast buffet, of course), the conference gathered for a quick overview and welcome from Megan Kelley (VP, Emerging Fintech Research at Fidelity Labs) and Mark Josephson (CEO at Bitly). Follow the rest of the blog at blog.bbi.org, interact with the conference on our Slack community at bbislack.com, and share the Periscope and Facebook live streams with folks not lucky enough to be here!

Enjoy!

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Journalism in a Realtime World

Journalism in a Realtime World

Andrew Fitzgerald, Chris Anderson, and John Melloy discuss the role of social data in breaking news.

The morning’s presentations started with a discussion about how social media is truly transforming the face of journalism. In a world full of self-reporting eyewitnesses, social is often the source for breaking news well in advance of traditional media outlets. Chris Moody moderated a panel of guests from Stocktwits, Pixable and Twitter who’ve collectively worked at CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg. Theyl shared their unique perspectives on the current state of journalism and the role “citizens-as-reporters” play in it.

We heard how sources for breaking stories are often now found via social platforms, and sometimes those sources are even documented in court records as testimonial evidence. Major natural disasters are another area where social has played a major role, both in emergency alerting as well as first-hand reporting from those affected. The presidential elections in 2008 were one of the earliest places that saw the power and societal shift that comes with socially generated content. And on a lighter note, social has also given movie studios incredibly accurate predictions for box office reception thanks to early audience conversations. Can you say, “Sharknado, Part 2??”

The discussion then moved on to the actual content itself, and how videos and photos in social activities dramatically increase engagement and tell more of the story than text alone. The panel finally talked about how journalists need to be careful to monitor the validity (or lack thereof) behind news events shared via social media. Editorial judgement still plays a key role in reporting, and it is up to journalists to ensure that they are vetting their sources appropriately.

While each panelist shared a unique take on the role of social in journalism, they all held the common belief that it brings an undeniably positive and disruptive influence. The way in which we report and consume the news will never be the same again.