The Weather and Big Data Equals Big Business.

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The weather has a significant influence on almost one-third of the world’s buying everyday. “The old paradigm of business and weather was cope and avoid,” says The Weather Channel’s vice president for weather analytics. “With [big data] technology, the paradigm is now anticipate and exploit.”

The Weather Channel (TWC) is an American basic channel and satellite television company, owned by a consortium made up of Blackstone Group, Bain Capital, and NBCUniversal located in Atlanta, Georgia.

The channel has broadcast weather forecasts and weather-related news and analysis, along with documentaries and entertainment programming related to weather since 1982.

TWC provides numerous customized forecasts for online users through its website, weather.com, including home and garden, and event planning forecasts. Third-party web analytics providers Alexa and SimilarWeb rated the site as the 146th and 244th most visited website in the world respectively, as of July 2015. SimilarWeb rated the site as the most visited weather website globally, attracting more than 126 million visitors per month.

That massive web traffic is exactly how The Weather Channel has turned ‘Big Data’ into a completely new business.

TWC is before all a technology platform operator, which developed an extremely high-volume data platform, collecting and analyzing data from 3 billion weather forecast reference points, more than 40 million smartphones and 50,000 airplane flights per days, and serves 65 billion unique access to weather data each day.

TWC collects terabytes of data everyday and uses it not only to predict the weather in millions of locations, but also to predict what consumers in those locations will buy.

In a very savvy move TWC married more than 75 years’ worth of weather data with aggregated consumer purchasing data. For example, air-conditioners sales increases during hot weather, but folks in Atlanta suffer three days longer than people in Chicago before running out to buy one. Such analysis has created a whole new business for TWC – ‘Selling ads based on big data analytics’.

For example, P&G Pantene and Puffs brands buy ads based on TWC’s weather and consumption analytics. A women checking The Weather Channel app in a humid locale receives an ad for Pantene Pro-V Smooth, a product formulated to tame frizzy hair.

Checking the app again on low humidity day or drier area results in seeing an ad for a volumizing product instead. Similarly, a consumer looking at a high pollen forecast receives an ad for Puffs facial tissues, with the message, “A face in need deserves Puffs indeed.”

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Currently, TWC is generating half of the company’s ad revenue to the business using web analytics.

Big data and web analytics helped TWC maintain an extensive online presence at weather.com and through a set of mobile applications for smartphones and tablet computers. These services are now administered by The Weather Channel’s former parent company, The Weather Company, which was sold to IBM in 2016. The Weather Channel continues to license its brand assets and weather data from IBM.

TWC’s case is the epitome of how effective use of big data and web analytics can lead to marketing opportunities. It also demonstrates how today’s big companies can advance through ‘Digital Marketing’ which can also help them to diversify and strengthening their business portfolios.

The Ice Bucket Challenge and the power of social media.

FedEx Ice Bucket Challenge

Many of my friends called on me to take the Ice Bucket Challenge. I have yet to take them up on it and decided to give a donation and forgo the ice cold shower at least for the moment.

It’s hard to find many who are not aware of the Ice Bucket Challenge…the charitable cause that has people all over the United States, and now even abroad, dumping buckets of cold ice and water on their heads to raise awareness and funds for the ALS Association.

Everywhere in the press and all over social media the ALS challenge has captured the attention of millions of people. This is one of the most powerful examples yet of an idea that has exploded on social media and gone viral. I think however what hasn’t gone viral enough is the reason for braving the cold. And that is the disease.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brains and spinal cord. The brain loses its ability to control muscles and it is progressive and ultimately fatal. In the US, ALS is well known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the great New York Yankees baseball player, who died in 1941 at the age of 36 after being struck by the disease two years earlier.

What is amazing is the number of people who have seen the ravages of this disease first-hand, who have spoken up defending and endorsing the challenge against some pundits and critics and others who think it’s frivolous.

Frivolous?

The bottom line, a lot of good has come from this viral phenomenon.

The New York Times reported that the ALS Association has received $41.8 million in donations in just one month. That’s more than double what was raised in the full year of 2013.

The average donation has been $46.25 and the single largest donation was $100,000.

This is exactly why using social media to raise awareness and then making sure that the social “buzz” is tied to real action.

The action needed isn’t always clear on these videos.

Facebook has tallied more than 2.4 million unique videos of Ice Bucket Challenges have been uploaded.

A whopping 28 million people have posted, commented or liked these videos. I’m sure that many people have also given money but imagine if all of the 28 million people had just contributed one dollar. There’s 28 million dollars right there. More than half what’s been raised.

I believe that some people, so swept up by the fun of it, have forgotten to even mention where donations should be made, or even that they should be made.

The entertainment value of this campaign is proof that a good idea, and a great story, engages people. That’s marketing 101. But at the end of the day, there is no substitute for the pure emotion that helps to motivate behavior. The real push is for dollars that can be used to cure this incredibly insidious disease.

So take the challenge, post them, like or share the videos. Get involved. Get wet but make sure that after you click, you take action by making a donation.

The new Facebook changes and what they mean for Business and Fans

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Ordinary people and small businesses using Facebook are going to have to come to grips with two new terms after the big announcements Mark Zuckerberg made yesterday, the Facebook Developer conference.

The first is “self-expression,” which means your friends will know a lot more about what you read, what music you listen to, and even what you cook. The second is “serendipity,” which means if you see a friend of yours has watched a movie on Netflix, you can click on that app in your timeline and begin watching it immediately from within the app.

This could lead to a great deal of inadvertent “over-sharing”, especially if you use Facebook for business, or if you are not a student of how it evolves. It is always evolving into a platform for sharing more of your life, never less. Facebook’s newest idea is to make its platform a 21st century form of scrap-booking, and to help you “scrapbook” your entire life “frictionlessly.” I must say it will be beautiful, compared to the old Facebook. It looks like a Tumblr blog.

Here are some fast and easy tips on how to make the most of the new features and not fall into unexpected traps. 

As CTO Brett Taylor says, “when you change from the current profile view to the Timeline, you forget how much stuff is there.” That can work for or against you. We’re used to burying much of the past on Facebook and hoping it went away. Now it’s all going to be very retrievable, by anyone you friend.
In the next few weeks, you are going to get an entire new interface that will convert your life into a timeline. That timeline will have photos, updates, and a new set of “OpenGraph” apps.  While in the past, you could authorize apps and nothing might happen that you didn’t expect, that’s no longer going to be true.

Much more “passive sharing” will now be possible. Be careful what apps you authorize, because by default, much of what you do on Facebook with apps, or even outside Facebook with Netflix and Spotify, and Facebook’s other integrated partners, will be shared auto-magically. Once you add an app to your timeline, you don’t have to give it permission to add stuff to your feed: “Adding an app to your timeline is like wiring a real-time connection between your app and Facebook…There is no step two,” says Taylor.

Third, you will be encouraged by the new interface to make Facebook your permanent home on the internet, which means the “walled garden” is pulling more partners in, rather than helping you get out to the wider world. So if you are a business, and you have a Facebook presence, you are going to need a much broader Facebook marketing strategy in order to find your new customers solely within the Facebook platform.

The good news is that 800,000,000 people from all over the world are now on Facebook. The bad news is that creates a lot of noise, and doesn’t necessarily help you reach the “right” people, especially since Facebook search is notoriously inferior.

Facebook’s new design is based on better data visualization. The bad news is that all that data is probably better for Facebook’s advertisers than for you. Remember that as long as you do not pay for Facebook, you are the product, not the customer. That’s why when you complain, Mark Zuckerberg often ignores you. 

The Beta test of Timeline starts today, and with it, the common news apps that you might want to see. You can sign up for it if you are an early adopter. Just click on the Timeline Facebook page. If you don’t want to be rushed into anything, stand back, but watch out–it’s all coming soon to a neighborhood near you in the next few weeks.

The takeaways?
Be careful who you friend.
Carefully explore your privacy settings and make sure you understand them.
Think twice about adding apps

Will Facebook Succeed in China?

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If the rumors are true, Facebook is planning to enter China’s social-media market through a partnership with the local search giant Baidu.

Facebook will face strong local competition and the same regulatory and political pressures that defeated other Western internet giants like Google, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon and Twitter, according to industry experts.

China already has “social-media properties providing value in a very fragmented social media landscape, so I’m just not sure what compelling value Facebook can provide in a meaningful way,” said Sam Flemming, founder and chairman of CIC. “To become literally the Facebook of China is not going to be easy in a market that’s already very social.”

In addition, Facebook may have waited too long, warned James Lee, a global media analyst at CLSA. “When you have a hyper-competitive space, you need to be there on day one.”

China’s appeal is understandable. The country is home to the world’s largest internet market and it has a vibrant social-media scene, with successful social-media sites such as RenRen, Kaixin001, Qzone and 51.com, Tencent’s QQ instant-messenger platform and Sina’s red-hot microblogging service Weibo.
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Chinese media analysts also question whether Facebook has picked the best suitor in Baidu.

“There is a natural relationship between search and social,” said T.R. Harrington, founder and CEO of Shanghai-based Darwin Marketing and a search-marketing specialist. But Baidu is not necessarily the best choice for Facebook to enter the Chinese market. “It would make a lot more sense to work with someone like Sina’s Weibo [or] Tencent,” established companies that understand China’s social-media market.

5 Tips for Social Media Success

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All of us on Xanga are part of the Social media network now. If you are using Social Media to promote yourself or a brand here are five tips to maximize your social media presence. Xanga may not be the best way to implement these tips but have a look they may be useful down the road.

Boost Linkability
All too often, sites are “static” or stuck in the doldrums. When sites are not regularly updated and/or are merely used as a storefront, the information therein can easily become stale and outdated. In order to perform well in Social Media, sites must make themselves “linkable” by adding fresh content visitors are likely to share. Blogs, white papers, and industry news feeds are all a great way to accomplish this. Xanga used to be linkable and now it is very difficult to share your posts.

Simplify Bookmarks/Tagging
The easier it is for your visitor to tag and/or bookmark your content, the more likely they are to do so. Conversely, if you don’t include any simple tagging or bookmarking options with your content, your visitors are likely to forget or simply not make the effort. Include Digg and del.icio.us buttons where appropriate, and be sure to use them internally as well.

Reward Inbound Linking
There’s nothing like the thrill of (legitimate) inbound links and these little blue-underlined jewels are often a strong indication of a site’s overall success as well. The lift in rankings and search placement is also invaluable, so efforts should be made to encourage further inbound linking. Providing a simple method and clear rewards will certainly boost the desired behavior. You may want to use Permalinks as well as include a section for recently inbound-linking blogs. Often blog writers are looking for increased presence themselves, and visibility makes the situation win-win.

Set Your Content “On Tour”
In contrast to so much of SEO, social media optimization is not about making tweaks here-and-there to your site. If you have portable content such as multimedia files and PDFs, submit them off to relevant sites with links back to your site. This will increase visibility and help drive traffic back to your site, while gaining potential followers.

Embrace Co-Creation
Providing clear upfront guidelines about how others may (reasonably) use your content can foster relationships among networks. Aviary.com, a free online photo editor, takes this method to heart. By allowing users to build upon the works of others, a piece may begin to grow far beyond its initial base. Providing a widget to copy and paste excerpts, setting up an RSS feed, and other “get involved” type functionality can help drive further traffic back to the original content as well as solidify the platform for future mash-ups.

Generally, all of these tips can be summarized in one word: involvement. The more invested you can make your users in your content, the longer they will stick around and the more attention you will attract.

Social-media tools are fostering customer service.

More Twitter uses are outlined here as well but I am still wondering how the investors are ever going to get back their money though. There seems to be no business model for this great service.

For direct sales Dell says it has sold more than $2 million worth of PCs through its @DellOutlet account (over 710,000 followers) on Twitter since 2007.

For up-to-the-minute service details Twitter can function like a real-time search for airlines and others. For example, JetBlue (@jetBlue; over 730,000 followers) assiduously answers traveler queries about flight times, delays and weather updates. “It’s like an early-warning system,” says spokesman Morgan Johnston.

Twitter can deliver customer feedback that leads to enhanced services. Starbucks is using a blend of social media via Twitter (@Starbucks; over 230,000 followers), Facebook (3.2 million fans) and its own social-networking site (MyStarbucksIdea.com) for product ideas and feedback. Splash sticks, the company’s new plastic plugs for sip holes, were created in part through feedback.
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Through social-media forums on Facebook and Yahoo, PepsiCo asked customers to visit its DEWmocracy website and vote on one of three choices for a new Mountain Dew flavor. More than 350,000 voted last year.
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Online communities to exchange comments. Facebook and MySpace, through their respective services, offer massive bulletin boards for consumers to weigh in on major brands.

Dunkin’ Donuts actively manages a fan page on Facebook with more than 825,000 fans. It used the page extensively to complement advertising and e-mail to inform customers on a new line of healthy foods and an iced coffee day event in April.

Harley-Davidson’s corporate profiles on MySpace (36,000 friends) and Facebook (175,000 fans) let it solicit comments from fiercely loyal customers. Harley also uses Twitter (@harleydavidson; 4,000 followers) and produces videos of its motorcycles on YouTube.

“If you’re trying to hide from your customers, don’t use Twitter.”

When a Stanley Cup broadcast suddenly went black in late April, many Comcast subscribers simply scooted to Twitter to find out why.

It was there, not on a phone system with multiple options, they discovered that a lightning storm in Atlanta had caused a power outage during the Philadelphia Flyers-Pittsburgh Penguins hockey playoff game, and that the transmission would be restored soon.

“I did a search on Twitter as soon as the game went off the air,” says Dave Decker, 31, a Web developer in Pittsburgh who regularly tweets while watching sporting events. “The mystery was resolved in minutes. Before Twitter, it would have been a nightmare trying to find out what happened on the phone.”
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Comcast’s deft use of Twitter underscores what is becoming a staple in modern-day customer service. Increasingly, corporate giants such as Comcast, PepsiCo, JetBlue Airways, Whole Foods Market and others are beefing up direct communications with customers through social-media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

The popular communications technology has helped companies quickly and inexpensively respond to customer complaints, answer questions and tailor products and services. It has supplemented current customer services, easing the load on call centers and expensive mailers that most consumers abhor.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and online software services such as LiveOps, Salesforce.com and RightNow Technologies are all are being used to improve customer service, retain users and gain a competitive advantage.

“If you’re trying to hide from your customers, don’t use Twitter,” says Demian Sellfors, CEO of Media Temple, a Web-hosting service. “We want to know what our customers think, both good and bad. That’s a good thing.”

“25 Random Things About Me.”

Social Networking is spreading like a wild fire.
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If you are a member of the 150-million-strong Facebook nation, you have probably learned some fascinating — or, let’s face it, some not-so-fascinating — facts about your friends as part of the latest fad, the pass-it-forward viral game “25 Random Things About Me.”

Like a mutating chain letter, though more artful and less threatening, 25 Things arrives as a Facebook note from a friend. That friend posts 25 facts about himself and “tags” 25 people and asks them to do the same thing.

The phenomenon continues to snowball. Facebook can’t quantify activity specific to 25 Things as it does applications such as Flixster. But spokeswoman Brandee Barker says that over the past week the number of daily “notes” has more than doubled and the number of daily tags of a Facebook member in a note has grown by five times.

“I would say that anecdotally I’ve never seen a note spread as quickly as this has on Facebook,” Barker says. “What is really unique about this is it’s a really meaningful piece of content. Some of the these notes are touching and frankly very insightful.”

Unlike most unsolicited (and unwanted) e-mail chains, 25 Things is usually welcomed. “It’s one of my favorite Facebook things,” says Pete Hines, vice president of public relations and marketing at Bethesda Softworks. “I’ve learned a lot about people I’ve known for a long time and people I only know a little.”

A random thing about Pete: “I am one of the least organized people I know. I don’t do well with paper, or filing things away, but I am religious about my e-mail inbox.”

Should you choose to join in the 25 Random Things craze, media consultant Shelly Palmer recommends that “you shouldn’t put anything online that you would not want to see on the front of the newspaper or that you would not want a potential client or your boss to see,” says Palmer, whose book Get Digital: Reinventing Yourself and Your Career for the 21st Century Economy is due this spring.

Social networks represent a paradigm shift in communicating. “This is the beginning of what will be a never-ending raft of social network games like this,” he says.

How true. Already appearing in Facebook pages is a new note: “A Bunch of Questions — Share.”

Downturn in the Economy and Online Strategy

You don’t have to be a member of the Federal Reserve Board to know that marketers across all sectors are hunkering down and searching for the fastest and cheapest ways to acquire and retain customers as budgets evaporate.
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In the race for low cost, high yield tactics suspicion naturally falls on digital and online media with its well known but often un-harvested ROI promise.

According to Lee Odden’s Online Marketing Blog, blogging, SEO, PPC social networking and e-mail are the top 5 tactics marketers will emphasize in the next 6 months, though not all will yield quick or positive results if you’re not already working on them. Here’ are a few things to consider before embracing these tactics.

Blogging. Considered the human face of corporations and businesses, blogs without traffic and without a point of view don’t matter. ts-1
It’s not enough just to craft customer-friendly messages in blog formats. You’ve got to get customers to click, read and believe. This demands content that’s more textured than the party line sufficient to bring them back, buy something or talk up your brand.

There is no hard research linking blogging with increased brand awareness, preference or advocacy, though company blogs with large audiences should logically develop these things. Similarly there are not a lot of cases that show how blogs drive traffic to brand or ecommerce sites. If you aren’t already blogging and building audiences now isn’t the time to start if you want measurable results in the near term.
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SEO. Seven of ten searchers click on the natural results first. But if you’re not on the first page you’re toast.

Getting to the first page requires huge investments of skill, tools and dedicated players. If you have them in-house or can outsource them efficiently, this is a good bet though improvement is incremental and sometimes glacial due to intense competition and almost constant gaming by both search engines and optimizers.

PPC. Play per click search advertising is the fastest and easiest thing you can do. With even modest budgets you can incrementally improve traffic and results. If you’re willing to monkey with it daily, you can have the illusion of control and can quickly and easily see your progress, parse your dollars and experiment with new or different key words and phrases. Even from a standing start PPC advertising can quickly have a positive ROI on your business.

Social Networking. This is the most hyped and least understood marketing tool. Reaching out to large numbers of customers linked to each other in social forums using the images, language and customs they expect and like makes good sense.

Some brands have amassed large numbers of “friends” others have distributed information and coupons, prompted interaction and feedback, run contests, collected data and even sold some merchandise.

So far however no reliable messaging or media formulas have emerged. Now the sites, eager to monetize their memberships and prove their financiers right, are aggressively selling different flavors of behaviorally targeted advertising; which itself has no track record or widely accepted success stories. At relatively modest costs social networks are a great experimental tool and marketing test lab well worth your time and attention; though keep your expectations for a fast payoff low.

E-Mail. In site of widespread hatred of SPAM and the near ubiquitous deployment of increasingly sophisticated spam filters, outbound opt-in e-mail is the most cost effective and reliable tool you can use. E-mail works.

You can create and transmit campaigns that work fast and cheap. Real-time feedback on delivery, opens, clicks and action allow you to revise, re-target and re-engage customers quickly at modest costs. And frequency works much like direct mail with each sequential blast of the same message generally yielding 50% of the previous one. The key determinants of success are a clean opt-in list, a credible FROM line, a motivating SUBJ line with an actionable offer inside. Shorter copy with minimal graphics and clearly marked calls to action work best. If you only have enough budget to do one thing, bet the farm on e-mail.

Affiliate Marketing. This approach offers the prospect of everyone helping everyone else. Though in reality it’s about finding the right balance between greed and self-interest. The affiliate networks offer automated platforms and minimal advice. For most programs the 80/20 rule applies — a minority of sites will yield the biggest payoffs.

Affiliates are looking for opportunities to generate no-fuss incremental revenue with minimal effort and involvement. In some cases this works like gangbusters. In others its a long hard slog. Setting up an effective affiliate network takes at least 90 days and requires dedicated staff and expertise. If you start now, it might begin to pay out in 2009.
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