If you have bought anything online in the last five years, you have likely noticed the flurry of post-purchase emails that you received requesting your review or comment of the product, service, representative, or the company where you bought. Just a generation or two ago, the mantra was “…keep your opinion to yourself” Today, our connected world wants your opinion more than ever. Why the change? And, how will a more opinionated populace impact education?
From Amazon.com, Best Buy, and CNN to XBOX Live, Yelp, and Zune Social, we love to share our opinions about the products and experiences we consume. Not only are more consumers sharing their opinions, consumers are also using the opinions and testimony of others to make decisions about everything: from the process of leasing a new car to choosing a healthcare provider. More than ever, consumers shape the opinion of products and consequently a products success or failure in the market.
That is a lot influence. Companies decide whether or not to manufacture, promote, market, service, or support products based on consumer opinion. However, learning is real-time. So, can capturing consumer opinion inform a discussion in progress?
Speaking in Public
Last year, I was honored to be invited to participate in a panel discussion at #EDUCOMM 2010 Las Vegas. I am looking forward to returning to #EDUCOMM 2011 Orlando. During our panel discussion, our moderator took questions from the Las Vegas audience and online through Twitter from the live feed we had over the Internet.
What was most surprising to me was the collective thought of the event was being documented and published real-time. I can usually ask a few people after an event their opinion. At a half–a-dozen opinions, I reach my personal storage limit. However, Twitter kept them long enough for me to review and capture. What would have been more powerful was to perform an analysis of the those opinions.
Now you can.
Microsoft has been prototyping new capabilities to help individuals and organizations tap into and perform analytics on the public discourse. The first of these technology is “The Archivist.”
The Archivist is an “alpha” cloud application service from the good folks that bring us the annual Microsoft MIX conference (April 12-14, 2011 Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas). Archivist can search through the Twitter cloud and pull out keywords, hashtags, and Twitter handles and quickly allow you to see what conversations are happening now.
The graphic below is a screen clip of an archive on #EDUCATION and #MICROSOFT that I create today.
At a glance, I can see what are the top tweets happening at that moment in time and from whom. The Archivist creates the graphs and charts on the fly. The underlying raw data can be exported to Microsoft Office Excel for further analysis. Archivist also takes an extra step to provide the actual tweets for review. At at glance, I can see the heat building for the US Imagine Cup Competition in Seattle, WA and a few of retweets from the Cool Cat Teacher, Vicki Davis.
Microsoft Looking Glass
Microsoft’s second prototype is even more sophisticated. Originally developed as a prototype for our digital advertising solutions clients, Microsoft Looking Glass captures and provides real-time analytics of conversations happening on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. My colleague, Mel Carson, has written a thorough brief on Microsoft Looking Glass over on his blog. I encourage you to read through it there.
Last year, I got a firsthand demonstration of Microsoft Looking Glass. The demo was capturing opinion on Microsoft’s brand families. During the demo, there was a live tweet from someone in Germany investigating setting up eduroam services (eduroam is a federated-identity based wireless authentication service used primarily in higher education) within their university. Since the term “eduroam” did not mean anything to the folks doing the analysis it was discarded. This was a perfect case where human expertise and computer analytics made a great marriage for interpreting the data with informed context.
Are you listening?
Over the last ten years, education institutions have gotten great at using web analytics to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of their own web presence. Today, we realize that is only half of the story. An institutional education consumer is not likely to share their most candid opinions on the school or universities website—that is assuming the institution’s web presence allows commenting and rating.
The most vocal and influential consumer conversations are happening in the open and online. These require very different tools to listen and analyze these conversations. In some cases, you can pay someone just to monitor, listen, and respond appropriately to these conversations. In the private sector, this is a real job.
For many K12 schools, they have blocked social media from their school computers so these conversations are happening without their knowledge. In higher education, school leaders are now becoming more aware of the conversations and have become to participate. However, effective listening is still nascent and should become a part of the overall institution’s communications strategy in the next 12-18 months.
And Your Response…
When Microsoft released the public beta for Windows 7 at CES 2009 during Steve Ballmer’s keynote, the web download site buckled beneath the sheer volume of folks attempting to download Windows 7 Beta. Immediately, the social media conversation turned from positive to negative as so many consumers were not able to download the bits for Windows. However, this quickly became a non-story that you never heard.
The Windows product team was using the prototype Looking Glass application and listening to the comments as they were happening. As soon as they saw the problem, the team spun resources into action, found the culprit, and solve the download problem. Meanwhile, the Windows team let the community know that they were listening and addressing the problem. Once it was solved, they again provided the community with an update so that they could fulfill their downloads.
The next morning’s new cycle only talked about the platform excitement and the millions of people who downloaded Windows 7 beta. Listening and responding to the community made the technical difficulties that emerge shortly after the announcement bygone issue.
A Failure to Over-communicate
Schools and universities, like corporations, have brands that they have to value, promote, protect, and engender confidence so that students, parents, alumni, faculty, the public, and policymakers can trust. Building or rebuilding confidence in your brand starts with listening and then quickly moving to an effective and appropriate response.
As a new generation of education consumers enter the arena with an expectation that their voices will be heard in person and online, schools and universities should be at the forefront of adopting technologies and evolving their communications strategies to effectively listen to their consumers in the second decade.
As always, I am listening to your questions and comments. You can leave them in the comments below or out in the social media sphere.
Thanks for listening.
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