Keep your friends close

How much value do your friends bring to you? Silly as this question may be, its one being asked in offices and boardrooms across the country. Companies are trying to understand how much a “fan”, a “follower”, or a “like” is worth.  The most common response is, “I don’t know, but more is better.” However, in this case more isn’t always better.

Social media sites leverage something called EdgeRank to determine what content is shown to people when they log in. On Facebook, it’s believed that only less than 2% of eligible content has the potential to show up in the news feed.  So, the question shouldn’t be how do I get more fans, the question should be how do I get my posts to show up more than 2% of the time. The simple answer is engagement.

When people interact with your content it’s more likely to show up again in the future in their feed and the feed of those that are “close” to them. When companies attempt to gain just any followers via contests and other means, adding them could in fact be decreasing the total value of all their fans.

So how much value do your friends bring to you? Within social media, just like the real world, in some cases less may in fact be more.

Decisions, decisions….

We make decisions everyday. Some big ones, some not so big, and most without really giving it much thought. Should I wear the white shirt or the blue one? What route do I take on my way to work? Do I want fries with my lunch?

Answers: The blue one, last time I wore it with this outfit I received several compliments. I’m taking the backroads, the traffic on the main road is unbearable this time of day. I’ll should pass on the fries, fried foods upset my stomach.

What do all these decisions have in common? While there is no wrong answer, they all rely on past knowledge, or historical information, to make a determination. When we make a decision we take to sum of our previous experiences into consideration to determine what to do next.

Why then do so many expensive decisions in the business world rely on only a small window of data? It’s still typical for companies that have been around for decades to base day to day decisions on only the last 13 months.

Firms that have successful data management strategies in place make data driven decisions based on years, and in many cases decades of learnings. If you can learn from the past you won’t be doomed to repeat it’s mistakes. By choosing to shortcut valuable historical data, you’re only fooling yourself into thinking your actions are supported by the numbers.

Equations that predict the future are among us.

“How accurate does my model need to be?”

This is a question that I get asked all the time. The universal answer: It depends. Virtually any decision that a human makes can be modeled by the computer. IBM’s WATSON proved that playing Jeopardy. Was the WATSON always right? NO. Did IBM prove WATSON able to simulate human decision making? YES.

The question is how accurate did WATSON need to be in order to compete? It depends. It depends on the type of questions asked. It depends on the quality of opponents. It depends on the score and questions left in the game.

In the business world the same type of questions need to be asked. All too often I run into vendors promising models where they lack a full understanding of all the circumstance surrounding the question I need answered. They then pledge all sorts of fancy accuracy metrics that speak to questions they figure I would want answers to, but fail to answer the one question I’ve asked: How accurate do I need to be in order to make better decisions and what is the cost of increasing that accuracy?

I realize I may be biased. I help companies build internal analytics practices, often by decreasing long term costs. Teach a man to fish; it costs less than buying a fish for him every evening.

What is the Value of Online Privacy?

Many people worry about what companies will do with all the data they are collecting on web behavior. Virtually every major website is keeping tabs your behavior through a variety of tags and various web analytics and tracking technology. Most are just tracking your actions on their site, but more and more companies are coming up with new innovative ways to track your behavior as you cross web domains, principally through the use of tracking cookies.

A recent Wall Street Journal article examining the 50 most popular US websites comments on the fact that many top internet firms aren’t even aware that 3rd party vendors are using their site to place such code on your computer. These 50 sites collectively placed over 3000 tracking files on a test computer with over 2/3rd of those files installed by 131 other companies “many of which are in the business of tracking Web users to create rich databases of consumer profiles that can be sold”.

Companies will claim that this monitoring is the price we pay for free services on the internet. Basic economics state this is not the case.

Companies have the ability to make a buck based on your work and are seizing it without even a thought towards compensating you for you data. Many don’t even ask for you permission and some have developed new flash-based cookies that redeploy themselves even after you have deleted them. At least supermarket, department and other big box stores have to ask, if you want to sign up for their “preferred customer tracking cards” and then use incentives to use them each time.

Since the data carries no value to a consumer, tremendous value to marketers and there is little harm in sharing, I say compensate consumers for their data. This practice is common place in surveys and study groups. All I’m saying is you should get your 1/10th of a penny.