Tag Yelp

User-Generated Content Is Fuel for Recommendation Engines

Photo credit: Andri Koolme on Flickr.By now, most business leaders have heard that word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family play a large role in the decision making process for many consumers.

With this in mind, many of these same business leaders have also accepted that social media should be leveraged, and have thus established a presence on the most-used social networking sites. Many have even gone the extra mile and actually engage with their customers on these sites.

But, what is often most important is what customers do and say online.

The beautiful product photos, positive reviews, and check-ins that customers post spread awareness about the businesses, products, and services that they use and hopefully like.

What they also do is leave a permanent record of a positive (or negative) interaction that a customer had with a brand.

As you know, if it is posted on the Internet, it can possibly live on forever.

What we don’t often think about is that these posts can lead to future sales by helping recommendations engines provide more targeted and accurate suggestions to future customers.

What is a recommendation engine?

In the context of what I am referring to, it is an information filtering system that helps a business recommend items to customers that they might be interested in. For additional information, Wikipedia has a good explanation.

If you want to see an example of a business effectively using a recommendation engine to help its customers find products, visit Amazon.com. The Amazon.com recommendation engine uses a combination of several input data, including past purchases, product ratings, and social media data.

Social Networking Sites Offer Suggestions

Several social networking sites understand that the data that they collect can be very useful and have harnessed it to offer recommendations to users directly within the site.

Foursquare is a great example.

In his book, “Mobile Influence: The New Power of the Consumer,” Chuck Martin describes how Foursquare is using its data to offer better suggestions to its users.

In the book, Eric Friedman, director of sales and revenue operations at Foursquare, states, “From the very first check-in, we get smarter at what we recommend. If you check in to a series of places, we will make a better guess at what you are looking for. If you love small coffee shops and you go to a city and type in ‘coffee shop,’ guess what we are going to recommend? A small, independent coffee shop. If you are a guy that loves a big coffee house and you go to a different city or country and type in ‘coffee,’ we are going to give you recommendations based on your history. If we were friends on Foursquare and I was in downtown Boston and I saw Chuck had been to a cheeseburger place five times, that is a great signal for me to go to the same place for lunch because I know Chuck and he knows good cheeseburger places and I like Chuck.”

The book goes on to explain other ways that Foursquare is using its app and the data it collects to give its users targeted and relevant suggestions based on their location, past check in history, and the check in history of the people who they are connected to.

If you want another example, check out Yelp.

As you are probably aware, Yelp is an online review site that allows users to review businesses that have a brick-and-mortar location. This data can be used directly within the site to find a specific type of business based on its location and the reviews that it gets from Yelp’s users.

Yelp has an algorithm that that helps surface the most trusted reviews from the most reliable sources.

It is also noteworthy that Yelp reviews often show up in the results that users get when they search for information on Google.

Every Post on a Social Networking Site Could Potentially Be a Source of Data

The examples that I gave demonstrated how social media can be used to help users find businesses based on data collected within the social networking site itself.

However, everything that users post on social networking sites can be used by a third party to help consumers make purchase decisions. (As mentioned, Yelp reviews show up in Google SERPs.)

To illustrate this further, think about all the photos of the delicious meals that users post on Instagram.

A photo posted by Chad Thiele (@chadjthiele) on

Knowing that people often post photos of their food, the app MyFab5 encourages users to use these Instagram photos to rank the five best places for a specific type of food in a specific city.

The concept is rather simple (i.e., use food photos to rank the five best places for a specific type of food in a specific city.) The app then uses an algorithm to surface the best places to get a specific type of food based on users rankings. For example, according to MyFab5, here is a list of the best places for burgers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

While this data again leads back to a brick-and-mortar location, it shows that anything that users post is fair game.

Given the vast amount of data out there, there will be other businesses that will harness other types of user-generated content to help make recommendations to other consumers based on hashtags, keywords, geotags, or other data that are included in posts on social networking sites.

Therefore, it is important that businesses find ways to ensure that these recommendation engines find more positive posts than negative ones.

Final Thoughts

As I have pointed out, the product photos, reviews, check-ins, and other posts on social networking sites not only work to influence the people who are connected to the users who create the content, but they also can have a larger impact on future sales when they are used to fuel recommendation engines.

So what can businesses do to help encourage customers to create user-generated content that displays the brand in a positive light?

The answer to that question depends on the situation.

However, the most important thing is to provide great products and services to customers.

Providing excellent customer service is also key.

In the end, businesses not only want customers to use their products and services, but they want the experience that they have with the brand to be positive. So positive that customers can’t help but share the love of the brand online.

Because what is posted online can live on forever and we can’t predict how other businesses will use that data in the future.

Photo credit: Andri Koolme on Flickr and chadjthiele on Instagram.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Five Basic Things Retailers Can Do to Integrate Social Media into the Offline Shopping Experience

Photo credit: Lisa @ Sierra Tierra on Flickr.A majority of consumers in the United States own a smartphone.

That means that they have the ability to research products, compare prices, and share their experiences on social networking sites while they shop in a retailer’s brick-and-mortar store.

While there are retailers out there that are doing some very cool things to take advantage of the fact that their customers are talking about their shopping experiences on social networking sites, many businesses are missing out on some of the most basic opportunities to leverage the power of social media.

And, by basic I’m not talking about using social media monitoring tools to engage with customers and meet their needs while they are in a store or even a competitor’s store. By the way, this is something that retailers should be doing.

What I am talking about are some of the even more basic things that retailers could be doing to encourage interactions and social sharing that would involve very little effort on the retailer’s part. That said, I have noticed that many retail stores just aren’t taking these basic steps.

Tell Customers Where They Can Connect on Social Media With Point-of-Sale Displays

No matter how efficient the retail store is, it is inevitable that customers are going to have to wait in line for a few minutes at the check-out counter.

Many of these customers are already using their smartphones while they wait.

This makes it the perfect time to mention the store’s social media presence, as they could instantly connect with the store online.

A simple way of doing this would be to have a sign located near the check-out counter that mentions where to find the store on social networking sites. This could also be a place where the store could encourage customers to leave a review on one of the online review sites. (I know waiting in line sounds like a bad time to ask for a review, but customers do expect to wait for a few minutes.) Retailers could also mention the store’s mobile app, if applicable.

It should be noted that if the retailer’s sales staff are providing horrible customer service or there are excessive wait times, this signage could encourage customers to vent their frustrations. However, even bad feedback can be considered a gift if it helps the store identify problem areas and allows them to make corrections.

On the other hand, if the store is providing great customer service, public praise on social networking sites can be some of the best advertising a business can get.

Mention Where to Connect Online in the Mobile App and Mobile Website

If the retailer’s customers have taken the time to download the store’s mobile app, they already have an interest in the store or the store has given them a good enough incentive to do so.

By using the store’s mobile app to let customers know how they can connect with the business on social networking sites, there is a good chance that the store will be able to build relationships with some of its most loyal customers, many of whom have the potential to become brand advocates online.

It is important that retailers test to make sure that their customers find this information useful.

That said, with the right design, the mobile app can be a great way to help increase awareness of the store’s social media presence.

And, given that customers are already using their smartphones makes it possible for them to connect to the store on social media with only one or two taps of a finger.

The same is true for customers who are visiting the retailer’s mobile website.

It is important to note that the mobile website is a great place to be able to connect with customers who might be visiting a store for the first time. By providing them with other ways to connect to the business online can help encourage repeat business and possibly help turn them into brand advocates in the future.

Furthermore, whether it is on the mobile app or the mobile website, if your business provides product information or the option to purchase items online, making it easy for customers to share this information with their network on social media by including social sharing buttons is highly recommended.

Mention the Social Media Presence in Brochures, Flyers, Print Ads, and Other In-Store Signage

If the business uses print advertising, there is a good chance that copies of it will find their way into the store and onto the sales floor.

Therefore, providing information about how to connect online is also a must for many of the same reasons mentioned above.

Encourage the Sales Team to Mention the Mobile App and How to Connect on Social Media

The sales team not only has the opportunity to sell the products the store has on its shelves, they also have the opportunity to create awareness of the store’s online presence, including the mobile website and mobile apps, as well as how to connect on social media.

While it might not be appropriate to talk about how to connect with the business online with every customer, there are definitely times when this knowledge could lead to positive mentions online. This is particularly true when the customer is really happy with their shopping experience.

Therefore, the sales team should be trained about the importance of the mobile website, mobile apps, and social media so that they can educate customers when appropriate.

Photo credit: Simon Yeo on Flickr.

Remember Hashtags are Important

As anyone who has spent any time using social media knows, people like to share photos and information with their network when they find something interesting or get a really good deal. This is particularly true when a customer is a huge fan of the business.

Because customers are probably already sharing photos and information about the products that the store sells, it would be a good idea for the retailer to create a hashtag that allows customers to connect with other like-minded individuals. This will help create a community and possibly increase the demand for the products that the store sells.

Final thoughts

Many consumers are already using social networking sites to share photos and information about the products that they find in their favorite stores.

Therefore, it is in a retailer’s best interest to help create awareness of the store’s online presence and to make it easier to share information about the store and the products it sells.

While there might be business reasons not to do all the things mentioned in this post, many would take very little effort and could help encourage customers to share the love of the store, create a community, and connect customers with brand advocates and other like-minded individuals.

Many retailers are already investing in social media marketing. By taking these small steps they could help increase awareness and get folks sharing the love of their store online.

Photo credits: Lisa @ Sierra Tierra and Simon Yeo on Flickr.

 

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Facial Recognition Technology and Privacy: Is a Deal Really Worth It?

When you mention facial recognition technology, many people cringe and think of an invasion of privacy that will lead to the government tracking their every move and taking away their civil liberties.

On the other hand, when facial recognition technology is mentioned to other people, they get excited about all the possible cool things that can be done, from improved security systems to marketing opportunities.

Where you stand on this issue is probably going to determine how you feel about a new high-tech loyalty program that is being tested by redpepper, an advertising agency with offices in Atlanta and Nashville.

But, before we get into that further, I want to refresh your memory about another use of facial recognition technology that I talked about in a post last month.

In the post, I mentioned digital signage that is using facial recognition technology that helps identify basic demographics (gender, approximate age, body type, etc.) of the consumers who are looking at the digital sign and then uses that information to deliver relevant ads to them.

Personally, I think that this use of facial recognition technology is harmless because it is only identifying the characteristics of the person, not who the person is. In other words, the consumer’s face is not being matched to a large database to identify their exact identity.

It’s a good thing that I didn’t argue that such a database doesn’t even exist, because only a few days later, I learned that there is a database that I didn’t even think about—Facebook.

Here’s where redpepper enters the story.

Facedeals

As an article on the Los Angeles Times website reports, “A new app is being tested in Nashville, Tenn., that can check in people on Facebook and send them offers using facial-recognition cameras.”

“Called Facedeals, the new service uses cameras installed at businesses’ front doors to read people’s faces as they enter,” the article continues. “If the people who come in are users of the app, they will be checked in, and based on their “like” history, they would receive a customized offer.”

Keep in mind, the idea of getting a deal based on checking in is not new. Businesses around the country are doing the same thing using Foursquare and other location-based social networking sites. In fact, last year I wrote a blog post about Concentrics Restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia. With the help of PlacePunch, Concentrics Restaurants was doing a really great job of offering deals to loyal customers who checked in on Foursquare, Facebook, Gowalla or Yelp.

It appears that the main difference is that Facedeals uses facial recognition technology to check a consumer in every time they enter an establishment that participates in the program. In addition, Facedeals also customizes the deal offered based on the participants “likes” on Facebook.

You can find additional information about Facedeals on the redpepper website.

Privacy Issues

If you search YouTube, you will find that there are people who are letting their opinions be known, both for and against Facedeals.

As you would expect, the normal privacy issues are being brought to the forefront.

Personally, I’m not against using facial recognition technology in this manner. The main reason for my stance is that it is opt in.

However, other people could argue that Facedeals could still track you based on your Facebook profile information even if you don’t opt in and just not tell you. But, let’s face it, the government might already be doing this.

The only problem that I have with Facedeals is that by automatically checking you in on Facebook, all the people who you are connected to on Facebook would know where you are every time you enter a participating establishment. (Without the facial recognition component, you get to choose when to check in and where to share the information.) This could be fixed by having a setting that allows the user to decide not share the check-ins on their Facebook page.

Conclusion

In the future, more technologies are going to be introduced that will push the envelope and challenge both our imagination and how we define our expectations of privacy.

Everyone is aware that facial recognition technologies exist.

However, some people are going to fight to limit its use.

Businesses that plan to use facial recognition technology need to be aware that they serve customers who embrace this type of technology and those who are vehemently against it. Therefore, they need to decide whether or not using a service similar to Facedeals is worth the effort.

Ultimately, though, it is the consumer who gets to decide. If enough people who are against this type of technology voice their opinion to the business owner, the business owner will be forced to listen. On the other hand, if a majority of customers embrace the technology, then its use will become a more common occurrence in businesses all over the world.

Therefore, it is going to be interesting to see how the people of Nashville welcome Facedeals.

My question to you is: If you were given the opportunity to participate in this type of service, would you choose to opt in?

Photo credit: david drexler on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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What Apps Are Currently on Your Smartphone?

As I mentioned in a post earlier this month, comScore reported that for the three-month average period ending in October 2011, 90 million people in the United States owned smartphones. As would be expected, this number continues to increase.

In fact, according to Flurry Analytics, 6.8 million Android and iOS devices were activated on Christmas Day. This is a 353% increase over the average number of activations per day that were observed in the first 20 days of December, 2011.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that the number of smartphone app downloads was 125% higher on Christmas Day, when compared to the baseline measurement.

Suggested Smartphone Apps

With all the new smartphone owners out there, it makes sense to suggest some smartphone apps that people might be interested in.

It should be noted that I currently own an Android phone, so most of my suggestion will be based on apps that are available for that operating system. However, most of these apps are also available on other mobile operating systems, as well.

If you are currently using any of the social networking sites out there that have apps available (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, Myspace, YouTube, etc.) then it makes sense to download those apps to your phone. There are some other apps that can be used to access these social networks, as well. In fact, there are many apps currently available that allow you to access your Twitter account.

Google Maps is also a very useful app. The Android version of the app eliminates the need for a separate GPS navigation system. It also now includes indoor maps. I haven’t tried this feature… but it sounds really cool.

The CNN app is great for keeping up with the latest news. When the app is installed on your phone, you can choose to have it notify you about breaking news. I also recently installed the CNNMoney app. It is similar, but it focuses on business news.

CNET TV and G4 both have great apps that provide users with the kind of information that satisfies the tech nerd in all of us.

Evernote is included on a lot of favorite app lists, including mine. Among other things, you can use the app to take notes in meetings or write down ideas that you want to remember when you are on the go. As an added bonus, you can also access Evernote from your PC. I use this app a lot for taking notes about topics that I want to blog about in the future.

Foursquare is one of my favorite location-based social networking sites. The app is very easy to use, and businesses sometimes reward you for checking in to their venue. I have written several blog posts about Foursquare in the past. It should also be noted that there are other apps out there that serve a similar purpose, like SCVNGR and Google Latitude. However, I currently tend to use Foursquare the most.

If you are looking for a cool photo sharing app, I’d suggest giving picplz a try. However, I have also heard a lot of good things about Instagram. It was recently announced that Instagram is working on an Android version of the app. Until the Android version of Instagram is available, picplz is a very good alternative. In fact, there are people out there who say that they prefer picplz to Instagram.

GetGlue is a great app that allows you to let others know what you are currently doing (i.e., reading a book, listening to music, watching a television show or movie, playing a video game or just thinking about a topic.) The current version of the app is a little clunky, but I still enjoy using it. And, hopefully, future versions of the app will fix some of the problems that I am currently having with it.

I am also a fan of the Yelp app. It gives you access to user-generated reviews of the local bars, restaurants and stores in your area. Yelp is a great resource for people who have recently relocated to a new city or are visiting a city that they have never been to before. It also has a check-in component similar to Foursquare. And, if you get a chance, check out Yelp’s Monocle. Yelp’s Monocle is an augmented reality feature that among other things allows you to see reviews of the businesses that are nearby.

Urbanspoon is another app that can help you find nearby bars and restaurants. The unique thing about this app is that if you can’t decide where you want eat, you can use the Urbanspoon slot machine to get additional suggestions. It’s a very cool app.

Many of the daily-deal sites, such as Groupon and LivingSocial, also have apps. As I mentioned in a post that I wrote this past summer, I think that Scoutmob is the daily-deal site that offers the best value to businesses and consumers. As is the case with most of the daily-deal sites, Scoutmob can only be used in certain markets.

Shopkick is another fun app that allows you to earn kicks by visiting participating brick-and-mortar stores and scanning certain items with your smartphone. The kicks can then be redeemed for merchandise at participating retail stores or donated to certain charities.

I also need to mention the Google Reader and Listen apps. I use these apps a lot for reading blog posts and listening to podcasts, respectively.

And, if you sell things on eBay, you definitely will want to download the eBay app. It has many useful features that help facilitate the buying and selling process.

Finally, there are a few apps that I haven’t used that much, but I want to mention because I think that they could potentially be very useful to some people. These apps include Google Googles, RedLaser, Zaarly and WHERE.

Final Thoughts

Many people received smartphones over the holidays.

That means that many people are now learning about the different ways that smartphones can make life a little easier by simplifying some of our everyday tasks.

However, in order to take full advantage of their smartphones, people need to know what apps to download.

The list that I just provided is a good place to start.

However, with over 500,000 apps in the both the Apple App Store and Google’s Android Market, it’s just the beginning.

For additional suggestions, you might want to check out the lists that are provided by other bloggers. In fact, Nate Riggs just published a list today. Jeff Hilimire also frequently blogs about apps that you might never have heard about before.

Other popular websites also frequently list some of the best apps that are currently available.

However, the only way you can truly know whether or not an app is valuable to you is to actually try it yourself. So, I’d suggest heading over to the Apple App Store or Google’s Android Market and give some of the many apps out there a try.

And, if you have any other apps that you would like to suggest, I’d love to hear about them.

Photo credit: mcclanahoochie on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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