De-mystifying Machine Learning

I was a little surprised to see a post in a respected tech publication just the other day about how unfathomable machine learning is, and how unknown its impact is going to be. Agreed, machine learning is still unfamiliar to many people, and its potential is enormous. But maybe I can help demystify it a little by sharing some of my own experience applying machine learning in a real life situation.

I really dug into machine learning a few years back working on a marketing campaign concerning the use of analytics during the discovery phase of lawsuits. I got hands-on by downloading the somewhat-famous Enron emails, which I popped into a MySQL database server, and did a little poking around in them using Tableau. But what really helped me understand the power of machine learning was studying emerging e-discovery technology, culminating in a conversation with data scientist and entrepreneur Nicolas Croce (see the interview here).

documents

Before I share what I learned, first some background for those who aren’t already familiar with what the legal profession calls “discovery”. Discovery is the process by which lawyers are permitted to obtain evidence, including documents and electronic records, from their opponents. This is permitted under civil and criminal law so that the lawyers for both sides can assemble evidence that courts need to make good decisions. In a major legal action discovery can involve literally millions of documents and equivalent types of records (images, emails, database entries, etc.). Both sides must review these documents to identify which are important and why.

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The Three Things You Need For a Successful Pinterest Strategy

Pinterest just keeps getting hotter. As of the publication of this post, it just caught up to Twitter in popularity. While its ways are still mysterious to many denizens of the planet, it’s established enough now to look like more than a passing fad. And once marketers find out about Pinterest’s amazing viral potential they want to jump on the train—if they can figure out how.

Pinterest can be regarded as a legitimate alternative to Facebook as a brand marketing vehicle. Many of the millions of people who use Pinterest may prefer it, and put more effort into it, than Facebook because it offers a vastly superior photo browsing and sharing experience than Facebook. And Pinterest boards require a fraction of the overhead needed to create and manage an in-house or Facebook photo gallery. Moreover, since Pinterest can display photos from their original locations around the web, it is the perfect place to collect “fan photos” and other visual content related to the brand in some way, even if it’s not owned by the brand. But instead of looking at Facebook and Pinterest as either/or, it’s better to acknowledge that far fewer people are using Pinterest, some people use both, influencers can be found on both, and each has brand marketing potential.

There have been days where several different people have asked me for help coming up with a Pinterest strategy. The businesses looking for help range from super-corporations I cross paths with professionally to entrepreneurs I meet in coffee shops. Most (not all) of these people admit they don’t really want to invest in yet another social media platform, they just feel they’re supposed to.

pinterest

So to answer their question, here’s how to develop a Pinterest Strategy: Continue reading

How you benefit from customer comments you were pretty sure you didn’t want

Due to a misunderstanding, at the last minute before takeoff an airline refused to allow a pair of special-needs passengers to fly. This upset the passengers deeply and stranded them at an unfamiliar airport.

No one should have been surprised that intense criticism of the airline spread rapidly via social media, portraying them as bad-guys even though the incident was (arguably) a one-time mistake by an isolated group of employees.

This wound up being a good thing, because:

The airline discovered this issue, apologized to the would-be passengers and their families, refunded their money, offered them additional free flights, and came up with a new process to keep the problem from recurring. All-in-all, the airline—our hometown favorite here in Seattle, Alaska Airlines—took a regrettable mistake, and did everything possible (considering it was after the fact) to make it right with those affected. In this way Alaska Airlines also earned positive PR by showing they’re the kind of company that owns up to their mistakes and jumps on an opportunity to do the right thing when they can.

> Read more about the “special needs passengers stranded by Alaska Airlines” incident

> Another great PR turnaround story:  FedEx responds after delivery guy caught on video throwing computer equipment over a fence

This post isn’t about Alaska Airlines—it’s about the other guys

I’m pleased to see more and more stories about companies turning customer complaints into positive publicity. But this post is for the other guys, anyone who isn’t sure they have the right attitude, either individually or organizationally, to handle all customer criticism in a positive way.

Poster child for the other guys: Continue reading

Are marketers becoming more like drivers and less like spectators?

This morning I had coffee with Tejas Dixit of Market Dialogues who showed me Junction, his new SaaS social media management solution.

Junction is designed to help small and medium sized businesses plan, execute, and manage their social media initiatives effectively. Unlike many social media management solutions which offer publishing to social media accounts, monitoring conversations, and analytics as independent solutions, or as siloed components, Junction tightly integrates and dashboards all three.

I’ve noticed that a major stumbling block of many social media management solutions is that the feedback they offer about the success (or lack thereof) of social media efforts can be difficult to act on. Even when publishing, monitoring, and analytics are available under the same login, the gap between action and feedback can be wide enough to leave a major hurdle in the path of social media marketers. Meanwhile, the level of complexity conveyed by analytics tools can leave marketers, and the people they are accountable to, bewildered.

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3 excellent books about how people make decisions

On the recommendation of a Twitter friend I recently read (or, rather, listened to the audio editions of) three excellent books about how people make decisions:

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

All three contain countless nuggets of recent scientific insight into behavioral economics, or why people and markets behave as we do, as explained by three very cogent thinkers. All three focused on defining the abilities, strengths and weaknesses of different brain areas; how human impulses mesh and are sorted and acted on; predictable biases of both “rational” and “emotional” sorts; and, what we can do to avoid—and manipulate—biases and errors. Interestingly, all three authors acknowledged the increasing difficulty academics are having in drawing sharp lines between “rational” and “emotional” behavior when confronted with contemporary knowledge about brain function, but all three attempted to draw distinctions between “rational” and “emotional” decisions nonetheless—with varying degrees of success.

Playing poker

Playing poker well involves combining “rational” and “emotional” decisions and knowing when to do which.

The book I enjoyed the most was Jonah Lehrer’s, which I could oversimplify by describing as “neuroscience discovers B.F. Skinner” because of his focus on learned behavior. But perhaps that’s because Lehrer’s approach best fit my personal preconceptions about behavior—and the fact that B.F. Skinner was still working at the psych department where I received my undergraduate degree in psychology way back when I was in school.

Ariely’s book is premised on the idea that traditional economic theory is Continue reading

“Agile Marketing” is not just a buzz phrase, it’s a potent tool

Agile Marketing: what is it; what are the benefits; links to resources.

Two weeks ago I was pleasantly surprised by the Social Media Club of Seattle (SMCSEA) panel about agile marketing. Going in I had assumed they were using “agile” as an adjective, as in “nimble”, where in fact the panel began talking about my old friend Agile, as in the highly effective team collaboration and product delivery tool from the realm of software development. Although it was news to me—in fact you could have knocked me over with a feather when they said it—it appears some folks have been applying Agile to the work of marketing departments, and these departments (or at least the panel members and their departments) love the results.

The SMCSEA panel:

What is Agile?

I may take some lumps for going rogue here (or is is “going rouge”—I’m never sure anymore since that spate of Sarah Palin bios came out), but here’s my Continue reading

3 privacy mistakes to avoid in social media

Nowadays everyone has to have a strategy for managing the complexity of social media privacy. Approaches vary:

  • A relatively small number of people just don’t care who knows what about them. By default they let it all hang out. We see evidence of this every so often when someone gets fired by an employer who thought a photo was too racy, or a comment too racist.
  • On the other extreme, certain people have abandoned social networks altogether, or avoided them in the first place. People who have had stalker problems fit comfortably in this category, for example.
  • The majority are somewhere in between. We seek to filter our private information in a practical, socially acceptable way, while minimizing the amount of time and effort we spend understanding policies and tweaking settings.

Everyone in this third group should be aware of three basic privacy mistakes to avoid.

1. Don’t post truly private information on social networks

The most important thing you can do to protect your privacy is to use self-restraint. You simply shouldn’t put information that you consider “private” on social networks. For starters it’s easy to make a mistake with not-always-intuitive privacy settings, thus giving “public” access when you thought it was “friends only”. Facebook in particular seems to change its privacy system frequently in ways that make it easy to make such mistakes (so much so that it almost seems intentional on Facebook’s part).

Also, people you share “private” information with in social media may goof up and share whatever you share with them. This can happen accidentally (see privacy settings, above) or because they don’t realize that some information they receive from you via social networks is private…unlike all of the Continue reading