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How to control social media with math
Mirco A. Mannucci is a Big Data Analytics Consultant, a CEO @ HoloMathics and a Ph.D. in Mathematics. His interdisciplinary background in the sciences and software engineering mingles with a burning interest in web social communities. Mirco is one of the authors of the research conducted at Chapman University exploring the concept of virality. The researchers were examining socially bonded clusters of people and subgroups on Facebook to identify the way to achieve the maximum reach of people. Today, Mirco and I will be discussing implications of big data for social networks, virality and the new world of super-heroes on social media.
Mirco, as a Big Data geek with a Ph.D. degree in Mathematics, how do you see social media transform in the next 5-10 years from now?
Great question to start off Dagmara! I think we should always begin with a touch of SF, because quite often what some mavericks are dreaming about now, becomes reality later. Social media means media which are social, media that are embedded in the very tissue of the social web. Now, where is the social web and where is it going?
I believe that the plumbing has already been done, we have plenty of large scales social communities. We also have small dedicated communities, we have various types of communication tools, we have, in a word, the proper infrastructure. But something is still lacking, isn’t it?
What is lacking is true SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE. By this I mean: just like there is a logical intelligence, there is a social one. Not many people are social intelligence geniuses, to be sure, and yet without it not much happens in one’s life, because social intelligence drives success.
So, here is my little piece of SF: I dream that very soon there will be another Social Web, let us say Social Web 3.0, which looks and feel like the existing one but with a glaring difference – it is smart. In this social web on steroids, people will get together, form teams, virtual ventures. All of that thanks to some help from the embedded social intelligence. It goes without saying that this would drastically impact social media and social advertisement as well. Highly focused communities would also demand highly focused media….
Will the social media 3.0 allow people with scarce social intelligence to do the work for them? Also, it is interesting that you see the future of social media 3.0 as a collaboration tool. Would not that be just another LinkedIn or Slack on steroids? Just another networking tool?
We definitely need a layer of intelligence on top of the existing social web to form a team of collaborators. I am not suggesting that a machine is better than humans at assessing whether some fellow is the right one to cover some new role in a team, but the machine could act as an advisor. I would not like machines to replace my judgment, but I would like machines to expand my possibilities. Imagine I need someone for my team who is extremely smart, knows how to speak Farsi and Icelandic, has a record of traveling in off-the-road destinations, and has a passion for new projects. What is my chance to find such a fellow now? Very slim, right? So, why not have a little help? There is another dimension involved. This is not a battle humans vs machine. Humans could recommend people too, and perhaps the machine would learn from them…
That is why you decided to build a platform that will enable it?
The platform, that I am building right now, is a “gaming platform”, in a sense. The chief difference is that instead of letting you play in an alternate world, it tries to turn you into a superhero in this one. Most of us live an unnecessarily boring life because we dream and leave our dreams in our closet. Why not add a little spice by being able to post your dreams adventures or join other’s dreams and team up with other superheroes? That is precisely what I want for the Social Web 3.0.
You mentioned that the Social Web 3.0 will impact social advertising. What is the biggest challenge while using social media for advertising and the way to overcome it?
The biggest challenge is that we are completely drowning in information: everywhere we are bombarded with ads, brochures, emails. The only way to mitigate this miserable state of affair is to provide value, highly specific value, to the individuals. If you shoot me an ad, most likely I do not want to hear it, but if you know what I am after and you leverage this knowledge by assisting me in MY objectives things are quite different.
On the other hand, retargeted ads can be pretty helpful. But, let’s drop the topic of ads and let’s get into something more entertaining. You mentioned that our lives are quite boring. What about viral content? It makes our life more exciting, or at least more fun. Getting viral is what everyone secretly dreams about, but they don’t want to admit it at loud. What do you think it takes to achieve viral growth? What could be the key variables that drive viral growth?
The paper which I have coauthored with my fellow researchers at Chapman University partially answers the question: to become viral it means to become like a virus. Viruses go from place to place in the body, being hosted not only by single cells but by entire organs. We essentially found a math model of virality which involves leveraging groups and communities instead of single individuals, to spread information around. To be sure, our research is simply a modest step in the right direction, we need more sophistication to provide a better representation of virality. But using interest groups and active web communities to spread your “virus” is certainly a great way to begin.
If the information is like a virus, looks like we should start spreading info locally, to the people that are close to us in a strictly geographical sense (but they are not our friends like on Facebook), and let them share the info to everyone globally. Do you see a potential in it, in a tool where everyone can share anything they like, but there are no other rules involved?
The beauty of the social web as it already operates now is that the notion of the locality has undergone great changes. When I grew up, several centuries ago, what was the chance of having a talk with you about social life? Close to zero. Now my nephews, who live in Milano, have friends in Spain or … China. Therefore, virality can take different clothes… however, having said that, there are certain types of information which must be spread locally, for the very simple reason that they are intrinsically local: why should I broadcast to the entire world the news that the guy next door offers the best pizza and a jazz concert for an incredible price? A guy in Peru could not care less…as for the second part of your question, I think we should have themes, channels through which information flows. I am not a big fan of Twitter’s model.
Neither am I. It’s way too messy and requires a constant time commitment. Mirco, if you were on a mission to predict the popularity of pieces of information that spread through the social media networks, where would you start?
Going back to the previous answer, I would try to understand which paths this piece of information follows to spread, and what is the relevance for folks and communities which dwell on mileposts along this path. Example: Suppose you try to spread some news about a service. You want to hit ONLY groups and folks for which this service could be intriguing, right? Nobody spreads info if they do not think it is “cool” and valuable…
Sure thing. But what is the probability to detect information big stories before they even happen?
It is extremely difficult to predict the future, especially where the human element is heavily involved. However, IF (big if!) I knew a lot about the folks and groups which receive this information, for instance, their tastes, goals, dislikes, then something can be predicted, especially if I do have a track record of previous scenarios.
Even if we knew the tastes, goals, dislikes, likes, interests of everyone in the earth, there are still many external factors that can mess your equation up. Is there anything certain about social media at all?
True, indeed the variables are almost infinite. But, as I have already said, I do not like Hal 9000 type of AI. I rather prefer Jarvis, the AI advisor of Tony Stark in Iron Man: Jarvis advises me, but I decide. If it makes mistakes, it will learn to adjust.
Using data and identifying new opportunities for unlocking it requires creativity. Could you give us an example of a product or a service that used creativity to bring data to the next level and unlocked its potential?
The obvious thing that comes to mind is Youtube. Not a rocket scientist type of technology, by any means, but one that has changed radically many aspects of our life: we can post anything, opinions, products tests, news, personal journeys. A video which is on your computer is your video, a video that is on Youtube is humanity’s video…a big difference.
There are plenty of tools on the market that helps identify the most influential authors (influencers), but after finding the right ones for your product or niche, the question emerges: How do we minimize the risk of not getting enough brand exposure, engagement or leads from this cooperation? We cannot be sure that our content will resonate well with the audience. What data would you be searching for to maximize the success of the cooperation with an influencer?
With a partner in crime, I have been working hard at a new platform to do exactly what you ask for. To be more precise, and going back to the previous part of this interview, I do not believe that getting the influencers on your side is enough. You need to also catch groups and communities for which what you want to sell is relevant, and communities have a life of their own. So, whereas as you said there are plenty of tools which are aimed at individuals who are “hubs” in the social web, this perspective is a bit too skewed toward single individuals.
You mentioned that community has a life on its own, can you share more details here…?
A community to me is like a collective mind: we are the neurons, but the whole has an intelligence of its own. It is the same everywhere: a single cell is one thing, an organ quite another. This is extremely important to understand if we really want to unravel the mysteries of the social web: if we stick to the view of the cell, we miss the organs…
Any golden tip for social media managers out there on achieving a consistent analytical approach?
Hire people, who understand both analytical tools and what these managers are trying to get.
What is the one social media metric you would die to measure, but no one out there came up with a solution yet?
How much what we offer aligns with what people really want.
I would risk a statement that people often times don’t know what they want…they search for one thing, but end up using or doing something completely different. People are irrational, don’t you agree?
You are right, but my measure is not what they want now, rather: after you show it to them, they like it or not? People are very bad at figuring out what they want before they see it but quite good at deciding what they like after they have played with it.
Information overload is killing our productivity. You have plenty of projects on your plate and you are surely a busy man. How do you achieve a better quality of information and remove the noise?
I will be honest with you: I was never good at that, I am someone who begins 1000 things and completes 2-3. But recently things have changed for me, simply because I realized (finally!) the truth: I do not have much time, nobody has, we barely have the time to do what we need and truly wish to do, and send everything else to hell.
Do not let information drive you, any information, drive your life and use the right info to go where you want to go.
How do you see the role of AI in data mining?
Well, the fact is, little by little we will let machines do the dirty job. Data sets are huge and complicated, so this is bound to happen (in fact, it is already happening). But I do not see the role of humans as something that is going to die anytime soon: humans are still needed to create new ways to model data, to make sense of what machines will find. Let us say that I am here an optimist: instead of substituting humans, I like to think of future AI as expanding our cognitive powers. But maybe I am a tad too optimistic. Time will tell.
They say that failures make us stronger. Could you share with us one of your failures and what did you learn from it?
There was a project I started in 2009 called MergingPot, the ancestor of this new thing. I spent a considerable amount of time building it, putting it on FB as an app, but eventually it died. Why? Truth is, I had no clue how to run a start-up, how to prioritize, how to engage people, and also my timing was not right. In fact, everything was wrong EXCEPT the core idea, which was way ahead of time. Now, if I was a complete fool, I would give up. Far from it…I always loved the hero who has been beaten up to a pulp and yet makes a last comeback 🙂
Do you want more blood? I could go on forever. What is more interesting is WHY I failed. Chiefly by lack of consistency: when you start something, you MUST complete it, no matter what.
Ouch! You even don’t know how much I agree with you on that one…thanks for sharing!
And of course, thank you a ton for the interview, Mirco!
Thank you Dagmara! I had a lot of fun.
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