How Twitter Could be 10X Bigger, 100X More Profitable, and 1000X More Awesome

Read my new article about how to evolve Twitter, on VentureBeat

 

I’ve spent many years studying, writing about, building, and funding companies (such as Bottlenose, Klout, and The Daily Dot) in Twitter’s ecosystem.

Despite the media chatter, I am still bullish on Twitter – as should be any investor who understands the social network’s fundamentals and true potential. Twitter has the highest revenue growth rate of any tech firm with over $2 billion in sales over the last year. And at today’s market cap, Twitter is an incredible bargain.

The company has enormous untapped potential to impact the world and create value for investors and partners — far more than short-term investors probably realize. But to unlock that hidden potential, some significant product and business model evolution may also be necessary.

I truly want the Twitter ecosystem to succeed. And it is in that spirit of support and optimism that I’m offering a number of ideas below that could help Twitter not only regain its former growth curve but surpass it. I’m breaking down my detailed playbook for the company into three sections:

1: Improving the signal-to-noise ratio on tweets
2: Enabling better search and collection of tweets
3: Focusing on being a network not a destination

 

My Forbes Interview – People May be Brands, but Brands are Not People

I was recently interviewed by Blake Morgan at Forbes, on the subject of “Building Influence in the Digital Age” — listen to the interview here:

Peter Drucker’s grandson Nova Spivack, CEO of Bottlenose, says that Drucker would have felt today that real influencers are not spending a lot of time on social media. In The Modern Customer Podcast this week we talk to Spivack who is an entrepreneur and investor who at six years old remembers being in line behind Jack Welch for an appointment to spend time with his grandfather, one of the most famous management thinkers of our time Peter Drucker. These memories are vivid for Spivack who today spends time thinking about the big business questions we face today. Spivack believes his grandfather felt real influence is not visible but built through face to face interaction. From personal branding and influence to building a brand’s influence, we cover it all in this podcast.

How to Solve Twitter’s Engagement Problem: Add Semantics

The fundamental problem that Twitter has is engagement. If engagement can be corrected, the whole Twitter ecosystem (and their stock price) will improve.

Improving Twitter engagement comes down to fixing the core consumption experience.

First of all what’s wrong with the consumption experience? In a nutshell, two problems:

  1. The signal-to-noise ratio of Twitter has declined dramatically as the service reached social saturation. There are simply too many messages from too many people in the stream — I call this “The Tragedy of the Comments” (yes, that was a pun). The issue is that since there is no economic disincentive to spam Twitter, nor any incentive for anyone to police or manage the common message space, it’s filling up with irrelevant / junk content and the amount of such content is growing rapidly. For users, it becomes very difficult to filter signal from all that noise. Users simply give up when faced with that level of overload. Why spend a lot of effort searching for needles in the haystack, when there are other ways (other apps, sites, etc.) to get a higher ratio of needles?
  2. The participation-to-reward ratio of Twitter has also declined dramatically with saturation. Because of the poor signal-to-noise ratio, the likelihood that anyone will see or respond to a Tweet you post, if you are not a major celebrity or media outlet, has declined far below the threshold of incentive. Why bother to Tweet when there is only a negligible chance anyone will see it or respond? The reward for participation has fallen too low for the majority of the user base to spend the effort.

There are several relatively easy steps Twitter can take to solve both of these problems, with better metadata and analytics in their apps. Making these changes would increase the usability of Twitter for most users and could radically improve Twitter’s metrics.

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Let’s Put the Wikipedia in Space: The Arch Project

In this article, I propose an achievable project to seed the solar system and eventually the universe with digital copies of humanity’s most important knowledge — stored in digital archives that I call “Archs.”

There are many reasons to attempt a project like this – for one thing, it’s an inspirational idea if nothing else — but beyond that it could be of benefit to future generations on Earth.

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Twitter’s Future is Actually Its Past – Where Twitter Went Wrong and How to Right It

With the resignation of Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo, there has been a sudden burst in commentary on what is wrong with Twitter, and where they should focus next.

There are suggestions that Twitter should focus on live real-time events. There are suggestions that Twitter should focus on algorithms to filter content so they are more like Facebook. There are also comments from Twitter’s leadership that Twitter will not change its present (broken) strategy.

It’s clear that Twitter’s growth has stagnated. But to solve this problem, Twitter doesn’t need to invent a new strategy, because they already found the right strategy years ago. The problem is that they abandoned it.

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Why Twitter’s Engagement Has Fallen

I have been thinking about Twitter for many years. One of the interesting trends that many of us who share an interest in social networks have been tracking is the decline in engagement on Twitter.

Indeed this decline is not only evident from Twitter’s own metrics and reporting, but also to anyone who has been an active user of Twitter since the early days of the service.

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2014: A Turning Point for the Semantic Web

Read my article in Semanticweb.com about the significance of 2014 in Semantic Web history.

 

Google is moving away from hand-made ontologies — they were never a fan of them. From the early days, Google’s philosophy has been biased towards big data over manually constructed knowledge. The end of Freebase, and the rise of Knowledge Vault, are just examples of this bias. However,Schema.org‘s impressive growth and adoption can’t be ignored either, and the jury is still out as to whether decentralized ecosystems can ultimately out-scale more centralized data-mining approaches like Knowledge Vault to reach Semantic Web dominance. Although Freebase is being handed off, it is not necessarily over — it is going into the Wikidata project — which could be an increasingly important repository of open knowledge in the future. The war for the Semantic Web is not over.

It’s Time for an Open Standard for Cards

Cards are fast becoming the hot new design paradigm for mobile apps, but their importance goes far beyond mobile. Cards are modular, bite-sized content containers designed for easy consumption and interaction on small screens, but they are also a new metaphor for user-interaction that is spreading across all manner of other apps and content.

The concept of cards emerged from the stream — the short content notifications layer of the Internet — which has been evolving since the early days of RSS, Atom and social media.

Read the rest on TechCrunch

The Next Step for Intelligent Virtual Assistants

When we talk about the future of artificial intelligence (AI), the discussion often focuses on the advancements and capabilities of the technology, or even the risks and opportunities inherent in the potential cultural implications. What we frequently overlook, however, is the future of AI as a business.

IBM Watson’s recent acquisition and deployment of Cognea signals an important shift in the AI and intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) market, and offers an indication of both of the potentials of AI as a business and the areas where the market still needs development.

The AI business is about to be transformed by consolidation. Consolidation carries real risks, but it is generally a sign of technological maturation. And it’s about time, as AI is no longer simply a side project, or an R&D euphemism. AI is finally center stage.

Read the rest on GigaOm

Bottlenose Nerve Center 2.0 Released – Milestone for Real-Time Big Data Analytics

I’m happy to announce the release of Bottlenose Nerve Center 2.0 today. Analyzing 3 billion messages an hour (72 billion messages a day), and doing real-time predictive analytics on nearly 300 million data points an hour, it’s a big step in real-time big data analytics.  

Think about it for a moment: 3 billion messages is several times more data volume than the entire daily Twitter firehose, and we’re analyzing this much data every single hour, continuously. For one thing this level of real-time big data analytics cannot be done today with Hadoop — Hadoop is actually not capable of doing huge data aggregations this fast — so we’re using new technologies, like ElasticSearch (our team actually contributes to the ElasticSearch codebase) and Cassandra under the hood. We’re now analyzing in under a second what would take about an hour with Hadoop.

It’s an impressive technical accomplishment and I’m very proud of the incredibly talented engineering team that built this. I just want to give a shout out to my amazing co-founder Dominiek ter Heide and our product and engineering team for their work. This level of real-time analytics is truly game-changing.

Read more about the release here, see screenshots here, and check out the coverage about this release in TechCrunch!

 

 

How Bitcoins Could Restructure the World

Read my article in VentureBeat about how Bitcoins may restructure our civilization, and the need for advocacy to support this transition, if it is going to happen. Here’s an excerpt:

Bitcoin is a trend with all the ingredients necessary for changing the world. It spreads virally, funds its own growth, and can’t be controlled from any central point. Like the Web, it could eat the world.

Bitcoin could be the beginning of a massive transfer not only of wealth, but of power — a shift to a new social order. If you change the money system, you change the economy; that in turn changes society, government and industry. The shift to Bitcoins would be more than an economic shift, it would be a shift to a new social order — one built around a “freer market” economy.

Such a shift would be a lot more likely if a new grassroots organization were formed to accelerate, promote and protect the emerging cryptocurrency economy. By helping the cryptocurrency economy to fund its own evolution and defense, it would have a better chance of surviving the inevitable challenges it will soon face.

As this new digital economy emerges, the mysterious Bitcoin creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, could turn out to be one of the most important historical figures of our time.

Did Apple Buy Topsy for Contextual Awareness?

The stunning news that Apple bought social search engine, Topsy, for more than $200M has many scratching their heads. Why would Apple want social data, and why would they pay so much for it?

There has been a lot of speculation about the reasons for this acquisition — ranging from making Siri better, to making the App Store smarter, to acquiring big data expertise to develop insights on the Apple firehose.

But I think the reason may be something else altogether: Personalization.

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Is Twitter’s Business Model Going to Work?

Twitter’s business model appears to have shifted from being a network to being a destination. The question I address here, is whether this shift in strategy is going to work, and what the implications are.

Twitter’s Declining User Engagement: Can it be Solved?

There are two primary ways that consumers engage with Twitter:

  1. Posting to Twitter.
  2. Consuming Twitter timeline content.

We are only concerned with (2) — because that’s where ads are displayed in Twitter today.

The success of Twitter’s strategy depends on whether Twitter can build apps that really engage users consistently, and that grow timeline engagement.

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Bottlenose Announces Free Live Visualization of Global Social Trends

Bottlenose has just launched something very very cool: A free version of it’s live visualization of trends in the Twitter firehose.  Check it out at http://sonar.bottlenose.com and get your own embed for any topic. This is the future of real-time marketing. And by the way it’s also an awesome visualization of the global mind as it thinks collective thoughts.

The Future of Virtual Assistants

Check out my article in Forbes on the future of Virtual Assistants. What’s after SIRI and IVR?

All of the interesting stuff happens when data collides. A voice-based interface to a single data set is a thing of the past. A voice-based interface that talks to over 400 applications, representing over 10,000 unique units of knowledge across over 3,000 discrete products? Now we’re talking.

Creating the next generation of assistance is in fact a data federation problem. It’s a brain problem. A data routing problem. A big data problem, even.

Bottlenose Series A to Bring “Trendfluence” to the Enterprise

Bottlenose Secures $3.6 Million Series A Round of Financing to Bring Trendfluence™ to the Enterprise

BusinessWire

Enterprise Offering Discovers Real-Time, Influential Trends to Drive Marketing Campaigns, Manage Brand Reputation and Spotlight Attention in Social Communities

LOS ANGELES, July 23, 2013 — Bottlenose, the first application for Trendfluence™ discovery in social streams, today announced that the company has completed a $3.6 million Series A round of venture capital financing.

The round was led by ff Venture Capital, with participation from Lerer Ventures, Transmedia, Advancit, as well as other leading funds and angel investors. The Series A financing will fund new hires in engineering, sales and marketing to scale operations for the formal entry of Bottlenose into the enterprise market this autumn.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to lead the A round, as we believe that Nova and the Bottlenose team are building a truly compelling and disruptive business”, said John Frankel, Partner, ff Venture Capital.  “After all, we traditionally partner with companies that are changing the way people behave, and we look forward to supporting Bottlenose with all of our internal resources as the team continues to flourish and thrive.”

An early, free alpha version of Bottlenose, released in 2012, spurred interest and demand from nearly 100,000  professional marketers seeking real-time solutions for mapping trends in social networks, in a way that allowed them to see through the fog of social media. Early enterprise partners helped shape Bottlenose for enterprise use, resulting in today’s robust system for revealing Trendfluence in firehose levels of data.

Several brands and agencies—including Pepsi, FleishmanHillard, Razorfish, and DigitasLBi — leverage Bottlenose Enterprise for tracking live and emerging trends and events, directing advertising and marketing initiatives, engaging customer communities and gathering industry intelligence.

The New Science of Trendfluence™ Makes Social Listening Actionable

Bottlenose has developed a new technology for isolating Trendfluence from the noise of social streams. Trendfluence enables Bottlenose customers to proactively identify, anticipate and instigate the trends that drive their businesses.

Bottlenose applies big data cloud computing and analytics to continuously data-mine streams from social networks and enterprise data sources, to detect, visualize and monitor trends as they develop and move in real-time. As trends take shape in real-time, Bottlenose applies proprietary natural language and statistical techniques (16 pending patents) to calculate and visualize the live attention and sentiment around them.

With hundreds of millions of messages, topics, people and links analyzed to-date, and billions more being added on an ongoing basis, Bottlenose is constantly sensing the unfolding live conversation across major social networks, isolating the topics, people, issues, and content that have gathering speed, influence and shove.

Queries Return a 360 Degree View of Vital Trends Reflecting the Emotion of Your Market

The ability to detect real-time trends enables marketers to understand the emotional energy of the crowd and how that is affecting their businesses and brands, right now. It also helps enterprises discover and monitor the “unknown unknowns” on the horizon that may grow into threats, issues, or opportunities – up to hours, days, or even weeks before they are noticed by others.

Bottlenose customers gain an unprecedented ability to find and focus on the trends that matter, as or before they materialize, to inform their real-time tactics and strategies.

Major brand Fortune 500 customers are using Bottlenose to:

  • Detect emerging threats and opportunities

  • Inform advertising keyword buying strategies

  • Direct real-time content creation and curation

  • Visualize and track activity around live events

  • Monitor and predict brand health and crisis management outcomes

  • Conduct real-time market and opinion research

  • Extract customer insights and competitive intelligence

  • Cross-correlate social activity with business outcomes like stock prices, engagement, and sales

“We are thankful to have the support of forward-thinking investors and enterprise customers who share our vision and understand the growing importance of real-time discovery analytics applied to massive data streams. We’ve seen significant traction from Fortune 500’s since the enterprise version went beta in January, both in volume of inbound, and deal size.” said Nova Spivack, CEO and cofounder of Bottlenose. “Social networks have created an environment where rumors, breaking news stories, and customer sentiment can spike and spread globally in minutes. Big brands are now in an arms race to proactively detect and respond to these emerging issues in real-time, instead of after the fact.”

Previously available as a free, trial application, Bottlenose is in limited release on a subscription basis to enterprise customers. General Availability of Bottlenose is slated for autumn.

For inquires related to sales, case studies, or product offerings please visit: http://bottlenose.com/pro.

About Bottlenose:

Bottlenose is the first application for Trendfluence discovery in social and business data streams. Bottlenose provides an enterprise-grade dashboard for discovering, monitoring and acting on influential trends, beginning with social media communications affecting brands.

Bottlenose was founded in 2010 by serial entrepreneur, Nova Spivack, and Web technologist, Dominiek ter Heide. Bottlenose has offices in Los Angeles, California, New York City, and Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Learn more about Bottlenose here: http://bottlenose.com/.

About ff Venture Capital:

ff Venture Capital is an institutional venture capital investor in seed-stage companies. Since 1999, our Partners have made over 180 investments in over 72 companies. Our exits include Cornerstone OnDemand (IPO, CSOD) and Quigo Technologies (sold to AOL for a reported $340m). ffVC has twenty employees based in New York and New Jersey and extensive resources dedicated to portfolio acceleration, including strategy consulting, recruiting assistance, in-house accounting services, communications and PR strategy, engineering assistance, a pool of preferred service providers and an executive portfolio community.

To learn more about ff Venture Capital, visit: http://www.ffvc.com

 

The Post-Privacy World

Read my article in WIRED Insights about what the post-privacy world will be like. Here’s an excerpt:

Edward Snowden’s recent allegations regarding what most of us already suspected the NSA was doing, have ignited a huge controversy around privacy and the role of the State versus the individual. And while it is tempting to have a knee-jerk reaction against government intrusion in our lives, in fact it’s not that simple.

In the post-privacy world, privacy is no longer guaranteed or expected. Given that we can’t stop this shift from happening, the question becomes, how can we turn lemons into lemonade in this situation?

It turns out that the post-privacy world may not be as dystopian as some people seem to think. In fact, despite all the negative hype about it, it’s really not that different from the world we live in today. But a more transparent world even has potential to be better than a one of excessive privacy and secrecy.

The Present IS the Future: Real-Time Marketing In the Era of the Stream – Part Two

In Part I of this article series, we looked at how the real-time Web has precipitated Nowism as a fundamental shift in how we understand and engage with information. Nowism is a cultural shift to a focus on the present, instead of the past or future.

One example of Nowism in action is Nowcasting, which attempts to make sense of the present in real-time, before all the data has been analyzed, in order to project trends sooner or even continuously. Nowcasting is quickly becoming a necessary and powerful function in our media, culture and society.

These ideas are being harnessed by savvy brands and companies not only in how they operate, but also in how they conceive of themselves.

Next we will look how they impact social marketing, and why brands must learn to act like media companies in this new environment.

The Three Stages of Real-Time Marketing Evolution

The Stream is more real-time than the Web. And it’s even more real-time than blogging and the early days of social networking. But it’s not only faster, it’s also orders of magnitude bigger. Instead of millions Web pages every month, we’re dealing with billions of messages every day.

There’s vastly more activity, more change, more noise, and when trends happen they are more contagious and spread more quickly. It’s therefore even more important to sense and respond to change in the present, right when it happens.

Unlike the Web, the Stream is constantly changing, everywhere, on the second timescale: It is a massively parallel real-time medium. And instead of a few channels there are billions of channels — at least one (if not many) for each person, brand, organization and media outlet on the Net — and they are all flowing with messages and data.

Keeping up with the deluge of real-time conversation across so many channels at once is a huge challenge, but making sense of so much change in real-time is even harder. Yet, even harder still is intelligently engaging with the Stream in real-time.

These three objectives represent three levels of maturity and mastery for real-time marketers.



Stage One: Week Marketing.

Today, most brands and agencies are still stuck trying to accomplish Stage One, if they are even that far along.

Stage One social marketers are focused on simply monitoring the Stream and trying to keep up with the conversations about their brand.

Some Stage One marketers are also actively trying to drive perception and optimize engagement through social media. But their ability to measure the effects of their actions and optimize their engagement are primitive at best.

The timescale of their measurement and engagement with the stream can range from hours to days, or even to the weekly timescale.

Stage Two: Day Marketing.

A smaller set of organizations have learned how to make sense of the Stream in real-time and are operating on the hour to daily timescale. They have graduated to Stage Two.

Stage Two marketers don’t merely monitor and respond, they digest and interpret. They measure and engage in sense-making and trend discovery. They generate live insights from millions of messages and incorporate these insights into their thinking and behavior on an hourly to daily basis.

Stage Two social marketers have evolved past the stage of simple reflexive response to the stage where they can interpret and reason about the Stream intelligently in near-real-time. They leverage social analytics, data mining, and visualization tools to facilitate insight, and this leads to smarter behavior, more optimal engagement and better results.

But Stage Two organization response times are still not real-time. Instead of seconds or minutes their responses often take hours or even days and that’s not fast enough anymore.

Stage Three: Now Marketing.

Stage Three marketing organizations are incredibly rare today. But there will be more of them soon.

Stage Three’s are able to monitor, make sense of, and then engage intelligently with the Stream, all in real-time, not after-the-fact.

In other words, they are consistently able to detect, measure, analyze, reason, and respond to signals in the Stream within seconds or minutes, or at most within the hour.

Stage Three organizations continuously run a real-time marketing feedback loop that works like this:

  1. Sense. First a signal is sensed: it might be a breaking story rumor, a complaint by an influencer, a change in customer perception or audience sentiment, a shift in engagement levels, a crisis, or a sudden new trend or opportunity. Sensing signals, and differentiating important signals from noise, in real-time, requires new approaches to determining relevance, timeliness, importance that don’t rely on analyzing historical data. There is no time for that in the present. Sensing has to intelligently filter signal from noise by recognizing the signs of potentially interesting trends, regardless of their content. Organizations that can do this well are able to detect emerging trends early in their life cycles, giving them powerful time advantages.

  2. Analyze. Next, the signal is analyzed in real-time to understand what drives it, and what it drives. Its underlying causes, influencers, effects, demographics, time dynamics and relationships to other entities and signals are mined, measured, visualized and interpreted. This requires new live social discovery and analytics capabilities – what’s new here is that this isn’t merely classical social analytics (measuring follower count or message volumes, or charting historical volume), it’s massive “big data” mining and discovery in real-time. It’s live prospecting around all the potentially relevant signals that are connected to each signal to get the context.

  3. Respond. Then an intelligent response (itself a signal) is generated across one or more channels within seconds to minutes. For example a reply or an offer may be sent to a customer, an alert may be sent to a team, a new piece of content may be synthesized and published, the targeting for an ad campaign may be adjusted, or the tone of social messaging may be modified, prices may be adjusted, and even policies may be changed – all in real-time. Organizations that get good at this process are able to respond so quickly they cross the threshold from being reactive to being proactive. They are able to drive the direction of trends by being the first to detect, analyze and respond to them.

This feedback loop is exemplified in real-time social advertising targeting and campaign optimization, for example. But as organizations mature to Stage Three they must learn to apply this same methodology to ALL their interactions with the Stream, not just advertising. They must apply this feedback loop across ALL their engagement with customers, the media and the marketplace.

Within a decade, all leading brands will be stage three marketing organizations.

Mapping The Ripple Effect

“Stage Three” agencies and brands need to master ripple effects to thrive in the next generation social environment.

Ripple effects are the key forces in the emerging real-time social Web. Information propagates through ripple effects along social relationships, across channels, communities, and media. Ripple effects are how trends emerge and rise, how rumors spread, and how ads and content are distributed. But we’re currently almost completely blind to ripple effects, we have almost no way to detect, measure or predict them.

The average Facebook user has 190 friends. The average Twitter user has 208 followers. Each group contains a number of influencers. Within each influencer’s social graph there are another set of even more powerful influencers. And so on and so on. When you seed a branded message on Facebook, for example, it’s not a straight trajectory. A ripple starts with the above numbers, but each new impression creates a new set of ripples.

Suddenly, your branded message is being seeded across a number of platforms — even spreading to platforms you never intended — and 99% of brands and agencies have no way of mapping this ripple effect, let alone controlling it.

But what if you could track your ripple effects? What if you could guide them? What if you could measure their effectiveness, or even predict where they are going? Suddenly there would be a wealth of new insights to pull and learn from. And this is precisely what is now possible, using emerging tools.

Problems with Existing Tools

Stage Three marketing organizations have to keep up with ripple effects in real-time, and they have to anticipate where those ripple effects are headed, in order to react immediately.

But most social analytics and engagement tools fail to show ripple effects. They provide loads of raw data — lists of messages from various social accounts and searches. But they expect humans to do most of the work of actually figuring out what’s important in those lists of messages. That is no longer realistic. Humans can’t cope with the data — it’s overwhelming.

Furthermore, most existing social analytics tools focus on simply measuring engagement via follower counts, mentions, likes, Retweets, favorites, impressions, click-throughs, and basic sentiment. But those metrics are no longer sufficient: They aren’t the trends, they are just signals that may or may not be relevant to actual trends. Not all signals are trends. The art is in finding a way to pull out the actual trends from the rest of the signals that are not in fact trends of any value.

What existing tools fail to do is actually make sense of what’s going on for you — they show you either too little or too much information, but they fail to show you what’s actually important; they’re not smart enough to figure that out for you.

Existing tools are good at finding known topics and trends (“known unknowns”) things you explicitly ask to know about in advance — but what we need in the era of the Stream are tools that show you what you don’t even know to ask for (“unknown unknowns.”) They have to detect novelty, outliers, anomalies, the unexpected — and they have to do this automatically, without being instructed on how to find these nuggets.

Existing social media analytics tools are too retrospective in nature – they show how a brand performed on social channels from the past up to the moment a question is asked. But these reports are static. They don’t show change happening, they don’t say anything about what’s next. The minute they are generated they become obsolete. It’s interesting to look at past performance, but what is really needed is more predictive analytics.

Trendcasting

We need a new generation of tools that are designed for identifying real-time ripple effects and filtering them to figure out which ones are noise and which are actual trends we should pay attention to. Better yet, we need tools that can not only identify the trends, but that can project where they are headed in real-time. Think of this as the next evolution of Nowcasting.

We might call this Trendcasting. Where Nowcasting figures out what’s happening now in real-time, Trendcasting figures out what’s happening next in real-time. 

No human can Trendcast in real-time anymore without help from software, the Stream has too much volume and velocity for the human mind to comprehend or process on its own. This is a problem that can only be solved by cloud computing against big data in real-time.

In the today’s real-time Stream, marketers cannot afford to be hours or days behind the curve. They need to know and understand the present in the present, while it is still unfolding. They need tools for Trendcasting – for finding and predicting trends. Trends are not merely raw data, they are particularly meaningful and noteworthy trajectories in the data.

Trendcasting is going to be come absolutely key. The next-generation real-time marketing platforms will provide automated trendcasting as a key feature. They will sift through the noise, find the signal, and then measure it to see if it actually matters. Trendcasting is about filtering for the trends that actually matter, because not all signal is important and not all trends are equal.

Traditionally, finding and forecasting trends has always been thought of as an exclusively human skill — but today we’re starting to automate this function. I believe Trendcasting can be fully automated, or at least dramatically improved, using massively parallel big data analytics approaches. This is the where the cutting-edge of innovation for real-time marketing will focus for the next decade. (Disclosure: My own company, Bottlenose, is focused on exactly this goal, for Fortune 500 brands).

Trendcasting tools are the next leap in a long process of measurement tools innovation that has included inventions like telescopes, microscopes, X-rays, weather satellites, MRIs, and search engines. In a sense trendcasting engines could be thought of as automated cultural measurement tools — the social equivalent of a weather satellite —  social satellites. They help us to visualize, understand and project the weather of markets, cultures, industries, communities, brands and their audiences, just like satellites have helped us understand and map the weather patterns of our planet.

Every Brand is a Media Company

The shift to real-time and the advent of the Stream changes how brands must think of themselves.

Whether they are ready or not, all brands have to learn to function more like media companies – and in particular like news networks – in order to remain competitive in the era of live social media.

For the first decade of social media the emphasis was clearly on social, but now it is shifting to media. Leading brands have learned how to be social for the most part. Now they have to learn how to act like media companies.

Consider a network like CNN: They have reporters all over the world, constantly giving them text, images, video, opinion, insights and leads. They have viewers, some of whom are also contributing news tips and stories, and opinions, all over the world across many platforms and channels.

CNN’s bread and butter is finding breaking stories first, getting the best information about them, and covering them most comprehensively and creating original news content and analysis for their audience.

CNN is a good model for what every Stage 3 brand has to learn to do in order to master Now Marketing.

Brands that want to lead in the Stream era have to gather intelligence constantly, using social media. They have to create content, share it, and engage. They have to keep their fingers on the pulse of their markets and culture in general in order to remain relevant and timely. They have to respond to a huge influx of questions, opinions, complaints, suggestions, leads. And they have to do this across many platforms and channels at once, in real-time.

The distinction between content provider and audience is dissolving. It’s now a two-way live conversation with the market, a conversation among equals. Brands have to learn to share, interact, make friends, and socialize just like people do. They have to not only create content for their audiences, they have to use their audiences as the content. And they have to do it on a massive scale.

Some brands – like Nike and Red Bull – have gone very far down this path and even think of themselves as media companies to some degree. But for most brands thinking like a media company is still a completely new orientation and set of skills.

Brands need new tools in order to think and operate like media companies. They can’t work on the weekly or monthly timescale anymore. Even daily timescales are too slow: they have to go live.

They can’t just market to their customers, they have to engage them in marketing the brand and creating media, together. They can’t just analyze key metrics anymore, they have to understand the trends that are emerging, and what’s driving change.

The Stream is here, and it’s happening in real-time. Marketers who can adapt to this shift early will be the leaders of tomorrow; Brands that are late in adopting these practices risk become nothing but historical data points.

 

The Present IS the Future: Real-Time Marketing In the Era of the Stream – Part One

Introduction

The pulse of the Net has gotten faster. It’s not a static Web of documents anymore, it’s a new real-time messaging medium we call the Stream.

The Stream is unlike any form of live media before it: It is a completely real-time, globally distributed, two-way conversation. And it’s already changing everything we know about marketing, advertising, branding and PR.

For marketers – and particularly for brands and agencies – mastering the Stream requires a new set of approaches, new tools and new practices. Like the similar shift, over two decades ago, from traditional media to digital media, this shift is both an existential challenge and a potentially destiny-changing opportunity.

Some organizations are learning to master the Stream faster than others, and they will be the leaders of tomorrow. But even those that lag will have to adapt soon, or they will become irrelevant by 2016. It’s evolve or die, all over again.

The Clock Rate of the Net is Speeding Up

One of the things that makes the Stream different from the Web is clock rate. The clock rate of the Net is increasing.

For the past 30 years we have been trending towards immediacy – the world has been getting faster, and nowhere has this been more apparent than online.

Now we have arrived at real-time and the Net has become a live medium. This changes everything.

Before blogging the clock rate of the Web was slow. Most Web sites were updated less than once per day. News and media sites were updated daily or perhaps a few times a day. Blogging eventually increased the rate of change to the hours timescale. RSS then made it possible to keep up with this change more efficiently – the Web became a gigantic news ticker. But it was still a relatively slow one compared to today.

Fourth Era

Starting in 2000, instant messaging and text messaging both started to gain adoption. These shifted marketing from the hours to intra-hour timescale.

Facebook was launched in 2004, followed by YouTube in 2005, Twitter in 2006 and Instagram in 2010. Due to the rapid message-based brand conversations they enabled, social networks sped up the timescale of digital marketing from hours to minutes, and even to seconds.

Since 2000 we have also seen a steady transition from stationary and sporadic Internet access to continuous mobile access, complemented by simultaneous increases in bandwidth and reductions of bandwidth cost.

Everyone is now connected all the time, both as a content consumer and as a content provider. These trends have democratized the Internet from a nearly static and one-way textual medium to a fully live two-way multimedia medium – the Stream of today.

Social Media Beats Mainstream Media

Social media is the new media – it is a new form of media, not just a media distribution pipe, and it is much faster than traditional media in every way.

The Stream is more live and real-time than TV and radio ever were. For example, social networks consistently beat TV and radio to the story. They sense and distribute breaking news and trends ahead of mainstream TV networks and media outlets, often by up to tens of minutes and even as long as hours. 

There are numerous examples of major stories that broke on Twitter before mainstream outlets. For example news of Whitney Houston’s death broke on Twitter by 27 minutes ahead of mainstream media. Another example is Earthquakes – Twitter consistently breaks news of earthquakes minutes ahead of mainstream media.

Likewise, ambient social apps that take advantage of geofencing and silent, constant communication between devices are driving real-time content and engagement. 

SoLoMo (Social + Mobile + Local Technologies) tech is still in its infancy, but it opens myriad new doors for brands and agencies to begin mining live data. Tracking consumer behavior in real-time paints an incredibly vivid picture of your fans and followers as SoMoLo becomes widely adopted.

The digital native demographic has developed an expectation that their devices seamlessly integrate with the world around them.  As such, Millennials have begun hyper-tasking: operating multiple devices/consuming data from multiple sources at once.

Brands can no longer rely on a blanket broadcast strategy with their messaging. You need to know the behaviors of your target demo on each device – what they’re saying, when they’re saying it, and who they’re saying it to. And you need to know this in real-time.

Attention has Shifted to the Stream

Much of the growth of the SoLoMo movement has been driven by increased bandwidth, faster adoption times for smartphones and tablets, but also broader demographics embracing social media.

This produces a phenomenal amount of data – and it’s a challenge to manage and make sense of it, but it’s imperative brands/agencies begin sifting through it all to execute the right kind of campaigns.

The pace and volume of social messages on Twitter and Facebook have been growing exponentially, year over year and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. Attention is shifting from search to social.

Meanwhile attention to the top sites on the Web is increasingly being driven by this social messaging activity or dark social, rather than by Web navigation, Web search and SEO.

Among the top 50 sites on the Web, most get at least equal, if not more, of their traffic from social than from search. In other words, the primary driver of digital consumer attention, brand perception, and engagement has shifted to social.


 

The Age of Nowism

The shift to faster timescales is altering the landscape of marketing, sales and even customer service. Consumers live in the Now, and they are demanding that brands live there too.

This new and growing obsession with now even has its own marketing buzzword called Nowism:

NOWISM | “Consumers’ ingrained* lust for instant gratification is being satisfied by a host of novel, important (offline and online) real-time products, services and experiences. Consumers are also feverishly contributing to the real-time content avalanche that’s building as we speak. As a result, expect your brand and company to have no choice but to finally mirror and join the ‘now’, in all its splendid chaos, realness and excitement.”

Nowism is a cultural shift to a focus on the present, instead of the past or future. It’s new and unprecedented: never before has a civilization on this planet lived so exclusively in the now.



In the information age, thanks to the double-edged blessing of information technology and communication networks, the present has become bigger, faster, and more consuming. 

Today we are focused on immediacy and instant gratification. And with these come an expectation of instant response, instant customer service, and instant solutions. This is an era of shoot-first-ask-questions-later, where trends and rumors flare up and go global in minutes.

Now, the risk of being late is greater than the risk of being wrong. And due to this, even experienced media outlets and brands are under pressure to publish or respond as fast as possible, without even time to think or fact-check. It’s better to issue a correction than to be perceived as slow.

This is a world in which there will be more error, more confusion, more threats, more crises, but they will start and end more quickly as well. It is also a world in which there will be more leads, more opportunities, and more transactions, and they too will start and end more rapidly. 

To survive and prosper in these faster cycles of activity organizations have to learn to think and respond in real-time, even if it means making mistakes and corrections more frequently.

The present contains more data, and more change, than what used to occur in months or even years of activity. And the present is therefore more difficult to understand today than it was before.

Nowcasting: Predicting the Present

Because there is so much to measure in the present, and we can measure everything in higher resolution, there is vastly more that we must pay attention to at any time. And this means we simply don’t have as much time or resources to focus on the past or the future.

Instead of predicting the future, there is a new option, in the age of Nowism: Predict the present, while it is still unfolding, using an approach called Nowcasting, which was pioneered at Google.

Nowcasting attempts to make sense of the present before all the data has been analyzed, in order to project trends sooner, or even continuously. For example, using nowcasting techniques Google has been able to predict monthly sales, economic indicators, and disease spread in near real-time, before end of month results are usually available.

Nowcasting has been applied by hedge funds, economists, and epidemiologists, and soon it will be a standard tool for marketers.

 

Applying nowcasting effectively is more than simply measuring and predicting events. The opportunity is to use those measurements to then act proactively to respond, create new content, adjust campaigns, and stay one step ahead of emerging trends. It is not reactive, but proactive to opportunities as they develop in real-time.

This of course requires a sophistication and understanding of the present to sense, analyze and act in a way that is substantial and moves engagements forward.

In part II of this series, we will look at how marketing has evolved to its present state in the real-time Web, and how Nowism is necessarily changing the way that marketers work. We will also explore how leading businesses must learn to consider themselves as creators of media rather than simply forces moving within it.

Notes:

The author thanks Adam Blumenfeld and Phil Ressler for contributions, edits and suggestions for this article.