A Few Words With Kyle Palantzas: Social Media and Communications

Repustate’s own Diana Szpotowicz sat down with communications expert Kyle Palantzas to discuss all things social. You can follow Kyle on Twitter @kpalantzas

I believe that the best way to learn about how something works is to talk to an expert in that subject. So, to learn how social media is impacting the business world and the personal lives of its users, I picked the brain of a Toronto-based social media strategist, Kyle Palantzas.

Kyle has monitored and implemented social media systems for various companies and clients ranging from daily newspapers to communications companies to recent grads looking to learn how to utilize social media when entering the job market. This post is the first in a series of future interviews with social media pros who have an impact across various industries.

Q: What was your first experience with social media?

Like many other social media users, Palantzas first got into the social media world for his own personal use. Wanting to brand himself as a recent graduate, he used it to get his message out to people and as a tool to network. Having since used social media channels for business, he said it’s really those companies who use it who will actually resonate with customers today, with a more valid message.  “When a company throws a marketing ad out to the world through Twitter, the audience responds. More and more people put their stamp of approval on that ad as it goes viral,” he said.

Q: How have businesses changed the way they’ve use social media?

Over the last few years, Palantzas said he’s noticed that businesses have switched from a mass-marketing approach to a targeted campaign geared towards a specific audience.

“If they put something on Twitter, they can gear their message to their followers in the hopes it will get re-tweeted and spread. Ads are getting more creative, some ads are disguised not to be ads,” he said, “even when a business’s name pops up on someone’s Facebook newsfeed that in itself is an instant advertisement.” Palantzas said social media is the way of the future, and “it’s a big disadvantage to not have it. You stick out like a sore thumb as people almost expect you to have it now.”

Q: In your opinion, what industry really needs to use social media?

Looking to his own experience in communications, he said the world of journalism especially needs to have a strong social media impact (because remember that at the end of the day a newspaper is a business first and foremost.)  “People aren’t reading newspapers as much so they need another way to get information,” he said. Readers want small bits of news as opposed to reading a traditional-length article at 400 or 500 words.

Q: Will companies always need to create a social media strategy from now on?

Palantzas said that it’s just the beginning when it comes to social media. “I don’t think social media will be pushed aside by society. I think it’ll be a foundational piece in marketing and strategy,” he said. According to Palantzas, the only thing that could falter its growth is if any future laws come into play that are very restrictive in terms of online privacy. However, in the future he sees more websites saturating the social media sphere. “Now that people see there is a huge multi-billion business, there will be more sites and more competition. Look at the sites that are already starting to compete, like Google with Google Plus,” he said.

Q: Final thoughts on the way companies use social media?

“Social media is free and easy to use. The overhead is nothing so why wouldn’t a business have it,” Palantzas asked.  He said that that when he acquires a new project or client the first thing he does is check out how they are doing in the social media world. If a company doesn’t use it or doesn’t update their pages very frequently, he said it’s like “watching a bad commercial. There’s no excuse for not updating.”

Will Big Brother be watching your Tweets?

A new online surveillance bill was proposed by the Canadian government on Tuesday – and its critics are saying it could be a violation of Canadians’ online privacy.

Proposed as a bill to help with government security and to make it easier to catch online predators such as child pornographers — if passed , authorities and the police could gain access to an Internet subscriber’s information. This means they could learn personal information such as a user’s name, email address, real address and phone number, without needing a warrant beforehand.

Police and spies would also have the ability to read messages and conversations between users, through Internet service providers.  While the theory of the bill may be well-intentioned, unwarranted access to personal information isn’t always handled in an honest way. Countries like Iran and China have their own state-controlled firewalls- if the newly proposed bill was passed would it really be completely unreasonable to say that the government wouldn’t go even further to monitor our Tweets and Facebook posts in the future?

During the last year’s Green Revolution in Iran, the country’s Revolutionary Guard monitored cellphone use and social media activity on sites like Twitter and Facebook to identify anti-government protesters. The same happened in Egypt last year, Burma in 2007 and Nepal in 2005.

Even the U.S. Department of Defence and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has tried to figure out a process to automate what it considers an ’emerging threat’ or ‘potential outbreak of upheaval,’ by monitoring billions of posts from the social media sphere every day.

Critics to Ottawa’s proposed online surveillance bill say it violates Section 8 of the charter, “which protects against unlawful search and seizure,” according to Micheal Vonn of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

“The IP address is essentially a key to map your activities on the internet, things that you might do anonymously, so the idea that this is completely innocuous is problematic,” Vonn said in earlier media reports.

In Chicago, an alderman also made headlines on a similar note earlier this week by asking Chicago’s City Council to not shut down cellphone use or social media sites when world leaders attend two international summits that begin in May.  Ald. Ricardo Muñoz told NBC Chicago that the upcoming summits are the first on “American soil in the age of Twitter, and we want to be sure people are able to communicate because communication is good. That way we’re able to get safe information out to people, people will be able to communicate, and people will be able to organize better.”

While Munoz said he had no indication that council members were planning anything, he said he wanted to plan ahead and make sure authorities didn’t follow the actions of dictatorship countries. Chicago’s City Council hasn’t responded to Munoz.

“What’s happened in the past is that usually governments tend to want to be be restrictive as a knee-jerk reaction. What we’re saying is that we don’t want this to be one of the tools in [their] toolbox,” he said.

So what do YOU think? Is there any reason to be concerned by Ottawa’s proposed online surveillance or are the critics and Ald. Muñoz overreacting due to the actions of leaders in other countries?

Where is social media headed for 2012? 10 trends to look forward to.

Where is social media headed for 2012?

Six weeks later, the glitter from the New Year’s parties has settled and we are officially into 2012. So, what direction is social media going to take this year? With the buzz generated from Facebook’s recent announcement of an IPO that is set to come in May, one popular prediction of the social networking site’s continued dominance is already on trend. In no specific order, here is a compilation of some of the other top social media trends that are expected to come this year:

10. Businesses using social media to communicate rather than advertise

A trend that was certainly around in 2011 is picking up steam this year. More and more businesses are getting used to the idea that social media can be used to communicate with their customers, and not just be used as a form of advertising. The emphasis is on “real time thinking” with many companies creating social media channels to respond to customer’s needs (like a complaint line) instantly.

9. TV heading online

Companies are looking for more viewer-integrated advertising tactics. Since TV is still a money-maker (think: the Super Bowl) and social media is the way of the future, TV networks are combining the two. Case in point, the Super Bowl was live-streamed online for the first time this year and one of its most prominent commercials for Doritos centered around a contest with several user-created ads vying for a coveted slice of Super Bowl commercial airtime.

8. CEO’s adopting social media

With companies determined to figure out how social media adds true value to their companies in 2012, more and more CEO’s are adopting social media as a way to establish their brands and the people behind them to the public, and as a way of becoming more familiar with their target markets.

7. Brand engagement in lower GDP countries

Social media branding is currently being adopted the fastest in China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Brazil, and  for good reason. While many consumers in these countries may not be able to afford the luxury or mid-market brands they see in stores, they can definitely aspire to one day own that pair of Adidas sneakers or bottle of Givenchy cologne. Companies in these countries are using social media branding to give consumers the feeling that their brands are within reach.

6. Social gaming for kids

While most social media networks have a minimum age requirement which leave kids out of the picture, social gaming has become increasingly popular with the child and pre-teen crowd. The tech-savvy kids want quick loading games that offer a large amount of virtual goods that they can buy and sell with friends. Farmville, one of Facebook’s most popular games and biggest money-makers, comes to mind.

5. Quality over quantity

When it comes to social media, companies are going to focus in 2012. Instead of spreading themselves too thin and following the “be everywhere” approach, they are looking to “be where it matters” instead. People have gotten used to social media advertising, so companies need to brainstorm new innovative ways to engage and advertise on select channels that appeal to their specific market.

4. Video video video. And photo.

There will be a greater emphasis on video and photo integration into blogs, Tweets and posts. Tablets have changed the game when it comes to blogging, as the text must integrate visuals to appeal to the tablet user. Popular photo apps such as Instagram have also revived the trend for photo galleries, which many users feel are a better way to learn more about companies online.

3. Social learning

Businesses of all sizes are incorporating social learning into their online presence. The emphasis is on sharing and discovering between the company and the user, and can include how-to videos, photo galleries and instant-feedback through social media channels.

2. Social searching

Search engines like Google and Bing are currently playing with their algorithms to make searching more social in 2012. This means generating search results that are specific to the user, based on things like their location and social media connections.

1. Social Commerce

Most consumers have gotten pretty comfortable with shopping online through well-known e-retailers like Amazon and Ebay. As shopping is traditionally a social activity, the predicted trend is for social media companies to integrate e-commerce into their websites. Consumers can get instant feedback on their shopping selections through the opinions of their friends and family on their social networks.

Ever wonder how to do language detection?

A core function that any text analytics package needs is to do language detection. By language detection, we refer to the following problem:

“Given an arbitrary piece of text of arbitrary length, determine in which language the text was written.”

Might sound simple for a human, assuming you know a thing or two about languages, but we’re talking about computers here. How does one automate this process? Before I dive into the solution, if you want to see this in the wild, go to translate.google.com and check out how Google does it. As soon as you start typing, Google guesses which language you’re typing in. How does it know?

The first thing you’ll need is a large corpus (read: millions of words) in the languages you’re interested in detecting. Now, the words can’t just be random, they should be structured sentences. There are many sources for this, but the easiest is probably Wikipedia. You can download the entire Wikipedia corpus in the language of your choosing. Might take a while, but it’s worth it because the more text you have, the higher the accuracy you’ll achieve.

Next step is to generate n-grams over this corpus. An n-gram is a phrase or collection of words “n” long. So a unigram (1-gram) is one word. A bi-gram (or 2-gram) is two words, a tri-gram is three words etc. You probably only need to generate all n-grams where n <= 3. Anything more will probably be overkill. How do you generate n-grams? Well, using the Repustate API of course. There are other n-gram generators on the internet, just google around. The benefit of using Repustate’s is that ours is blazingly fast, even when you take into account the network latency. Now as you generate n-grams, you need to store them in a set-like structure. We want a set rather than a list because sets only store unique items and they are much faster for lookups than lists.

I recommend using a bloom filter to store the n-grams. Bloom filters are awesome data structures, learn to use them and love them. OK, all of our n-grams (there will be millions of them per language) are stored in a bloom filter, one filter for each language.

Next, we take the text for which we want to detect the language, and generate n-grams over it. Just for kicks, let’s generate n-grams for the sentence “I love Repustate”:

Unigrams: I, love, Repustate

Bigrams: I love, love Repustate

Trigrams: I love Repustate

Simple, right? Now for each n-gram above, check to see if it exists in each of the bloom filters were created before. This is why using as large a corpus as possible is preferibile. The more n-grams, the higher the chance of a positive match. The bloom filter which returns the highest number of matches tells you which language you’re dealing with.

Repustate has done all the heavy lifting already and if there’s enough demand (basically, if one person asks), we’ll add language detection to our free text analytics API.


Could going public change the way Facebook operates and would you “like” it?

Facebook filed papers for an initial public offering on Wednesday that is expected to be the biggest offering to come from a Silicon Valley company and one of the biggest in the history of American business.

The eight-year-old social media company filed the papers  with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission with a preliminary goal to raise $5 billion, with a company valuation of $75 to 100 billion. It’s rumoured the company will want to raise an IPO that is actually closer to $10 billion, putting it on par only with Visa, General Motors, and AT & T Wireless, who are the only American companies to have held offerings larger than $10 billion.

The $5 billion IPO would beat the record for an IPO for an Internet company held by rival Google, which raised $1.9 billion with a company valuation of $23 billion back in 2004. The final price of Facebook’s IPO won’t be set for several months, and its size may increase with demand from investors before the offering in May.

While CEO and founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was previously in no rush to take his company public in the past, Facebook crossed a U.S. regulatory boundary which forces companies with more than 500 shareholders to share almost as much company information as publicly-traded companies. So it makes sense the company would pick now as a time as good as any to go public and enjoy the financial benefits, rather than release financial information and accept any liabilities.

Zuckerberg released a personal letter in the IPO to explain his company’s philosophy, which he calls the “Hacker Way.”

He wrote that potential investors should view his company differently because it wasn’t created with the intention of generating revenue.

“Hackers believe that the best idea and implementation should always win — not the person who is best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people,” Zuckerberg wrote.

“We don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services,” he said. His words are reminiscent of those spoken by Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who turned their initial investors off with an arrogant attitude when they said they wouldn’t pay attention to short term profits or other regular concerns of the financial markets.

Zuckerberg did go the safe route though when he secured leading investment banks to distribute the public shares, unlike Google, who sold shares through an auction. Facebook’s shares will trade under the FB ticker symbol, but it hasn’t been decided if the company will be listed on the Nasdaq or New York Stock Exchange.

So while Zuckerberg wants the “Hacker Way” mindset to continue, it will be interesting to see if it’s really possible, with 1,000 staff members of his 3,200-person company becoming newly minted millionaires as a result of the IPO, and a huge new pressure to generate revenue from investors.

Then again, it might not even matter if his staff has a change of heart about the “Hacker Way,” since Zuckerberg will still own shares that give him 10 times the voting rights of other public shares, or about 57 per cent of the vote. But potential internal differences as a result of going public could result in a changed philosophy for the company and a different product for users. Would YOU “like” Facebook to take a new direction?

The next frontier: multilingual analytics (and please welcome Diana)

As Repustate’s customer base has grown, the same question has kept popping up: when are you going to add more languages? We’ve tried to stay quiet on this, but in reality, we’ve been working on this problem for a while, and the fruits of our labour will soon be public for all to use. In the next few weeks, Repustate will be adding full analytics, including sentiment, for the following languages:

  • Spanish
  • Catalan
  • German
  • French
  • Arabic

Read that last one again – Arabic. By far the most challenging language to tackle, Arabic has taken the better part of a year’s worth of research, language lessons, collaboration with academics, and a lot of Python code (not to mention learning everything and anything there is to know about UTF8 and Unicode strings). We’re still testing these languages internally, but the results are encouraging and we’re really excited to get this out to our users as quickly as possible.

We’re not dead certain on pricing yet, but we do know that these languages will not be free to use (sorry!). You will be able to test them out using a demo page on our site, but full API access to these languages will require a paying account. We think it’s worth it and we’ll do our best to make sure our pricing structures ensure that our technology is accessible to everyone interested.

Hello, Diana

Repustate has a new blogger/writer/journalist extraordinaire – Diana Szpotowicz. Diana comes to us with a lot of experience from the media industry, working with major papers and TV stations in Canada. Her first article touches on how sports has embraced social media. Diana will help ensure this blog doesn’t get too sparse as the rest of Repustate has its collective heads down writing Python.

If you’d like to know when Repustate’s multilingual platform opens up, sign up for our newsletter, follow us on Twitter, or create a free account on our site.


Athletes and officials embrace social media at Youth Olympic Games

The first-ever Youth Winter Olympic Games wrapped up in Innsbruck, Austria on Sunday and a big part of the games had nothing to do with race times or medals. Instead, social media was embraced as a mandatory element of games-time participation for athletes and other accredited participants.

Unlike previous games, where rights-holding broadcasters and a limited amount of accredited reporters from traditional media outlets were allowed to write and publish pictures about the games, this time around the athletes, volunteers, spectators and officials were encouraged to use social media during the games,

Rob Clancy, a television producer who worked for the Olympic Broadcasting Services in Innsbruck, said he noticed a lot more Facebook posts in the lead up to the games and that athletes were encouraged to use social media, “which means it’s something that the [International Olympic Committee] is very aware of and wants to embrace rather than be fearful of.”

The IOC has embraced social media so much that they even released guidelines for any accredited personnel on how to use social media during the Youth Olympics. Participants were encouraged to write in a first-person, non-commercial way that banned obscenities and the posting of videos of competitions or ceremonies (likely due to a conflict with their own broadcasting services, which captured video footage).

A ‘Culture and Education program’ was a mandatory part of the Games for athletes, and included team-building exercises and social media workshops for athletes and volunteers to teach them how to use popular sites like Facebook and Twitter responsibly.

And since there was no live-TV coverage, media volunteers live-Tweeted the results of the races and games and received instant feedback from Twitter users who wanted to follow the games back home.

To give you an idea of how much social media has changed the communication of Olympic officials, at the start of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the IOC had five Facebook fans and now it has millions through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and its other social media channels.

An officially-sponsored contest which had Olympic fans copy a photo of their favourite athletes in order to win a trip to the London 2012 Games could only be entered through Twitter. With over 100,000 unique visitors to the contest’s website since mid-November 2011, it’s no wonder the IOC has embraced their Twitter platform.

Back to the athletes, social media was even used to help the Canadian men’s ice hockey team (who finished with a bronze medal). The players used social media to bond, since they were selected from across the country by a draw and had never played with each other before the games.

The boys had one day in Toronto where they met and did some team-building exercises, but used the Internet to otherwise interact.

So, were you surprised to learn that social media is now a dominant part of the world of top-class athletes? How do you think the IOC should use social media for the upcoming London 2012 Olympic Games?