Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In the clouds

We all have seen the benefit of searching on Twitter. Twitter’s real-time conversational search is rumored to be the key to its business plan and a potential competitor to Google. However, Twitter’s keyword search is only chronological without showing the popularity of relevant keywords and trends. Tweetcloud distills the blizzard of tweets occurring across Twitter into a simple cloud of key words—a TweetCloud. Clicking (or drilling down) on any of the key words in the cloud reveals the stream of tweets that created this “trending topic.

A quick hit on TweetCloud, will show a user what’s being said right now on Twitter: key trends and their associated tweets. TweetCloud also allows users to create TweetClouds around any topic or user by using the search box at the top of the page. If you’re a baseball fan (see the Redsox tweetcloud above), and want to see what people are saying about baseball right now, enter the term and see the resulting cloud and tweets.

A TweetCloud is also a cool link to pass on to others…even those new to Twitter. TweetCloud makes it easy to do this by providing a share box, which provides links, widgets, and tweet boxes to get your TweetCloud in the hands of your followers. A TweetCloud widget is an especially effective way for bloggers to display their personal cloud, or a cloud on a relevant topic.

Finally, TweetCloud is optimized for the iPhone, providing the same real-time trend checking and drill-down capabilities for iPhone users that desktop visitors enjoy.

To learn more about Tweetcloud, I interviewed Tweetcloud CEO, Roger Katz.

What have you been doing? My company Friend2Friend connects people and products on social media. We have a range of applications on Facebook, where users perform social actions around products: gifting, recommending and commenting, creating lists, etc. We work with brands and advertisers to integrate them in such a way, that the brand a part of the conversation. Most of the product interactions are short...a brief comment about a product, gift, etc. We found that although each individual comment may or may not be meaningful, taken as a group they're quite revealing.

Why did you create tweetcloud? How long did it take you/ your team to develop? We realized we could evolve our work dealing with product comments even more quickly in an environment that has an incredible volume of short user comments about everything. Given we had the system running across our applications on Facebook, we only had to focus on integrating with the Twitter API (straight forward) and laying out the site so it was easy to use. It took us 3 or 4 weeks total, but again we were leveraging our existing core technology.

Where do you see tweetcloud headed? I think the fascinating thing about Twitter is that it's a blizzard of comments about what's going on right now...but at the same time it's unruly and hard to separate the signal from the noise. Tools like TweetCloud have the ability to help people understand what's being said and to follow the conversations that interest them. These types of tools also make Twitter far more accessible to new Twitter users. Think of someone that lands on the page for the first time, or even someone that has 100 people they follow. Without tools to help navigate the sea of content, you're simply not getting the benefit of the medium. On the marketing front, brands are absolutely interested to know what consumers are saying about them and to participate in those conversations to them. We developed TweetCloud to help both users and businesses tap the potential of Twitter. In the future we see the ability for users to track many clouds and watch how they change over time and understand the sentiment of comments / discussion threads. This area is really wide open and we see lots of opportunity.

Tell me about Friend2Friend and how the 2 sites are related? Friend2Friend is all about connecting people and products on social media. Friends naturally like to talk about things like music, gadgets, gear, food and drink, places, etc. Friend2Friend's applications facilitate those conversations within the largest community of friends online--places like Facebook. Given Twitter is emerging as a place where people and ideas interact online, we think our model works there too. The concept for a TweetCloud was born out of our work on Facebook, but it may ultimately have even more appeal on Twitter. Now that we're experimenting with Twitter I'm sure we'll learn things that apply to Facebook and other areas of our business too.

Where do you see Twitter in 2 years? 5 years? Wow, this is a tough question. A little over a year ago I would have said, "Twitter who?" I think there are 3 incredibly exciting trends playing out in the social media space right now: Facebook, Twitter and the iPhone. In each case there's a leader (the 3 companies mentioned) and everyone else in those respective segments trying to catch-up. Does it mean that these 3 companies will rule their market? Maybe, but more than likely it means that the best areas of innovation (social networks/social graph, micro blogging, mobile web and applications) will be embraced across the Internet and dramatically changing the experience forever. Specifically, Twitter has riffed off of the interest in blogging, but has significantly lowered the bar to allow far more people to participate. Writing a blog takes a lot of work, but laying out a cogent thought, astute observation, linking an interesting article or picture or just speaking your mind/feelings couldn't be easier. As a result, people are responding in HUGE numbers. Twitter is no longer a trend it's a movement and that's exciting! For these reasons we feel it's critical to be involved in the Twittersphere and with Facebook and the iPhone too.

Tell me something fun about yourself. I'm an aspiring Rock Star! After hours I riff away on a Stratocaster with my 6 and a half year old son. Actually this is why I need social media to take off, because I'm not so sure about my musical prospects.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, April 6, 2009

Twitter helps Alaska Airlines to go North of Expected

Living in Seattle, Alaska Airlines is the home town airline. So recently I took special interest in the company’s presence on Twitter. I reached out to Elliott Pesut who maintains the AlaskaAir twitter account to get his perspective on Twitter and how the company FireShot capture #16 - 'Alaska Airlines _ Horizon Air' - www_alaskaair_com_Default_aspx_ASDBD=J1 uses it. Full disclosure, I have always had a favorable opinion of Alaska and am an MVP frequent flyer. Sometimes I even look forward to purchasing one of their foil-wrapped sandwiches. Recently I even tweeted about Alaska’s CEO, Bill Ayer, flying in coach on my flight back from the Gravity Summit in LA. But more about Elliott and AlaskaAir.

What is your role at AS?
I’ve been working for the company for a little over a year in Flight Operations Training where I was a Courseware Developer. It wasn’t until five weeks ago that I was offered a spot in Alaska Airlines CRM (Customer Relationship Management) department. My official title is Campaign Management Specialist and I’m part of a team that is responsible for Alaska Airlines’ social media policy.

Does anyone else manage the account with you?
As of right now, I’m the main person tweeting on the account. I do have back up from our folks in corporate communications as well. As far as knowing what to tweet, that really is a team effort. We do our best to respond as if the Twitter account encompasses all departments/customer touch points. Some responses require multiple phone calls/emails to build the context for a response. It’s been a great way to meet different individuals in the company.
We’re a small company (for an airline) and with our sister airline, Horizon Air, it’s like a family – everyone helps out.

What are the company’s goals with Twitter?
This is always a hard question. :) Our first goal is to listen and help customer’s with their questions or issues. Over the past year we’ve done some soul searching when it comes to our brand. It’s important to have consistent trade-offs and guidelines that help employees make every day decisions about “what Alaska Airlines would do” in a given situation. Our greatest strength is our genuine and caring service. There are many great airline employees out there, but you ask travelers about their experiences with Alaska Airlines, and I’ll bet they will reflect upon their experience positively. I’m not saying that we make everyone happy, but we definitely get high marks – our employees regularly go above and beyond what is
Our second goal, to be accessible. Accessibility has helped us establish a very open and honest relationship with our Frequent Fliers. Twitter lends itself to accessibility. It’s a terrific listening post – we can field questions, ask for suggestions and reach out to distressed customers. Bottom line, we’re making ourselves available to help and make travel easier. I love that I’m only a tweet away from customers while they travel. You don’t get more accessible than
that. :)

Which department is the corporate sponsor of the Twitter service?
Marketing – specifically, under the CRM & Interactive Marketing umbrella. Corporate Communications and Customer Care also have a long-term role in @AlaskaAir's success.

How long has the company been using Twitter?
We’ve had the Twitter account since Dec. of ‘08. We only started actively tweeting five weeks ago.

How do you measure success on Twitter?
Right now, we measure the success of our account by follower growth and interactions with Customers – both of which have skyrocketed since the volcanic eruption of Mt. Redoubt. We also measure clicks via

Tell me about how you got the placement of the Twitter message on the top of the homepage?Alaska
Over the past three months, we had been prepping for a Mt. Redoubt eruption. We knew it would be disruptive to our operation. Press releases take time to write and are typically static; we needed a real-time method for communicating with passengers and media. Twitter has filled that role better than we ever imagined. When customers are delayed, the best thing we can do is provide timely and accurate information. While our press releases remain the official source of information, Twitter has helped us keep our customers informed in near real-time.

Is it temporary due to the volcano or will it be there for a while?
Yes it is temporary. And actually, at this time it has been taken down and moved to our Irregular Operations page. Efforts are underway to tell our customers that we’re on Twitter via email and other means. You may also see it back up on the home page from time to time as we research the best placement
for our customers.

What else does AS do in Social Media?
We’re very new to the social media scene and trying to find what fits. Our efforts are largely driven by internal employees. Right now we have the most interest/support for Twitter, FlyerTalk and Facebook. We would like to do our best to engage those channels well before we start anything else.

How do you let your travelers/ members know about the AS Twitter account?
Right now, the only way to know we have an account would be if someone told you or I followed you because you made a comment on “Alaska Airlines”. :) We originally had plans to grow it organically via WOM. However, the volcano eruption has sped the process up, quite a bit.

Can you see using Twitter for transactional activities like flight updates/gate changes?
Absolutely. I read somewhere that Twitter is the new phone book and I think that’s a great analogy. We’re only a text message away for our customers. We are currently experimenting with ideas around TaaS (Twitter as a Service). Our Director of IT Enterprise Architecture, Mike Lorengo, has developed a flight status bot: @TravelerBot,
that when DM’ed, will send you your flights status. While this is highly experimental, I think it’s safe to say this channel has great potential for transactional-based correspondence.

Which brands on Twitter do you try to emulate?I monitor lots of brand Twitter accounts - several airlines,
@WholeFoods and @Starbucks. They all do a terrific job! I think right now, we're trying to find the right mix for our brand. I am a big fan of @JetBlue's approach in using DM liberally to talk with customers. It's much easier to be myself, rather than "Alaska Airlines". We also need to balance the DMs with @’s
– that way people know we’re responding. Our comfort level grows a little bit each day.

Do you search for different keywords/ conversations on Twitter that you think are relevant to AS?
Yes. We search for terms like MVP, MVPG, Mileage Plan, Alaska Airlines, Alaskan Airlines.

What do you think about Janis Krums using Twitter to report on US Flight 1549 emergency landing?
I think it’s awesome. I even tweeted the other day on my personal account that I’ve fallen in love with Twitter’s real-time nature. I can tell, it's altering my online search expectations. And what a great tool for airlines, we can easily monitor situations and respond quickly if things get out of hand.

Nice work, Elliott. Love to see you guys on Twitter. And of course, an MVP Gold upgrade is always appreciated – just kidding. I hope to earn it this year.