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Campaign-oops: No pressure October 4, 2010

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There has been an interesting PR campaign scandal going on during the weekend. On Friday, 10:10 Global, a campaign aiming to courage individuals to help stop global warming by reducing their CO2 emission by 10%, published a video promoting their campaign.

The basic idea of the video is something like “it’s a free choice, but if you don’t participate you will be excecuted” as the clip shows different stories where those not participating are blown to pieces. And yes, with all the visual effects borrowed from horror movies. The people behind the campaign say their idea was to make people laugh.

This rather interesting approach for an environmental campaign brought up some pretty angry comments for example in Twitter, and was also pointed out by media. Soon the video was removed from the campaign site and replaced with an official apologize. Naturally, there are several copies of the clip around in YouTube only and the complaints are still swelling. Is all publicity good publicity here? At least people are talking.

And, we do need to give two credits for 10:10 of being open and transparent: Firstly, they are not making any attempt to censor or remove other versions of the video circulating online. Secondly, they have been busy answering and apologizing people’s tweets the past few days. Sounds like a conversation to me.

Coloring book of popular services: the blue strategy September 17, 2010

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A recent interesting blogpost in ColourLovers is writing about colors of social web companies, or specifically colors used by the brands from the top 100 sites in the world.

It turns out that the logos of most popular web services are dominated by blue color. Red seems to be a strong silver medalist. Huge traffic social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Skype and Wikipedia all trust in blue. A previous look into issue by Wired 10 years ago shows that also majority of the biggest American corporates are painted in blue or red.

"The Colors of the Web" from ColourLovers

What first comes to mind is of course the question, whether the blue color actually brings popularity or do new ventures just pick the blue color (consciously or unconsciously) to be more popular? And is Google actually playing it safe by putting the entire rainbow in their logo?

Color is one of the fundamental aspects of human perception, and there is a lot of research on its effects on cognition and behavior. However, the psychological processes actually looming behind color perception have not been clarified. Several studies nevertheless tells that blue is associated with openness, relaxation, happiness, peace and tranquility. In contrast, red is seen as a stimulating color, referring to excitement, anxiety, happiness and activity, but also dangers and mistakes.

It is still unclear how much emotional reactions evoked by colors are universal and fundamentally human,  but a concensus now lies in cultural context emphasis, which sees color associations very tied in cultural and personal contexts. This actually means that the use of blue logos could in a way create a positive spiral of reinforcement, when blue is constantly getting more associations in popular services.

One recent study demonstrates that red color can bring out primarily an avoidance motivation, whereas blue will activate an approach motivation. Also, red color enhances performance on a detail-oriented task, whereas blue enhances performance on a creative task. Considering this it makes a lot of sense that social network sites use blue colour in their visual apperance.

When designing the DiRe experiments we decided not to use company logos as stimulus material, since the possible emotional reactions evoked by colours or plain visuality could bring too much noise in the psychophysiological signals recorded.

See research on the issue:

Mehta, R. & Zhu R. J. (2009). Blue or Red? Exploring the Effect of Color on Cognitive Task Performances. Science 27 February 2009.
Suk, Hyeon-Jeong (2006): Color and Emotion. A Study on the Affective Judgment of Color Across Media and in Relation to Visual Stimuli. Doctoral dissertation. (pdf)

Google’s little reputation alphabet September 9, 2010

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Yesterday Google officialy released their new Google Instant search, which basically means the search engine is doing and refining the search immediately as you type (you can check the example video on Google’s site behind the link). The service is rolling out for users in US and UK and a few other European countires, but Finland will have to wait for a few months.  Though since 2004 we’ve had Google Suggest, which gives the user suggestions in a dropbox below the search box, so actually Google Instant is just taking this one step further.

Both Google Instant and Suggest have inspired the listings of Google Alphabets. What the search engine suggests when a user inserts just the first letter of the search string? Check for example a recent list from yesterday on Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog, or another listing based on autocomplete function from 2008 at O’Reilly Radar. These lists (which can of course be checked pretty easily by yourself as well) give the glory to the famous and the popular. A goes for Amazon, I for Ikea, S for Skype and E for eBay. And Å for Åhlens. According to Google, these suggestions are solely based on search popularity.

Google suggestions are an interesting popularity rank based on masses and their interests. However, popularity alone does not give us information on evaluations and thus is not equal to reputation (as reputation can be shortly defined as discourses and evaluations). After a quick look through the Digit’s list and the Global Reputation Pulse 2010 list of most reputable companies in the world, it seems that the search alphabets concentrate – not so surprisingly – more on online services and companies, but both lists are consisting of popular BtoC companies and share some same names as well.

Reputation models usually do count in the popularity or public image of the company investigated, but they also measure several other qualities. So, a company does not have to be widely known in order to have a good reputation. A company can even enjoy extremely good reputation in a small group of stakeholders, but a far worse reputation in some other group of people. Actually quite an interesting larger scale example of this is the fan culture visibly present within gadget users; there’s an ongoing dispute between Apple fanboys and PC lovers, for example.

While these popularity lists are very interesting to see, there remains a question of the reasons why people are over and over again searching for these certain companies – maybe all publicity is not good publicity? And then again, the funny fact that Google itself is on Google’s most searched items list is a good reminder: the list probably tells more about people’s habits of using the web than about reputation.

Giving some demos August 23, 2010

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The official kick off for the DiRe autumn was the board meeting last Friday. As a project funded by Tekes we have a nominated board of business representatives supervising the project. This time we were pleased to give them a demo on the measurements we are running.

Our researcher Alessio got the honor to try the equipment he is usually placing on others. In the photo below you can see Mikko and Pentti from CKIR explaning what the graph is showing (and the rest of us were busy making some ad hoc stimuli to see the reactions live).

Dire meeting

[click here to see the pic bigger]

In other good news it seems that according to the preliminary analysis we will gather some very interesting results from the experiments! Before running the final analysis we will need a few subjects more, and we expect to have the final-final results by the end of the year. It’s probably needless to mention we are getting very excited!

Juggling with reputational cues August 10, 2010

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It’s about time to leave holidays behind and get back to work. Though I spent a part of my summer days reading a splendid new by book by Nicholas Carr, the Shallows – How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember. To put it short, the book deals with the changes we meet in us when immersing to the new digital environment. Interestingly, not only our behavior is changing with the increasing use of online and mobile services, but also the actual physical structure of our brains.

This is basically due to the increasing amount and speed of different attention cues the internet is pushing. The whole environment is about acting  closer to real time and about catching our attention as often as possible: receiving new e-mails and new tweets, getting Facebook notifications, updating rss-feeds. Research shows that as our brains get used to such environment it actually becomes more difficult to concentrate on a specific task for a long period of time, such as reading a book. This phenomenon was also well described in a NY Times article in June. In his book, Carr calls this new brain the  juggler’s brain.

While reading (besides getting just a bit worried about my poor brains) I also began to wonder what’s in this for reputation and its management? A few simple ideas to begin with: Firstly, is good to remember that the juggling online reader is even less likely to dig in deeper when searching for information and conversations for example of a certain product. The mental images are created very quickly, which means it’s more and more important to make sure search engines show positive results on the first page.

Secondly, these new ways of reading online can also be taken advantage of, especially in web service design. This has been done for example by Amazon, who is famous of their context-aware book recommendations trying to trigger our attention and to purchase more. As another example, Google makes searching easier, reduces our efforts and directs our behavior by suggesting search phrases after the user has typed in just a few first letters. If concentrating gets demanding, why not create services that offer enough help and cues to make the experience smoother?

As resources of time and our mind become limited, it’s more and more about attention economics and about offering convenience for the juggling customer.

Redefining the Social Contract July 1, 2010

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “social contract” theory was not based on a real tangible property, but on several idealistic concepts of justice. Nevertheless, the benefits deriving from a fair social contract are visible and tangible. Similarly, reputation and reputational components may appear to be rather intangible and idealistic concepts, although they are in some way connected to organizational efficiency, productivity and eventually success.

Although Rousseau’s terms may appear to contrast with our project at a first sight, a deeper analysis demonstrates that his theory revolves – although from another angle – around the concept of reputation and credibility. In fact, establishing and maintaining an efficient and effective positive social contract among several partners, in Rousseau’s words, could be translated into shaping and consolidating a good company’s reputation within the Digital Reputation project prospective. Therefore, all the documented benefits deriving from Jean-Jacques Rousseau are likewise achievable through the exercise of creating and maintaining a company’s reputation.

In this regard, Rousseau’s theory shows from another prospective that good reputation not only minimizes opportunistic behavior and distrust, but also enhances organizational efficiency and productivity. In a context where trade competition is becoming extremely tight, producing more knowledge about reputation and reputational components would benefit the research as a science and eventually the competitiveness of Finnish companies.

In conclusion, Rousseau’s theory provides further reasons and motivation for studying and conceptualizing reputation. However, our team conceptualizes reputation through the use of a wider concept. In this regard, our working hypothesis is that good reputation not only relates to approach tendencies (e.g. BIS/BAS), but it also relates to specific frontal alpha activity (either as trait or status). Through the use of several measures (e.g. EEG, EMG, EKG), we aim at studying not only reputation but also several cognitive and emotional processes whilst the subject is processing the news message. Additionally, we are also interested in analyzing the tone of the message (positive vs. negative) and its potential influence of the subject’s reputational attitude towards the company. Recording emotional responses and brain’s activity will provide Finnish companies with valuable knowledge and eventually long lasting competitive advantage.

Measuring reputations – between metrics and academics June 3, 2010

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If you go and ask Google Scholar, there’s a lot of research available on online reputation. However, it is usually referring to a concept describing the reputation metrics between users within online services, such as eBay for example, and the research concentrates on the areas of computational sciences and system analysis.  These calculations are about simple evaluations (usually star ratings of few attributes) and comments, but nevertheless a way to operationalize reputational evaluations and show them quickly in a comprehensible way.

In fact, as far as I know, the calculations for online reputation in web services are by far the most stable, automatic and researched metrics on reputation there is. Unfortunately, the concept of organizational reputation is usually seen a bit wider and more abstract and therefore impossible to shrink into just a few questions, though some online evaluation services do give their users the possibility to rate companies with simple five star scales.

Theoretically developed reputation metrics such as Reputation Quotient RQ or RepTrak are based on a bunch of arguments and are often used in closed research settings. In our project we are using a Finnish reputation metrics RepMap, which consists of six categories and 24 different sub-attributes. A reputation measurement of Finnish public listed companies has been conducted yearly using RepMap since 2001. These meters do not have any special instruments or modifications for online use.

When in need for some quick statistics and data corporate reputation online can be measured using for example Google Alerts and search counts, Twitter mentions, blog post counts etcetera. There are several web services that are helpful in this: some are free but most are pay services or offer only limited services for free (check for example real-time social media search Socialmention.com and social media monitoring tool Trackur.com – more free services listed for example in this blog post). Also several international and Finnish media analytic companies are offering social media monitoring as part of their services.

But the problem with these services often is that they solely rely on metrics and counts instead of giving that much qualitative analysis on the content. As a result, someone inside the organization should find time to go through all the material and draw conclusions. Even though titles such as Social Media Managers are popping out, few companies can dedicate enough work time to go through all the material online, especially if the company is a big one. Is there anything that could be done to help in these tasks?

In our research project we are aiming to develop research based models that could be used in automatic qualitative analysis of online content when measuring reputations. This should not be only about searching words and their connections but also about emotions, sentiments and theoretical aspects or reputation, and the special context created by digital environments should be taken care of. With the growing importance of visuality and also continuously evolving web services on the other hand this will not an easy task to do, but something very important and interesting for sure.

Conference postings May 28, 2010

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More conference news: you can now read and download our paper Wired reputation: the psychophysiology of interpretations presented at Reputation Institute Conference in Rio May 20th. The reception was delightful, which hopefully Pekka will find time to write more about later on. Our paper was also awarded as The third best paper presented in a Round Table Session by the organizers!

Download the conference article pdf here and presentation here.

Our next presentation will be right after summer in Jyväskylä in Euprera Congress 2010, focusing on “Communication in a changing society; dynamics, risks and uncertainty”. But the main activity before that is to begin our experiments, which is estimated to happen in June already as the setting is being prepared in CKIR at the very moment.

The other psychophysiological signals April 28, 2010

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Besides the already covered EEG we are also planning to record some other psychophysiological signals when studying digital reputation in different experimental settings. We plan to use at least electrodermal activation (EDA), facial electromyography (EMG), and electrocardiography (ECG).  The dimensional theory of emotion places emotions in a two dimensional space defined by valence (unpleasant – pleasant) and arousal (calm – excited). Valence can be effectively studied with the facial EMG. The cheek muscle and the periocular muscle are usually activated during positive emotions, like during smiling. The frowning muscle is, of course, related to negative emotions. For the measurement of arousal, EDA, in practice sweating of the hands, is a useful index. The interpretation of these signals is somewhat straightforward, at least when compared to heart rate, or ECG more generally. The problem is that the activity of the heart is regulated by many processes; the ECG has been used to study stress, arousal, valence, attention, and orientation reflex, for example. So it is good to have other signals to accompany in the interpretation.

There are various other signals that could be also recorded, like breathing rate, movement of the subject by accelerometers or tracking the gaze or changes in the pupils. However, there are limits to how much wires we can attach to the subjects. On the other hand, having more than just one or two signals collected is not advisable either. The interpretation is almost always easier when there are more psychophysiological signals to look at. Since we are applying the psychophysiological method to a new area, the study of digital reputation, we cannot know beforehand which signals would be the most useful. After the first experiments we have at least some guidelines for selecting the best signals for further studies of digital reputation.

Reputation and EEG Brain Research: A Sociological Reflection on What We Are Doing April 22, 2010

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Being a sociologist, I find brain research fascinating because it is much about what sociology is not about. With this mind, let me reflect on Mikko’s (Mikko Salminen’s) post, written on March  18, and shown below i n this blog.

In conducting laboratory experiments using the psychophysiological methods, Mikko writes that we (mostly Niklas, Mikko and Kaisa at CKIR/Aalto) use methods such as electroencephalography, or EEG for short. Other methods would exist such as MEG, PET, and fMRI, for example. (Incidentally, the University of Turku, which Matti and I represent in the DiRe project is the strongholds of PET research in Finland).

Research is always very much about two kinds of choices: (a) what to do and (b) what NOT to do.

The strength of EEG is its applicability to more ecologically valid settings. Mobile, light-weight, recording systems allow data collection in what as closely as possible resemble real life situations. Of course, in the real world, we are not always wired, as we are in the CKIR laboratory. Then, again, often, in what we call the real world, with our mobile phones, iPhones, etc., we in fact are wired anytime, anywhere. So, what may at first resemble a large difference in comparison to the “real world” may not in the ultimately be such a difference after all. So, Part II, we clearly are on to something in our research.

In the DiRe project, our interests focus on those responses of the individuals in our laboratory that tell something about their (and, by extension, our) emotions and motivational processes; in Dire, we aim to study which psychophysiologically observed emotional responses are related to good reputation, bad reputation, both, or neither of the above. For example – and importantly from the perspective of sociological analysis – our EEG research focuses on to what extent an individual will “avoid” or to “approach” a representation of a business firm and its reputation.

At this phase of our research, we will not be able to study “coercion” as it is called in sociology or what is, as far as I know, called “punishment” in brain research. To spell this out: in addition to social norms about what actions and thoughts are to be avoided and which models we deem worth of individual and social aspirations, there is also a third interest in addition to “avoid” and “approach”. So, in sociology, this is called “coercion”, shorthand for violence or the threat thereof. What would this research interest be called in brain research terms? Ok ok “punishment”, but that does not well with “avoidance” and “approach”. How about  “attack”? Or, “aggressiveness”? Or, “anxiety and/or fear”? or Or, “appreciation of a circumstance where we freed from anxiety and fear”?

I do now know, at this stage of our inquiry. What I do already know is that this research interest is worthy of more than passing interest. As the sociologist James G. March has shown, much of what goes in business schools is application of sociology. And, what businesses do is apply what their top managers have learned in business schools.

To make an intermediate summary: Sociological ideas are at the source of many business cases. Ok ok, we will not be studying everything at once. It has been established not only in the first part of this post that this is a bad idea; it has also been established through hundreds of years of serious inquiry in philosophy of science. The mark of good research is not to try to study all at once. To study everything in one go is a recipe for a bad study. In academia, doing such research may lead to a reputation for NOT being a good researcher. “Nobody is perfect, but I” , I used to say when I was learning English and that is when — rightly so — I got a reputation for someone who is just learning English.

Nonetheless, the goal in the next stage of our Digital Reputation research ought to be to seriously consider the business case in the case of reputation management and design ways by which we can take more of business realities and, by extension, sociological insights that often are behind those realities. The big fish is worth the pursuit, even though we may never catch it. Even if, following the line of thought of Ernest Hemingway, we need not appropriate every piece of knowledge we gain, knowledge will help keep us on the right track and track what is worthy of pursuit. Ditto for reputation, its reputation, and the study of these “social facts” and the associated psychophysiological signals.