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Month: April 2017

How to do political marketing on social media? A systematic process leveraging Facebook Ads

This post very briefly explains a process of using and scaling Facebook advertising for political marketing. It might not be clear for all readers, but professional online marketers should be able to follow.

The recipe for political marketing by using Facebook Ads:

  1. Create starting parameters (Age, Gender, Location, Message)
  2. Create total combinations based on the starting parameters
  3. Use prior information to narrow down search space: e.g., identify the 100 most important target groups (e.g., battle-ground states)
  4. Create Facebook Ads campaigns based on narrowed down search space
  5. Run the campaigns (the shortest time is one day, but I would recommend at least 2-3 days to accommodate Facebook’s algorithm)
  6. Analyze the results; combine data to higher level clusters (i.e., aggregate performance stats with matching groups from different campaigns)
  7. Scale up; allocate budget based on performance, iteratively optimize for non-engaged but important groups, and remove the already-converted voters.

The intuition:

You are using Facebook Ads to test how many different target groups respond to your message. You will cluster this data to identify the most engaged target groups. You will then try to maximize voter turnout within those groups (i.e., maximize conversion). In addition, you will create new messages for those groups which are not currently responding well but which you need to capture in order to win the election. You will keep testing these groups by creating new messages, one by one finding the most responsive groups for a given message.

Once a target group shows a high level of engagement, you will scale up your advertising efforts (think 10x or 100x increase). You will keep the test cycle short (a week is more than enough), and the scaling period long. Based on campaign events, you may want to revisit already secured groups to ensure their engagement remains high. Because you are not able to measure the ultimate conversion (=voting directly), you will use proxy metrics that reflect the engagement of different target groups (particularly, clicks, CTR, post-click behavior such as time-on-site, newsletter subscriptions). This enables you to predict likelihood to vote based on social media engagement. Once a person has “converted”, he or she is removed from targeting – this is done to avoid wasting your budget by preaching to the choir.

Here are some additional metrics you can consider, some of them are harder to infer than the basic ones: frequency of activity, sentiment level, interest in a single issue that cause votes, and historical voting records (district level). According to different metrics used, we can set a target level (e.g., time-on-site > 3 mins) or binary event (subscription to campaign newsletter) which represents conversion.

Overall, we try to mimic the best practices of online marketing optimization here by 1) testing with explore-exploit mentality (scaling appropriately), and 2) excluding those who converted from future targeting (in effect, they are moved into a different budget which is direct targeting by email – a form which is more personal and cheaper than ads). In addition, we delimit the search space by using our prior information on the electorate, again to avoid wasteful impressions and maximize ROI-efficiency.

Then, we fill the selected groups with data and observe the performance metrics. Finally, we cluster the results to get a higher-level understanding of each group, as well as find points of agreement between the groups that can be used to refine the communication strategy of the larger political campaign. Therefore, the data we obtain is not solely limited to Facebook Ads but can be used to further enhance messaging in other channels as well.

There. The methodology represents a systematic and effective way to leverage Facebook Ads for political social media marketing.

Also read:

Agile methods for predicting contest outcomes by social media analysis

Analyzing sentiment of topical dimensions in social media

Affinity analysis in political social media marketing – the missing link

The Role of Assumptions in Startup Pitching

More than truthfulness of the numbers, investors evaluate the assumptions underneath a pitch. They are not asking “Are these numbers real?” but “Could they be real?”.

The assumptions reveal the logic of thinking by the founders. When examining them in detail, one should get logical answers to questions like:

  1. How many sales people are needed to hit the sales goals?
  2. How much will it cost to achieve the sales target?
  3. How much is the cost for acquiring a new customer?
  4. How long is the average sales cycle?

(Assuming an enterprise sales case; the questions in a B2C market would be different, so you need to consider the circumstances.)

The investors are looking for “intellectual rigor” and “completeness of thought” from the founders. Therefore, the pitch needs to show that you understand how to run the business, and how those actions are linked with growth within a defined timeframe. Like one investor said, it is better to be roughly right than exactly wrong.

Startup due diligence: Some considerations

We had an interesting week with the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) that had invited several high-profile entrepreneurs from the US to evaluate the technologies of Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI).

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend all the sessions, but from what I saw I picked up a few pointers for due diligence work done by investors when evaluating the startups. Here they are:

  • customer references => who are the existing customers and what do they say?
  • investor references => who are the existing investors and what do they say?
  • competitors => feature comparison & position map
  • technology => expert evaluation
  • IPR => defensibility of the core tech
  • key competitive advantage => if not the core tech, then what is the thing preventing others from replicating your success?


It’s worthwhile to mention that the formal due diligence process is something different from an informal one – the latter takes place when the investor does some initial inquiries about the team and the tech, and then decides whether he wants to pursue further discussions. After reaching an adequate level of confidence, formal and detailed due diligence procedures conducted with the help of experts (e.g., tech, legal, science) ensue.

Social media marketing for researchers: How to promote your publications and reach the right people

Today the Social Computing group at Qatar Computing Research Institute had the pleasure of listening to the presentation of Luis Fernandez Luque about social media marketing for researchers. Luis talked about how to promote your publications and personal brand, as well as how to reach the right people on social media with your research.

Luis is one of the most talented researchers I know, and a very good friend. He has two amazing girls and a great wife. You can follow Luis’ research on health informatics on Slideshare, Twitter, and of course connect with him on LinkedIn.

In this post, I’ll summarize some points of his presentation (if you want the full thing, you need to ask him :), and reflect them on my own experiences as a digital marketer.

Without further ado, here are 7 social media tips for researchers.

1. Upload your articles to the 3 big social media platforms for researchers

According to Luis, there are three major social media sites for researchers. These are:

You should post your papers on each of these platforms to get extra visibility. According to Luis, the point is to disseminate content in existing platforms because they have the critical mass of audience readily available. This is preferable to starting your own website from scratch and trying to attract visitors.

However, I recommend doing both. In addition to sharing your research on social media, you can have a separate websites for yourself and dedicated websites for your research projects. Having dedicated websites with a relevant domain provides search-engine optimization (SEO) benefits. In particular, websites are indexed better than social media sites which means you have a better chance of being found. Your papers will get indexed by search engines and therefore will attract occasional hits, depending on your chosen keywords and competition for them (see point number 4).

For the same reason you want to effectively cross-link and cross-post your content. For example, 1) publish the post in your own website, 2) re-publish it on LinkedIn, and 3) share on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ (as well as researcher social networks, if it’s academic content, but here I’m referring to idea posts or popularized articles). Don’t forget Google+, because occasionally those posts show up in search results. Sharing can be repeated and schedule by using BufferApp. For example, I have all my LinkedIn articles mirrored at

Finally, besides your research papers, consider sharing your dissertation as well as Bachelor/Master theses. Those are often easier to read and reach a wider audience.

2. Recycle content and ideas

Luis mentioned he was able to increase the popularity of one of his papers by creating a Slideshare presentation about it. This principle is more commonly known as content tree in inbound marketing. I completely agree with Luis’ advice – it is often straight-forward and fast to create a presentation based on your existing paper, because you already know what you want to say.

If you have conference presentations or teaching material readily available, even better. For example, I’ve shared all my digital marketing lectures and teaching material at Slideshare, and they steadily attract views (tens of thousands in total so far). Here is an example of a presentation I made based on the post you’re reading. As you can see, it has an interesting title that aims to be “search-engine optimized”. By scrolling down, you also notice that Slideshare converts the presentation also into pure text. This is good for search-engine visibility, and one reason why Slideshare presentations rank well in Google. The picture from my Slideshare Analytics shows many people find the presentations through Google.

Figure 1 Slideshare Analytics showing large share of search traffic.

Luis also mentioned including the name of your publication in the title slide which is a good idea if you want to catch more citations from interested readers.

3. Create an online course

MOOCs and other forms of online education form a great way for disseminating your ideas and making your research more well known. Luis mentioned two platforms for this:

The point is to share knowledge and at the same time mention your own research. I think Luis mentioned he had at some point 4,000 participants for his course which is a very large audience and shows the power of online courses compared to traditional classrooms (I think I had maximum 100 students in my course, so you can see how big the difference in reach is).

4. Choose the right title

This is like copywriting for researchers. The title plays an important role for two reasons: 1) it determines whether people become interested and click forward to reading your paper, and 2) it can increase or decrease your chances of being found in Google. A straight analogy is journalism: you want some degree of click-bait in your title, because you are competing against all other papers for attention. However, in my experience many scholars pay little attention to the attractiveness of the title of their paper from the clicker’s perspective, and even fewer perform keyword research (the post in Finnish) to find out about popularity of related keywords.

So, how to choose the title of a research paper?

  1. Research & include relevant keywords
  2. Mention the problem your research deals with

The title should be catchy (=attractive) and include keywords people are using when they are searching information on the topic, be it research papers or just general knowledge. Luis’ tip was to include the problem (e.g., diabetes) in the title to get more downloads. Moreover, when sharing your papers, use relevant hashtags. In the academia, the natural way is to identify conference hashtags relating to your topic — as long as it’s relevant, using conference hashtags to promote your research is okay.

You can use tools such as Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends for keyword research. To research hashtags, Twitter’s recommendation feature is an easy approach (e.g., in TweetDeck you get recommendations when you start writing a hashtag). You can also use tools such as Hashtagify and Keyhole to research relevant hashtags. Finally, also include the proper keywords in your abstract. While full papers are often hidden behind gateways, abstracts are indexed by search engines.

5. Write guest blogs

Instead of trying to make a go with your own website (which is admittedly tough!), Luis recommended to write guest posts in a popular blogs. The rationale is the same as in the case of social media platforms: these venues already have an audience. As long as the blog deals with your vertical, the audience is likely to be interested in what you say. For content marketers, getting quality content is also a consistent source of concern, so it is easy to see a win-win here.

For example, you can write to research foundation blog. In case they gave you money, this also serves to show you are actively trying to popularize your research, and they get something in return for their money! Consider also industry associations (e.g., I haven’t come around to it yet, but I would like to write to IAB Finland’s blog since they have a large audience interested in digital marketing).

6. Define your audience

Luis advised to define your audience carefully – it is all about determining your area of focus and where you want to make an impact. On social media, you cannot control who sees your posts, but you can increase the chances of reaching the right people by this simple recipe:

  1. Find out who are the important people in your field
  2. Follow them on Twitter and LinkedIn
  3. Tag them to posts of both platforms.

The last point doesn’t always yield results, but I’ve also had some good experiences by including the Twitter handle of a person I know is working on the topic I’m writing about. Remember, you are not spamming but asking for their opinion. That is perfectly fine.

7. Track and optimize

This is perhaps the most important thing. Just like in all digital marketing, you need to work on your profile and social media activity constantly to get results. The competition is quite high, but in the academia, not many are fluent with social media marketing. So, as long as you put in some effort, you should get results relatively easier than in the commercial world! (Although, truth be told, you are competing with commercial content as well.)

How to measure social media impact?

  • choose metrics
  • set goals
  • track & optimize

For example, you could have reads/downloads as the main KPI. Then, you could have the goal of increasing that metric +30% in the next six months. Then, you would track the results and act accordingly. The good thing about numbers and small successes is that you become addicted. Well, this is mostly a good thing because in the end you also want to get some research done! But as you see that your posts get some coverage, it encourages to carry on. And gradually you are able to uplift your social media impact.

A research group could do this as a whole by giving somebody the task to summarize social media reach of individuals + the group as a whole. It would be fairly easy to incentivize good performance, and encourage knowledge sharing on what works. By sharing best practices, the whole group could benefit. Besides disseminating your research, social media activity can increase your citations, as well as improve chances for receiving funding (as you can show “real impact” through numbers).

The tool recommended by Luis is called Altmetric which is specifically tailored for research analytics. I haven’t used it before, but will give it a go.


The common theme is sharing your knowledge. In addition to just posting, you can also ask and answer questions on social media sites (e.g., on ResearchGate) and practitioner forums (e.g., Quora). I was able to beat my nemesis Mr. Valtteri Kaartemo in our Great Dissertation Downloads Competition by being active on Quora for a few weeks. Answering Quora questions and including a link in the signature got my dissertation over 1,000 downloads quickly, and since some question remain relevant over time, it still helps. But this is not only about competitions and your own “brand” but about using your knowledge to help others. Think of yourself as an asset – the society has invested tremendous amounts of time, effort and money into your education, and you owe it to the society to pay some of it back. One way to do that is sharing your knowledge on social media.

I still remember one professor saying a few years ago she doesn’t put her presentations on Slideshare because “somebody might steal the ideas”. But as far as I’m concerned, a much bigger problem is that nobody cares about her ideas. We live in a world where researchers compete against all sources of information – and we must adapt to this game. In my experience, the ratio of effort put in conducting research and communicating it is totally twisted, as most researchers lack the basic skills for social media marketing and hardly do any content marketing at all.

This is not only harmful for their careers, but also to various stakeholder groups that miss the important insights of their research. And I’m not only talking about popularization, but also other researchers increasingly rely on social media and search engines for finding relevant papers in their field. Producing high-quality content is not enough, but you also need to market your papers on social media. By doing so, you are making a service to the community.


The balanced view algorithm

I recently participated in a meeting of computer scientists where the topic was “fake news”. The implicit assumption was that “we will do this tool x that will show people what is false information, and they will become informed.”

However, after the meeting I realized this might not be enough, and in fact be naïve thinking. It may not matter that algorithms and social media platforms show people ‘this is false information’. People might choose to believe in the conspiracy theory anyway, for various reasons. In those cases, the problem is not the lack of information, it is something else.

And the real question is: Can technology fix that something else? Or at least be part of the solution?

The balanced view algorithm

Because, technically, the algorithm is simple:

  1. Take a topic
  2. Define the polarities of the topic
  3. Show each user an equal number of content of each polarity

=> results in a balanced and informed citizen!

But, as said, if the opposing content is against what you want to believe in, well, then the problem is not “seeing” enough that content.


These are tough questions and reside in the interface of sociology and algorithms. On one hand, some of the solutions may approach manipulation but, as propagandists could tell, manipulation has to be subtle to be effective.

The major risk is that people might rebel against a balanced worldview. It is good to remember that ‘what you need to see’ is not the same as ‘what you want to see’. There is little that algorithms can do if people want to live in a bubble.

Originally published at


The strategy algorithm


The purpose of the strategy algorithm is to present a simple, parsimonius, and proven method for successful creation of a corporate strategy.

In corporations, the problems usually do not relate to lack of resources or options, but to complexity of having in fact too many choices. This can lead to illusion of superiority which is not a short-term problem since the corporation is protected by its existing buffers, but which will become a long-term issue when external conditions have tilted enough to cause a disruption driven by changing customer needs or competitors’ superior solutions. Therefore, any managing director or CEO needs simple guiding principles to reduce compexity into something manageable. The strategy algorithm (SA) is one such tool.

The strategy algorithm

The goal of the SA is to find a unique competitive advantage that the customers appreciate, that can be executed, and that is not the focus of any existing competitors. This goal is known as the strategic goal. The steps are as follows:

Phase 1

1. Define customer segments – what benefits are important for each segment?
2. Conduct competitor analysis – what segments are not focused on by any competitor?
3. Conduct internal analysis – what resources do we have and need to capture that segment?

Phase 2

4. Then, make sure 1-3 are co-aligned (=write out the strategy).
5. Then, define strategic projects to remove bottlenecks and create assets (=resources that serve the strategic goal).
6. Then, execute with strong focus (=anything that deviates from the strategic goal; discard).

Applying the strategy algorithm

As you can see, Phase 1 is geared toward research and planning, and Phase 2 toward implementation.

In step 1, you can use techniques such as:

  • conjoint analysis
  • personas (ethnography, interviews, surveys, social media analysis)

Conjoint analysis aims to find product attributes that customers most value. Another option is to summarize customer segments into personas that are fictive but descriptive characterizations of customer groups.

In step 2, “focus” is the keyword. Competitors can operate in the same market and offer similar products, but the main point is that they are not focusing on it (=their turnover is not dependent on it, they are not investing excessively in product development, marketing and distribution). In other words, by you taking the focus, competitors will remain at bay, because they have more important priorities. An example is Nokian Tyres – at one point, it was a generic tyre company, but as an outcome of strategic work they re-focused on “Trusted by the natives” guideline, i.e. winter tyres.

In step 3, you need to conduct a gap analysis of ‘what we have and what we need’. An example is Stephen Elop at Nokia – he recognized that the mobile world is moving to software ecosystems, and Nokia has redundant know-how about legacy mobile software. In hindsight, we can say he should have fired and hired much more aggressively to transform the company into a focused, competitive unit.


The thinking borrows heavily from the Master’s thesis of Lasse Kurkilahti (Turku School of Economics), as well as related works from Michael Porter, W. Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne, and other strategic thinkers.


Using flow principles to introduce addiction to mobile or Web app


Flow is a well-known concept in psychology, invented by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and published in 1975. It describes the state of losing yourself to a task; basically losing the sense of time and being just very immersed and focused on what you are doing. While many professionals (including myself!) would kill to have flow 100% of the time, because it would greatly enhance their productivity (and true professionals always want to get things done!), it is also important for UX designers and software developers who can use it to enhance the success of their applications, especially given 80% of users are likely to drop after registering.

How to improve the flow of users?

To improve the likelihood of flow for your users, follow these principles:

  1. The user has a clearly defined, simple goal
  2. He or she intuitively understands how to reach that goal
  3. The goal must be achieved with minimal effort
  4. He or she must immediately know if success or not
  5. There must be immediate transition to a new task

(I compiled them from Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas and this article on gambling.)

Let’s use Tinder as an example.

First, I use Tinder to meet a girl (or the girl). That equals a clearly defined goal. Second, straight after logging in I see a picture with ‘❤’ or ‘X’ as choices – there is no need to explain what to do; in other words the app is intuitive. Third, all I need to do is swipe left or right, i.e. use minimal effort to get a small reward each time. In addition, it’s much easier to use Tinder than go out to the real world to meet people which would be an alternative way to accomplish my goal (=minimal effort). I will instantly know if I was luck because the system alerts of matches as they happen (=instant gratification). Whether or not there is a match, I’m instantly shown another choice that follows the same simple pattern (=ludic loop). Although I rarely get matches, that’s okay because I instantly get a new chance (=there is no way to exit the loop).

As a result, I am addicted.

A few notes on the applicability of flow principles

1. The size of the reward is not important at all; much more important is you get it straight away (=principle of instant gratification). So, if you’re providing one reward of size X, it can make more sense to split it into n parts, so that reward size becomes X/n.

2. It’s irrelevant whether or not the method applied is the best method to reach the goal. In fact, I’m a firm believer in that Tinder (or online dating in general) doesn’t work too well, because you need to meet people in person to see if there is chemistry or not (the app won’t tell you that, and it’s the most important factor to me). So why do I use Tinder? Because all that reasoning takes place in a high level of thinking (=high effort), and the app overrides it by giving me instant rewards with low effort. So, although I know it’s not efficient, that doesn’t matter because I get some enjoyment over it. Makes sense? That’s how we people are!

3. As a corollary to the previous point, you can understand that splitting the effort X into smaller increments of n/X can result in a situation where the invididual is using more time in doing those n increments than he would be in just doing the task X. The most clever people use this feature to motivate themselves to work – they say “I only do this very little task”, and end up doing a lot more. But this also has implications to mobile and Web developers, and also in crowdsourcing because it effectively enables a micro-task design beat a full-task design in the quantity of output.


The principles laid out here apply to social media feeds. Just think about it: every post gives you small small sartisfaction. Or, rather, their marginal utility is distributed randomly which makes it exciting to you, the player – you know that the post quality varies, so you might hit a “jackpot” of finding something interesting like a job opportunity, or then simply miss — either way, you get the feedback instantly. And the effort is marginal: just like the pigeons in the famous Skinner’s box, you only need to “pull a lever” (i.e., scroll down). Because you don’t succeed every time, you pull more levers. Very easy, very addictive. And there’s pretty much no way to avoid it, because it utilizes an universal and inherent features of the human psyche.