Friday, June 25, 2010

World Cup Traffic

I noted yesterday that the BBC said they had 800,000 concurrent streams of people watching the England v Slovenia match on Tuesday, which I watched in our Covent Garden offices in London - and didn't Kevin in our facilities team do a cracking job of decorating the TV area for?:So I thought I'd find out from Tim in our networks team (who is a general all round transit, routing and peering guru) what proportion of those were our residential customers - and I got all kinds of interesting graphs in response.

Ahead of the World Cup the networks team worked with the BBC and Akamai (the main streaming provider for the tournament) to put in place some dedicated peering links for World Cup (and Wimbledon) traffic and from the peaks we've seen over those links they've certainly been being used:
[Click on for a larger version; Note: Scale removed as figures are commercially sensitive]

We experienced a definite traffic spike when the match was being played on Wednesday compared to a 'normal' Wednesday daytime:
[Fig 2: Total Virgin Media Internet Traffic, 23/6/2010 vs 9/6/2010; Note: Scale removed as figures are commercially sensitive]

Note also the relative dip in the evening as the never ending tennis match on Tuesday night dragged people away from their broadband connections and in front of the TV as well as the evening's football match ... and no doubt a few people out celebrating!

Having a look at the traffic on our dedicated Akamai ports also shows a significant spike in traffic:[Fig 3: Traffic levels over Virgin Media's dedicated Akamai private peer; Note: Scale removed as figures are commercially sensitive]

We believe that we had something in the region of 35,000 to 37,500 concurrent streams (and a 30% increase in traffic compared to the same period on a 'normal' Wednesday) watching the match at any one time which, given our market share, would suggest to me that the BBC had the majority of their streams coming from people watching the game from work connections rather than their home ISP broadband connections.

By contrast, for England's opening match (which was in the evening on a Saturday) we saw an 8% decrease in overall Internet traffic (compared to a 'normal' Saturday) as people watched the game on TV in the main:
[Fig 4: Total Virgin Media Internet Traffic, 12/6/2010 vs 5/6/2010; Note: Scale removed as figures are commercially sensitive]

Overall though I was happiest at the result on Thursday, when my native New Zealand team managed to finish the whole tournament unbeaten - unlike Spain, Germany, France and Italy ... and ahead of Italy in our group to top off a magnificent performance. Well done to them all!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Funny comment spam

I've been asked by a few people why I have moderation turned on for comments on my blog. It's no great conspiracy theory, and I do approve any valid comments apart from a few very sweary ones as I don't want anyone to be offended.

The reason why is comment spam like this, which came through overnight:
[Click on Image for a larger version]
Like I'm ever going to approve that! *reject*

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Twaffic Problems

I’ll admit to being a bit of a geek when it comes to social media (such as Facebook and Twitter) in terms of how companies are making use of it in particular and am always interested in good case studies accordingly.

Another thing I love about social media is the quirky things that wouldn't happen otherwise, such as a case I spotted this morning on Twitter.

One of our change managers this week tweeted his frustration (slightly cleaned up his message for a family audience!) at being stuck in traffic on the M6:Oh, and I'd like to point out that Gavin sent this message after he had pulled into the services!

The response to that took me aback – with traffic advice coming in from Canada, where a former colleague (Kari) in our procurement team who has since returned to Ontario decided to Google it and informs Gavin:I find that brilliant – and it wouldn’t have happened without the power of social media.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Eircom "intimidating" customers on Twitter

This all sounds very familiar - Irish telco Eircom have been alleged to be "intimidating" users on Twitter by replying to them when they post problems they are having with them in the public domain on the site.

Like when providers in the UK were accused of "spying" on users last week, the story comes in The Mail on Sunday, although this time it's the Irish edition - and the story can be found over at Stephen Beynon's Posterous (declaration - Stephen runs the consumer division at Eircom and I know him well from when he used to run the business division at Virgin Media).

This particularly made me smile:I really can't see how that has any relevance at all to be honest.

There's an excellent blog about the story here and Eircom's Twitter feed can be found here. They appear to be doing good work, so keep it up guys!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

That's a *lot* of spam

I've got into the habit of emptying my Gmail spam folder daily - but, having decided not to for a bit, I've been surprised by how much I've received since Monday:The reason I get so much is that I've used my (actual - not masked) e-mail address across the web for years in order to help out customers and join in discussions (and hence spammers have added my address to their lists), letting the spam filters take the strain. Now that all my e-mail accounts are aggregated on Google though, it's not exactly a big strain to take.

And for the record, I've had no false positives (mails classified as spam when they shouldn't have been) and only 2 false negatives (mails that weren't classified as spam but should have been) this week, and now I've reported those as spam hopefully the spam filter on Google means they won't reappear!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Excellent blog

I did a few blogs a while ago about the first decade of broadband in the UK, which was marked with the anniversary of our 512Kb launch in March 2000 - and I really enjoyed the blog today from one of our customers Scott Allison ... who poses a fascinating question:
[...] where will be in another ten years and what revolutionary new businesses and business models are yet to be enabled by the internet?
I've often been surprised by what I've seen over the last decade ... and I think it's safe to assume I'll be astounded to think about what's happened when am looking back on things in 2020.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Brands and social media - it's not spying

There's a story at Mail Online today (and presumably also in The Mail on Sunday accordingly, it's not a paper I take) where leading brands are being accused of spying on their customers by taking part in conversations about them on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Some of Britain’s biggest firms were last night accused of ‘spying’ on their customers after they admitted ‘listening in’ on disgruntled conversations on the internet.

The companies include BT, which uses specially developed software to scan for negative comments about it on websites including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

[...] privacy campaigners have accused them of ‘outright spying’ while legal experts have suggested that firms making unsolicited approaches to customers could fall foul of data protection laws.
This is just not the case. Companies such as BT, and us at Virgin Media, are present on social media as we're aware that our customers are talking about us and want to hear what they have to say - and to help where it's appropriate to do so.

As people may know, we have had a presence on Twitter since December 2008 as a company, and with a number of our more enthusiastic staff members having been on the site earlier than that it was clear that customers were on Twitter asking questions about our products and seeking help - so naturally we had to join in that conversation, which is going to happen about us whether we're involved in it or not.People posting on Twitter generally have their profiles in public (we can't see what they post otherwise, as it requires people to be following each other to see what is being posted via a protected account) and hence what they post is open to be viewed by anyone on the web, so why would a brand not be using social media monitoring tools to see what is being said about them and act on it accordingly?

Clearly companies need to be using their judgment when engaging with customers on sites such as Twitter, and I wouldn't begin to claim we've always got it right. You need to learn from your mistakes, and the only way to do so is dive in 'boots and all' and engage with your customers.

We set up a Twitter team in our customer care area (Billy, Sam and Pete for anyone who has dealt with them) to deal with customers seeking help on Twitter, and the results have been fantastic.

Their first priority is to help customers who message us direct (i.e. the equivalent of sending us an e-mail) with enquiries and/or asking for help, and we've found that generally the quickest way to solve problems is for customers to e-mail in some details and the team then gets on the case to resolve the issue.

They're empowered to do so and act as if they were the customer internally - which has enabled internal facing areas of the business to get some great, instant direct feedback from customers and resulted in many process improvements that benefit our customers as a whole.

What the team also does is to use various social media monitoring tools to see Twitter users talking about Virgin Media but not 'to' us direct. These can be customers (sometimes including celebs) talking to each other, non customers querying our products and services, the media, analysts and others - and this is where the team makes a judgment call as to how to engage, if we need to at all.

The likes of media and analysts are fairly straightforward, and our media relations team deals with these either via our main feed (which our head of media relations setup alongside myself in the first place, and still posts to regularly) or by taking it offline to talk to the respondent direct - often the most appropriate way as it's difficult to answer often complex media enquiries in 140 characters!

Customers talking about problems they are experiencing but not to us direct are the main source of our 'wow' experiences - or, as someone once said, taking them from woe to wow. Many people aren't aware that we have a presence on Twitter, and when we step in to a conversation or post to someone talking about us the reaction is almost universally positive.

Picking up that customer's issue and resolving it tends to be the type of experience that results in external blogs (for example here and here), independent recognition and thank you e-mails into us from customers - and the success stories help us reiterate internally the importance of engagement in social media from a customer service perspective.

We regularly survey our customers who interact with Virgin Media as to what their experience is, using the Net Promoter® Score (NPS) framework. It's little heard of within what is effectively a complaints function (which is what the Twitter team does much of the time) for a customer to recommend their experience and give a 9 or 10 (out of 10) score on their survey - but our Twitter team hits this time and again, breaking many advocacy records along the way.

Using social media monitoring tools to find out what is being said about you and to act on it is not spying - it's moving with the times and realising that as a company you need to engage with a customer in the way they wish to speak to you or even about you - you just need to use your common sense and learn where it is and isn't appropriate to engage with users, and on the best way to do so.

And our experience tells us that it's also what our customers want.