After a few years talking to several people inside and outside my company about the benefits of cloud computing, I’m truly convinced that the most important benefit is not cost reduction or the ability to have new servers up and running in a few minutes. Of course those are great capabilities that a real cloud computing environment can offer to you. But the most interesting goal you should pursue when using this approach is to use technology to move your business to where it has never been before, and do amazing things you couldn’t even consider doing a few years ago.
One use case I’m happy to see the market (including large enterprises) explore more and more is the enhanced customer engagement and experience achieved through a social networks + cloud combination. Although almost everybody understands how powerful this combo can be, very few are succeeding to really unleash the power of this synergy. Most companies are just scratching the surface in this area. In this article, I want to explore some ideas and useful guidance for those who want to dive into these waters.
1) Be smart, consider PaaS, avoid IaaS: when listening to social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, you should be prepared to receive and process massive amounts of data. Do you want to design a physical architecture (load balancing, fail-over, auto-scale) to handle all the data or do you want to let companies like Google do that for you? What about private cloud? Well… I don’t even consider private cloud to be part of cloud computing. High upfront costs, limited scalability and no managed services to simplify or empower your solution. It’s more like a “virtualization on steroids” than cloud computing itself!
2) Be nice, quotas are limited: you may have an amazing idea to engage your customer but keep in mind that all social networks have limited usage quotas. Sometimes a percentage of the daily traffic (1%, for example), sometimes number of requests per hour (something like 5,000 calls per hour).
3) Be ethical, avoid spam and things like that: even restricted to your quotas, you must be aware that social networks don’t want to bother their users because… well, they actually need them to survive. So, forget about commenting on all posts in a timeline advertising your great new product or service. Your account may be suspended.
4) Be reserved, read more than you write: if you are planning just to read from the social networks, ok. But, if you are planning to write comments or posts in the same volume, you are going to be in trouble. Writing quotas are significantly lower than reading ones. You are going to be blocked unless you are whitelisted. Sometimes you won’t even have access to write APIs, unless you explain very well what your plans are.
5) Be nimble, things will change: you have just spent a lot of time using social networks’ APIs and everything is working like a charm right now. Great! But these same APIs might not work well tomorrow. Sometimes you will be notified upfront so you will have time to accommodate changes. Sometimes, you won’t. Consider using third party APIs. There are several companies specialized in dealing with this problem and they can make it transparent for you.
6) Be aware, social networking companies are not like IBM or Microsoft: if you work for a huge global company and are used to having heavy negotiations with your vendors to change their products to fit to your needs, think twice before taking that for granted with companies like Facebook or Twitter. First, they run a very complex computational grid, we have an important technical aspect to consider here. Second, they are the “millennials” of the service providers. They don’t put commercial relationship and politics ahead of technology. They also need scale and they are not ready (or perhaps it’s not interesting for their business model) to dispend a lot of attention just to make you happy. Need more quota? Need to be whitelisted? Start right now because it won’t be easy… or possible.
All that said and despite the pitfalls, I don’t think anyone can or should close their eyes to this new world. Yesterday’s hot sites are not hot anymore. People are not supposed to find your company or content anymore… you should engage them where they are, and where they are spending a huge amount of time talking to their “friends”, posting photos and videos and checking-in on social networks. Most of the time using their mobile devices, not desktops.
We need to get ready for a future where brands serve their customers best by anticipating their next move and by being ready to help exactly where they are in that moment of need. This will be the general expectation of all users. Combining social plus cloud can create that layer of intelligence never before possible. Going further, leveraging not only cloud and social, but also mobile and analytics is a key aspect to deliver such capabilities. Are you ready for this new technology landscape?