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Kids’ Summer Safety Means Digital Diligence

During the week of SXSW in March, I had the pleasure of having breakfast with digital journalist Sarah Evans. Sarah covers lifestyle technology in her popular lifestyle publication SarahsFav.es, tracks and shares trends on digital innovation, and acts as a correspondent for PayPal and Cox Communications, among others. She’s been in Vanity Fair’s America’s Tweethearts, Forbes’​ 14 Power Women to Follow on Twitter, and Entrepreneur’s Top 10 Hot Startups. She’s a powerhouse and, I’m proud to say, a wonderful friend.

On behalf of Cox Communications, Sarah pulled together a group of moms, a dad, and a few adorable children to discuss topics important to young parents. While I am not a parent myself, I am quite active in children’s online safety, having spent a tenure building games and teams that provide the best and safest digital experiences for kids and families.

An important topic we discussed that morning at SXSW centered on the concept of social games like Minecraft that have high popularity for kids but a diverse user base. Minecraft is one of many games that, while not designed with children as its primary audience, is still extremely popular among kids of all ages. It’s important not to deprive kids of the opportunity to play such a game, and to instead embrace it in a way that keeps them safe. Play with them. Make your interest in their games and life genuine, authentic, constant, and collaborative.

Similarly, apps like Snapchat have become more commonplace with kids thanks to unique filters and the fun of posing for selfies with family members. When considering letting kids use these apps, keep in mind that the app and any brands or individuals a child decides to follow also publish content that often is not appropriate for young users. Articles, Snaps, and Stories from entertainment and lifestyle magazines, for example, can cover a range of mature topics that kids can innocently stumble upon. Friends and family may be sharing fun, wholesome photos, but there is still an adult platform in the background.

In many regions of the world, we’re now approaching summer break, and it’s important that parents think about how technology will play into their children’s day-to-day activities. What are they playing? How are they socializing? Do you have active conversations as a family about behaviors and activities (both good and bad) in apps or games that have social features? It’s imperative to make yourself aware, and we at ModSquad are happy to help.

If you have any questions about the games or apps your family enjoy, please comment below. We’re happy to share insights, tips, realities, and resources to address your digital parenting concerns.

Izzy Neis
Sr. Director of Digital Strategy & Engagement

Esports Hits the Mainstream as Colleges Compete for Players

If there’s one category of competitive sports that’s growing by leaps and bounds, it’s esports, competitive gaming that most often takes place within organized multiplayer video games. Just like physical sports, esports players range from amateur to professional, and with its rise in popularity, colleges and universities are starting their own esports programs.

Complete with scholarships and tournaments, these programs, which revolve around such video games as League of Legends, are quickly becoming important recruiting tools for schools. This weekend, eight teams will converge upon Los Angeles to compete in the League of Legends College Championship, advancing through four games until one remains to claim the title.

One of the competing teams, which qualified out of the wildcard tournament, represents Robert Morris University in Illinois. ModSquad is pleased to be one of the sponsors of the school’s esports teams. On the eve of this exciting event, we spoke with Jose Espin, RMU’s Esports Manager, to hear about the rise of the school’s esports program and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Tell us about how RMU established the first varsity college esports program.

RMU’s esports program was founded by Kurt Melcher. He saw the competitive sense within video games and where it was headed, and he believed that this was going to be just as big as sports. RMU believes that adding extracurriculars to your academics will help motivate students. So Kurt started the first varsity esports program,including a scholarship for sports talent, in 2014. We started with 35 students.

kurtmelcher

What advice do you have for other schools looking to establish a similar type of program? Any pitfalls to avoid?

At first, we basically just ignored our social media presence. That’s the reason we wanted to partner with ModSquad. In our first two years, we just had a staff member or student post on social for us, and it wasn’t consistent. We didn’t know where we were headed, and we were just making random posts. In our third year, we were able to partner with ModSquad, and it’s helped us tremendously. Now we understand where and how to grow our brand.

In the competitive sense, I’d recommend always having a structure, no matter what. With a lot of collegiate programs, they’re starting off with a random staff member becoming the coach. But it’s a difficult job; it has to be organized with a set structure. It’s not just, “Here are five computers, go play some games.”

What is the application process like for players?

We now offer scholarships for seven esports. We look at how good applicants are at a variety of skills. We know that not everyone is the top talent, but we want to give people opportunities. A lot of people want to go pro and aren’t able to, but they still want to be in the industry of esports. So we try to make that happen by integrating their academics within the program.

Now that esports has international recognition as a legitimate career path and sport, how do you see its relationship with traditional sports?

The main difference that everyone loves pointing out is that you’re sitting down, playing on a computer. But I see similarities in mentality. The best players are going to have a champion’s mind. Just as with soccer or basketball players, they’re dedicated, they’re going to play every day to be the best. Teamwork is another big similarity. A big issue is a lot of our players don’t come from traditional sports, so they’re not used to being in a team setting. You team up extroverted football players with introverted gamers and the personalities can clash. It’s an interesting experience, experimenting with techniques that work in traditional sports and tweaking them a bit for esports.

How did your team strategy change when support player Shady was drafted to the League of Legends Championship Series team Phoenix1?

It was a really big roadblock for us. It hit our morale immensely. It hurt our performance at the regionals, where we placed second when we lost to Maryville. But then we beat Maryville at Midwest Campus Clash.

RMU was knocked out of last round of qualifiers, but then swept the wildcard bracket, holding on to their championship placement. What’s the mood on the team like going into the League of Legends College Championship?

Let’s backtrack a little bit. The only prize money that’s given out is at the midseason regionals. So the main thing at regionals was how well they did and if we placed first or second, because that’s the money part. Now it’s just for pride. Our players want to play and help our brand and their own brand, because they all want to go pro. They want to put on a good show.

How important is it for college athletes to know about personal branding and a social code of conduct?

We try to explain to them that need to go out there and network. If you know the right people, then you get more opportunities. And we’re watching what they’re doing on social media, but there’s nothing too bad. Some people like to banter to create some intense storylines. That’s what we did between Maryville and RMU. It’s a friendly banter between two rival schools within the same region.

How has a strong social media presence impacted your team/program?

I think our social media presence has improved morale. In our first two years, a lot of people didn’t know who we were. Now, with our lively online presence, people are seeing what our program is. We’re still working on telling the story of what we do, and with our content increasing, it’s really hitting that goal for us.

Mods Around the World: Meet Anderson Raderalazasoa

ModSquad is happy to reveal that we’re kicking off a summer spotlight series here on the blog. Join us as we travel around the world each month to meet Mods from all corners of the globe.

In this first installment, we journey to Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, situated off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Most of the country’s 24 million inhabitants speak Malagasy, with French spoken by a good number of residents. They share the land with a menagerie of interesting critters: A full 90% of all animals found on Madagascar are unique to the island, and among its most famous residents are the 100 species and sub-species of lemurs.

Here in Madagascar, we’re talking with Anderson Raderalazasoa, a 31-year-old married father of two sons. “I love being a father,” he says, “as my kids were amazing gifts. They fill my life with such happiness. I love also being a husband, as my wife and I are soul mates, if I may say. We share the same values and have a huge passion for cooking which is our shared hobby.”

Anderson works as a bilingual moderator for ModSquad. Fluent in French and English, Anderson brings five years of content moderation experience to the table, as well as an unabashed love of video games, which is perfect for his current assignments. He spoke with us recently to tell us about his background and his homeland.

Please tell us about Madagascar. What is it like?

Madagascar is an outstanding, beautiful country due to its tropical climate and landscape, with lots of palm trees and blue lagoons on the coast and many rain forests in the mainland. Where I live, in the capital city of Antananarivo, it’s warm and very nice to live in all year long. Although Madagascar seems like paradise, sadly the country is struggling. But we enjoy life as much as we can. Madagascar is home to one of the most welcoming people in the world. It’s part of our culture. We depend a lot on each other; family is a huge value for us. In a Malagasy family, the links are very strong. Even as family members get older and married, we always find time to celebrate together.

When you’re not spending time with your family, what are your other personal interests?

I grew up with American music and culture, as my Dad worked for an American firm. So I met Americans living in Madagascar. As I grew up, American culture stuck with me. Music is one of my favorite hobbies. I play guitar and do some beat making with FL Studio when the time allows. I really enjoy video games (especially PC gaming), and I play in my spare time. I also enjoy the video games that I work on through ModSquad. These are the perfect projects for me because they are part of my universe.

What brought you to ModSquad?

I graduated from a business school as a Bachelor in Business Administration in 2011. I started a small business on my own and also supplemented by income as a freelance contractor moderator for French companies. In 2014, I decided to focus more on freelance jobs. Two years later, when my wife and I were about to have our second child, the necessity of finding another source of income was imminent, so I applied for a moderation position with ModSquad. The response was a warm positive. ModSquad is a dream job for me.

What sets ModSquad apart, in your opinion?

People — ModSquad has the most incredible staff I’ve ever worked with, talented and very helpful. Policy — ModSquad cares about people. This is essential for me, as I care deeply for others. Professionalism — Everyone at ModSquad (project managers, account managers, and colleagues) is cool, but the level of professionalism is outstanding. This fits me, since I like to deliver as perfect a performance as I can.

In the strongest terms, ModSquad has made a difference in our lives, and I cannot say thank you enough for that.

4 Steps to Implement Your Social Listening Strategy

Last month, we introduced you to the power of social listening, the process of tapping into conversations happening around social media as a strategy for improving various aspects of business. Unlike social media management, with its focus on what customers are saying to your brand, social listening expands beyond that to monitor what consumers are saying about you or a related topic.

Social listening provides an array of benefits to businesses of all sizes and across all industries. From proactive customer service and community building, to content curation and trend or campaign monitoring, social listening allows brands to stay aware of and engage around the topics most important to them and their audiences.

Our previous blog made the why of social listening clear, so today we’re getting into the how — the important first steps of establishing an effective social listening strategy.

1. Identify your goals

What is it you’re trying to accomplish through social listening? Defining your goals and how you plan to measure your success is the essential first step in any social listening strategy. Is your goal to extend customer service? Increase brand awareness? Find new content to share with your community? A combination of these, or something else entirely?

Also consider what type of metrics you’ll use to measure your success and what type of data you’re hoping to collect. For a company tracking a hashtag campaign, reach or impressions might be the important data; another may want to see a demographic breakdown of the users who used that hashtag. A brand looking to expand its community might look at the number of new followers acquired through proactive engagement.

When you and your team are clear on what you want to achieve and how you plan to measure it, the process becomes much smoother.

2. Brainstorm the terms you want to listen for

With your social listening goals established, consider the words and phrases you want to monitor. It’s less important here to think about the words you would use, and more important to consider how your customers (or potential customers) talk about your topic of choice. So, keep in mind any common misspellings or colloquial phrases.

For example, a video game company’s social customer support team might want to monitor for patching issues after a new update is released. In their search, they would want to listen for the name of their game (including any common abbreviations), paired with terms like: patch, patching, update, updating, stuck, error.

3. Test and refine your search

To hone your social listening search query, do some preliminary searches for the terms you’ve brainstormed. This is critical to ensuring you aren’t picking up any extra “noise” — that is, tweets or posts that include your specified keywords but are not relevant. Look to identify any trends or recurring words among the resulting irrelevant content that you can use to filter those mentions out of your search results.

For example, a travel agency looking to engage with people interested in visiting Australia might be monitoring a term like “trip to Australia.” If news comes out that a high profile politician or celebrity is planning to visit the country, the agency would want to refine their search to filter out mentions of that individual, which would not be relevant to their social listening goals of engaging potential travelers.

Refining your search should be an ongoing process, something you iterate on as customer conversations and trends evolve.

4. Find the social listening tool that meets your needs

There are a few ways to set up social listening feeds using free tools, though the extent of your listening capabilities will be limited. For instance, Tweetdeck allows you to set up streams to track various search queries. Using Twitter’s Advanced Search, anyone can create a detailed search string that can then be used in a running stream on Tweetdeck, where results are collected for you to review.

You can also set up Google Alerts – either via email or RSS feed – to capture mentions of specific terms across news outlets and blogs (this isn’t specifically social media, but it’s still a useful free tactic).

The catch with social listening is that to do it effectively – with automated, complex queries, metrics, and the ability to listen across multiple platforms – you will need a robust social listening tool. There are a number of options out there, with similar but distinct offerings, features, and cost plans. At ModSquad, we’ve used many of the social listening tools on the market today and often provide recommendations to clients as to which will best suit their social listening needs.

There you have it: the 4-step process to design and execute your social listening strategy. Now, go forth and listen! Questions? Leave them in the comments or drop us a line.

The Globalization of the Video Game Industry

Back in the day, many of our favorite video games were created with a specific market in mind, typically one local to that of the game’s developers. If the product was a hit, the publisher often scrambled to replicate that success around the world, creating new versions for different regions as quickly as possible. As time went on, producers planned for localized versions of games, but often left those tasks for the end of the production cycle, causing release delays to foreign markets.

Today we’re seeing more day-and-date global releases of many popular titles, so much so that the concept of globalization in the game industry may seem quaint. At this point, many game companies have globalization specialists on staff, who coordinate translations and hiring of voice actors and oversee the tweaking of a game’s story, dialogue, or even characters to best suit its intended foreign audience. But there is an aspect of these worldwide releases that may not be immediately apparent to developers — what happens after the game is released.

With video games spawning a plethora of online communities, where gamers come together to interact in real-time gameplay, the globalization of the industry can present new challenges. How can players on such services as Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network communicate in their disparate languages, whether in-game or on related forums and websites? Online multiplayer, cooperative, AR/VR, and PVP games have brought about a concurrent rise in international groups and guilds. And that’s where a global, multilingual engagement and moderation team comes in handy.

It’s not enough to provide support in English only, even if it is considered an international language. The best support is native language support, where the person on the other end of the line knows the local idioms and customs. A support agent who understands regional context, sarcasm, and symbolic speech will provide clearer and more meaningful communication.

To be sure, the varied reach of your game may not necessitate staffing a team with full-time speakers in many languages. Perhaps you have a small percentage of French speakers; no need to have a support agent sitting around full-time. Instead, look for a support provider who can offer services on an hour-by-hour basis, allowing you to budget your team strategically. An hourly or contract model allows for staffing a language at less than 40 hours per week.

Set your game apart with service that keeps your players engaged and enthused. Whether you find local native-tongue support agents or look to a more flexible remote solution, communicating with players in their own language is an investment in your product that will pay off handsomely.

HBO’s Silicon Valley Spotlights the Importance of COPPA

When it comes to digital destinations, does all that legal mumbo jumbo really matter? If you’ve been keeping up on the latest season of HBO’s Silicon Valley, you know: it absolutely does.

Now in its fourth season, Silicon Valley follows a burgeoning team of computer engineers building a startup tech company called Pied Piper; the show is beloved for its hilariously candid commentary on the culture of the tech and startup industries.

**Fair warning: Spoilers ahead**

In last week’s episode “Terms of Service,” the Pied Piper team finds itself in hot water when they realize so much of their PiperChat video chat app’s user base is under the age of 13. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, except that now-CEO of Pied Piper Dinesh admits he never included the app’s Terms of Service – complete with COPPA requirements – into their app and user registration process. Not only that, but Pied Piper stores all user data and chat logs on their servers.

What is COPPA?

COPPA, or the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, was established in 1998 (revised further in 2013) and imposes strict requirements on any website or app that either targets children under 13 years of age, or knowingly collects personal information about users under 13.

As explained in the episode, each violation of COPPA carries a minimum fine of $16,000 and a maximum fine of $40,000.

(Yes, you might hide in your bathtub, too, if you incorrectly and illegally captured personal information from tens of thousands of minors under the age of 13 without verified permission.)

How important is COPPA?

Crucial. Terms of Service requirements are important for any digital service, be it a website, game, or app, but there’s even more on the line when children are involved. Complying with legal requirements like COPPA are essential for protecting both your users and your company.

“When we caught fire, the last thing I wanted to do was to bog our users down with legal bull****,” he says. “You know? I mean, nobody reads that stuff anyway.” -Dinesh’s reasoning surrounding Terms of Service application and the user experience.

Yes, user experience is important. But user safety has to be the priority.

What should companies do to ensure compliance?

Even though the fictional PiperChat app was not specifically targeted to children under 13, it did not have the proper procedures in place to ensure any users under 13 had verified parental permission to access the app. When developing Terms and Conditions, always consider not only your intended audience but your potential audience. More importantly, be sure to consult your company’s lawyer, engage a Safe Harbor program to ensure you’re in good-standing with the law, and hire experts in kids digital safety, like ModSquad, to assist in operation and management of any potential COPPA-related situation.

Children at school” by Lucélia Ribeiro is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Star Wars at 40: This Will Be a Day Long Remembered

May the Fourth be with you!

A long time ago, in a theater far, far away, a great adventure took place. It was Wednesday, May 25, 1977, and a small $9 million movie with limited expectations made its way into 32 theaters across the country. Its distributor, 20th Century Fox, had little faith in the film, and had been unable to book the movie into more theaters. (By comparison, The Deep, which also opened that summer, played on more than 800 screens.) But by the end of that weekend, the film’s distributors, its makers, and the moviegoing public knew one thing: The world of cinema had changed forever. Star Wars had taken over the country’s (and soon the world’s) imagination and broke records left and right. It played in theaters for more than a year, typically in the same single-screen venue (think about that for a minute), and was re-released multiple times. It is the movie that rewrote all the rules and inspired not just a generation, but also those that have followed.

As experts in community, social media, and fan forums, we here at ModSquad appreciate not only the strength and longevity of the Star Wars community but also count ourselves amongst its extensive fan base. So it would stand to reason that we’re a wee bit excited about this month’s Star Wars day (May the Fourth be with you!) and the impending anniversary. The online Star Wars community, both on social media, fan forums, and in real-world applications, is one of the strongest assemblages of enthusiasts across pop culture, and has spawned numerous charity organizations and events, always the epitome of fandom at its finest.

We surveyed a few of the fans among the ModSquad team to share their recollections of their first exposure to Wookiees, droids, light sabers, and X-Wing fighters. Enjoy this trip down memory lane and remember: The Force will be with you, always.
I was in my early high school years when the first movie was released. There was a lot of pre-release chatter about it — I remember that much of it was because George Lucas was so young at the time, 33 years old. When I saw it, I thought that Han Solo was far more dashing than Luke Skywalker, and thought they’d cast the wrong character as the hero.
—Susie South

I was ten years old, living in Southern California. My mom bought special tickets to the premiere of Star Wars in Los Angeles, California at the Chinese Theater. Back then, 70mm Dolby Stereo was the elite format! I remember walking into this huge theater where the screen was behind these super tall red velvet drapes. I still remember the musical score starting and the curtains parting. It was amazing, a favorite childhood memory.
—Gina Miller

So, this isn’t so much a Star Wars memory as a family memory. It was 1977, we were living in Cupertino, California, and my dad announced that we were going to the movies as a family. I was like, “What?” That has never ever happened, before or since. Some movie called Star Wars, which sounded awful to me, but my brother started bouncing off the walls with happiness. My mom got us all dressed up (dress, gloves, tights, and my best shoes) and we headed to the Century 22 Theater in San Jose. It was a party-like atmosphere outside the theater, and I was still amazed that we were actually there taking part in the festivities. What I remember most was the incredible line of stalls in the most ornate bathroom I had ever seen. I think I made 12 different excuses to keep using the facilities, so I could gaze at its gold-gilded splendor. I actually don’t remember much about the movie itself — I was too caught up in the sheer excitement of the day, and that I will never forget.
—Amy Pritchard

I was introduced to Star Wars when my dad brought home the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition on VHS. My brother and I proceeded to watch Episode IV one day, Episode V the next day, Episode VI the day after that, and then we’d start again at Episode IV. I was ten at the time and thought Mark Hamill was sooo dreamy. I thought, “Well, I’m young, but he looks young, too. When I’m older, the age difference won’t be that big a deal, so there’s a chance.” I was so disappointed when I realized the movie had come out 20 years earlier.
—Aliza Rosen

I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. I would probably still have Star Wars sheets on my bed, if my wife would allow it. One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to go to garage sales and flea markets in search of old Star Wars toys. More recently, I’ve had fun watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars series and Star Wars Rebels with my son. He’s still young, but he’ll hopefully grow into as big of a Star Wars fan as his dad. I took him to a recent Star Wars Day event where he did battle with Darth Maul.
—Jason Ferguson

My dad took me to see Star Wars on opening weekend at the RKO Paramus theater in New Jersey, a 70mm Dolby presentation. Strangely, my first impression of it was that I gave it two stars out of four, and said it didn’t have enough action. My feelings about it clearly changed dramatically, and quickly, because I went on to see it more than 40 times during its initial theatrical run. (I’ve since seen it another two dozen or so times.) To say it’s my favorite film is an understatement.
—Richard Egan

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… I was a little girl who loved Star Wars. While I wish I could say that it was Leia who influenced my Jedi girl power, I was actually obsessed with the magic of the Jedi and the creatures from the Henson Creature Shop. Jabba, the Rancor, Yoda… they were so real, it blew my mind! I’ve been to three Star Wars Celebrations events thus far, and I am incredibly sad to have missed the 40th anniversary celebration in Orlando this past April. Needless to say, I’m incredibly excited for this December. If The Last Jedi is even half as good as I found Rogue One to be, we have a very bright future ahead of us, Star Wars fans.
—Izzy Neis

Amy Kennedy Joins ModSquad as Chief Marketing Officer

As we continue to grow at ModSquad, we’re thrilled to announce the latest addition to our executive team: Chief Marketing Officer Amy Kennedy. A 20-year marketing veteran, Amy comes from an extensive background of working with major retail and ecommerce brands, including Old Navy, Gap, Ebates, and Wine.com. Our clients and partners know all about the valuable services ModSquad provides, and Amy’s marketing expertise will help us expand that awareness globally.

We’re looking forward to having Amy leading ModSquad’s marketing initiatives, so we sat down with her to chat about what she envisions for the future of the company. Have your own question for Amy? Leave it in the comments!

Q: Welcome to ModSquad! Tell us, in true leader fashion, what are your plans for your first 100 days?

A: Well I am fortunate that I was able to get a taste of the ModSquad business as Interim CMO starting January 1, 2017. I came on to work on some key projects, including our exhibit at SXSW 2017. As I join full time, I’ve already met and worked with team, learned about our client base and gotten a good sense of the elements of marketing employed. With a solid sense of the opportunities, my goal in the first 100 days is to build out more marketing programs to drive awareness of our business, partner closely with the Sales team to meet or exceed our business goals and further evangelize the ModSquad brand globally.

Q: You had built a very successful business on your own, so what was it about ModSquad that got you to leave it and join us?

A: There’s a lot about ModSquad that piqued my interest. The team has built a highly successful business over the last 10 years. I’m excited to drive that further with new marketing strategies. I also fell in the love with the team. Everyone is hardworking, smart and dedicated. There is also a great Mod culture, with an active community of Mods around the world with diverse backgrounds and interests. Lastly, I really enjoy remote work. I wasn’t sure how I would like it, as my entire career has been in-office work, but I’ve come to learn and appreciate the norms of remote working.

Q: What excites you most about ModSquad?

A: I’ve never worked in a business that is industry agnostic, meaning we can serve a ecommerce business as well as we can serve a government entity or an app-based game publisher. If there is an audience to engage and support, we can make that happen.

Q: How do you see your experience as CMO of large retail brands translating to our service-based business?

A: I have been on the other end of countless vendor calls, emails and outreach, so I know the approach that helped break through to me as a decision maker for marketing and customer service. I’m also looking forward to lending my deep ecommerce and retail know-how to further build the business.

Q: When you worked as the CMO for Wine.com, you actually managed a traditional call center as part of your duties. What are your thoughts on our ModSourcing approach?

A: I think ModSourcing brings several unique elements to the table. First, from a financial perspective, our on-demand model enables clients to pay for exactly the help they need versus paying for blocks of hours they may or may not use. Second, our Mods are our clients’ customers. We find Mods passionate about a client’s business or brand. The Mods come to their engagements with first-hand insight and a knowledge of the business that is just hard to train someone on. Last, the model is flexible allowing a client to engage ModSquad to essentially be their team for a certain function or to assist and augment an existing team. I wish I knew about ModSquad when we scaled the call center for holiday peak demand!

Q: What do you think about the Mods?

A: The Mods are a unique, diverse and talented group of people that I am proud to work with. Our Mod model allows us to tap into talent across the globe, enabling us to find the intersection of expertise, geography, language, time zone that fits each client engagement. The Mods have freedom and flexibility to make their own schedules and lend their expert knowledge to businesses they have a natural interest in. It’s win-win.

Q: Attending GDC/VRDC and SXSW with us, you got to know many of our clients. How do you see your role as CMO helping to fortify those existing relationships?

A: We have an amazing roster of clients, many with very long-standing relationships. I see us fortifying those relationships not only by keeping up our top notch service, but also by staying on top of the trends and partner products in the market, and sharing that knowledge with them.

Q: What’s your perspective on digital marketing and the most effective platforms today?

A: I think of marketing programs as a target. There are digital programs that are in the bullseye, where you know clearly what kind of return you will get on your investment. As you move out to programs in the next sets of rings, the exact ROI becomes less precise, but their role is clear in raising awareness and engaging your audience. Social media, for instance, has great audience and engagement metrics to measure performance.

I think the most successful brands are those that make themselves ubiquitous. You keep bumping into them – social media, digital ads, a podcast ad, outdoor – which makes you stop and take a good look at what they have to offer.

Q: Besides making ModSquad a household name, are there other passions and interests that benefit from your talents?

A: Outside of work, you will likely find me on the sidelines of a soccer field, basketball court, or dance studio with my husband and two girls, ages 9 and 6. I also spend time in Sonoma, CA and do a little garage winemaking with some Carneros Syrah grapes we have. First vintage is yet to be bottled, so we’ll see if there’s a future there!

Q: Name a person, dead or live, who you would love to have as a dinner guest. Why?

A: I would love to have dinner with Keith Haring. I wrote my college thesis on Keith Haring and the democratization of art. He took “high art,” normally found in stuffy art galleries, and brought it to the New York City subways and streets for all to enjoy. His signature radiant baby and barking dog were icons in the ‘80s that the people of NYC would wait to see where they popped up next.

Q: Final question: as the former CMO of Wine.com, what would be your choice of wine to serve to your special dinner guest?

A: While I am a huge fan of bubbly, with Nicolas Feuillatte Brut as my favorite, I would serve Landmark Vineyards Pinot Noir. It’s a Sonoma County wine and definitely worth a taste.

Mod of the Month – April 2017

They say April showers bring May flowers, and before we close out the month, we have one more April shower — this one, a shower of praise for our newest Mod of the Month. It is with much excitement that we announce our April 2017 Mod of the Month, Colin Kenny!

Based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Colin joined ModSquad in May 2016 (happy early Modiversary, Colin!), and he quickly made a positive impression with many of our project managers. He currently applies his customer service expertise and passion for travel to our client Tourism Ireland, supporting and engaging with people from around the world interested in visiting Ireland. Colin also recently took up a unique position within the team, serving as the Tourism Offers Desk Coordinator. In that role, he communicates with industry providers throughout Ireland to help them get their offers advertised on Ireland.com and attract overseas visitors to the Emerald Isle.

Our team has been very hard at work with industry partners renewing their offers for the year ahead, which has been very rewarding. We’re striving to show that Ireland is a tremendous island to visit with something for absolutely everyone.

Prior to joining ModSquad, Colin worked in numerous customer service positions, including retail and other work-from-home support roles. He also volunteered across various MMORPG video game forums, moderating content and assisting users.

Customer service is something that I have always been very passionate about. I love the positive reaction when you go the extra mile to help a customer in need, or search for the most accurate and up to date information possible to assist a customer.

At ModSquad, Colin engages with customers across email, forums, and social media, in addition to his work with the Tourism Ireland Offers Desk. His proudest moment as a Mod happened last month, during Tourism Ireland’s celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day. The increased activity on social media, plus livestreams and contests, kept him and the team busy engaging an enthusiastic global community.

Helping travelers plan their Irish vacations comes naturally to Colin, for whom a major hobby is traveling. In addition to having visited many places throughout Ireland, he’s also traveled to the United States, France, Spain, and Portugal. His other passions include video games and animals, two things he grew up loving. After a day of work, he likes to unwind by playing World of Warcraft or Overwatch and spending time with his two Yorkshire Terriers, Alfie and Lucy, his Jack Russell, Ace, and tortoise Shelby.

“Colin is absolutely amazing. Precise, friendly, always available to help out when needed. He has the “un-kenny” ability to learn procedures and guidelines quickly, apply them, and rock any project you put him on as if he had been there for months. Colin is a fantastic Mod, one that should be eligible for cloning. Go, Colin, Go!”
—Lara Greco, Project Manager

“I’ve worked alongside Colin since I started with ModSquad and can honestly say he’s one of the most dedicated and thorough individuals I’ve ever worked with.

“In every aspect of the project we’re currently on together, he is the go-to guy, even for the trickiest tasks. Not only is he an outstanding Mod, but he really goes out of his way to make sure his work is perfected rather than just completed. He’s a real asset to ModSquad, without a doubt.”
—Gerard Ryan, Assistant Project Manager

“Colin is not only an absolute delight to work with, but our customers LOVE him! He goes above and beyond in every interaction to make a real difference, spending extra time putting in the research and thought required to ensure an excellent customer experience.

“Apart from that, he’s our go-to Mod for just about everything, thanks to his excellent skills and a consistently positive attitude. He’s a ray of sunshine for our entire team!”
—Jenny Young, Market Development Coordinator

Chatbots and the Future of Customer Support

Long-in-development artificial intelligence (AI) technology has been making a splash in the latest generation of chatbots, those computer programs with which you may have interacted in somewhat stilted online customer support conversations. These new offerings, however, boast a new sophistication that promises to bring chatbots to the next level of effectiveness.

At last month’s Shoptalk 2017, AI was the proverbial belle of the ball. When Google is showing off its latest AI-powered voice assistants and eBay’s CEO is begging companies to embrace AI – “If you don’t have an AI strategy,” Devin Wenig proclaimed, “you’re going to die in the world that’s coming” – you know a sea change is underway.

At the recent Facebook Developer Conference (F8), the social network titan revealed its big focus on Facebook Messenger. One of the new items they’re rolling out is Smart Replies, a bot-based technology businesses can employ to answer common questions received via Messenger. They also introduced Chat Extensions. These new-and-improved bots are intended to provide users with real-time news and updates, such as live sports scores or, in the support category, ecommerce delivery data. Facebook has prepared for this next step by collaborating with prominent chatbot makers, and plans to open up its APIs so that additional developers can contribute ideas to group chatbot projects.

In India, Microsoft is testing Ruuh, a new AI chatbot aimed at the local English-speaking market. This follows the company’s tactic of releasing market-specific bots. Earlier, the Bing team introduced Xiaoice, a bot for the Chinese market, which was famously pulled from release when users trained it to make racist comments.

That’s not the only danger presented by chatbot misuse. A more-frequently voiced concern about AI, chatbots, and related robot technology is that they’ve been replacing human workers at an overwhelming rate. This has held true in traditional manufacturing industries, but prognosticators see the finance, travel, and retail sectors as prime candidates for the integration of chatbot apps. It makes sense, since these tend to be customer-facing industries that are often heavily reliant upon support interactions. And it won’t stop there: AI programs are also expected to encroach upon a wider swath of sectors, including law, accounting, and healthcare.

So expect to see more of that in play as tomorrow’s chatbots push the envelope of realism. Take the bot developed by Soul Machines, an Australian startup run by the Oscar-winning VFX artist behind Avatar and King Kong. They’re developing lifelike facial expressions for visual customer service chatbots. To top it off, they’ve enlisted Cate Blanchett to provide the voice of their latest assistant avatar, which is powered by IBM’s Watson software. Other in-development chatbots work to figure out one’s emotions by interpreting their voice and speech; in fact, Amazon is looking to integrate this ability with their Alexa product.

With the express purpose of streamlining interactions between people and services, it’s clear that chatbots will play a prominent role in the future of customer service. Clearly, the real motivator, as always, is money. Humans are expensive, and the use of artificial intelligence should eventually cut down on certain costs. But chatbots can’t be seen as the catch-all solution for any organization looking to offer valuable support to its customers. The vital truth is that technology will serve as an augmentation, rather than a replacement, for human interactions. Dr. Ali Parsa, CEO of Babylon Health, which is developing its own AI chatbot, recognizes that it’s probably wiser to let the bots pull information from patients and examine their data, but leave the rest to humans: “A machine can’t put a hand on you and say, ‘Look, I’m going to take care of you.’”

Here at ModSquad, we’re excited about the possibilities. The next decade could see a major shift in how customers expect to engage with brands. Behind the scenes, the most basic tier on a support team could be populated by a bunch of bots. And we’ll be right there with them, building on their foundation and providing the next level of service and support that our clients have come to expect, all with our indomitable human touch.