SEMA News—December 2011

By Joe Dysart

Solutions That Deliver

Keeping an Ear Out on Social Media

IBM, famous for besting seasoned “Jeopardy” television show winners with its analytics-based Watson computer, is expanding into social media analytics.
Marketers looking for an extremely robust tool to monitor social media should take a close look at offerings from Crimson Hexagon, evolve24 and NetBase, according to market research firm Forrester, a company with a longstanding reputation for objective market analysis. All three social media dashboards “excel in their data processing abilities,” said Zach Hofer-Shall, a Forrester analyst.

“Social media is changing the way companies learn from and understand their consumers,” said Patricia Gottesman, Crimson Hexagon’s chief executive officer. “Crimson Hexagon is dedicated to helping our customers harness the strategic value of social media and use this data to make meaningful business decisions.”

Lisa Joy Rosner, NetBase’s chief marketing officer, said that her company is breaking new ground with benchmarking, insight and analysis tools developed at the “speed of social” and co-created with some of the world’s leading brands.

“For the first time, marketers and researchers are adequately armed with on-demand insight into how their brands are perceived online when they get the scorecard, including the popular Brand Passion Index, delivered to their inbox,” Rosner said.

According to digital marketing agency Web Liquid, business interest in tools that monitor company image on social media is intense, including conversations and other interactions on social media that trigger sales. In a survey released in July, the “Marketers & Social Media Marketing Survey”, Web Liquid found that nearly three quarters of 237 senior marketing executives queried were actively monitoring social media using both free and paid tools. A full 62% of them said that they planned to increase their investment in tools that monitor social media during the coming year, according to the study.

As social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have risen in the public consciousness to become household words, monitoring tools have evolved along with them, said Forrester’s Hofer-Shall. These days, the most sophisticated of those tools have moved well beyond simple tracking of keywords and keyphrases. Instead, the tools are now able to track social media using natural language analysis, offering companies insights into the deeper meaning of posts and interactions on the social web rather than glimpses at sentences that contain certain keywords.

Hofer-Shall said that social media monitoring tools currently break out into three groups: social dashboards, multichannel analytics providers and listening service partners.

Dashboards, the least expensive of the lot, are best for companies that are already hip to social media, crave raw data in the form of charts and graphs that those dashboards can offer, and are adept at interpreting the data to tweak marketing campaigns.

Multichannel analytics providers, meanwhile, are more for marketers and others who are looking to integrate social media monitoring into other monitoring tools they are already using, such as customer-satisfaction surveys and customer-support chat transcripts, according to Hofer-Shall.

But there is a caveat: While these traditional analytics providers have added social media, they still have some catching up to do before they can be cast as providers who can offer truly robust social media monitoring.

“Although these platforms best address the most technologically difficult aspect of listening—text processing—they must improve their social data outsourcing abilities and continue to build out functional social reporting, outreach tools and overall dashboard interfaces,” Hofer-Shall said.

Meanwhile, companies completely new to social media may want to turn to “listening service partners”—outside consultants who know social media cold, know the tools cold, and can do all the monitoring and analysis for them.

“Many of the listening service partners, such as Converseon, Cymfony or Sythesio, offer dedicated consultants for the clients’ ongoing social intelligence strategies,” said Hofer-Shall.

In addition, at least one firm best known as a dashboard provider is also getting into the act. Dashboard provider NetBase has partnered with EmPower Research to offer customers seasoned analysts who can help them monitor and analyze social media using NetBase’s dashboard.

“The process of kicking off a successful social media insight program requires quite a bit of legwork,” said Debjani Deb, EmPower Research managing partner. “NetBase’s Supplemental Analyst program enables customers to ‘rent’ a fully trained EmPower analyst for as long as needed to educate them on the NetBase Insight Workbench and keep them ahead of the curve with the latest social media trends.”

Said Peter Caswell, NetBase’s CEO: “By partnering with EmPower Research, our customers now have a valuable resource of more than 350 analysts to aid them in the implementation and use of our social media analysis services.”

The downside with this kind of outsourcing is that such services can be very pricey or even overkill for some firms with basic listening needs, Hofer-Shall said.

Interestingly, Synthesio also popped up as a recommended listening service partner in a September report released by Web Liquid, “Social Media Monitoring Tool Buyer’s Guide”. Other tools and services recommended in Web Liquid’s buyers guide were Alterian, Brandwatch, MutualMind and Radian6.

“Whether you’re using platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to manage your online reputation or leveraging a blog to achieve social media PR objectives, monitoring the online conversation and mining the data made available by social media monitoring tools presents brands with an unprecedented opportunity: to build more meaningful relationships with customers,” the report’s researchers wrote.

In the long term, Hofer-Shall sees major tech players, such as IBM and Microsoft, becoming more potent presences in the relatively new field of social-media monitoring. He also sees all service providers expanding their data collection to include more location-based data and more data from international sources.

In addition, data analysis will become more sophisticated as service providers move to offer deeper insights into the actual meaning of what is being said and done on social networks, as opposed to superficial keyword and keyphrase monitoring. Hofer-Shall sees deeper integration of social-media analytics into more traditional analytics monitoring tools.

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan, New York. Contact: 646-233-4089;;

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