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4/13/2011
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Converseon Humanizes Social Media Monitoring

Software alone can't put context into what people are really saying about a company.

Broadvision's Clearvale Express Offers Free Social Media Capabilities
Slideshow: Broadvision's Clearvale Express Offers Free Social Media Capabilities
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If you really want to listen to what the social media world is saying about your company, Converseon believes you need more than software.

"We employ human analysts to take what the computer does, and then take it to the next level," Converseon chief strategist Mike Moran said in an interview. In the social media monitoring world that has been shaken by Salesforce.com's recent acquisition of social analytics company Radian6, Converseon is counting on the combination of software and consulting services to stay competitive. While Converseon does make a software product that can be purchased separately, most customers choose to purchase it along with consulting services for that reason, Moran said.

Not that Moran doesn't like technology. He spent 30 years at IBM, where one of his focus areas was text analytics--an enabling technology for any product that aims to mine the Web for product references or tries to determine the sentiment of a tweet or post. He also ran the IBM website and wrote the book Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules. After retiring as an IBM distinguished engineer, Moran joined Converseon in 2008.

Like other social media monitoring executives, Moran was quick to say the Radian6 deal "validates" the market Converseon competes in and therefore is a good thing for his firm. "Salesforce is a great company, and Radian6 has always been a formidable competitor," he said. But he also wanted to emphasize how different his firm's approach is.

"Our approach is to figure out how we can offer a customized approach for the high end of the market and deliver insights companies can take action on that go beyond what computers can do," Moran said. "We use the same aggressive approach to automation as our competitors. It's just that we don't think that's where it stops." Converseon takes a customized approach, he said. "We don't want to be a company that just stamps out a piece of software for every customer that comes along."

The customized approach is necessary because even the most sophisticated software analytics programs have big blind spots, Moran said. "The computer misses sarcasm. If the comment is, 'I had a great time standing in line for the plane today,' the computer is likely to score that as positive. If it's 'I stood in line for an hour today at Wells Fargo," the computer can't tell either way because it has no context. If I say, 'the hotel room is small,' that's bad, but if I say 'the cellphone is small,' that's good."

So the software needs to be trained to understand the customer's business, and often a human analyst still needs to provide insight on top of that, he said.

Before starting Converseon in 2001, CEO Rob Key was the head of the innovations group at Young & Rubicam division, according to a company biography.

The case studies page on Converseon's website cites its work on "conversation mining and reputation management" after the "world's largest automotive manufacturer experienced the largest product recall in automotive history." That sounds like a reference to Toyota (although the client is not named) and the uncontrolled acceleration problems some of its vehicles experienced in 2009. Other big Converseon clients include Dow Chemical and Amway.

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