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Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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Social Media Shapes Up As Next Analytic Frontier

IBM is the latest to add to crowded field of products aimed at monitoring and responding to social-network brand buzz.

Radian6, one of the fastest-growing vendors, has developed application features including a repository for storing comments and a response console for engaging customers on social media networks. Vendors like Clarabridge, Lexalytics, OpenAmplify, and Orchestr8 provide the sentiment-analysis technologies behind Radian6 that actually decipher the meaning behind customer comments, Grimes says.

If an athletic shoe marketing executive wants get feedback on a new ultralight running shoes, for example, semantic analysis could be used to scan social networks and blogs and spot potentially relevant comments such as: "My feet hurt after a 10-mile run in my new Acme Ultralight 2 shoes. Maybe they're too light!"

The technology can also flag the degree of positive or negative sentiments and, coupled with monitoring capabilities, track topic and sentiment trends over time. What's learned might trigger a change in marketing and advertising to reinforce that those particular shoes are designed for short-distance competitive racing rather than long-distance training.

The older and more widespread use of sentiment analysis is customer experience and customer support. In these scenarios, the technology is aimed at high-volume customer surveys or comments in CRM systems. The context is usually well understood as it usually involves recent transactions or interactions with known customers. Attensity, Clarabridge, and SPSS have been among the pioneers. Information Week has reported on successful deployments at Choice and Gaylord hotels, JetBlue Airlines, and Berlitz, the language-instruction firm.

The Choice and Gaylord hotel groups use Clarabridge sentiment-analysis software to make sense of thousands of customer satisfaction surveys emailed to guests after each stay. The software spots positive and negative comments on surveys within one day, and because the surveys are sent to known recent customers, they can then be correlated with specific hotels, facilities, services, rooms and even employee shifts. The feedback drives response with dissatisfied customers and chain and facility managers track trends and problems tied to particular properties, departments, shifts, and employees.

Analytics and business intelligence giants IBM and SAS also have many customer-service and customer-support deployments. Cognos had a partnership with Clarabridge before it was acquired by IBM, and that company's dashboard and BI capabilities are now teamed with SPSS text-mining capabilities that have been enhanced to be more social-media savvy. Dashboards are used to share positive and negative trends with managers so they can stay abreast of changes in sentiment tied to key aspects of products or services. A hotel manager, for example, might see measures for reception, housekeeping, food and beverage, and spa facilities.

Next steps for the new CCI product will include integrations with IBM's Unica marketing management and Coremetrics Web analytics offerings. This is supposed to make it easier for marketers to monitor the response to ad campaigns launched through Unica and gauge the reception to promotions of new products or services. Better ties with Coremetrics should help website managers and e-commerce managers get feedback on site modifications or changes to shipping-and-handling charges.

IBM has also entered the services market with IBM Voice of the Customer Analytics, introduced in late 2009. That service lets you upload high volumes of call-center comments, surveys, feedback forms, blog posts, or social network comments. The service then reports on the topics and sentiments contained therein and can provide result sets that can be correlated with particular transactions or customers. Advani says the service will soon be migrated to run on the CCI product as the underlying technology platform.

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