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5/2/2011
02:22 PM
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.

SAS acquired text- and sentiment-analysis capabilities with the purchase of Teragram in 2008, and last April it added SAS Social Media Analytics, which was launched as a beta hosted service. SAS says 15 customers are now at various stages of engaging the service, with clothing retailer Chico's and Italian telco Matrix S.p.A. being active customers.

Analytic expertise and an in-depth understanding of the business context of measurement is required to set these products up and keep them running, Grimes warns. There's really no such thing as an out-of-the-box, on-premises product or ready-to-run service because sentiment-analysis demands a contextual connection with your customers. Integration with campaign management systems, transaction systems and customer-interaction environments helps when you're trying to understand and measure customer reactions to your message, products and services. That's where application vendors like Salesforce.com and SAP, which recently added a text-analysis feature in SAP BusinessObjects 4.0, may eventually have a leg up, says Grimes.

"These companies can make the connection to known customers through transactions and CRM profiles," Grimes says. "If you're just monitoring social media, you can tell who the actual person is maybe 20% of the time."

Of course, integrators can tie sentiment-analysis and social-media-monitoring systems together with CRM and transactional systems, but it's that much easier for the apps vendors to do this work once. Another wrinkle is that customers don't always share their Facebook and Twitter handles with the companies they do business with, but services such as Rapleaf and other third-party data providers help marketers associate social media handles (names used on Twitter, Facebook and the like) with email addresses, which, in turn, can be matched to customers.

There's no telling when companies will routinely analyze customer comments on Facebook, Twitter and other social media to better understand customers. There's also the possibility of a privacy backlash or new barriers imposed by possible do not track legislation.

If you just want to get a sense of the tenor of customer sentiment without drilling down on individual customers, Grimes says social-media analysis is already broadly available through public-API services, such as those from OpenAmplify and AlchemyAPI, as well as through Google.

"If you type the name of a popular hotel or restaurant into Google, you'll likely see a star rating that is computed by doing sentiment analysis of online reviews," he says, noting that it's actually based on text-analysis of reviews posted on the Internet (and Google has published a white paper on the topic). "So in that sense, it's completely mainstream and already widely used."

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