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7/7/2011
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Viralheat Uncovers Social Media Users' Shopping Lists

Human Intent's predictive analytics tool mines social feeds to help businesses connect with people who are ready to buy.

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A social media monitoring company that until now has been best known as a low-cost provider is testing predictive analytics aimed at connecting buyers with sellers.

Viralheat is a software-as-a-service provider of analytic dashboards for capturing social media mentions, with plans that start at $9.99 per month for small businesses. The company recently raised $4.5 million in a first round of venture funding, largely on the strength of a new offering called Human Intent. The first version of the Human Intent product, now in beta, will be focused on buying intent--flagging social media comments that indicate intent to buy a car, or a laptop, or whatever a particular business is selling.

Viralheat says beta users of Human Intent include companies like Microsoft, Dell, and Symantec. The impetus for the product came from large organizations that get millions of mentions a week in social media and "have a hard time figuring a way to engage in a scalable manner" with potential customers identified in social data feeds, Viralheat CTO Vishal Sankhla said. Manual techniques become impractical for big brands, he said, so instead "we're automatically filtering the information to find people who are about to buy a product."

That type of analysis relies on artificial intelligence and natural language processing techniques, since keyword filtering on words like "buy" would miss a lot of different ways potential buyers might express intent, Sankhla said. "The technology is very flexible, so it's not just for one vertical. If you're doing a webinar and want to find people interested in your topic and drive them to sign up, that could be a campaign you could run." The same scalability that allowed Viralheat to deliver basic social analytics at a low cost is now allowing the company to explore more sophisticated analytics, he said.

The initial version of Human Intent is focused on sales, but Viralheat also plans editions for support and other applications, he said. The Human Intent service can pipe potential sales leads into a product such as Salesforce.com or Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and the planned support version will likely integrate with products like Zendesk, Sankhla said.

"A lot of customers are telling us over and over again they see a seismic shift where customers are going to social media channels, and they're interested in organically engaging with customers in that medium," said CEO Raj Kadam, who cofounded the company with Sankhla.

The competitive market for social analytics includes other players that have applied predictive techniques, such as WiseWindow's service for identifying market trends.

Human Intent is more focused on identifying customers who are in a buying mood and likely to welcome a polite sales overture. "The goal is not to be spammy," Kadam said, but to connect with consumers who are seeking help and information. "You can say, 'Hey, Dave, I can see you want to buy a laptop, maybe a Dell laptop. I'm here to help you.'"

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