More than two years after its founding, San Francisco startup Scout Labs has unveiled its first software suite, an assortment of Web monitoring tools that allows marketers to monitor chatter about their brands across social and consumer-generated media.
The software is touted as a more affordable, do-it-yourself version of brand-tracking services like Nielsen Buzz Metrics.
"We're not the first people to have this idea of helping companies make sense of what's going on across the Internet," Jenny Zeszut, CEO of Scout Labs, said. "But for the most part the other companies that do this will send a team of consultants and expensive researchers... Only a few companies have budgets big enough for that."
Zeszut said Scout Labs is totally focused on automation. "We are going for scale, because we believe listening to customers is something every company needs."
The software allows marketers and their agencies to track conversations about their brands across the Web through one interface. A demo of the software showed how Scout Labs beta client Netflix used it to find occurrences of terms like "I wish Netflix..." and "Netflix sucks," as well as "Blockbuster" or other competitors' terms, in real time.
The software tracks chatter on blogs, Twitter, YouTube, chat rooms and other media that are not password protected. (Sites like Facebook and MySpace are not scanned because they are not public.) It tracks the volume of chatter and compares it to the volume of talk about competitors, and also divides the results into positive and negative conversations. It can even alert a company when changes in the overall conversation occur. For example, when a new term becomes prominent in conversations about your brand, the software automatically brings it your attention and begins tracking it.
The software is meant not only to monitor, but to facilitate conversation as well. Users can reply to people discussing its brand online directly through the software's dashboard, and even write notes to one another and attach them to conversations or other data.
"From our dashboard you can tune into all the conversations happening out across the Internet, wherever customers actually are," Zeszut said. "And when appropriate, you can jump into those conversations and interact with your customers."
Automation can be a double-edged sword when it comes to the Internet, however. Zeszut conceded that, although Scout Labs' algorithms score "extremely high" in determining the positive or negative tone of a conversation, the nature of Internet chatter makes it impossible to be right all the time.
"Sentiment detection is extremely hard in consumer-generated media," she said. "We are going to miss sarcasm; we are going to miss irony."
The software accounts for this, she said, by allowing users to manually re-classify a conversation's negative or positive rating, and then learn from the move.
Zeszut stressed, however, that the software was not intended solely to let company's defend their reputation. She lauded one beta client, Nike, for using it to track new product ideas from online sneaker enthusiasts.
The software will be available for about $250 a month. Zeszut said more than 300 companies participated in the six-month beta trials.
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Douglas Quenqua is a journalist based in Brooklyn, NY who writes about culture and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, The New York Observer, and Fortune.
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