Measure and Manage the Online Buzz

At a recent ClickZ Web metrics event in New York, a session on buzz, blogs, and social media reminded me of an apt adage: if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

Fellow columnist Shane Atchison of Zaaz made a compelling case for why organizations need to monitor and measure the online debate and discussion, particularly in blogs, about their brands.

The explosion of online dialogue isn’t going away, and you can either sit on the sidelines or try to proactively influence and manage the situation, he said. It struck me that blogs and forums are sources of unstructured consumer data on brands. In some ways, it’s no different than surveying consumers for brand opinions, other than that the opinions are unsolicited. This is a valuable source of intelligence for companies concerned about their brands’ reputation.

Jim Nail of Cymfony, a software provider recently acquired by TNS, outlined ways to structure and quantify what’s being said online. You can begin in a manual, ad-hoc fashion by monitoring what people say in blogs using news readers, but there’s often too much information to absorb and analyze. Hence the need for software such as Cymfony.

Cymfony and other tools effectively aggregate, structure, and quantify what’s being said about you and your competitors online. The software monitors the various feeds you set up and determines the sentiment and essence of what’s being said using natural-language text-processing algorithms.

The software can then report in a quantitative way what’s being said about you and your competitors. The case study Nail presented compared what people were saying in blogs about Blu-ray with what they were saying about HD DVD. He showed how you can analyze the number of posts about each format and the favorability of those posts and how the analysis broke down across a range of issues and sites.

What struck me about the tools is their ability turn unstructured, unsolicited consumer sentiment into real competitive and consumer insights. It’s not surprising that a firm like TNS bought Cymfony, as it mirrors in the online world what companies have been doing in the offline world. In the online world, however, there’s more being said and it’s difficult to control.

Social media measurement is just beginning, and tools will inevitably get smarter over time. It’s unclear whether this will be a subset of Web analytics or a discipline in its own right. Meanwhile, any company concerned about managing its brand reputation online had better start looking closely at these types of capabilities.

Join us for the ClickZ Specifics: Advertising in Social Media seminar on May 21 in New York.

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