March 2011 Archives

Every few seconds this morning, TweetDeck brings another comment on today's announcement that Salesforce.com is buying Radian6. The announcement's not exactly a surprise—Radian6 was the obvious acquisition target in social media analysis (SMA), and their platform had supported Salesforce integration since mid-2009. The price ($340 million in cash and stock, including retention bonuses for the founders) is larger than expected, but overall, it's a logical deal that surprises no one.

Blogging about the day's big news is sort of obvious, so I'll focus on the question I haven't seen raised yet: what does the Radian6 acquisition mean to the other companies in social media analysis? A few thoughts for discussion:

  1. Radian6 just took a big step toward solidifying its position as the standard.
    Radian6 was already the company most likely to be mentioned in any discussion of social media monitoring (note the careful use of the term). The Salesforce endorsement makes them the default choice for 92,000 Salesforce customers. Competitors need more than a me-too monitoring platform to win.

  2. Aquisitions say something about the segmentation of social media analysis.
    The Radian6 deal says a lot about interest in social CRM, or the integration of social media monitoring and customer relationship management. Other acquisitions have tied SMA firms to PR/media (Sysomos/Marketwire, Brandtology/Media Monitors), market research (Cymfony/TNS, Umbria/JD Power, Evolve24/Maritz), and marketing management (Techrigy/Alterian). SMA is a feature set that can work into multiple categories; look for SMA companies to focus their feature sets on specific use cases, and expect acquisitions that work into acquirer's existing businesses.

  3. Enterprise software has noticed social media analysis.
    Salesforce joins SAS in making a serious move to tie social media analysis to nuts-and-bolts business operations. Social business software companies Jive and Lithium have picked up their own listening platforms. Any acquisitions or product announcements by IBM, Oracle, and SAP should be completely expected, but pay attention to the emerging distinctions between social media analytics and social media monitoring (see #2).

  4. Obvious acquisition candidates are getting harder to find.
    Despite the presence of 300+ companies in the space, only a handful of the product leaders are still independent companies. Radian6 is easily the most recognized name in SMA, so most of the remaining independents are not widely known. Looking back to my report on social media analysis platforms for workgroups (March 2010), six of the 21 companies have been bought in the last year.

I don't think there's one obvious candidate for the next acquisition, and in any case, any deal has to start with specific goals (just like any purchase). If it's not already obvious, the many companies in SMA are not the same. The differences in what they do and why is what makes the space so interesting. I know you want the list, though, so here's a quick reaction on who I might look at:

  • Attentio, Brandwatch, Sentiment Metrics and Synthesio don't usually come up in the social media conversation in the US, but they all have solid SMA platforms.

  • Converseon blurs the lines that divide research, creative marketing, and management consulting services. They drive me crazy because they're always working out the same things I am. Nobody else does the one-stop social media shop like they do.

  • Visible Technologies has unique capabilities in managing the response component in social media monitoring, as well as a nicely designed interface for working with solid analytics capabilities.
If your needs are more specific—you want an analyst team or a virtual focus group capability, for example—the list gets longer quickly. And, of course, we have regional specialists around the world who can help fill gaps in your coverage. If you want a real recommendation based on your company's goals and gaps, call me.

Disclosure: Radian6 is paying my way to their user conference next week. I consult with companies (usually buyers) on partnerships and acquisitions in social media analysis, but I do not represent the companies listed here.

Related:

If you start to lose track of all the combinations, remember that I'm keeping a score card on acquisitions in social media analysis.

Judging from the way people are talking about it, social media analysis is segmenting into at least three subspecialties. As usual, we're using multiple labels that occasionally overlap, so the potential for miscommunication is great. Whatever the utility of any one approach, companies need a complete set of tools, so let's keep these emerging specializations in context.

In 2007, I asked for opinions on a generic term for social media monitoring, analysis, research, etc. I settled on social media analysis as an existing term that could stretch to fit the tools and services then on the market. Since then, I've also argued for an expansive interpration of the listening metaphor. Lately, though, I'm seeing a lot more of these labels:

  • Social media monitoring
    In 2005, companies started to learn that people were talking about them online and they needed to pay attention. Today, we have tools and case studies, and more companies are prepared to notice and respond when someone mentions them. The response might come from a customer service or PR function, but the basic idea is what Radian6 calls "the social phone:" social media represent a new customer-service touchpoint, and companies need to respond to every mention that merits or requires a response.

  • Social media analytics
    Every 15 minutes, someone announces a new tool for measuring social media. Most of these focus on the structured data of social media: seemingly hard numbers, such as friend/follower counts, mentions, shares, likes, and Facebook pageviews. This approach blends social media and web analytics, and it's good for questions such as, "is my Facebook campaign working?" If your ROI comes from online sales, this approach is an especially powerful tool for managing social media marketing efforts.

  • Social media intelligence
    Analyzing the content of what people say online—topics, sentiment, emotions, and the trends and underlying causes—is starting to be called social media intelligence (I refuse to use the unfortunately abbreviated buzzword, social intelligence, in this context). This is perhaps the least consistently applied label, but whatever you call it, measuring and analyzing online content looks increasingly distinct from measuring online activity (the analytics view).
But wait, there's more!
We're inventing new terms faster than old terms fade away, and the boundaries are anything but clear. I haven't quite figured out whether Social CRM is the intersection of social media monitoring and CRM or a superset of CRM and all three of the above. Social media measurement combines aspects of the analytics and intelligence views. Here and elsewhere, the definition of the term seems to depend on who's talking about it.

This doesn't begin to cover all of the variations in terminology we're using, and these categories aren't even mutually exclusive. But they do represent a division I'm seeing in both the thinking about, and the capabilities of the tools for, listening in social media. We're getting better (?) at talking past each other, which is not making it easy for beginners.

Update: All that and I forgot to mention social media research—thanks to Annie Pettit for the reminder in the comments. Also, here are a few of the many posts that inspired the topic:

Photo by Dan Thompson.

Keeping an Eye on Everything


Have you noticed a lot going on lately? Several Arab countries are renegotiating their governance; storms, floods and earthquakes are making life hard in the Pacific; and pirates are expanding their reach in the Indian Ocean. There may be other things going on, too. How do you keep up? Where do you find meaningful analysis? You're not still waiting for the evening news, I hope.

Mideast map riots protestsBusiness Insider shared this map by Citi's Tina Fordham this morning. It's similar to something I started drawing to explain the context to my son, except Tina kept going and finished the map. I like the idea of summarizing the protests and political developments on a map, because it invites the viewer to think about cross-border effects. The Arab Spring uprisings have spread throughout the region, so looking at the entire region is useful.

What would make it more useful would be to expand its scope, make the map interactive, and update it in near-real time. In short, make it a dashboard for political unrest. So, I started looking for one. What I learned is that real-time incident maps and intelligent summaries may be mutually exclusive.

Update: The Economist made an interactive map of the region that presents political and economic indicators, but no current awareness.

Trying out global situation maps
RSOE EDISThe RSOE Emergency and Disaster Information Service is a dashboard for the world that comes close to what I'm looking for. It pulls information on natural disasters and a few other categories into an impressive application that combines maps, a table of incidents, and incident details. What it doesn't do is cover political unrest or offer broader summaries—but it's free, and it does cover events that don't make the news.

Global Incident Map is another Google Map mashup of incident reports. Incident details and current updates are limited to subscribers, but there's a free trial. The developer also offers other maps of specific topics of interest. The design—especially the flashing icons—has kept me from the trial so far, but it might be interesting to compare to the RSOE map.

Maplecroft world risks 2011Maplecroft reports on risks and risk indicators globally. You'll have to pay for their maps and analysis, but it might be a good investment if your interest is more than personal. The map at right is a top-level summary from their Global Risks Atlas 2011.

ReliefWeb generates maps of countries and regions experiencing emergencies of all types. I'd like to see them create the global situation map, but the maps they do provide can be quite informative. Today, for example, they have a map that reports on humanitarian agencies in, and refugees leaving, Libya.

The map equivalent of a Twitter search is Ushahidi, a crowdsourced crisis monitoring platform that maps reports sent in my email, Twitter, SMS, and probably semaphore in the next version. This example is tracking recovery efforts after the Christchurch earthquake. I haven't found a directory of Ushahidi deployments, but it's easy enough to Google Ushahidi Egypt or look through the Twitter account (@ushahidi) to find the maps. Update: The new Ushahidi Community site has a map of current deployments. The field reports are about as far from high-level analysis as it gets, but if you want details…

My new secret weapon
STRATFOR is an online publisher of political, economic, and military intelligence that has provided excellent coverage of the Arab Spring events. In theory, traditional media do much of the same work, but I've found that STRATFOR regularly picks up angles that aren't mentioned in the media, and they don't lose track of the rest of the world when the media focus on the topic of the week. It's a paid service, but they offer a free version to test the waters.

As we've seen in other domains, software doesn't replace analysts; it gives them new tools and data to work with. So I'm not surprised that the best sources I've found so far require subscriptions. It beats trying to process the firehose, and I do like being informed.

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About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Studying complexity and futures.
  • Principal, Social Target

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