Reputation monitoring - macro and micro

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Reputation monitoring got a new player with the public launch of BuzzLogic at DEMOfall this week (see their 6-minute presentation). The announcement got me thinking about two ways of looking at online reputation monitoring: macro and micro.

BuzzLogic focuses on identifying trends in the online conversation, identifying the most influential writers (not just blogs), and how influence flows through the conversation as it travels around the Net. It's a macro approach that focuses on identifying and engaging the most influential voices. The influence map below offers one glimpse of the web-based analytical service.

BuzzLogic influence map

Macro reputation monitoring is important. Tracking buzz around markets, products and companies requires heavy-duty tools as the volume of the conversation grows, especially for highly visible, consumer-oriented businesses that generate a lot of online mentions. The usual poster children for monitoring are Dell and Kryptonite, and the BuzzLogic demo used Microsoft for its example. Companies that sell lots of products to lots of people will need macro monitoring tools that scale to match their exposure. Several companies offer macro monitoring services, and BuzzLogic looks like a solid entrant.

On the other hand, everyone is an influencer online. Big news stories—and big company problems—don't always flow from the most influential bloggers. Part of the beauty of social media is that everyone has a voice. With a sufficiently compelling story, any voice can start the conversation. Call it the Long Tail, call it Chaos, or just call it a really big job to monitor. The problem is that any mention of a company (including products, promotions and people) could be the first appearance of something that's going to be a big problem. (Or, being optimistic, the beginning of a great opportunity, but those tend to be less urgent than the problems.) The macro approach catches the problem as it gains traction in the larger conversation; what's needed is a micro approach to provide early warning, too.

How do you do micro reputation monitoring? You can use the do-it-yourself approach with vanity feeds and a feed reader; the problem is, that doesn't scale. It works for companies who aren't mentioned a lot (which is a lot of companies, just not the household names). Some of the high-end monitoring services may be able to catch the single-post indicator of an approaching storm, but I suspect that this is an area where a human reader is still most effective.

I came across a case this week where a single online mention provided an early warning of what has become a huge problem for a consumer products company. As I'm writing the case study, I plan to talk to the companies who offer high-end buzz-monitoring to understand how their services compare and how they address micro monitoring.

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Micro Reputation Monitoring from Room2Blog - Online Public Relations and Search Engine Marketing on October 3, 2006 6:19 PM

I was reading Nathan Gilliatt’s┬áblog post┬átoday regarding reputation monitoring and the public launch of BuzzLogic. My business partner, James Clark, was actually going through a BuzzLogic demo last Friday and also submitted some interesting co... Read More

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Great post. I pretty much agree with everything you said.

Thanks, Cameron. It's nice to be agreeable. ;-) I just read a comment over on the ZDNet article (below) that well-written posts don't get many comments. I guess I should try to be more controversial.

After I sent the post, I found a couple more sources on BuzzLogic with some details: David Churbuck used them for some real work and was then quoted in Dan Farber's piece on ZDNet.

Nathan, this is an excellent analysis of the dimensions of influence, very much in keeping with the ideas that informed our development efforts at BuzzLogic.

We recognize that everyone has influence in conversational environments--I've been writing about this for many years--but how ideas spread does have recognizable patterns. Some folks are influential from the get-go on a particular topic based on their regular attention to the subject while others can gain influence based on a well-written posting that gains traction. Yet other folks perform a different role, spreading messages. This is why we talk about the people who shape the discussion and those that amplify it.

So, is it possible to take a do-it-yourself approach to finding influencers at the micro level? Yes, but it is also possible to do a spreadsheet by hand, yet Lotus 1-2-3 and Excel made that a waste of time. Marketers have varying resources, so we help the allocate them as effectively as possible.

Our system doesn't just expose the top influencers, it can show them all, and some of our early customers, notably David Churbuck at Lenovo, used the tool to look at the other end of the scale to start and work up. If you look at Churbuck's posting about BuzzLogic, he talks about contacting Rick Klau about a problem he wrote about on his blog--Rick was not the top influencer, but the returns on addressing him were significant. David recognized this and acted. Smart marketing just got easier, but it still requires smart marketers.

We want to allow people to use their time more effectively. Our first customers are marketers, but this is a platform that can serve functions, including showing how ideas change from the grassroots as well as through the work of media and think tanks.

This does seem very powerful. Monitoring conversations by subscribing to blog search results really does have it's limitations. This seems like something Technorati should consider offering as well. They seem to have the data.

Mitch, thanks for stopping by and the follow-up, too. I have a couple of questions for you offline that may help get at the macro/micro question.

Ed, there are several companies going after the high end of reputation monitoring with variations on influence analysis and natural language processing. BuzzLogic is the newest. The fact that its $500/month starting price (per Farber) is considered disruptive gives an idea of where these services are priced. It's a long way from Technorati territory.

Excellent points Nathan.

I also received a demo of the BuzzLogic product and found it to be very effective and yes - a disruptive technology in the online monitoring field simply because of the pricing. There were some bugs in the system, but it's Beta and my conversation with Steve Roberts was engaging. Steve was also brave and confident enough to test the system live - I liked that, rather than seeing a canned demo.

Steve put it best when saying the Google is about relevance, Technorati is about popularity and BuzzLogic is about Influence. Bingo - that hits spot for PR agencies and corporate communications teams tasked with finding and analyzing the conversation.

We have a more home grown solution called RSSready, in which we build OPML files and pre-populate desktop RSS readers for PR account teams. The RSSready system allows for individuals to have their own RSS reader, while giving them the ability to choose to share new feeds with their team mates.

So we do all the research, mine the blogs, chat rooms, forums and then pre-populate the RSS readers with the feeds. From there it's the role of an account team member (Conversation Analysts) to track and monitor.

As a former PR agency owner, we built the system to have individual and team based feeds as we didn't think having 10-15 different RSS readers in use in a agency is smart way to build a monitoring practice.

There's the idea of institutional knowledge in agencies, and if an account team member is tracking the conversation in their own RSS reader and leaves the company then...POOF goes the knowledge - with a shared OPML file, everyone has access.

Admittedly, our product is not as feature-rich as BuzzLogic and not even a competitive offering as we are very interested in the opportunities of reselling the BuzzLogic product as more complete application for online conversation monitoring. What we've seen from BuzzLogic gives them a big leap ahead of the competition as the pricing models gives us the opportunity to get the systems in place.

Oh, and let's not forget, the other reason to go with a higher-end solution like BuzzLogic or Umbria is their ability to filter spam blogs and comments. What a nightmare it is to try and manually sift through all the spam posts and comments that comes through a Technorati search.

Funny you should mention the splog problem. I was talking to Denton Crofts at Umbria this morning, and he mentioned the same thing. I guess I've been lucky not to run into it.

I like the Google/Technorati/BuzzLogic distinction, but I think I'm looking for something different with the micro monitoring idea. It may be that it's just not something that can be automated, but I'm looking at an example of a bit of objective information that appeared in one place, and the company found it. I'll give more details once I write it up (in progress).

There's clearly a place for a simple RSS approach to reputation monitoring. Some companies don't generate all that many mentions online, and it doesn't take much to keep up with it. I'd like to see a nice business in building the OPML files and helping clients get set up with RSS, because that's part of what I'm working on, too.

For clients with higher visibility and more mentions, the volume clearly demands an analytical tool from one of the monitoring companies. I'm having fun talking with some of them today and asking the question that I'll reveal in the upcoming case study.

The other thing to consider is whether calling this "reputation monitoring" positions it as a PR activity. Do we need another word for it when the same activity is performed for other reasons?

Nathan, I see that James already posted a comment - but I did want to let you know that your post inspired mine today as well. We know PR people that are going through the grunt work of do-it-yourself, "micro reputation monitoring" and it is very ugly.

One thing to consider: Now that there are a handfull of companies that have significant dollars invested in providing these systems, the question they must answer is how quickly are they going to be able to turn a profit. Maybe I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm guessing the volume needs to be pretty substantial as pricing continues to fall.

We are still identifying what small businesses are willing to pay for the tools. For us (and the companies that use them), the bigger question is what do you do with the information gained... but that is for another blog post!

I've always found that explaining something is an effective way to focus my own thinking, which makes me guilty of thinking out loud, I guess. So, as we're talking through this micro monitoring idea, I want to clarify that by I'm not talking about doing monitoring on a small scale. If you're trying to follow the conversation, get some idea of influence, etc., and you don't have a sophisticated tool, you're still doing macro monitoring. You're just doing it inefficiently.

Macro monitoring looks for trends, ideas that are spreading and the influencers who spread them. Micro monitoring is looking for that critical piece of information that isn't spreading but is important, anyway. Think about intelligence gathering, not necesarily PR.

I think it'll be clear when I give the example (next week, at this rate). Then we can discuss whether micro monitoring can be automated, and whether it's an activity for every company or too labor-intensive for most. Or you can tell me there's no difference. :-)

Nathan, thanks for the clarification. My understanding of your definitions of micro and macro monitoring were flawed. What you write about makes sense. I'll look for your future example.

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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.
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