June 2008 Archives

News from the companies of social media analysis.

Companies and services

  • 9 June - Darian Shimy joined Biz360 as Vice President of Technology. Shimy previously held the same position at online dating site eHarmony.
New research and papers
  • MotiveQuest released the latest in its series of short papers on social media, "Activating Advocacy" (PDF).
  • 26 June (New York) - Radian6 will host PRSA-New York’s Technology Thursday event, 6–8 pm at Latitude Bar & Lounge. Free. via Radian6
Current posts on the job board


I've heard a lot about text analytics since I started tracking the companies who monitor and analyze social media. I've been particularly interested in the different directions people go with the same basic source data and analytical techniques. It's not all sentiment and PR; once you start extracting opinions and themes from streams of online content, the next step is to look for correlations between online trends and external events. In marketing, you're probably looking for a link to sales; some of the companies I talk to are more interested in stock prices. But if you want to know what's really wrong with the world, you might start with Europe Media Monitor (EMM) from the European Commission's Joint Research Centre.

EMM pulls current world news from online sources, clustering reports by topic and tagging them with location and language. The real charm of the service is its optimistic focus on themes such as terrorism, communicable disease, political unrest and conflict. Clustering makes it easy to track current news on your specific combination of interests in the language(s) you can read. Of course, everything is multilingual, with "about 19" languages represented (the language filter is always there to keep things readable).

The result is a customizable news service available to government and private users through web-based dashboards, RSS and email. The site has three major components:

  • NewsBrief, a quick view of the most active stories and themes, updated every 10 minutes. In addition to the global summary, NewsBrief has current news for 13 EMM themes, EC Directorates, selected international organizations, and a handful of topics focused on the European Union.

  • NewsExplorer, a global news dashboard with drill-down analysis on nations, individuals and other entities. Detail ages show a breakdown of recent news by theme, plus excerpts of current articles.

  • MedSys, a real-time dashboard and alerting system for medical and health-related issues. Detail views focus on specific diseases or bioterrorism threats, along with a volume trend chart and interactive map for drill-down analysis. In addition to email, MedSys can send alerts by SMS.
A link to EMM Labs leads to more projects, not as fully baked as the featured projects.

Registered organizations (governments?) get additional filtering and reporting options. There's also a restricted version of the MedSys site with additional information.

If you're a news junkie, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to throw your productivity out the window, but this is worth checking out. The question I'm finding most interesting lately is, "what else is this good for?" Given the history of interest in text analytics by intelligence and law enforcement agencies, it's no surprise to know that they're still looking for ways to predict the future. It is a surprise to find such interesting sources available to the public.

Hat tip to Penny Herscher, who pointed out the article from Wired.

links for 2008-06-26

links for 2008-06-25

Bloggers who complain about their bad experiences with airlines: outspoken but unrepresentative, or the tip of the iceberg? When one blogger details the kind of travel day we all hope to avoid, what purpose is served? Is any airline learning anything from all this, or is it just the new way to escalate a customer complaint?

It's been almost 18 months since stranded passengers incidents started making headlines (and passengers started organizing online). Since then, the conventional wisdom has accepted that the U.S. airline industry is broken. The new standard is to be thankful if the airline can get you to Point B, never mind on time or with a smile.

David Ignatius writes about the problems in his column in today's Washington Post. He included an amazing quote from Robert Crandall, the retired chairman/CEO of American Airlines:

Our airlines, once world leaders, are now laggards in every category, including fleet age, service quality and international reputation. Fewer and fewer flights are on time. Airport congestion has become a staple of late-night comedy shows. ... Airline service, by any standard, has become unacceptable.
—Robert Crandall, 10 June 2008
It's nice to see a top airline exec—even a retired one—state the obvious. Solutions, of course, are more difficult (Crandall has suggestions, of course). I'll resist the temptation to turn this into a post on the airline industry. Instead, let's think about the increasingly popular, blow-by-blow, travel nightmare post. Two recent examples:
In each case, a business traveler had a particularly unpleasant day of travel with his chosen airline, and neither airline satisfied him through the normal channels. Enter the complaint post.

Why complain?
Aside from the interesting reading about the bad luck of others—and face it, it's painfully fascinating stuff—what's the purpose of the complaint post? What are the benefits of complaining, in general as well as specifically about airlines?

  1. Escalation. One possibility (explicitly stated in Jaffe's post) is that the blogger is still looking for a resolution of the complaint after the failure of normal methods. A side effect of company listening is that blogs can become an alternative channel for customer service, which bloggers now know. Delta noticed Jaffe's post; so far, there's no sign that Continental saw Evelson's.

  2. Warning others. It's hard to think of a U.S. airline that doesn't have similar examples recently, but in less challenged industries, complaint posts can warn others of potential problems. From the blogger's perspective, it can be a valuable contribution to a community.

  3. Ulterior motives. Commenters on Jaffe's post make an issue of his work on behalf of American Airlines, which he discloses in the post. I don't question his motives (nor do I care), but it does raise the point that some may complain because of an interest in a competitor.

  4. Craziness. Complaints aren't always rational (not implying anything about the example posts!). Some people make a hobby of it and don't necessarily have a valid complaint.

  5. Venting. Sometimes, you just have to let it out at the end of a bad day. A blog provides a public spot for a very visible primal scream.
Company response to complaints
Regardless of motivation, companies need to know what's being written about them and be prepared to react appropriately. The response should be defined, in part, by an understanding of the motivation behind the complaint.
  1. Customer satisfaction. If customers are blogging in an attempt to receive service (escalation), companies need to decide whether and how to respond. Companies in the computer industry are answering this with formal links between customer service and social media monitoring activities. However, as David Churbuck points out, listening for customer service has side effects worth considering.

  2. Insight. Complainers have been known to have a valid point. Monitoring and analysis of online discussions can identify issues (or opportunities) that you're not aware of. While you're busy defending yourself, don't miss the opportunity to extract the insights that are available in both quantitative and qualitative forms.

  3. Online reputation management. After dealing with customer complaints and extracting insights, what's left is managing the fallout. Online reputation management combines a variety of strategies aimed at influencing search engine results, online conversations and, generally, opinions in the company's favor. This post is already too long to go into the details, but ignoring online complaints is not usually the recommended strategy.
Will McInnes says we're in a transitory Age of Snark, between the Age of Control and the coming Age of Dialogue. Customers are complaining publicly, because companies are too hard to reach. Regardless of the motivations behind the complaints, companies would be well served to pay attention and to respond appropriately.

As for the airlines, I think we're past the point of worrying about the reputation of any individual U.S. airline. The anecdotes cover too many companies. Now, the whole industry is the before picture in a turnaround story.

Research vendors: Is anyone working on an analysis of online discussions and airlines? I would think it could make a good source for the next industry-in-distress article in your favorite business publication.

links for 2008-06-19

links for 2008-06-18

An article in this week's BusinessWeek is stirring up a good discussion about social media and ethics in China. People aren't thrilled with the unfortunate choice of metaphor in the title, either: Inside the War Against China's Blogs. Since I linked to the original article, it seems only fair to point out some of the thoughtful responses.

Quickly fixed, but this was funny. As I was writing my previous post about the AP mess, I went to their web site and clicked on the stories highlighted on the front page. The result was an error page stating that the requested page was forbidden. For a moment, it looked like they didn't even permit their own site to link to itself!

Once you find your way in, the AP site is a reasonable source of news. They might want to work on that front door, though. A casual visitor to their site won't find their advertiser-supported news site.

Copyright is a funny business. When taking words, music or film to market required expensive manufacturing and distribution operations, it was easy to make money by selling them. Now that everything is digital, copies fly around the world on the Internet, reproducing at will. It's harder to maintain the business—in fact, it's hard to justify a business based solely on duplicating and distributing the work of others. And it turns out that, to a copyright business, creative is a noun referring to their product, not an adjective that might apply to business strategy. If you haven't seen any blogs in the last day or two, you might think that I'm writing about the music or film distribution business, but now it's the Associated Press. In the face of a changing media environment, they've put Legal in charge of strategy.

Last time I heard about AP, they were suing Moreover over the redistribution of headlines and excerpts. Now, they're after bloggers, attempting to define away Fair Use. The new rules come down to this:

  1. Don't quote AP stories, not even a little.
  2. Don't write new headlines based on AP stories.
  3. Don't use AP headlines to link to AP articles.
  4. Unless you're willing to pay.
Never mind that companies don't make the laws, not even in 2008. Oh, wait—maybe they do.

Next, AP Sues Reader for Remembering News
The new position from the Associated Press is contrary to the public interest, not least because unlike AP v. Moreover, they started this round by asserting the primacy of commercial interest over political speech. The importance of free expression in the political sphere is sort of the point of the first amendment. Public policy aside, though, this is just a bad move by AP, reflecting a complete failure to understand the online environment:

  1. Bloggers are not entirely unaware of copyright law, including fair use (which is not defined by AP). If one blogger calls AP's C&D bluff and it goes to court, expect the defenders of the First Amendment to line up in the blogger's suppport.

  2. Facts are not subject to copyright. If a blogger writes a new headline for a news event, the blogger owns the copyright.

  3. Links are valuable on the Internet, to the extent that rational businesses pay for links in an attempt to improve their position on search engines. AP should thank bloggers for linking to them with their chosen keywords.

  4. When considering the effect of the use upon the potential market, remember that AP sells advertising on its own website. Part of the impact of excerpts and links on blogs is positive, driving more viewers to AP's ads.
You will recall that I'm not a lawyer, and it has been suggested that AP could have a case. However, if AP wins an actual lawsuit, the Internet will make a point to forget that AP ever existed, creating a tidy lose-lose scenario.

Maybe putting Legal in charge of publicity was a mistake
Legal just isn't good at dealing with bloggers. They're all about protecing the company (their job) at the expense of considering the market's reaction (not their job). But, as usual, someone with a clue about Internet culture should have been involved. It's clear that they weren't this time.

Maybe someone at AP just read an article on that word of mouth marketing thing and decided to get some. Maybe they remembered hearing something about publicity...

There is no such thing as bad publicity...
...and didn't realize that wasn't all.
...except your own obituary.
—Brendan F. Behan
As it stands, AP just gave emerging media a solid reason to prefer Reuters (NYSE:TRI)—or, even better: original sources. What's the purpose of intermediaries in the age of global distribution?

Hint: not one "AP" or "Associated Press" link above leads to the AP site. No point in linking to a company that doesn't like links.

links for 2008-06-16

links for 2008-06-15

links for 2008-06-14

News from the companies of social media analysis.

Companies and services

  • 12 June - Blog search engine Twingly exited beta.
New research and papers
  • 4 June - Reputation Institute released Global Pulse 2008, its third annual report on corporate reputations worldwide. More from Forbes.

  • 12 June — Fleishman-Hillard announced its Digital Influence Index, conducted with Harris Interactive, designed to track and measure the influence and impact of the Internet on consumer behaviour and decisions in the UK, Germany, and France. via Matt Dickman, who shares the related documents on his site.
Current posts on the job board

links for 2008-06-07

News from the companies of social media analysis.

Companies and services

  • 3 June - Radian6 and video search engine Blinkx announced a partnership that brings Blinkx coverage of online video sites, such as YouTube, Revver, Veoh, Grouper, MetaCafe, Live Video and BrightCove, into Radian6.

  • 2 June - Trackur released version 2.0 with a new trends feature and adjustments to pricing. via Sarah Perez
  • Socialware recently appointed Monica Vecchio and Steewen Böttger as account executives for Italy and German-speaking markets, respectively.
  • 16–17 June (Boston) - 4th annual Text Analytics Summit. Social media analysis is prominent in the agenda, which also covers other applications of data mining and text analytics in business.

  • 26 June (New York) - Radian6 will host PRSA-New York’s Technology Thursday event, 6–8 pm at Latitude Bar & Lounge. Free. via Radian6
Current posts on the job board


TNS and GfK have announced details of their planned merger of equals to form GfK-TNS plc. The resulting company would have its headquarters in London and its primary listing on the London Stock Exchange. In the wake of the announcement, WPP is expected to make a third attempt to acquire TNS.

Other letters of the alphabet were unavailable for comment.

About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
  • Principal, Social Target
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