Monitoring conversations

Moderated by Mike Butcher of mbites.com and vecosys.com
Simon McDermott – CEO Attentio
Heather Hopkins – Head of Research, Hitwise
Kris Hoet – Marketing Manager, EMEA Consumer Marketing, Microsoft Online Services Group
Scott Thomson – Analytics Director, Starcom

SMc: Monitoring conversations to evaluate for example campaign impact, identifying what influencers are saying about your products, monitoring reputation and understanding consumer behaviour. So the big questions are “Are we discussed?”, if so then “What are the issues that are being raised” and “What do they think?” We do some benchmarking and look at trends as well as understanding who the influencers are and how you can communicate wth them. for example we worked with a consumer eletronics player that had a lower momentum than other products.

MB: what’s the technology that you use?

SMc: we use a proprietary time-based search technology looking at buzz together with staff who look at what it all means. We’ve been doing it for 3 years.

MB: is Hitwise going to cede the market to these guys or are you doing something else?

HH: well I’m really here to talk about monitoring blogs and we don’t compete with Attentio.
So comparing Sony Rootkit with Diet Coke & Mentos – the Sony story resonated wildly with the tech community but it wasn’t such a big story elsewhere. At Hitwise we have some people who like data and a lot of data. We’re blogging and it makes our life a lot easier dealing with journalists, but also our engagement with our customers has gone up.

MB: so if you monitor your own brand using free tools why would anyone pay for a service
HH: well we can’t justify it given how small we are – it’s for larger brands really

MB: why not just give people laptops and let them get on with it?
KH: Well we did that but we also do a lot going out to the community and meeting people face to face, building a relationship with bloggers. For all that we need to track who’s using what so we can focus on the right people. We use Attentio, but we also use lots of free tools too. We use comment tracking and we get good results out of that. The best way of tracking is of course to be reading everything :)

This week we launched an update on maps but there’s no big launch around it, but because we’ve been engaging and tracking some of the people in the cities covered and we can then talk to them and then that gets picked up by mainstream media – also is good for getting feedback.

MB: interesting that comments are very important.

KH: everybody changes their opinion because of comments. Also comments are the easiest way for people to connect with each other – you don’t have to have a blog yourself. “Everybody is a customer” It’s a kind of early warning system. And people are still often quite thrilled to get a reply.

MB: what feedback do you get?
ST: there’s a difference between just listening and then trying to change people or affect their behaviour. So we use a number of services to provide contextual information about online conversations.

MB: so trying to influence the conversation can be dangerous? (ref Cillit Bang vs Tom Coates)
ST: yes it’s about finding the influencers and then treading very very carefully.

MB: So a replacement for focus groups?
ST: Yes, but I think that research industry is eager for revolution. We’re all interested in understanding online behaviour better and although you can do it yourself it helps to get help.

MB: how can you iron out differences in the results from different blog tracking methods?
SMc: we offer companies granular insights into the brand eg French blogosphere reaction vs German – we don’t have much demand for standardisation with other markets – what people want is a quick read of what’s going on but yeah, you have to tread carefully.

Q: Any research into the social profile of bloggers and whether they are representative.
A: HH: we can do this with blog audiences – slightly male skew, all social grades represented, but tends to be urban people under 35.
SMc: younger people are more involved in social networks and don’t blog as much but there are studies that show that people move into blogging more in their twenties.
ST: our focus is less on who is saying it and more on what is being said as the former is too much to ask at the moment.
HH: also demographics are very dependent on the types of blogs visited and the type of conversation going on

Q: After my Dell guarantee lapsed it went wrong. I blogged about it. 2 months later I got a comment from Dell apologising and putting someone in touch the next day, collected laptop and repaired it free of charge. So tracking does work.

SMc: if they’d been monitoring a while ago they’d have got a better response from Jeff Jarvis :)

Q: international tracking – how mature are the offerings? How close are we to saying “These are the 3 most influential” in this geography.
SMc: Quite a long way on the breakdown. We’re focusing on Europe and we’re getting there.
KH: we tried this for the launch of Windows Live. I think it’s a very human thing – the tools don’t really work, but getting in touch with people and talking to them is much better at pulling out who the most influential are. It’s not just about links, it can be just as much about community activities in real life as much as online.

Q: So once you know them, how do you start a conversation without them getting suspicious.
A: people have lots of ways of getting in touch. Be humble. Explain what you’re doing. Ask for help. Invite people to events. It doesn’t always work but we keep trying.

Q: There are very good metrics in academic circles for measuring influence – SNA is probably the way we should go.
HH: I think this is absolutely the way to go for larger brands.

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