Public Image Monitoring Solution scours blogosphere

In the old days, companies could hire a news clipping service to keep track of who was talking about them in the news.

These days, that prospect is considerably more complicated – and even more essential than ever.

That’s why IBM Corp. has teamed up with Montreal-based Nstein Technologies and Factiva to deliver a technology designed to help organizations keep track of what’s being said about them around the globe.

The product, called the Public Image Monitoring Solution, is based on IBM’s WebSphere Information Integrator OmniFind Edition, which is built on the unstructured information management architecture (UIMA) open framework.

“Everyone knows public opinion can truly impact sales of consumer products and services,” said Marc Andrews, strategy and business development, unstructured information at IBM. “With the acceleration of people using public forums like blogs and consumer review sites to share and spread opinions, these opinions get spread worldwide faster than ever before, and it makes it that more critical for companies to monitor their public image so they can quickly address any critical issues that come up.”

The public image monitoring solution ferrets out mention of a company, its products or services in user reviews, news articles, blogs and podcasts, for example, and sorts them into positive and negative, said Andrews. It can also mine the data from internal sources such as customer surveys and call centre logs.

“Most organizations are struggling to capture what’s being said in their call centres and in customer surveys and market research studies,” he explains. “That information can quickly become outdated so it’s important to understand what’s being said internally and externally. The public image solution categorizes that information so you can determine if people are talking about the business, about marketing events, about tech reviews or financial-related activities, and you can scroll down to the specific information you want to review. It even goes further by enabling you to automatically identify hot topics so organizations don’t have to manually sift through all these comments, and it provides a tonality detector that allows you to automatically identify the sentiment.”

Factiva has built a “data listener,” which enables users to incorporate news feeds and articles, while Nstein has provided the text analytics.

IBM chose Nstein because it had the best analytics relevant to the field, he said. “They’re providing the tonality detector and the categorizer and the hot topics detector, and we leverage that to extract knowledge from the text,” said Andrews.

Michel Lemay, vice-president of marketing at Nstein, said his company’s technology applies business intelligence to the search engine that crawls through a potentially huge numbers of documents. It’s more efficient and effective than, say, a popular search engine such as Google, he said, because it shows the users all the concepts related to the search term.

“We call it intelligent search,” he said. “When you (use) Google you get a million results. This technology will guide you through the search, it will find you what you’re looking for by showing you entities, concepts, names and organizations. It categorizes the documents, it makes a summary of the documents, and it proposes similar documents.”

It can then sort them into positive and negative and show a graph of hot topics.

Nstein’s technology is also used to power Health Canada’s Global Public Health Information Network (GPHIN), which scours the Internet for information that health authorities can use to detect a disease outbreak.

The Public Image Monitoring Solution is expected to be of interest to large companies that produce consumer products, particularly in the automotive and electronics sectors, although IBM’s Andrews said it is scalable enough to work for smaller companies that might want to monitor what’s being said about one product on just blogs and news feeds, for example.

But while it’s not targeted to the business-to-business space, all industries that sell products need to take consumer-generated media (CGM) into account, said Peter Blackshaw, chief marketing officer at Intelliseek, a Cincinnati-based marketing intelligence firm.

And that impact is growing. According to Intelliseek’s 2005 Consumer-Generated Media and Behaviour Study, consumers are 50 per more likely to be influenced by word of mouth recommendations from their peers than by traditional advertising. Bloggers create an enormous amount of CGM, elevating their influence, the study said.

“When you go to Google a high tech product, a huge amount of what shows up is consumer and user generated, so it’s difficult to create the same silos,” Blackshaw explains. “I just did a huge engagement with one of the top telecom companies and they wanted to look at B2B buzz separate from consumer buzz.

“I said, ‘your brand is your brand.’ Most B2B shoppers use Google to do their initial due diligence and ultimately what they bump heads against are all these bad consumer experiences, so it really reflects on the brand … so to some extent CGM is unavoidable, irrespective of the buyer.”

Blackshaw added that blogs have exploded in the B2B space. “Business professionals and tech professionals are just acting like consumers, but the conversation is largely B2B-oriented, and you are seeing a whole context for IT products and services to be discussed.”

Blackshaw said while there is likely to be a big demand for a product such as the Public Image Monitoring Solution, IBM’s challenge will be to bring a marketer- and consumer-centric perspective to the data.

“The people who typically buy this are the marketers, the brand people that are really sensitive about how the market perceives their product, so I’m not sure you’re going to get a lot of buy from the IT department,” he said.

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