You’ve been sleeping under a rock if you haven’t realized yet that what’s being said on Twitter, Facebook, user forums, wikis, YouTube videos, and personal blogs has a big impact on what people think about a brand.
And there’s no shortage of companies developing technology to monitor this ever-changing buzz to paint a picture of consumer sentiment. But these software platforms are often targeted to those on the public relations and marketing side of a brand.
Buzzient, a tenant of the Cambridge Innovation Center in Kendall Square, is taking a different approach to social media analytics. The startup’s Web-based software is targeted directly at those in the company who make decisions about which products to offer consumers, and what features to offer within those products, says CEO and founder Timothy Jones. Buzzient also represents a growing trend of companies that aren’t taking outside money; the startup has been self-funded since its inception, and is “cash-flow positive” as of this year, Jones says.
Jones says he was first alerted to the massive amount of data available in the Internet cloud while he was an MIT Sloan fellow working at the school’s Center for Digital Business, where he analyzed and determined pricing for Google’s enterprise-level business apps. He started working on Buzzient in 2008, and in early 2009 the startup attracted its first customer: the multimedia-based financial services company Motley Fool.
“Coming out of the crash, they were interested in what people were saying about different asset classes,” he says. Buzzient’s software helped Fool, which publishes investing research online and sells in-depth reports, gain an understanding of what financial information consumers were looking for, Jones says.
Another customer is PerkinElmer (NYSE: PKI), the Waltham, MA-based provider of research and diagnostics technologies. Jones says the life sciences company uses the Buzzient software to monitor which diseases or medical conditions Internet users are talking about, in order to figure out where to focus its products. Seattle-based healthcare marketing firm Appature also develops technology for tracking and measuring customer input for companies in the pharmaceutical, medical devices, and wellness spaces.
The Buzzient software uses natural language processing to crawl the Internet for keywords relating to a brand, and track what’s being a said about its products or broader market share. One thing Jones says distinguishes Buzzient’s technology from its competitors is sentiment analysis, which turns qualitative statements into quantitative scores. In other words, rather than just gathering a slew of tweets on your brand, it rates how positive each tweet was on a numeric scale, to create an overall score.
“We’re turning words into numbers and allowing you to basically visualize those in our application or in an existing CRM [customer relationship management] system,” says Jones.
Speaking of that, Buzzient has formed a partnership with Oracle to integrate its product with the database giant’s tool for CRM. Buzzient also has partnerships with other companies that have traditionally helped manage customer feedback on products, like customer call center provider Interactive Intelligence.
Interactive Intelligence uses Buzzient to track what a customer who is calling about a product has also said on Twitter—which is becoming another dimension of managing customer information, Jones says. Just as companies started adding customer e-mail addresses to customer databases, many brands are tracking a caller’s Twitter handle, to get a more vivid picture of what they really think and are saying on the Web, often before they even call the 1-800 number attached to many products. And Buzzient says it can help integrate that buzz more seamlessly into a company’s customer database.
A big niche for Buzzient is the gaming sector, with customers like Seattle-based RealNetworks and its GameHouse division, which makes social and mobile games. The analytics software can track how players are responding to features within social games, to quickly and responsively determine which game elements to focus on or ditch, Jones says.
Jones started his career at Oracle, and in many ways he views the social media data his software gathers as an extension of internal company information. So, rather than just looking at social media sentiment in real time, the technology also paints a historical picture of customer feedback for a company, going years back. Companies can then look at the effect of what people said about their products on things like sales, Jones says.
Buzzient’s software can help companies track things at a micro level, such as a brand’s specific product lines, or at a macro-level to gather a sense of their wider market. One application of Buzzient on this macro-level is eyeing potential acquisition targets, Jones says. It helps companies see what other companies in their industries are up to, and also alerts them to names that they might not have previously considered competitors, based on which brands show up in Buzzient’s Internet-crawling software.
The technology can also help customers advertise in a more cost-effective way, by tracking which websites might be “high-influence,” even if they don’t get huge amounts of traffic, Jones says. The software can determine which sites are read by users that are highly likely to tweet or talk about the content to a big network. Customers can typically advertise on these sites more cheaply than on those that have a bigger volume of visitors and charge higher advertising rates.
Buzzient’s prices reflect its level of sophistication, says Jones, noting that his company isn’t one of the many low-cost, “cheap and dirty” analytics software providers out there. Buzzient software subscriptions go for anywhere from $500 to $41,000 per month, with the average sale price at $5,000, he says. The company has about 12 employees, a mixture of part-time and full-time, and is adding an additional office in the “innovation district” of Boston’s Seaport neighborhood later this month.
As far as future product strategy goes, Jones sees a commodity in the Buzzient data itself, he says. The company is exploring the possibility of selling the information its software gathers directly to those looking to “slice and dice” the data. But the company says it is being cautious not to target the identity or information of individual users, and is instead focused on looking at data on a big-picture, aggregated level.
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