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Blogs, Boards, and Posts: Capturing Consumer Buzz Online

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A new category of software tools has emerged that uses search engine technology to find and organize consumer-posted thoughts and opinions. These tools not only help marketers discover what is being said about their companies and brands, they also allow them to use that insight to drive new campaigns and even develop new products.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, February 28-March 3, 2005, New York, NY.

You can't use Google News or Yahoo News to find this content, typically posted to blogs, message boards or opinion sites. The major news search engines don't consider most of these types of sites to be news sources.

This was the main topic addressed by "Blogs, Boards, and Posts: Capturing Consumer Buzz Online" panel. The session featured five speakers: Two bloggers who talked about why monitoring consumer feedback sources such as blogs and message boards is becoming an important task for marketers, and three vendors who talked about how to use their tools to better integrate consumer opinions into marketing and advertising plans.

The two bloggers were JupiterResearch senior analyst Gary Stein, who also moderated the session, and Steve Rubel, Vice President of Client Services at CooperKatz and author of the Micro Persuasion blog. The three vendors were: Jonathon Carson, President and CEO of BuzzMetrics; Mark Fletcher, vice president and general manager of Bloglines at Ask Jeeves; and Mike Nazzaro, Chief Operating Officer at Intelliseek.

Stein opened the session by presenting research that found when users search for companies, 26% of the results are content generated by consumers, 22% by experts, 18% by corporate sources, 12% by media, and 22% by other sources. In other words, when prospects search for your company, the top 10 listings are likely to include:

  • 3 listings from consumer posts to blogs, message boards, and opinion sites
  • 2 listings from experts
  • 2 listings from your own corporate site
  • 1 listing from an online publication
  • 2 listings from other sources

While virtually all SEO's monitor the ranking of the two corporate listings and most PR departments monitor their press clippings, very few marketers monitor what is being said by consumers on blogs, message boards and opinion sites. What is needed, said Stein, is a Dynamic Attitude Analysis Tool, a way of making opinions measurable and actionable for marketing.

Carson gave a brief overview of BuzzMetrics, "the leader in word of mouth research and planning." The company created the world's first syndicated Influencer Panel to continuously track the thousands of individuals who most effectively spread buzz and start trends among millions of consumers online.

Through its proprietary Discussion Miner technology, BuzzMetrics identifies the most influential consumers and then measures the impact of their public commentary in the marketplace across a range of topics. The technology retrieves millions of verbatim discussions from blogs, chat rooms, listservs and product feedback sites among other channels.

Fletcher followed with a quick overview of Bloglines, "the world's most popular free online service for searching, subscribing, publishing and sharing news feeds, blogs and rich web content." Bloglines recently released the first in a series of new capabilities that help consumers monitor customized kinds of dynamic web information—becoming the first web service to move beyond aggregating general-audience blogs and RSS news feeds.

For example, people can track the shipping progress of package deliveries from FedEx, UPS, and the United States Postal Service-within their Bloglines MyFeeds page. Bloglines says collecting neighborhood weather updates and stock portfolio tracking are expected in the near future.

Nazzaro then gave a short overview of Intelliseek, "a marketing intelligence firm specializing in real-time analysis of online buzz and consumer-generated media." Intelliseek recently announced a major upgrade to its popular BlogPulse.com portal, including an increase in coverage to 9.3 million blogs.

BlogPulse 2.0 provides faster data retrieval, a six-month index of blog posts and data, a daily count of blog activity and analysis, and the ability to create customized graphs that track themes and issues appearing in the Blogosphere. In addition, BlogPulse features daily statistics that track total blogs identified, number of blog posts analyzed daily and number of new blogs discovered in the last 24 hours.

Finally, Rubel gave a fast summary of CooperKatz, "a mid-sized New York City public relations firm," and Micro Persuasion, his blog "on how weblogs and citizen journalism are impacting public relations."

In February, CooperKatz launched a new service to help corporations monitor, analyze, plan for and respond to issues that might bubble up from blogs and other emerging online channels. The new agency practice—called Micro Persuasion and headed by Rubel—helps clients launch conversational marketing programs that include blogs, podcasting and RSS. As for his personal blog, also named Micro Persuasion, Rubel said it gets between 3,000 and 5,000 readers a day.

Stein "showed an example of cruftbox.com, a site dedicated to reviewing products" and pointed to "a review of Mr. Clean Magic Eraser." He also said that consumers "are now looking more and more for 'trust agents.'"

Stein continued, "If you do a search for 'starbucks' in Google, ihatestarbucks.com comes up as number two." He also showed a "mini iPod commercial" that was done by a school teacher who simply loved his mini iPod."

Carson said listening to consumers—and integrating consumer opinions into marketing and product development plans—was "more important than Consumer Reports" to success in the marketplace.

At another point in the discussion, Carson mentioned the importance of trend spotting to nutrition issues. He said today's emphasis on "low carbs" was in response to "grassroots movements," adding that the next step is to figure out "how do we time the market?" In other words, how do you use consumer feedback to shape product development "six to 12 months ahead of the marketplace?"

Fletcher called 2004 the "Year of the Blog" and "early adopters are passionate" opinion leaders who will influence others to adopt blogs. He also said this audience of early adopters and influencers was "a big audience and it's growing."

Fletcher also acknowledged that blog search was different from web search and that Bloglines and his competitor, PubSub, were both "just starting to deal with ranking vs. freshness, relevance vs. recency."

Nazzaro talked about the need to set up an early warning system—and used the John Kerry Presidential campaign to illustrate his point. He saw a spike in the number of links to the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth site in early August—when Kerry led President George Bush in the national polls and—more significantly—in state polls for projected Electoral College votes. A month later, the campaign momentum had reversed because the Kerry campaign has been slow to respond.

At another point, Nazzaro also discussed the difficulty of a machine learning how to provide a "clarity score" of positive/negative emotion. For example, what is the "right taxonomy for autos?" He said that you could "tie it to what a company is trying to say"—allowing for both a minority and majority view.

Rubel told the story of how the Kryptonite bike lock was rendered useless last September 12 when a brief post by bike enthusiast and network security consultant Chris Brennan to Bike Forums revealed the expensive lock could be popped open with a Bic pen. That news flew around the blogosphere for five days before The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and other mainstream media picked it up. By then, it was too late for Kryptonite to avert a major PR problem.

At another point in the discussion, Rubel said that smart journalists don't view A-list bloggers as competitors, but "as helpers." So, even if only 27% of Internet users read blogs—which is what the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported in January of this year—"100% are impacted by them."

The Q&A that followed was animated.

One attendee wondered what might happen if Dunkin' Donuts linked to the I Hate Starbucks site.

Rubel said, "If you play dirty—linking to people who bash your competitors—you can be found. A better strategy would be to monitor what people are saying, like 'Starbucks coffee is always too hot.' Play to that—play to people's concerns."

Another attendee asked a question that I couldn't hear, but Carson's answer was very clear: "Usually, the CEO sees one bad post and makes it a priority."

Yet another attendee asked the panel how to respond to positive and negative voices in forums.

Nazzaro said it was more important to find out "who are the most active posters—who are the mavens" that everyone listens to, instead of just the "most positive posters."

Rubel said it was also important to find out "who is linking to a site."

Carson said "message boards are the Wild West." He suggested that when a post was made looking at how many people respond and how long the thread continued.

Fletcher added that it was only possible to monitor forum posts that had RSS feeds.

There was a question about how to monitor podcasting.

Rubel said a great deal of audio is being distributed via RSS to iPods. He said show notes enabled to feeds to get discovered.

Fletcher added that there were some tricky technical issues to monitoring podcasting, but show notes were the solution. He then asked, "How do you parse close captioning from video feeds?"

Rubel answered, "Better meta data."

There was a question about the difference between blogs and message boards.

Rubel said the primary difference was "transparency." In forums, many people who post use pseudonyms to remain anonymous, while a blogger puts his or her name on their blog.

He added that an "anal retentive company should have a blog." Asked to elaborate, Rubel said, "An old school USSR-style company."

Stein quipped, "Now you have two role models: Dr. Phil or Stalin."

There was another question about recognizing evangelists vs. plants.

Carson said the failure to disclose your connection to a company was "border-line illegal." There are FTC guidelines and it is unethical to try to fool people. Besides, "it doesn't work." Blogs and forums "self-police." He also recommended going to WOMMA.org for a copy of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association's Code of Ethics.

There was a question about the danger of corporate blogs enabling users to "flame in real-time."

Rubel said, if that was an issue, then "don't open it up to comments." Still, he added, when it came to "buzz, there is a poker game going on. Do you want a seat at the table, or not?" So, he recommended "have comments, but have filters."

Finally, there was a question about hand held devices.

Fletcher said "Bloglines has a mobile version" and hinted that this would become "more important going forward."

Within an hour or two of the session ending, you could read Nathan Weinberg's post, "Search Engine Strategies: Blogs, Board and Posts," on the Blog News Channel (BNC). And shortly after that, Rubel linked to Weinberg's account in his Micro Persuasion: Search Engine Strategies Round-up. Rubel's only complaint of the account was that the picture of him was "hideous."

On Wednesday, March 2, at 10:14 a.m., you could read Stein's post, "SES New York NoteBlog." He said, "It's not much of a secret that this is my favorite topic-how the media generated by consumers affects overall brand perception. This is critical to a search strategy, because people using search engines to find information don't just find corporate stuff."

Greg Jarboe is the president and co-founder of SEO-PR, a search engine promotion company that recently launched a News Blog focused on the top stories in search engine optimization and public relations.


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