The 2011 Listening Platform Landscape

After an entire month without any acquisitions in the social media data space, there is no excuse but to get back to normal blogging. I assume I'll be back to posting on M&A again soon, but in the meantime I've been busy working on some big research and now it's finally ready to show off. Today we've published "The 2011 Listening Platform Landscape," a report aimed at helping Marketing and Customer Intelligence professionals navigate a crowded and fragmented array of social media data tools and technologies.

The inspiration for this report was easy: vendor selection is the single most popular topic from clients this year. Forrester clients know they need help managing online conversation, but don't know where to turn for that help. In the last six months alone I've spoken with over 100 companies about finding the right listening platform partner. And with hoards of competing vendors (thanks Ken Burbary for helping put together such a comprehensive list!), buyers across the board face challenges finding the partner(s) that best fits their listening needs. This report breaks down the market's fragmentation and helps Customer Intelligence professionals shortlist vendors based on their listening requirements.

After months of briefings with platforms and interviews with buyers, we found:

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Maritz Research Acquires evolve24

I promise that at some point I'll use this blog to write about more than M&A in the social media technology space. But the constantly shifting vendor landscape keeps me too busy to get to other pressing topics.

Today, Maritz Reserch announced its acquisition of evolve24. Through this move, Martiz adds strong social media analysis capabilities to its broader customer experience and market research offerings. The two have a long-standing partnership and know how to work well together and combine forces. The terms of the acquisition suggest that evolve24 will stay strongly intact as an offering within the Maritz umbrella.

I reviewed evolve24 as part of my recent Forrester Wave™ evaluation of listening platforms and cited the vendor as offering strong data analysis capabilities — something that surely stood out for Maritz. To rely on social media as a data source, Maritz must have an exepctionally clean stream — a critical focus for evolve24. Firms aiming to understand their customers' experiences require a broad data set, but without quality, breadth is worthless.

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The Services Role In Social Intelligence

Another day, another announcement of social media M&A. Today, Alterian announced its acquistion of Intrepid, a social media consultancy. With this move Alterian adds further professional services strength to its existing listening platform, SM2. Congratulations to Intrepid and Alterian.

I reviewed Alterian's SM2 product in our recent Forrester Wave: Listening Platforms 2010, highlighting many strengths, but observed an area that most needed improvement: the level of services offerings and overall consulting. Combining Intrepid's existing consulting team with the SM2 product will address this gap well, improving Alterian's product line. I spoke to the Alterian team and learned that this move mainly comes as a result of increased client requests for professional services related to social media analytics.

Here at Forrester, we've seen the same growing demand for professional services around listening initiatives. Many clients ask about building, or improving, their programs but lack the internal resources -- social media knowledge, listening expertise, measurement skills, and, most importantly, time -- to go from passively collecting social media data to improving their marketing or business goals from insights within the data. As a result of the growing client interest, we recently published a report on the topic: "How Listening Services Support Social Intelligence." This report outlines the many ways consulting teams assist in the listening process -- from training and support to customized reports and strategic planning -- and tells Customer Intelligence professionals what kind of help they'll benefit from the most.

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The Social Media Data Arms Race

Today, Converseon announced an agreement with Twitter to feed the firehose of tweets – around 65 million per day – into Converseon’s listening platform. This deal improves upon Converseon’s data sourcing, a critical step to the listening process. Only a small handful of other vendors dare tread in the rushing rapids of the Twitter firehose – for now, just Jive and Crimson Hexagon – but the race for social media data is on.

Alternatively, during the past year I’ve seen a shift in vendors' pitches, moving away from touting superior data sourcing and instead focusing on better data processing or insight delivery. Data became a commodity. And while the movement toward improved insights continues – because what good is a plethora of data if you can’t find what you’re looking for – the recent focus on pulling in all of Twitter makes for two key assumptions:

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The Forrester Wave: Listening Platforms, Q3 2010

The listening platform landscape is vast, fragmented, and confusing. As a result, I handle more client inquiries around vendor selection than any other single topic. Companies want to track customer conversations, monitor their brands and competitors, measure their social marketing, learn from online discussion, identify customers online, and more. And they need technology help getting there but don't always know where to turn.

To address these questions, we've just published The Forrester Wave: Listening Platforms, Q3 2010. This research is the result of nearly four months of vendor interviews, product demos, lab evaluations, reference checks, client interviews, and customer surveys. All in all, we evaluated nine leading vendors across 76 criteria, talked to dozens of buyers, and surveyed nearly 200 customers to determine the state of the listening platform market today.

This Wave covers vendors that best address an enterprise's Social Intelligence technology needs, through a listening platform's three main steps: social media data retrieval, unstructured text processing, and insight delivery. Each vendor has its own technology platform and professional services team for consulting and can scale to meet vast enterprise needs, both in a large installation-base and between different parts of the organization -- such as marketing, PR, market research, and/or customer support. We evaluated the following vendors: Alterian (SM2), Collective Intellect, Converseon, Cymfony, Dow Jones, Evolve24, Nielsen, Radian6, and Visible Technologies.

You'll have to read the full report to see how the vendors match up, but from my evaluation I uncovered a few emerging trends:

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Nielsen Joins Forces With McKinsey For Social Intelligence Consulting

More news in the Social Intelligence world today, as Nielsen and McKinsey launched a joint partnership to compete deeper in social media. Through "NM Incite," Nielsen combines its Buzzmetrics listening platform technology with McKinsey's management consultants, to offer a broad range of social consulting influenced by social media data and analytics. I spoke to the team earlier and learned that this venture is both a response to growing customer demand for social business consulting and a proactive step in building up offerings that will meet enterprises' future needs, as social media spreads inside and outside the business.

My quick take on this is that I see the announcement as a good leading indicator of the social media market: Many businesses want to harness the power of social media data, but few are currently prepared to make those steps on their own. Businesses need help turning social media data into action. This year many listening platforms have ramped up their consultancy staff and offerings in efforts to keep up with this growing demand. As I'll profile in an upcoming research report on listening platforms' consultancy services (in editing now, likely publishing in a few weeks), successful vendors have a strong dashboard for self-service customers along with professional services teams for data analysis, custom reporting, strategy guidance, and overall support. Now, Nielsen and McKinsey's joint venture ups the ante of the level of consulting services listening platform vendors provide.

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Social Intelligence Meets PR

On this blog I write about the importance of social media channels as a data source for Customer Intelligence professionals. Although that topic may be a bit esoteric, the concept of using social media data to inform business decisions spans well beyond just Customer Intelligence. Today I'm going to diverge from the CI pro because in today's Web driven world of vast amounts of metrics and analytics, more and more businesses turn to data-driven decision making. One of the business lines benefiting most from this today is Public Relations.

PR's gone through a dramatic evolution over the last decade and has been reinvigorated by social media. PR teams' day-to-day tasks shifted from news clippings and phone calls, to online media monitoring and emails, to today's social media monitoring and tweeting with influential sources. Social media, and the wealth of data it holds, provides PR professionals with more information to better conduct their work. Through social metrics they can identify and track influencers, better measure the spread of their company's coverage, and more quickly track potential crises before they spread. This should be no surprise to most, as many of social media's early mavens are also some of PR's leaders.

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The 2010 Forrester Groundswell Awards

I am pleased to announce that we've just kicked off the 2010 Forrester Groundswell Awards. We are now open to submissions detailing how you've put social media to work for your company. This is the fourth running of the awards (and my third year helping judge and organize the entries), and I am truly excited to see the state of the industry as it continues to mature.

This year I'm specifically looking forward to reviewing the "Listening" category entries. There are a lot of businesses out there that listen to social media, but how many of them achieve Social Intelligence and truly use "listening" to inform their business decisions and drive better marketing? If you can prove the business value of your listening initiatives, please submit your entry for either the B2B or B2C Listening categories.

Last year's B2C Listening winner, NASCAR's Fan Council, used an online community for market research. It conducted three times its planned research goals at 80% less cost -- and discovered insights from fan discussion to change NASCAR rules to include a double-file restart (disclaimer: I don't fully understand NASCAR rules and cannot explain what a "double-file restart" means, but was still impressed that it changed the official rules based on insights from tits customers) and in turn improved overall brand sentiment. NASCAR actually listened to its fans, acted on the insight, and generated real business results -- a real Forrester Groundswell Award winning case.

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Lithium Buys Scout Labs, Puts The Spotlight On Social Media Data

After a weekend of speculation, today Lithium announced its acquisition of the social media monitoring tool, Scout Labs. Lithium is known for its community platform software, powering popular user communities like Best Buy's support forum and Barnes & Noble's Book Club and by integrating Scout Labs into its offerings, plans to track customers and brands on site through communities, and off site through social media. This deal strengthens Lithium's commitment to its message of "Social CRM", giving it a broader set of customer data to integrate.

This acquisition comes just weeks after Attensity announced its purchase of Biz360 and a few months after Jive bought Filtrbox. The growing number of acquisitions in the social media technology space is common for a young industry, but also indicates two distinct trends:

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Add Ratings And Reviews To Your Social Intelligence Strategy

When you think of “social media data,” what channels do you include? When I talk to marketers tasked with managing information on the social web, they usually talk about Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums, comments, and probably a bit more. But there  a set of channels commonly missing from this list: ratings and reviews. Most consumer brands have product pages on their website that ask customers for ratings or reviews. Even though these sections create a rich pool of consumer generated content, marketers often treat ratings and reviews as a separate set of data.

That’s why I was interested to see today’s announcement of a partnership between Nielsen and Bazaarvoice. This partnership gives Nielsen the ability to feed Bazaarvoice’s on-site ratings and reviews into its My BuzzMetrics dashboards, integrating the customer feedback channels into the larger scope of social media data. This connection of data sources provides access to a deeper view customers’ opinions — both prompted and unprompted. Earlier this week I chatted with Bazaarvoice's co-founder, Brant Barton about the integration of data sources. He, like I, see this as a natural fit and told me that more and more of his customers have asked for this offering.

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