Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tealium Measures Response to Social Media

The Internet promises marketers an exquisite measurability: you can tell precisely where each Web site visitor came from, and what people from each source do after they arrive. But non-advertising media such as blogs, online news articles, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are a blind spot because many references to a company don’t contain a clickable link. (Tealium, whose solution I’ll discuss shortly, put the figure at 80% in one study.) Without a link, users either must type the destination URL into their browser or find the site through a search engine. Either way, the visit is not associated with the original source. Therefore, marketers who want to know, say, how many site visits were prompted by a particular YouTube video have no direct way to find out.

Tealium, a developer of specialized Web analytics tools founded last year by veterans of WebSideStory/Visual Sciences, offers Tealium Social Media as a solution. It first builds a list of Internet references to a product, based on automated searches of sources such as Google News and Blogsearch, YouTube, Bloglines, Twitter, etc., plus any other RSS source you might have available. The system then checks whether visitors to a company Web site have previously visited one of these references by checking the cache of the visitor’s browser. If a match is found, the visit is attributed to that source.

I’m going to stop right here and say that this struck me as raising a significant privacy issue. I hadn’t really given the matter any thought but had assumed my browser history was private. But a Google search on "read browser history" shows that a method to check whether someone has visited a specified URL is widely known. This is what Tealium does and it isn’t as invasive as simply reading everything. More important, Tealium doesn't track individuals: rather, it reports how many people come from a given source. This is little different from conventional Web analytics, so I guess there is no particular privacy objection to the product. And, yes, you can always clear your browser cache or shorten the retention period. Quick show of hands: how many of you have actually done that? I thought so. End of sermon.

Tealium’s approach won’t be 100% accurate, since some people really do clean out their browser caches,. A few people will also access a site from a different computer or browser than the one where they saw the reference. Nor will Tealium capture referrals, such as an email I sent you with a product’s name after reading an article about it. But most of these problems apply to other Web analytics techniques, and on the whole the data should be accurate enough to be useful. It will certainly give a good measure of the relative power of different sources.

The system must also choose how to assign credit if the visitor’s cache contains more than one of the reference items. Tealium handles this by ranking the items on popularity and recency, and assigning the match to the highest ranked item. This seems reasonable.

Of course, Tealium can only measure Web-based activities. This almost goes without saying, but it's worth reminding ourselves every so often that there are still plenty of non-Web interactions taking place.

Tealium originally intended to present its social media results in a stand-alone interface. But the vendor decided a couple of months ago to instead feed them into existing Web analytics products, and Google Analytics in particular. This reduced the work Tealium had to perform (no reporting or data storage), hence lowering development and operating costs. From the client viewpoint, it integrates the social media results with other Web analytics, allowing direct comparisons between paid and unpaid media. In addition, downstream measures such as conversions or purchases automatically become available for the Tealium-derived sources. This was a very wise move.

What Tealium won’t provide is measures of sentiment, such as whether a particular social media reference was praise or criticism, of comments on particular subjects, or of changes in customer attitudes. Nor does it claim to. There are of course many other systems in this field; see last week’s post on reputation monitoring systems for a pointer to a detailed list.

Pricing of Social Media starts at $2,000 for implementation plus $250 per month with a one year contract. Price grows slightly as users add keywords and data feeds but is not related to actual traffic volume. The system has been in beta test with six clients until recently, and is being formally launched today.

Social Media is Tealium’s third product. The other two are WebToCRM, which captures Web visitor data and posts it to a CRM system, and Universal Tag, which lets a single page tag feed visitor data to multiple Web analytics systems.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Interesting Conference on Real Time Communications; Great List of Tools for Reputation Monitoring

I spent yesterday morning at a conference on “Real-Time Communications” presented by the Business Development Institute and sponsored by PR Newswire. Not surprisingly, given the sponsor, this turned out to be mostly by and for public relations professionals. This group’s main concern seemed to be reacting to public criticism, and “real time media” meant primarily blogging and Twitter. There was heavy representation from the pharmaceutical industry in particular, which, as several speakers mentioned with obvious frustration, is highly constrained by regulatory rules from making proactive comments. Beyond reacting to immediate crises, it seems the main media relations strategy of this group is to reach out to better educate the press about industry issues, so any reporting will be based on a reasonably accurate understanding of the situation. Apparently even this basic approach is somewhat revolutionary in the industry: keynote Ray Kerins of Pfizer said that until he took over as VP Worldwide Communications two years ago, the company policy was to simply ignore the first phone call from any reporter. Interesting attitude, that.

Kerins also provided perhaps the most intriguing factoid of the day, which was that 15,000 journalists lost their jobs in 2008. (I traced this figure to the Web site Paper Cuts , which tracks reports of newspaper layoffs and buyouts. Apparently the total includes all newspaper employees, not just newsroom staff. But either way, it’s a big number.) Kerins’ comment was that many of the people being let go are well-trained and experienced reporters, who provide “context and analysis”. They are being replaced in many cases by bloggers and other non-professional observers who offer “speed” but are often not as knowledgeable, thorough or objective. This is a big issue, particularly for someone in a complicated industry such as pharmaceuticals.

Another, related point came from Morgan Johnston, Corporate Communications Manager of JetBlue, who described a situation where a customer complained while at the airport to 10,000 online readers about not being compensated properly when her baggage didn’t show up—only to have it appear 15 minutes later. (I’m not clear whether this was on Twitter or a conventional blog.) His point was that the damage was done, even if she posted a follow-up message saying that all was well. The original complaint will live on more or less forever, and people may not notice the final resolution. The particular moral here was the need to respond very quickly to such complaints so the company’s reaction becomes part of the permanent record.

From my own perspective, I was struck by the focus on reacting to other people’s comments in real-time media, as opposed to using those media for a company’s own marketing programs. I suppose the outbound programs are run by marketing rather than public relations.

On the specific issue of marketing measurement, no one at the conference seemed to feel they could meaningfully measure the return on investment of blogging and other projects. From the reactive PR perspective, it’s largely about being defensive and preventing damage to reputation, so it’s probably something you can’t afford not to do. The very little discussion I heard about proactive programs mentioned that it’s occasionally possible to count the direct leads or revenue, but there isn’t much of a way to measure the long-term financial value. This matches my own observations, mostly because the impact of these programs is usually too small to isolate from other factors that also affect performance. There might however be non-financial measures that are more sensitive, like Web site traffic by source.

One very specific and highly valuable product of the conference was a casual remark by one panelist to look at a Web post by Dan Schawbel at for tools to measure brand reputation online. I tracked this down and found two extremely valuable posts, one describing free brand monitoring tools and another describing paid reputation monitoring tools (many of which are very inexpensive). There’s no point to my listing the products here, since you can just read the posts themselves. But this is very useful information – indeed, it made the whole morning worthwhile.