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.

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