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PART THREE: DIGITAL FRONTIERS

Digital private eye monitors social media Add to ...

To tell you what the Internet thinks of you, Meltwater scans about 260 million sources.

In the third of our four-part series on companies that are betting everything on new, disruptive technologies, we look at an Oslo-based firm that has put together one of the most customizable, high-powered social-media-monitoring tools around.

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Founded 10 years ago, the Meltwater Group is one of a growing number of companies focusing on “software as a service.”

Essentially, SAAS describes software that customers can rent rather than buy; the entire sector’s growth trajectory is closely tied with the growth of cloud computing.

In that sense, Meltwater isn’t much of a trailblazer. However the company’s newest product, Meltwater Buzz, is aimed directly at the growing number of big and small firms looking to get a handle on their online reputation.

Buzz is, essentially, a digital private investigator. The software monitors hundreds of millions of on-line sources, from Twitter accounts to blogs, for references to specific companies, campaigns or products. As such, customers can use it to figure out exactly what the buzz is around just about any topic.

Meltwater’s software then breaks down that data by sentiment – positive, neutral, or negative – as well as a variety of other criteria, from geography to source to time of day.

Given that sentiment analysis is still in its infancy, leading to a high number of false results, Buzz’s algorithm is designed to learn over time, making it more accurate as it scans more data.

The software also lets customers combine all of their incoming mentions and messages, whether from Twitter, Facebook or elsewhere on the Web, into one inbox.

A social calendar feature lets users plan their responses ahead of time, and offers feedback on the effect of messages sent at different times of the day.

But perhaps most importantly, Buzz also rates the importance of the sources from which those comments originate.

Using another set of algorithms that measures metrics such as the number of retweets and Twitter followers, the software assigns a score to each source.

As such, companies monitoring the social Web can get a quick sense of who they should reply to the quickest.

Not only is Buzz perhaps the most important product in Meltwater’s attempt to break into the North American market, it’s also proving to be a vital tool for some of their customers that are looking to the Web as the future of their marketing strategy.

Buzz customers, including hockey equipment manufacturer CCM, are in the process of moving huge portions of their communications and marketing budgets to the social Web.

To be sure, Meltwater faces some stiff competition in the North American social media monitoring industry.

In the past few years, a huge number of startups have begun offering similar services. Given the wide scope of what Meltwater’s software does, it’s conceivable the company could find itself competing with everyone from Hootsuite to Klout.

That’s in large part why Meltwater has gone on a mini-buying spree. The company’s most recent acquisition, IceRocket, is a search engine focused primarily on blogs and the social Web.

Ric Pratte, director of Meltwater Buzz, says the software will continue to evolve. Like companies such as Klout, Meltwater is slowly but surely looking at the potential predictive power of its software, as more and more customers ask for tools that can warn them ahead of time whether sentiment is going to take a sharp turn – much in the same way Google can predict flu breakouts ahead of time by monitoring flu-related searches.

That’s why Meltwater has started to test Buzz on more than just corporate campaigns. Its most recent endeavour? Monitoring the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

This series continues next Thursday.

Other stories can be found on the Web Strategy section of the Report on Small Business website .

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