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Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are experiencing explosive growth, and that means increasing pressure on companies to keep track of what’s being said about their brand.

It also means an extraordinary business opportunity for Radian6, a Fredericton, N.B.-based firm with a software platform that allows it to monitor or “listen” to social networks for its clients, a list that includes some of the world’s largest corporations.

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For a monthly fee, companies can use the Radian6 platform to track, analyze and engage with everything that is said about them, and even alert different departments — such as public relations and customer service — to key conversations.

It’s a business model that’s producing powerful growth for Radian6. Since signing up its first client in January, 2008, its monitoring service has attracted more than 1,500 clients, including giants such as Dell, Comcast, Microsoft, Pepsi and Kodak.

“We’re adding hundreds of clients every quarter,” CEO Marcel LeBrun says.

The company expects sales to triple in 2010 after increasing 600 per cent in 2009. And the employee count should reach 170 by year end, double the number at the end of 2009.

The idea for Radian6 started with Chris Newton, now the company’s chief technology officer. A few years back, Newton was working for a network security company, trying to find a way to massage huge amounts of data into something meaningful. At the same time, he began noticing how social media were gaining ground on traditional media — people were increasingly getting their information from Internet communities and those sources were helping them to form their opinions.

Newton believed he would have a valuable product if he could find a way to channel and organize those Internet-based conversations. He was right.

LeBrun got involved after hearing about the venture from his former boss, Gerry Pond, one of Radian6’s early investors. Radian6 started in 2006 and received venture capital from BDC in its first round of financing. It quickly became profitable and didn’t need another round of financing. Its software platform went live on the Internet in 2007.

Its computers monitor the web 24 hours a day and index hundreds of millions of conversations in most of the main European languages, as well as Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

The company’s software is able to assess whether the conversations are negative or positive in tone. Radian6 is also able to keep clients abreast of what key themes are being discussed. Additionally, it can measure the influence of those talking about a company. This allows companies to understand how much of an impact a blogger or a website has and decide which ones they might want to interact with.

LeBrun, a computer engineer by training, acknowledges the company’s success, but cautions that future growth and profits depend on innovation and staying ahead of the competition. That’s why the company has 50 employees engaged in R&D and will spend $50-million this year on the activity. Radian6 produces new features for its software platform every six weeks on average.

Another key to success for Radian6 is its ability to create what LeBrun calls an “engaged brand.” He defines the term as a company that remains in close contact with clients, potential clients and the public through online media such as blogs, e-books, videos and podcasts.

“We are in a constant conversation with our community, collecting suggestions and feedback.”

Radian6’s home base is far from North America’s high-tech centres and LeBrun sees definite advantages in the arrangement, especially when it comes to employee turnover. “Since we started in 2006, we have not had one employee leave from our research and development unit,” LeBrun says. “That just doesn’t happen in most tech firms. It's invaluable.”

“But it also means I spend more time on planes than other people do.”

Lessons learned

  1. Celebrate your success but keep an eye on the competition.
  2. To stay ahead of competitors, invest in innovation. Aim to constantly develop and introduce improved processes, features and products.
  3. Build a team that is focused on customer service and helping clients succeed with your product.
  4. Become “an engaged brand” by interacting with your customers. Think about participating in social media and offering value-added content through podcasting, blogging and video.
  5. Stay on top of what’s happening in your industry and provide this information to your customers. It sends the message you’re a leading expert in your field.

Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.

 

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