Companies are ‘monitoring’ this blog right now.

Did you know that companies are ‘monitoring’ blogs and messageboards to determine people’s opinions about brands and advertising campaigns?

Computers are used to “peruse” millions of blogs and messageboards and measure the amount of “chatter” or “buzz” present in the “blogosphere“. Natural Language Processing is used to analyse the language used in posts, to estimate the demographic information of the author (including their age and gender, and maybe even their ethnicity) (Morrissey, 2005) and determine if the “chatter” is negative or positive.

Umbria Communications and BuzzMetrics [now Nielson BuzzMetrics] are two companies that currently gather and analyse online chatter. Umbria’s Buzz Report, analyses content from 16 million blogs, message boards, opinion sites and other public forums (Umbria Inc., 2005). The BuzzMetrics’ Discussion Miner scours blogs, community websites, listservs and Usenet newsgroups and, according to the company website, is able to “track particular users over time” (BuzzMetrics, 2005), or more accurately track particluar user’s opinions over time.

Unlike traditional market research, this form of research does not require participants to give approval for the use of their opinions and comments because blogs are publicly published. However, as Godes and Mayzlin (2004, p.26) point out, the participation of consumers in online communities is “undoubtedly made without the consideration that firms may be observing these conversations and drawing inferences from them”. These technologies may especially cause concern for consumers who consider blogs to be personal online diaries, and use messageboards to provide personal comments.

Some ‘bloggers’ who have discovered the use of these measurement techniques have used their blogs to discuss the topic. One such blog, called Pop Occulture Blog (2005), contains posts which describe this technology as ‘amazing’ and ‘fascinating’, as well as questionable. Jonathan Carson, president and CEO of BuzzMetrics, also took part in the blog. He suggests that the company is helping marketers engage in conversation-based relationships with customers (rather than disseminating information to them) by helping marketers listen to consumers more effectively.

Which means, no doubt, that the companies mentioned have read what I have written about them (and if so I did try to be accurate and neutral).

What do you think? Please comment.

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This article first appeared at the M/Cyclopedia of New Media.