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Companies waking to need to monitor social media

July 22nd, 2010

By Allan Maurer

Gregory Artzt

Gregory Artzt

CHARLOTTE, NC – Once upon a not so very long ago, it was tougher getting credibility for a service that measures social media sentiment toward a brand, says Greg Artzt, founder and CEO of General Sentiment. “It felt like an uphill battle in the beginning. Many traditional research executives reject that statistically relevant information can be gathered and measured by listening to social media.”

But an unending series of reputation disasters aided and abetted by social media have seriously affected Tiger Woods, Toyota, Lebron James, Mel Gibson, BP, and assorted other businesses, entertainment figures and politicians. The noise level woke some people up.

“So it’s become a lot easier,” Artzt tells us. “It’s still a traditional research world, but the use of social media listening is now seen as fire detection, making sure nothing bad happens.”

Artzt and his co-founders created General Sentiment in New York in 2008, although he says they didn’t really get rolling until January 2009. About six months ago, it opened its Charlotte office, where most of its researchers and its client services office are located.

Growing in Charlotte

The angel-backed company also raised $150,000 from National Science Foundation SBIR grants and may seek a funding round later this year. It employs about five people in Charlotte now, expects that to be seven shortly and is looking for addition

The company’s technology on six years of research and development from Stony Brook University and delves heavily into the natural language processing field. It performs deep natural language processing, sentiment, and media analysis across millions of sources of content daily.

In addition to quarterly reports it releases to substantial media coverage quarterly, the company sells custom reports and software as a service that allows the client to track Internet sentiment on its own.

Was my marketing successful?

Artzt admits the company is in a highly competitive field, but says “Our system is the most researched technology of its kind.” And it isn’t restricted to looking for fires than need quenching.

“We focus on providing high-level information executives really need,” Artzt says.  “Was my marketing effort successful? Am I getting any tangible value from my efforts in Social Media? Should I drop my celebrity sponsor? Is my TV show creating a real impact, and if so, where?”

Of course, when it comes to such things as keeping or dumping a celebrity sponsor, what’s good for the company may not be just the opposite for Tiger Woods—both determined by the same viral firestorm.

Response is important

Artzt says the amount of damage to a brand is often determined by its response to a given problem. Toyota, for instance, did a good job of turning things around to bounce back, he says, while BP probably faces a long battle to regain its oil-soiled reputation.

Apple too, seems to have won the PR battle. “There has been quite a bit of discussion about how well Steve Jobs did addressing the antenna issue, but doing it was good for the brand,” says Artzt.

RIM’s Blackberry, a General Sentiment customer, also handled its end of the antenna flap well by coming out after Job’s press conference saying consumers don’t need a case to get good reception on their phones.

So the good side to all the bad publicity drowning BP, forcing Apple into press conference mode, and celebrity brouhahas, is that many businesses now realize that reputation matters, even though “They’re still in the early phases of that mindset,” says Artzt.

Still, he adds, many more clearly see that that these things have “real world impact” on the bottom line, on sales, on a company’s stock price and so on.

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