The Masses Speak

A couple of days ago the following story hit my inbox from Marketwatch (story below, link here):
WASHINGTON
(MarketWatch) — While you watch the Super Bowl, dozens of online-savvy consumers and Web loggers will be watching the Net to see how the game’s TV commercials are playing in Peoria.

Intelliseek Inc. of Cincinnati and New Media Strategies of Arlington, Va., have lined up dozens of people to surf Web sites, blogs and message boards to get a fast read on the effectiveness and popularity of marketers’ commercials. With TV costing as much as $2.  million for a 30-second spot, companies want to know whether their money was spent wisely.

As people post comments about the ads on the Web, the marketing companies’ monitors will report what’s being said.

“Conversations all over the Internet, from message boards to blogs and beyond, now allow us to get a true pulse in real time,” said NMS Chief Executive Pete Snyder in a statement. His firm is doing a similar monitoring process of the entertainment industry and the Oscars contest.

“Studio execs and entertainment insiders watch very closely what people are saying online,” he added.

Besides the companies whose products are being pitched, advertising agencies are also interested in the results. Marketing officers hope they’ve chosen the right creative teams and campaign strategies.   It’s important that agencies, even more so than brands, are getting the right kind of buzz,” said Snyder, in a comment reported by Media Post. A couple of things struck me about this article. First – it’s great to see the blogsphere being recognized as a place where the masses gather to talk about current issues. While not exactly old school, this concept isn’t completely new – plenty has been written about blogging around the Democratic and Republican conventions (and around the election more generally). Still – it’s clear that more and more the blog space is being looked to as a microcosm of society as a whole.

Second, it’s also fantastic to see that corporations are paying media companies to monitor speech in the blog-world. Clearly they buy into premise #1 and feel that what bloggers are saying is important to understand and monitor.

While this is all great, what really struck me about this story is how backwards these companies are going about the business of measuring speech in the blogsphere. Am I reading this piece correctly – are these media firms actually hiring a bunch of people to manually search the web during the super bowl to try to figure out what bloggers are saying about the advertisements? Are they passing this off as scientific or statistically valid research?  Do they really think they can ‘get the true pulse’ of what is being said in this way? I’m picturing a bunch of people sitting in a big room in front of computers polling Technorati with random key-word searches trying to figure out what’s being written about sky-diving airplane pilots chasing after a six-pack of Bud.

This reminds me of a story from a company I worked with before I joined Mobius. It was about 1998 and the early days of the automated testing market. A web site operator contacted a company I was working with (it was a testing consulting firm that was a partner of ours) and asked if we would be able to arrange for 30,000 people to hit his web-site at the same time to see if it could handle the load (he actually thought we had thousands of people at the ready to do this). Pretty amusing, but in the context of a time before the wide adoption of testing tools it wasn’t completely out there. These days, most development shops, of the shelf software for testing their software.

Similarly, the way these media firms are going about measuring blog speech is equally as quaint as the guy who asked the testing firm to coordinate 30,000 people to hit his web-site (and just as clumsy). Technology alreadyexists that can enable wide scale measurement of speech by bloggers (see Umbria Communications for the best example of this – note: we are not investors in the company, although it is Colorado based and I know the CEO, Howard Kaushansky, well). To me, this technology is critical to the overall development of blogging. If the blogsphere is to become relevant as a medium for measuring the thoughts and views of society we have to be able to measure what it is saying en masse. While my blog may be relevant to a small (hopefully growing) segment of the universe (and I hope have some influence on how people think about the topics I post on) the power of my speech is amplified greatly when it is combined with that of others. I don’t mind being one voice among many – I just don’t want to be stuck only as a voice alone. The Internet and the blogsphere by extension is a technology platform – lets make sure we’re making use of technology to measure it as well.

  • Stephen Buck

    This reminds me of a product I once worked on. Once upon a time, Arbitron tracked television ads by employing swarms of people in “sweatshops” who used to watch 4 VCRs simultaneously in fast forward for 8 hours a day looking for new Burger King ads to report to McDonalds. We replaced this labor-intensive method with some automated video signature matching. I’m sure we put a lot of people out of jobs, but I can only imagine that they lived much happier lives afterwards. Sounds like things haven’t advanced that much in this area.

  • Pete Snyder

    Seth —
    Hope you don’t mind me hopping into the conversation – a little late — never posted here before, but caught your comments about the above article and wanted to weigh in.
    I’m the CEO of New Media Strategies – the company in the article — and you are dead right! Doing this type of research / monitoring without technology and a proven methodology (equally as important) would be a total waste. We DEFINITELY use technology and a proven methodology to help drive our searches / monitoring of the Internet / blogosphere… no offense to the journalist who wrote the artice, but some of these things get lost in translation or left on editing room floor 🙂 I’m sure they meant no harm. Speaking as a former pollster, there is no way you could get a proper pulse without a methodology and based on human-power alone. Now, that said my company does use analysts (aka living, breathing people who specialize in online market research) who do mine through this data and make sure it is accurate etc. As many learned from the dotcom bomb, technology alone does not a successful company make — most time you gotta tie technology to a brain somewhere along the line to add real-value. Oftentimes, it’s that last 2% that really matters aka nasa-style technology can mine throgh 98% of the Internet, but it has a hard time translating tone / intention (yes, there is some technology that get into this, but rarely is it consistent for commercial purposes) —- for example there is a big difference between telling a client — a consumer said they’d kill for a coke vs. someone said they want to kill coke’s ceo… and that DOES matter to clients 🙂
    anyway sorry to geek out here – but just wanted to clarify for you. That said, your main point is sound.
    We are doing our best to convince companies that what is being said in blogs and online matters — so far so good. Sometimes they get things backwards, but many are wising up. Glad it piqued your interest.
    Great info on your blog. Let me know if I can ever be of any help. Best, Pete