Thursday, March 9, 2006; 12:00 PM
Tracking online conversations is the latest method many companies are using to shape customer relations. In the recent story, Blog Buzz Helps Companies Catch Trends in the Making , marketing strategist Steve Rubel noted the importance of Internet word of mouth.
Rubel, a senior vice president at Edelman, a global PR firm, was online Thursday at Noon ET to discuss how companies are tracking trends through Internet chatter. A transcript follows.
At Edelman, Rubel is responsible for obtaining new word-of-mouth marketing business. He also explores how new technologies are transforming marketing, media and public relations on his blog Micro Persuasion , which is currently ranked on Technorati's Top-100 most popular blogs based on unique links in the last six months.
Steve Rubel: Hi everyone and welcom! I want to thank the Post for having me. Blog monitoring is a big subject so let's get into it. I hope that I can help clarify this topic.
NY, NY: Today there are a lot of players offering WOM monitoring data, and a lot of wild claims. What is your holy grail of monitoring data? What do you wish you could get at but is not easily available right now?
Steve Rubel: The holy grail of WOM monitoring really depends on one's needs. I really would like to see tools that help me identify who the "tree-shaker" are in specific verticals. For example, who is the most influential blogger on asthma or the Cubs. Also, on the defensive side, I would like to see tools that can tell me in real-time when a conversation is accelerating or deccelerating.
Coral Gables, FL: A correction:
You wrote that Steve Rubel's blog is currently in "Technorati's Top-100 most popular blogs based on the number of unique views."
Technorati's top is not based on the number of unique views, but on the number of "unique links in the last six months" - as detailed here:
Steve Rubel: Correct. It is the most links. This raises a bigger point. We don't have audience metrics as much as we would like them.
Orange County, CA: Steve, I'm a big fan of yours. I met you in Orlando, FL a few weeks back.
Seems to me that word of mouth is still in "upstart" phase. What kind of real world results is it going to take to get to the next step (and not provoke the outright ire of marketers used to traditional practices?)
Steve Rubel: Hi there. Nice to "see" you again. WOM is actually moving out of the infancy stage. Lots of big name marketers are looking to word of mouth to help bring them closer to the consumer. The result side is as you suggest key. There are ways to track the metrics by conducting pre/post brand lift surveys and more.
The Internet has no borders: Steve, avid reader of your blog here. Thanks for taking time to chat with us today.
My question is about how to deal with the warning signs that you may be facing a "Dell Hell"... if bloggers have picked up that you are having customer service issues, but these issues are going to take a little while to fix, how do you keep a lid on the grumblings in the meantime, before they takes on a life of their own?
Steve Rubel: My pleasure. This is a good question. The key thing to do is to make sure that the bloggers who are grumbling know that you are listening and you're doing everything in your power to help them, even if it's going to take some time.
How many times have you been at the fast food counter and watched someone get irate? They rant and rave and scream until someone with authority at least listens to what they have to say and then begins to act on it, even if it takes time. Then they calm down. This is the same in the b'sphere.
I do suggest to clients that they should give serious consideration to a corporate blog; in addition to their established web sites.
I'm aware of search sites such as technorati, but how else can I best help them get their blog discovered amongst the millions now out there?
(Mike Coulter, An Energizer Bunny of Ideas! Edinburgh.)
Steve Rubel: Mike, first I love your tag line. Awesome.
This is another question I get a lot. To get a blog noticed you need to find a "Higher Holy Calling." What I mean by that is you need to find the common ground between your company/organization's passions and those of your influential online customers. If you can triangulate that and have a blog that feeds these passions frequently and regularly, the blog will take off.
Washington, DC: What do you think are the best blog search engines out there for searching on a specific issue? Technorati? Google? How do the smaller engines match up, such as BlogPulse or PubSub?
Steve Rubel: This is an open race right now. Technorati appears to be winning, but the crown is open for taking. I want to see someone pull together data from all of the the big "centers of gravity" in the consumer generated media universe. I call these COGs for short. Increasingly I find myself using Technorati plus RSS feeds that are published by Flickr, del.icio.us, digg and others. It's a cake mix right now. Google is having a hard time battling the splogs.
Boston, MA: Are Edelman clients universally open to the concept of engaging the social web? And do you see applications of what you do in any client that you engage (or are there some who just aren't right for it)?
Steve Rubel: I think it's a bit early for me to tell that right now. I am in my second week here. However, I can tell you that lots of big Fortune 1000 marketers are looking hard at word of mouth. Word of mouth is not right for every client. The client needs to take a hard look at their company. Are they thick skinned enough? Are there people who will engage in real-time? Etc. These are all key.
Washington, D.C.: Now that it is widely known that Edelman went to bloggers to push positive Wal-Mart press (NYT 3/8), will you continue to do this in the future?
Steve Rubel: I will continue to say that public relations now means relating to the publics directly, not just through media. I support the actions of the WalMart team. However, I believe that we need to encourage bloggers to be more transparent in where they get their information.
Los Angeles, CA: With the explosion of testimonials planted by corporations on blogs and forums to manipulate word-of-mouth in favor of their products, how will the online world evolve in the near term to re-establish legitimacy, -or will it?
Steve Rubel: There are going to be people who get this right and others who will get it wrong. It's going to open up a chasm between the two and a shake out will occur. In the end, it's less about manipulation as it is about transparent facillitation.
Gray Court, SC: How much time can you devote to browsing blogs on a daily basis?
Steve Rubel: Gadzooks. A lot. I subscribe to 200+ feeds. I try to scan them all at least several times a day. Total I would say two - three hours a day. Debbie Weil published how I blog. Google my name hers and you should find it.
Washington DC: So being inside the beltway, is tracking buzz something federal agencies can/should be doing - especially those with public service mandates (thinking of CMS and Medicare Part D here)? Any thoughts about downsides like winding up on the front page of the Post?
Steve Rubel: I absolutely think every organization that needs to keep their fingers on the pulse of the public needs a way to mine/monitor consumer generated content. The government included.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Steve-
As news about companies and their products are increasingly discussed on blogs, how should communications departments measure their impact? I have only seen a few articles on micro media measurement and wonder how you would quantify content posted on blogs for senior management. Thanks.
Steve Rubel: Measurement is a big topic. There are a few ways to quantify it. One way is in Google. Are posts getting indexed into relevant Google searches? Another is media. Are the bloggers who you work with quoted in the press as sources of authority? Are you getting a bump in traffic? Etc.
New York, NY: How can pharmaceutical companies benefit from tracking Internet buzz? Do you see a company shifting its marketing or corporate strategy based on what is being talked about on the Internet -- specifically in the blogosphere?
Company: Envision Solutions, LLC
Blogs: HealthcareVox (www.healthcarevox.com); Envisioning 2.0 (http:/
Steve Rubel: Hi Fard. I haven't worked with a lot of pharmas, but I sure hope to here at Edelman. The monitoring is critical for pharmas. First, from a crisis managment POV. The next Tylenol-type crisis is going to start on blogs. People will say they are sick or know someone who is sick. Second, monitoring the blogosphere helps you size up what people want and need, which can be used as the starting point for developing new drugs.
Washington DC: Hi Steve,
It's Debbie Weil - calling in from D.C. where I live. I've been thinking about the following question and am interested in your answer. Is there any value in "anecdotal" monitoring of the buzz about your company, which you can get by monitoring "buzz" via free tools like Technorati or Blogpulse.
Or does a company need to hire one of the new online market research firms like Nielsen BuzzMetrics to extract - and parse - enough meaningful data to draw any real conclusions or as a basis for making business decisions?
Steve Rubel: Speaking of Debbie Weil! Ha.
The free tools offer tremendous value. However, when you get into the thousands of posts, you need a more robust solution and that's where Intelliseek et al come in.
Chicago IL: I've heard more than one person this week and a major newspaper claim that blogs and blogging has hit its peak. Do you believe that this is true?
Steve Rubel: Possibly, but it's irrelevant. People do need to look at this beyond blogging by seeing the bigger universe of consumer generated media. There are new Centers of Gravity or COGs popping up here every day. Some will be larger than the blogosphere. The overarching trend, however, is that consumers want to share and will continue to use every tool available to accomplish just that.
Arlington, VA: What do you think of companies like Brandimensions or Intelliseek?
Steve Rubel: I haven't used Brandimensions, but the folks at Nielsen Buzzmetrics (which Intelliseek is part of) are tops. They do a great job plowing through big mounds of data.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Steve,
I work for a business research firm that consults over 400 communications professionals...I commonly get the question: "Okay, if I have just launched a corporate blog, what is the best way to get it noticed?" I know that companies typically don't want to push it TOO much in the "MSM," but is there a more trusted and effective strategy to publicize a new company blog?
Steve Rubel: I think I answered this earlier. Find pockets of passion and add value to them.
Washington, DC: How does someone set up a monitoring structure that is focused on a topic, not just keywords?
Steve Rubel: This is a good question. I think you need to monitor a number of keywords and roll them up into a big RSS feed. Also, you should look at who is linking to a site, for example whitehouse.gov. Even better, I would love to be able to monitor who is using certain keywords when they are linking to a site, but I can't just yet. I bet this will come soon.
Arlington, Va.: I've always heard that people will share negative experiences much more often than positive ones. Does this hold true online as well?
Steve Rubel: That's a good question. If you follow human nature that makes sense. People expect to have a good experience. I bet someone has researched this.
Neither Here Nor There: Are there any opinions you can share about the Wal-Mart story?
Is this approach one you would have counseled Wal-Mart to take? And now that Edelman and Wal-Mart have been "outted" so to speak, what do you think they/you should do?
Steve Rubel: Here's something interesting. In the blog "backchannel" lots of people are sharing links to each other via email. When I started my blog, I sent these out to folks. Today, I am the recipient. I even get emails from reporters saying, "fyi this might interest your readers."
When I blog these links I often say where it came from. I now need to institutionalize this on my own site and then encourage our teams here at Edelman to tell the bloggers to do the same.
We will continue to build relationships with bloggers and strive to make them as transparent as possible.
Cloudy but warm Chicago IL: Hi Steve,
Jackie Huba here. Can you explain more about what you mean by these COG's - Centers of Gravity?
Steve Rubel: Hi Jackie. Sure. I wrote a post on this. What I mean is that in the consumer generated media universe there are galaxies that pull like-minded individuals. They are centers of gravity or COGs. digg, for example, is one. Flickr is another. The blogosphere is another - and the biggest, at least today.
Washington, DC: A lot of talk about corporate blogging, but what do you think of Government blogs? (Either as internal communications devices or external). Thanks
Steve Rubel: Blogging at the government level is an interesting topic. Right now, lots of senators/congresspeople blog - and not always when they are campaigning. The agencies, however, don't. I bet there will be increasing pressure on them to do so.
Internally, blogs are great for knowledge sharing inside any organization, government, NGO or corproate.
Chicago IL: The Word of Mouth Marketing Marketing Association advocates measuring WOM using something called a "WOMunit". Is this the best unit of measurement for measuring WOM?
Steve Rubel: At my last firm, I wasn't a member of WOMMA. Now that I am with Edelman I imagine I will get to know more about this unit. So, for now, I can't answer this.
Arlington, VA: I represent a company call Brandimensions and their technology allows their clients (the Pharmas, Automobile Manufacturers, TV Networks..etc) to change their marketing strategy based on the information Brandimensions mines on the internet within 24hrs....so this technology is really becoming what some of these companies rely on. To answer your question about the federal agencies with public service mandates using this technology...we are in the process of introducing this technology to them, they are slow to bite, but will catch on eventually.
Steve Rubel: The chatters here are psychic. I love it.
Washington, DC: It seems to me that people don't really classfy blogs/internet (in general) as credible sources of information. Am I wrong? If I'm not, why spend the resources on these "sketchy" sources of information.
Steve Rubel: I think the vast majority of the public does not read blogs. However, those who do are very influential. That's all that you should need to make it worth your while to participate. Usually collectively they find the truth.
Houston, TX: Can you compare/contrast the Wal-Mart example with the Sprint Ambassador Program you blogged about?
Steve Rubel: WalMart was about building relationships with bloggers and encouraging them to post.
In Sprint's case they sent out cell phones to bloggers in an effort to solicit genuine feedback to help them improve the product. They did not ask for us to blog about the product or disclose the relationship, but many of us did.
The Internet has no borders: Hi again. Follow up question: I often hear the argument that responding to grumbling bloggers lends more credibility to their message (usually from our legal department).
Is there a rule of thumb about when to engage online detractors (i.e., show them that we're listening) and when it's best to leave something alone?
Steve Rubel: There's a point in time when you need to act. The trick is to act just before it's too late, but not too soon. It's an art. There's no rule of thumb, but this is why we need tools that help us map the speed of a "meme" or issue.
Chicago, IL: Hi Steve, it's Rick (Murray from Edelman). Just a build on the answer to the "is there a greater propensity to see more negative vs. positive posts on an issue.
I think it all ties to passion. People will post most often, and most passionately, when the story involves something that's near and dear to their hearts.
Look at what's happened since the Wal-Mart NYT story broke on Tuesday. Sure there are those who don't like what we're doing, who we're doing it with, how we're doing it, etc., but there are as many or more who are very vocal in their support.
Debate is good. And this debate will make us better.
Steve Rubel: Ok, I wasn't going to post this question from Rick (I have the option of which questions to answer) but I guess I have to if I want to stay at Edelman, right? Just kidding. Rick makes good points and that's not just lip service!
Washington, DC: What is your view of the Federal Gov't using blogs - what are the pros and cons? There is a lot discussion in the Federal IT world about new communication tools like blogs but concerns about privacy issues, storing blog on gov't servers, how to use them, are preventing their adoption.
Steve Rubel: The pros are that you get all kinds of great information that people pay polling companies lots of money for. The negative is that it forces the government to become more transparent.
Washington, DC: Congratulations on the nice piece that appeared in the NY Times yesterday detailing how Edelman uses blogs to help Wal-Mart with a PR campaign. While it sounds like an innovative tactic, I'm not yet persuaded it has had the desired affect of changing the public's perception of Wal-Mart. Other than Edelman getting a lot of coverage for its blog practice, what success have these new tactics brought to your clients' PR and marketing campaigns?
Steve Rubel: The word of mouth campaigns bring Edelman clients closer to their most influential consumers. We will all strive to continue to make these efforts as transparent as possible by encouraging the bloggers to disclose.
Steve Rubel: Thanks again to the Post for having me here. I enjoyed this. Take care.
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.