Thursday, July 16, 2009

Alterian Pushes Into Social Media Management with Techrigy Acquisition

Summary: Alterian's purchase of Techrigy marks the first integration of serious social media management with marketing automation. Others are sure to follow.

Marketing automation vendor Alterian yesterday announced its acquisition of social media monitoring company Techrigy. Even though the Techgrity deal is the first direct acquisition I recall of a social media monitoring system by a marketing automation vendor, it strikes me as an obvious step. Marketers have been scratching their collective heads for years over how to integrate social media, and marketing automation vendors are very aware of their needs.

I’m not even totally surprised that Alterian was the first to jump into this pool. Although other marketing automation vendors like Unica and SAS are generally more expansive, Alterian has been particularly aggressive about integrated customer management. Previous acquisitions include Web content management (MediaSurface, 2008), contact optimisation (Campaign Calculus 2.0, 2007), email (Dynamics Direct, 2006), marketing resource management (Nvigorate, 2006), and hosted analytics services (MarkIT, 2005).

In fact, according to Alterian’s very interesting FAQ about the Techrigy acquisition, “Engagement marketing” is the core of their current corporate vision. Although I’m generally allergic to sweeping vision statements, I think Alterian has earned the right to use that one. Sparingly.

What really impresses me is that Techrigy is a serious social media monitoring solution. This isn’t about making it easy to react to comments on Twitter, add friends on Facebook, or research prospects on LinkedIn, which is how most marketing automation vendors are approaching social media. Instead (or in addition) Techrigy supports sophisticated searches, categorization, sentiment analysis, influence measurement, author tracking, and case management.

This set of features means that Techrigy is really built more for corporate PR departments and marketing agencies than one-on-one customer management. But that makes the acquisition still more intriguing. I expect Alterian to extend the product to monitor and manage individual relationships, thereby integrating social media with other aspects of customer management.

This would be a major step beyond using aggregate social media data as a way to measure marketing performance – although even such measurement would be itself a great leap forward for most companies today.

It’s by no means certain that Techrigy can actually scale up to manage this many individual relationships. Current users probably track just a small number of individuals and cases, such as key bloggers and specific complaints that must be resolved. Ramping from that to tracking millions of individuals is likely to uncover serious bottlenecks. But even if the system can’t do this today, Alterian should eventually be able to rework it to overcome any obstacles. This sort of processing is a good fit for Alterian’s columnar database engine, which is the core of its business.

I spent some time playing with Techrigy yesterday, using the free version available on their Web site. This allows only 1,000 search results, which is far too few for any real business purpose. But it did give a good flavor for the system.

On the whole, I liked Techrigy very much. Per my previous comment, I was particularly impressed with the scope of the functions.

These start with searching for articles to analyze. The search interface allows advanced logic, complete with Boolean statements, local and global exclusions, and rules to assign the articles to categories for later analysis.

The searches run against articles assembled by Techrigy in a database that stretches back for two years and includes 1.5 billion entries. Sources include blogs, social networks (publicly-accessible sections of Facebook, MySpace, etc.), microblogs (Twitter, Friendfeed, etc.), message boards/forums (such as LinkedIn discussions), wikis (such as Wikipedia), video and photo sharing sites (Flickr, YouTube), and some mainstream media blogs (The New York Times, Wall Street Journal). Querying this database is where the Alterian database engine should shine – yesterday, running even my simple searches took longer than I’d like.

Users can also add their own feeds to search. This could not only capture specialized sources that are too small for Techrigy to monitor, but might include private sources such as a company’s user forums. This opens up a range of important applications beyond public social media tracking.

Searches can run on command, continuously, or on a regular schedule. Results can be streamed to an external viewer as an RSS feed or presented in standard reports. The most basic report shows daily volumes with trends over time. Results can be categorized and filtered based on author popularity (a 0-10 score based on audience), author demographics (age and gender, where known), domains, sources, and keywords. Additional reports show word clouds with themes, which can be derived from keywords or more advanced semantic analysis. There's even a Google Maps mash-up to show author locations. The semantic engine can also tag posts with positive or negative brand sentiment, content tone and emotions.

Users can dig into these reports to view the underlying articles. The system starts with a list of article summaries, similar to a set of Google search results. Users can then select an article and drill into its details, including extracted Web site information and traffic rank, content analysis showing sources of the system-applied tags, the full article itself, and links to Alexa, Technorati, Compete and Quantcast information about the article source.

Users can also delete the entry, mark it as spam, adjust the system-assigned tags, and edit information about the author. This author tracking is what could ultimately be expanded into tracking of individual customers.

Finally, users can assign the article to a user for review or action. This engages the workflow system, which can notify the assigned user and keep track of the article’s status, notes and priority. Here the system moves from social media monitoring into actual relationshipship management.

Techrigy’s user interface is generally okay, although I sometimes had a hard time finding functions such as how to rerun a report. This would presumably go away after a bit of experience. Response time was a little slower than I’d like for tasks such as a applying a filter or presenting an article list. However, this might not be typical: the Alterian acquisition has attracted a lot of attention and generated more than 400 new trial users (per a Twitter post). In any case, this is where the Alterian engine should help.

As for the semantic engine itself – I was underwhelmed by the accuracy of the results. I especially enjoyed the Twitter post “Twitter for B2B Marketing - Marketo: Sin DescripciĆ³n” being tagged as negative, religious, and – wait for it -- written in Danish.

A more serious problem is articles like “Ten Mistakes Marketers Make” being tagged as a strongly negative brand reference. But this is probably an issue with most semantic engines (I had a similar problem with ScoutLabs). Presumably Techrigy’s accuracy will improve over time. But even if it doesn’t, users will adjust to what it can do. In practice, you’d expect a company to review all entries tagged as negative, which would then be reclassified or dealt with as appropriate.

Current pricing for Techrigy starts at $600 per month for 20,000 stored search results. Of course, pricing could change under the new ownership.

In sum, Techrigy is an interesting product on its own, but the real story here is the potential for merging social media with other marketing systems. Although this was clearly inevitable, it’s exciting to see Alterian start to make it happen. We can expect other marketing automation vendors to follow quite quickly.


Aaron C. Newman (Techrigy, Inc.) said...


Great reading your blog and nice to see you diving into SM2. You are right on with accuracy. When dealing with unstructured content determing sentiment and even language around results that are 8 words can be tricky when trying to automate - which is why we always allow the human to review the data and change when its clearly wrong :)

Of course, joining the Alterian family is great because we have even more resources to start fine tuning SM2 and provide as accurate results as possible. Being 2 days into the combined companies, its quite exciting.

Looking forward to reading more on your blog.

Aaron C. Newman
Techrigy, Inc.
cell: 646-280-5168

- Providing visibility into Social Media -

David Raab said...

Aaron - congratulations and good luck. I'm looking forward to seeing what you and Alterian cook up together.

Martin Edic said...

As a former Techrigy marketing guy, I have to say that this is the most complete product review I've seen- and I agree, the product is very good. Bear in mind that the Freemium version you tested has some limitations and is on a server that is much slower due to volume of searches. I'm sure Aaron would provide you with a test version that is quite a bit faster!