When analyst firm Forrester Research changed the technology focus of its Forrester Wave report on "brand monitoring" to one assessing "listening platforms," the firm cited as its rationale the explosion of social networks and consumer conversations. [Editors' Note: For coverage of Forrester's 2009 report, click here.] At the time, Forrester analyst Suresh Vittal explained to CRM that simply tracking discussions was no longer good enough; businesses needed to "understand consumer sentiment and be able to analyze your influence or behavior to define your marketing strategy." This shift continued throughout 2009, writes Forrester analyst Zach Hofer-Shall in The Forrester Wave on Listening Platforms 2010, as the technology evolved beyond basic brand monitoring tools into technologies that inform campaign measurement, market research, customer support, and sales enablement.
Forrester defines listening platforms as technology and analytics infrastructures that mine and analyze social media to deliver insight. These tools power what Forrester refers to as "Social Intelligence" - the concept of informing marketing and business decisions with insights found in social media data. Because the market for listening platforms is still in its relative infancy and buyers' demands continue to increase, Hofer-Shall writes that "firms remain confused" about which tools to use to power their Social Intelligence.
Buyers face more difficulty than ever choosing listening platforms, according to the report, because the landscape includes:
- A plethora of startups;
- Software heavyweights;
- Experts in text analysis; and
- Vendors specializing in specific functions.
In order to assess the different tools available in the Listening market, Forrester evaluated vendors on 76 different criteria that the firm grouped into three high-level buckets:
- How well a vendor's Current Offering meets today's market demands;
- How well each vendor's Strategy addresses enterprise-level Social Intelligence needs; and
- A measurement of the vendor's current Market Presence, including currently active installations, customer retention percentage, and customer satisfaction.
Nine vendors were included in the assessment, each of whom has the following:
- A Products that scales across multiple business functions;
- Leading software dashboard and services teams; and
- Considerable presence in the enterprise market.
The nine vendors are listed in alphabetical order below:
Nielsen, Radian6, and Converseon lead the market, according to the report. "They combine the best current offering and go-to-market strategy," writes Hofer-Shall. "But the three vendors differ from each other based on their balance of technology and services."
The report describes Radian6 as a much more software-focused vendor with very few consulting offerings. Converseon provides heavy services offerings on top of moderate technology and Nielsen leads by offering a a strong combination of both technology and services, according to the report.
Alterian, Cymfony, evolve24, Dow Jones, and Visible Technologies offer competitive options. "Each of the strong performing vendors has its own unique characteristics but delivers a competitive product throughout many of the evaluated criteria," Hofer-Shall explains in the report. "Alterian's SM2 product offers a strong dashboard, Cymfony is a leader in services offerings, evolve24 excels in data analysis, Dow Jones shows strength with its data source coverage, and Visible Technologies offers myriad functionality options."
Collective Intellect is listed as a strong contender. The company is described as "an emerging vendor with a strong overall strategy." Hofer-Shall writes that the vendor's most notable attribute is data quality through text analysis and that it furthers its focus on data quality by "focusing development time and budget on text processing technologies but lacks some of the current dashboard functionality its competitors offer."
Added to this year's report are:
- converseon; and
"A year and a half ago," Hofer-Shall explained, "it was easy to identify who the big players were. This time around there are so many more vendors that we needed to find who best serves an enterprise audience. We wanted to find vendors who could serve not just a large installation of potentially hundreds of seats in an organization but who can serve different teams, not just to marketing, not just to PR, but across the organization."
Although a lower percentage are of Alterian's customers are on the enterprise level, Hofer-Shall said that when he spoke to billion-dollar companies they "very often" had an Alterian SM2 dashboard in place for one or many of their social functions.
Collective Intellect was added because it has sold into the enterprise-level large customer base and because it excels at horizontal data play. A year and a half ago. Hofer-Shall said, it wasn't on the list because it was a new player and it was bunched in with social media monitoring start-ups.
Converseon wasn't in the report last time because it "didn't have much in the way of a technology dashboard," Hofer-Shall said. "[The dashboard was there] it just wasn't much to talk about. The work they've done since has been entirely on ramping up their technology offering."
evolve24 has a small customer base, smaller than any other vendor in the report, but each customer represents a large enterprise installation.
Dropped from this year's report are JD Power and Associates and Biz360. Hofer-Shall described both companies' offerings as very strong, he said that they weren't geared toward the enterprise-level integration he was looking for in potential vendors.
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