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Big brother and Google’s entrance into social media monitoring

29th Jan 2010
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MyCustomer.com

With all the information Google collects on us, is it only a matter of time before it enters the social media monitoring space? Marshall Sponder and Cecilia Pineda Feret discuss the likelihood, what its platform would look like - and how it would impact the the social media monitoring sector.

As a web and social media analyst I am predisposed toward any service that merges customer data with site analytics information and online conversations - which leads me to the following bold, as some say, prediction. At the Monitoring Social Media 09 conference last November, my presentation included the statement: "Google will enter the social media monitoring space within the next two years." (For more information see Slide 15 of my presentation on the Future of Social Media Monitoring). 

Google, the largely Orwellian company that claims to 'Do No Evil', takes website traffic data and correlates it to news, search trends, purchasing activity, search activity and browsing activity throughout the entire web. As I will be discussing social media monitoring as part of my one-day conference in London on March 31st, 2010 at Monitoring Social Media Bootcamp, I have further developed my thoughts from last November.
Based on my own assessment by looking at the available platforms today, there are no social media analytics vendors or online reputation management services capable of matching Google yet. I think Google's entrance into this area would be mostly helpful to some of the current entrants, many of them could end up going out of business or being swallowed up by others. For a recently updated list of social media monitoring vendors see StephenDebruyn.com.
Data that could be used for social media monitoring is collected from our search history, websites and web presence. Google collects 18 months of Web History (down from 24 months of a few years ago) and can view and search from the full text of the pages you, or anyone else who has ever logged into Google. Once it acquired DoubleClick, Google integrated DoubleClick's browsing pattern tracking with Google's web history tracking to have a full spectrum of access to our web experience at its fingertips, including what sites we ultimately visited after leaving Google’s site, and what products we purchased subsequently.  
A natural fit?
By logging into my own Google Dashboard, I can see all the information Google collects about me including the number of Google Analytics accounts I have access to, my Google Calendar data (so they know where I have been and where I’m going), my purchasing history via Google Checkout, if I use that for online purchases, all the people I know via my Google Contacts/Address Book plus the information in my Google Documents, the textual analytics around my Gmail correspondences, my Google Reader habits and what I liked and shared on it, whom I’m following on Google Reader and who follows me. In addition to information it collects about us via our Google Accounts and websites, Google Search now displays real time data from Twitter and Facebook highlighting relevant search results. 
Google also knows my age, zipcode and activity (ClickStream), giving them a 360-degree visualisation of me and anyone else like me who spends a lot time interacting with the world via the web. Magnify the data Google collects on me by the number of Google Accounts (unknown at this time) and you end up with an unparalleled collection of information - what John Battelle calls The Database of Intentions as he describes in his book, 'The Search'.
In addition, Google's real time information about us has been improving exponentially, especially for business activity. Google knows our location in physical space via Google Mobile (and our movements, where we were, are and where we went next), our advertising activity and our profit or costs on Google AdWords.
According to an analysis of 4 million websites done late last year by Factual, 28% of all websites are being monitored by Google Analytics. As of 2007, 108,810,358 websites existed - the way things are going, the number has probably more than doubled by 2010. Using 2007 numbers, Google Analytics was likely to track about 29 million websites then, and tracks probably closer to 60 million sites by now assuming the rate of growth has at least remained consistent. In all likelihood, it is much more than my conservative estimate.
Keeping in mind all the information Google collects on us, why shouldn't it enter the social media monitoring space with their own suite of solutions? After all, it already has entered many other areas where it is considered one of the top or THE top application for that area: advertising, content, health, commerce, mobile phone, power monitoring, news, and web analytics tracking. It would be a natural fit for Google to enter social media monitoring.   
A vision of the future?
While Google has yet to formally compete with Comscore, Quantcast, and Nielsen in audience monitoring on web platforms, it can easily draw upon the categorisation of services, create its own categorisations, and, to some extent, already has within Google Analytics Benchmarking and with Google AdWords. Any website owner can compare their own traffic with other websites in the same category – the data is anonymous, but highly indicative and useful.
What might a Google social media monitoring platform look like and what features might it have?  
  • Free, easy to use, and accessible to anyone who has a Google Account.
  • Any website monitored by Google Analytics would also be monitored for mentions against specific pages of the site, much as WebTrends reports referral logs to Radian6, but, in this case, it will be Google Search feeding Google Analytics seamlessly much as Yahoo! Search feeds Yahoo! Pipes. 
  • Google Alerts, which have already been built into Google Analytics, via its Intelligence features, could list any mention or event that surpasses a preset threshold. Google Analytics already does this for site events such as more page views, visits or time spent on a page than normal based on trending algorithms that Google has employed and maintains for each Google Analytics account. 
  • Google's entry in reputation management could also take the form of a coordinated response to online mentions using a version of Gmail, with preset templates already set up for the site owner to respond to negative or positive buzz. 
  • Specific solutions might be offered using an advertising campaign with AdWords, including on YouTube where links would be provided in response to a specific action or mention, so that the site owner or business could take immediate follow-up action and have the information appear in Google's properties counterbalancing or supporting mentions as the case may warrant. Google could or would charge the User for running advertising against the responses, but the user, for the most part, could or would use Google's reputation monitoring service for free. Google could create and maintain a PR/management Dashboard for individuals and entities.
  • Reputation management could also be added to Google via Google Webmaster Tools. Now a site owner can monitor how often their websites are crawled by Google, any problem encountered, and is able to use a response form to communicate directly with Google when there is a problem with their site. Google can find information on the web relating to each page of the site and place it in Webmaster tools for response by the owner while still passing the data to Google Analytics for analysis, trending and alerts. 
  • Paid Advertising via Google AdWords (or AdSense, if you're a publisher) could be integrated with brand mentions in Social Media that appear in Google Search and tied to landing pages monitored by Google Analytics. ROI could be calculated, perhaps for the first time, for social media efforts across most or all of your marketing channels. 
As Google has almost all the pieces in place to do a better job of social media monitoring than anyone else, why hasn't it formally entered this space yet? 
Simply put, until now, the social media monitoring space wasn't big or important enough for Google to get involved, it was still a niche market in its infancy, according to Forrester.

So far, much of the online marketing budget for Businesses has been focused on Search (Paid and Organic) and not Social Media. In addition, Google may be hesitating until the market grew big enough. Meanwhile, it has been increasingly viewed as Big Brother; where Google's entrance into monitoring is  likely to amplify fears that Google knows everything about us and will use that information for its own best interests at own expense.

But, in 2009 the tide began to turn in favor of Google dipping its foot into social media monitoring as conversations began to be viewed as markets with a whole class of technologies emerging to help companies keep track of the online conversations. Last October two key events happened which helps Google justify enter the social media monitoring space. 
  • First, In-Q-Tell, serves the CIA  bought a stake in Visible Technologies, one of the largest social media monitoring vendors. This action sent a signal to Google and the business investment community that social media monitoring was on the verge of becoming a big business (one that Google may want to be part of).
  • Second, the FTC released its Blogger rules defining the scope and penalties around monitoring blogger payola and social media endorsements. As more and more businesses and individuals seek to monitor online reputation the market for social media monitoring is becoming much more crowded with bigger profits for the main players such as Visible Technologies, Radian6, Buzzmetrics, et al.
I suspect Google has considered entering social media monitoring for some time now and has been quietly working on its own offerings, poised to enter the market at any  moment and dominate it, as Google has proven over and over. Often Google acquires companies to enter a space such as the recent purchase of AdMob to enter the Mobile Advertising space. The Google acquisition I am most familiar with is Google acquiring Urchin in 2005 and making it a free product  to anyone who opened a Google Account. However, I do not believe Google needs to acquire a social media monitoring platform as its own products are at least as good as anything it could acquire and it has everything it needs to launch its own solution and tie it to its existing products.  
How would Google's entry into social media monitoring impact the existing players in this space?
  • Google's entry into any business area raises the visibility of that sector and further legitimises the business model of that sector.
  • Google's entrance into social media monitoring will force monitoring vendors to cooperate with each other and improve their offerings, just as Google's entrance into web analytics encouraged vendors to differentiate themselves from Google Analytics, focusing on features such as event correlation, segmentation and rich media tracking, features Google Analytics did not initially offer, but does now.
  •  Development of standards for social media measurement. As I mentioned in slide 11 of my presentation on the Future of Social Media Monitoring, social media does not have a standard set of definitions for measurement of conversations, sentiment, or share of voice to guide vendors in implementation, which hampers interoperability of social monitoring platforms with each other, even though they are monitoring the same conversations online. Furthermore, implementing standards leads to more profit for vendors. One example is the IAB's VAST Video Advertising Standard which further monetised third party Video Ad Platforms such as BrightRoll.
  • Most vendors prefer not to share information with each other, however, with Google's presence in this space, they will have more reason to do so.   
These are just some of the reasons for Google to formally enter the social media monitoring space. Of course, the usual suspicions regarding Google's intentions as it enters any business are likely to surface again. Accusations of being BIG BROTHER hasn't stopped Google before, and it probably won't stop it now.  
Marshall Sponder is the founder of Webmetricsguru.com, an industry blog about Web Analytics, Social Media and Search Marketing. He also writes a monthly column for Entrepreneur.com on helping businesses to leverage online marketing technologies successfully in a challenging economy. Marshall maintains his own Analytics Consultancy, Now-Seo, working with small to large marketing agencies. He is also producing NY DataStories , events offering networking and analysis of business metrics. Follow him on Twitter: @webmetricsguru
Marshall will be presenting at the Monitoring Social Media Bootcamp in London on 31 March. A one-day masterclass hosted by Our Social Times, MyCustomer.com readers can receive a 10% discount by quoting the discount code 'mycustomer' on registration. For more details on the Bootcamp click here.
Cecilia Pineda Feret is an Online Marketing and Community Strategist at Accent Resources Online Presence Development where she provides online and social media strategy and creates content and engagement for entities such as Havana Central and StupidCancer.com. She also chairs the Social Media Committee for Columbia Business School Alumni Club of New York as well as co-producing NY DataStories. Find her blog: splashthenripples.com and follow her on Twitter: @cecipf 

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