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Finding the Gold

Am I painting a picture of all doom and gloom? Not necessarily. I'm just painting the landscape. Before you go running off to your lawyer to issue cease-and-desist orders to web sites and individuals that fling—in your mind—slanderous opinions of your company, look at the bright side. Like the Net, this corporate challenge comes with both sugar and spice. I fed you the spice, now here's the sugar: There's hidden treasure in those postings and discussions!

Like the yin-yang of the universe, there are millions of dollars worth of market intelligence waiting to be unearthed on these sites, boards, groups, and lists. But short of hiring a fulltime staff to monitor these sources—which is close to impossible—how do you tap this new gold mine?

First, you can hire a service to do the monitoring for you. There are a variety of services like eWatch, MarkWatch, and WebClipping.com that will monitor the Net for you.

But the future unfolds quickly on the Net, and new generations of monitoring tools are being developed. There's a new category of software called "conversation trackers." These new software tools scour the newsgroups, listservs, web-based message boards, and big corporate email threads looking for key words or phrases. Tools like these are under development at Microsoft and the University of California at Berkeley.

In case you can't wait for these tools to appear, one package is available commercially. It's made by Intelliseek and is called Corporate Intelligence Service (CIS). This service delves into what consumers are actually saying on the Net. To quote Intelliseek, "CIS is a comprehensive, real-time, online monitoring service allowing corporations to get timely insights into consumer discussions and media coverage about their products or services, potentially damaging rumors, and competitor activities." For example, if Apple wanted to know whether their new G4 performed better than IBM's new Pentium 4 PC, Intelliseek would tune its computer lingo and search for postings and threads such as this: "I decided against buying a G4 and bought a Dell P4 PC. It gave me the same computer power at half the cost." Their software can also distinguish between a new posting and one that's referring to someone else's. And still to come, there's software that "understands" what consumer postings really mean. That's what the labs at the University at Berkeley are working on. If they're successful, companies can determine how closely consumers identify with their products, by viewing the discussions they have on the Net.

The gold here is this. These new services and technologies can give you the ability to learn what your market and your customer want from your product or service. Take these wishes and wants to heart, and you can improve your offering and stay one step ahead of your competition.

So if your ears are ringing—and even if they aren't—you can rest assured that consumers, clients, and competition are talking about you right now!

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