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WPP Ups Stake in Social Media Tracker

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NEW YORK WPP Group joined in a $12 million round of funding for blog and social network tracking service Visible Technologies.

The funding follows WPP taking a stake in the company a year ago, when it also achieved the right to further invest in the company at a later date.

All told, WPP has invested about $9 million in the company and now has a "significant minority stake" in the firm, according to Visible Technologies CEO Adam Selig.

Three-year-old Visible Technologies, which started as a search optimization firm, allows clients to monitor their online reputations—and get a read on how they are perceived by consumers—on search engines, blogs and social networks. Its TruCast product is a Web dashboard that lets brands search through social media content by topic, see what is being written, then choose whether to respond.

The product is meant to help marketers deal with the rise of user-generated content that has been accompanied by rebellious customers airing their grievances online, such as the case when popular blogger Jeff Jarvis detailed his problems with Dell's customer service and the recent backlash against Apple over its iPhone price cut.

"The long-term value comes out of the ability to be positive and proactive
as opposed to be defensive," Selig said.

"If you look at the growth of our public relations companies over the last couple of years, one of the reasons is the importance of what's going on on the Internet," said WPP Digital CEO Mark Read. "Companies have realized they need to know what's being said about them online and influence what's being said online."

About 10 WPP media agencies, like Mediaedge:cia, and PR shops, such as Burson-Marsteller, use the service on behalf of clients.

Visible Technologies competes with several reputation-monitoring firms, including Nielsen BuzzMetrics (owned by Adweek's parent company), Cymfony and BuzzLogic.

Venture capital firm Ignition Partners joined in the funding round, Visible Technologies' second. The company said it would use the financing to expand development of its products and for sales.

WPP has made a series of investments in emerging media companies, including the social media space. It has taken stakes in VideoEgg, which has a video ad network for social networks, and LiveWorld, a creator of social networking sites for brands. WPP has created a joint venture with LiveWorld to offer its services to WPP clients. It also has stakes in online gaming ad network WildTangent, local TV ad platform Spot Runner, mobile search firm JumpTap and others. It has also purchased digital assets like ad technology company 24/7 Real Media and Web shop Schematic.

Read said WPP would make as many as eight more investments in the next 18 months.

"The limit is identifying he right businesses, not our capacity to manage them," he said.