Listening to Digital Chatter by Audience, Not Keywords

TrendingTarget aims to spot trending topics by consumer group

Hey brands, want to know what your audience is buzzing about when they’re not buzzing about you? Communications firm Porter Novelli has a new tool out today that it says will make that easier.

Called TrendingTarget, the service is similar to a slew of social media monitoring products that listen to and analyze publicly available social media posts from consumers. But the company said the one key difference is that it organizes digital chatter around target audiences, not keywords.

Say you’re a retailer interested in listening to online buzz about your company, conventional monitoring would likely start by searching for keywords, hashtags, or brand names that your target audience would chat about.

But Porter Novelli said its approach is to first use publicly available information to assemble an online sample of a target consumer group (from moms to Michele Bachmann fans to outdoor enthusiasts). Then it tracks and analyzes the full range of digital conversation and displays the information on an online dashboard that shows real-time and historical trending topics, as well as sample tweets. (It only includes Twitter for now but plans to expand to other social channels later this year.)

“What’s powerful about an audience-first approach is that you don’t have to guide the tool; instead, the tool guides you,” said Gary Stockman, CEO of Porter Novelli. “In keyword search you have to anticipate what the audience is talking about: your product, brand, your competitor’s product, your competitor’s brand. You wind up with these exhaustive lists of keywords. Unfortunately, if you haven’t anticipated what the audience might be talking about, you might not hear what they’re saying.”

By listening to the full range of an audience’s conversations, he said, you not only know when they’re talking about your company, but you also know when they’re talking about a competitor or interesting trends that might help you make inroads for future online conversations or marketing campaigns.

Israel Mirsky, the company’s evp of emerging media and technology, declined to disclose specifics (the so-called “special sauce”) on how they identify the people who comprise the key consumers groups. But he said they used publicly available information in people’s profiles and online posts to assemble an initial list and then vetted the list to make sure spammers and other low-quality accounts were not included.

But TrendingTarget is entering an already crowded field, with companies like Radian6, Bluefin Labs, and Crimson Hexagon promising to glean consumer insights from social signals.  According to TechCrunch's Crunchbase, more than 40 startups are tagged with "social media monitoring."

Whether Porter Novelli's audience-first strategy can push through remains to be seen. 

A free demo of the product, at MomTrending.com, includes a sample of 2,000 mothers on Twitter and gives a flavor of what the product offers. A quick tour reveals an interactive wheel featuring topics that are trending up and trending down, a chart showing topics by tweet volume and sample posts.

According to the site, trending topics this month range from the seemingly generic (such as “today,” “tonight,” and “yay”) to terms that seem a bit more actionable (like “recipe,” “giveaway,” and “#gno” or "girls night out").

Stockman said a few clients (who declined to publicize their participation) have been using the service for the past month and have been overwhelmingly positive in their feedback.

“The idea is that if you know the audience, the audience will tell you what you should be interested in,” he said.