Startup offers free social media analytics service

Viralheat, a San Jose, Calif.,-based startup that mines social networks to help companies gauge public sentiment about their business, this week announced plans to distribute some of its social media analytics data to users without charge.

The company Tuesday launched Social Trends, a service that allows Web users to gain real-time access slices of some of the data it collects and aggregates from various social media sites for its paying customers.

Viralheat is also offering publishers, without charge, a widget that lets them embed real-time social media analytics tools into editorial content.

Viralheat said that the ESPN sports network has already agreed to use Social Trends to compile and display on its Web site popularity rankings for professional football teams.

Viralheat was launched in 2009 and is among a rapidly growing class of companies offering services designed to help companies track the public’s opinions brands, products, services, support programs and other issues by mining the social Web.

The company scours through sites such as Google Buzz, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for all mentions of a particular customer. It then applies analytics tools to the data to identify the prevailing mood towards a particular topic and to identify individuals and trends that are shaping the conversation.

Viralheat claims several big name brands as customers including Disney, MTV, Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Oracle.

CEO Raj Kadam said that companies are taking advantage of Viralheat’s capabilities in different ways. Earlier this year for instance, a major car manufacturer used the service to gather insight into what customers were saying about its vehicles, what sort of problems they were encountering and what the buzz was regarding a specific component in the car, Kadam said.

He said that media companies are using the service to optimize their content by finding the most popular topics under discussion on social media sites. In others cases, the service is being used to track the popularity of politicians, celebrities, movies and other current topics.

One of the biggest uses today is by companies looking for the top influencers to users of their brands to reach out and engage with them, he said.

Viralheat is just one among a rapidly growing number of social Web monitoring services. Rivals include Spredfast, Radian6, Trackur, Nielsen Buzz Metrics, Scout Labs and Webtrends. Most offer the services at prices ranging from $300 to $1,000 per month. Viralheat itself prices its subscriptions from less than $100 monthly.

Much of the demand for such services is stemming from the desire of companies to better listen to and communicate with their customers, said Carla Thompson an analyst with Guidewire Group in Austin. A lot of the demand is also tied to efforts by companies to better control the quality and consistency of their messaging on social media channels, she said.

Social channels have emerged as a major new PR platform for companies and those that are smart about leveraging it, have already started using these analytics services, she said.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan , or subscribe to Jaikumar’s RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

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