Large companies are slowly starting to install upgraded Web 2.0 analytics tools that can gather and scrutinise data from second-generation online applications.
For years, companies have used traditional web-analytics tools to simply measure page views and keep track of traffic on corporate websites.
Now, with the spread of corporate-sponsored Web 2.0 applications such as blogs, chat rooms and online communities, forward-thinking IT managers are starting to install tools that can measure and analyse activities there.
Some executives say that data from these sites could be used to significantly improve customer relations and even measure the so-called "buzz" surrounding a company's brands.
Personal care products maker Kimberly-Clark first created an online community — Scott Common Sense — for users and potential users of its Scott products range in 2004. Earlier this year, the consumer products company began taking steps to analyse the data compiled by the Web 2.0 application.
The community has evolved to offer information such as personal finance tips and healthy living advice and enables members to interact with one another. This year, the company added information about Scott products for the first time.
Kimberly-Clark launched its effort to analyze the Web 2.0 data with the installation of a beta version of a new marketing warehouse from WebTrends.
The WebTrends Marketing Warehouse operates as an enterprise-scale hub for online and offline data storage and analysis and can integrate the web data other corporate information sources, applications and systems, says Dirk Hoerter, team leader for relationship marketing at Kimberly-Clark.
One key early finding: The more a user participates in the community, the more loyal he or she is to the company's products, Hoerter says.
Kimberly-Clark is now using the warehouse to link data compiled on its community site with customer profile information, helping it find its most loyal customers and what type of content they view or which tools they use. Thus, the company can serve up the content most sought by its users, Hoerter added.
Over the long term, Kimberly-Clark hopes to use the analytics tool to determine what products segments of users might be interested in at specific times. For example, the web analysis could show the company when groups of users with children going through the toilet training process are ready to move from Huggies diapers to Pull Ups — both Kimberly-Clark brands.
Kimberly-Clark will likely add more online communities, and the ability to analyse their data, for its other corporate brands.
The WebTrends warehouse became available late last month.
John Lovett, a senior analyst at JupiterResearch, a unit of Forrester Research, says companies like Kimberly-Clark can't afford to ignore information that may be spreading through the Web 2.0 landscape of company-hosted blogs and social networks.
"The rise of user-generated content has really forced brands to [seek a way] to monitor what consumers are saying about them across all the pages of the web," Lovett says. "The ability to measure those comments and what is happening with the brand has become an important part of ensuring the integrity of the brand."
Lovett did say that while his research shows that 88% of companies with revenue greater than US$50 million (NZ$83 million) use web analytics tools, he believes that most are still simply collecting data as more new tools start becoming available.
Nonetheless, several vendors are moving quickly to meet what they expect will be growing corporate demand for Web 2.0 analytics tools that can be used to boost business.
For example, Omniture and Lithium Technologies joined forces in September to link their products to provide corporate customers with what they called a holistic view of user behaviour across multiple web properties, including online communities.
Omniture, a web analytics vendor, and Lithium, a social media platform supplier, say the integrated offering will help businesses capture social data from customer-facing blogs and forums and then integrate that information with other pertinent company online data.
The vendors say that joining of the Omniture and Lithium tools has already benefited telecomms carrier Sprint Nextel's use of data compiled from its BuzzAboutWireless.com online community for wireless device users.
BuzzAboutWireless, based on Lithium's platform, now uses Omniture analytics to better measure the impact of social media on business drivers like customer acquisition, according to Omniture.
In August, DemandBase launched DemandBase Stream, a free desktop widget that can be used to identify visitors to a corporate website. When a company or organisation visits a corporate site, the DemandBase tool streams the identity across the bottom of desktops used by web site operators, notes DemandBase CEO Chris Golec.
The operator can click on the name of the company or organization, and get — for a fee — contact names and addresses via a link to the LinkedIn professional social network.
Marketing company Responsys is using DemandBase Stream to gauge whether sales calls or emails to potential customers have been successful, says chief marketing officer Scott Olrich.
The sales team at Responsys, which has been using the tool for about six months, learns immediately when a recipient of a sales call visits its website. The company uses the LinkedIn process to contact the prospect, Olrich says.
Meanwhile, start-up Nuconomy has launched a free hosted web service that can analyse user comments, ratings, video plays, shared links and its use of Flash, AJAX and Silverlight technologies on company-run websites.
The hosted tool includes a data mining engine that continually monitors all aspects of website traffic and user behaviour. It also automatically highlights key findings that can help companies improve business operations, says Shahar Nechmand, CEO of San Francisco-based Nuconomy.
He says the data mining engine alerts users to the key data on a site. It also picks out unimportant data that can be ignored.
Nuconomy's Studio Web offering also includes a two-way application programming interface that lets operators change the look of sites based on current metrics and insights. For example, website operators can change advertising on a page or push specific content to a user based on his interests.
Some analytics companies have started following the lead of Web 2.0 companies such as Facebook and Yahoo by opening APIs in order to help third-party developers build applications using data compiled by the analytics tools.
For example, Google in October unveiled a beta version of the Google Analytics API. Brett Crosby, group manager for Google Analytics, says the new API was created after some "renegade developers" wrote scripts or created other ways to build new applications based on Google Analytics data — without the company's help.
"We have a very large customer base, and a lot of these people are developers who want to do things with the data," Crosby says.
For example, some developers have built applications that display Google Analytics data on Apple's iPhone, while others have developed Flash-based versions of the service.
Last month, Google unveiled an "enterprise-class" update to its free service that includes slew of new features, including custom report generation, advanced segmentation and integration with AdSense.
In addition, Omniture has also released several different APIs to help developers more easily build applications on top of its hosted analytics tool, says Chris Parkin, a senior director at the company.