Q&A With Marcel Lebrun – Part Two: Radian6 And The Marketplace

Yesterday I posted the first half of my Q&A with Marcel Lebrun, CEO of Radian6. Today I’m giving you the second half, looking more generally at Radian6 and its place in the “listening platforms” market.

Q: What features do you think set Radian6 ahead of the competition?

A: It really depends on the client since there are many areas where we differentiate.  The foundation of our platform is that you can trust it and that it is very fast & flexible.  We invest a lot of R&D to make sure we have the broadest content coverage and fastest discovery time in the industry so you can trust that you will find the conversations and you can respond quickly.  Adding comment tracking, for example, was an important addition to this.  

Customer also love our pace of continuous innovation and our unique features tailored around social media’s unique characteristics.  Something as simple as social profiles where a user, with a single click, can see a complete view of a author’s presence on various social networks saves certain people hours per day in doing this manually (just one example). 

Our workflow enhancements, for example, were designed and tested in collaboration with the brands who are leading in this area so that they are designed to meet real world needs of people using the platform.

Last but certainly not least is our customer support.  Our culture is very customer centric and we work hard to provide the best customer support (online and offline).  I’m encouraged when I hear positive feedback from customers about the service they receive from us.  This will remain a priority as we grow.

Q: What’s your most requested feature from users?

A: The feature set we just added was based on these most requested features.  Adding indexing of comments was a top request.  Real-time as-it-happens email & IM with integrated workflow was another.  Our new topic analysis widget was based on customer requests to be able to quickly visualize the content by media type, region, language, and on the data entered through workflow (segmenting by engagement stage or source tag for example).

The customer requests are quite varied and numerous, in fact, and we do our best to prioritize.  While our priority is customer requests, we also continue to drive innovations based on our own vision so we can delight/surprise customers with features they have not thought of.    

Q: As time goes on, have you come to view social media monitoring differently from how you saw it initially? How have you seen the field change over time?

A: Yes, definitely.  The impact and importance of the social web has broadened and now we are seeing it move into several business functions across the enterprise.  

While the primary focus (in 2007) was PR, we are now seeing the social web become an important communications channel for sales, customer support, product management as well as PR/Comms & marketing.  This is also blurring some functions and we are seeing PR’s role grow as they provide some coaching across the other disciplines given the public nature of the social web.  As such, enterprises and their partners (agencies, etc.) need to figure out how to effectively bring listening into the whole of their organization (I call this a listening grid, where each person plugs into the slice of conversation that is important to them). 

A second change/development is the growing importance of engagement.  Listening isn’t a one-way activity (I wrote  about this recently – http://www.mediaphilosopher.com/2009/02/12/the-practice-of-conversational-listening)

In fact this is why I call social media, “the social phone”, because it has really migrated into a multi-purpose communications medium (much like a phone) and it will be an important tool for every business function.

Q: You’re a small company, but you’re widely dispersed, with people working remotely from as far away as Chicago. What challenges have you had to overcome with this structure?

A: Frankly, being dispersed is more of an advantage than a challenge.  We have become very good at collaborating online and our different locations provide us with better opportunities to connect with people at industry events (with less travel) and plus into local communities.  The bulk of our communication, however, is still online and so location is increasingly less relevant. 

Q: A Forrester report released at the end of January pitted Radian6 against some big-scale monitoring companies like BuzzMetrics, Dow Jones and TNS Cymfony. While they acknowledged that Radian6 is an emerging contender and that it is tailored for PR folks, the report was fairly harsh towards Radian6 in the area of sentiment analysis. Any comments on the report?

A: I was pleased to see Forrester acknowledge a market shift by changing the name from Brand Monitoring to Listening Platforms, but I was disappointed to see that the underlying report is still based on the previous brand monitoring perspective.  The market is now much broader than brand monitoring, but the fundamental market shift toward listening platforms is not yet reflected in the report.

For instance, we really don’t compete with BuzzMetrics, TNS, Dow Jones, etc.  Brands perceive these companies more as consulting and research companies (that do great work, by the way), but they are not listening platforms.

Customers like Dell, for example, need true enterprise scale listening platforms to engage in customer conversations.  It is a fundamentally different need from brand monitoring.  It is like the difference between buying a phone system for your company so you can have conversations with customers or hiring a third party to survey your customers to see what they want.  Both have value, but they are not the same thing.  Companies are recognizing that the social web is not only a passive medium that you measure at a distance.  Your customers are calling you on the “social phone” and brands need the platform to listen & engage.   This does not diminish the value of the research services, but they are just one piece of the pie.

In terms of the comment that we are tailored for PR folks, we do have a huge focus on PR agencies and we are proud of that.  We see them as partners in helping brands mature in their use of the social web.  PR has an critical skill set to apply across all the business functions now (including customer support, etc.) because of the public nature of conversations on the social web.  However, a deeper look at our customer traction amongst leading brands also shows how our product has become the leading enterprise scale listening platform.

In the end, we were the new guy in the Forrester report and they position us as “the contender” – I don’t mind that.  The report also shows that we are the fastest growing in terms of customer numbers so we are really pleased with that too.

Q: What’s next for Radian6? Any upcoming features you can give us a hint about?

A: We release new features every 4 weeks on average and we will continue with this pace of innovation.  We highly value customer feedback and we have lots of very practical enhancements in the works based on customer requests. 

One of the features that you asked about, automated sentiment analysis, will be added next quarter, although we don’t see this as game changing – it does have value for certain clients. 

We are also working on some game changing innovations that we are quite excited about, but I can’t yet reveal the details just yet.  

Thanks to Marcel for taking the time to share his thoughts on these questions. What do you think of what Marcel has said? Leave your thoughts in the comments – we know he’s listening.

If you haven’t already, check out the first half of this Q&A. Normal programming will resume next week 🙂