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Cisco Systems Inc. demoed on Thursday its now generally available enterprise social media collaboration tool, SocialMiner, along with the first test case customer, life sciences company Zone Labs Inc.

First announced by the San Jose, Calif.-based company last November, the tool aggregates content on social networks into what one Cisco exec called a “Web 2.0 cockpit” to help companies monitor what customers and prospects are saying about their brand, and communicate with them to help resolve problems or answer questions.

“What we are seeing now is this big rise in proactive-type engagements,” said John Hernandez, Cisco’s general manager for customer collaboration.

SocialMiner represents what Hernandez describes as the convergence of traditional call centre operations with modern social media and Web interactions.

The Marblehead, Mass.-based test customer, Zone Labs, which makes nutrition products, has always been a referral business, but has had to extend that model to social media. The company has been using SocialMiner to learn the sentiments expressed on the Web by customers and critics.

“And in general, gain a broad understanding of what is it the consumer wants to get from us,” said Zone Labs CEO Petter Etholm.

Etholm, who started his career in traditional retail, recalls the days of “uneconomical” in-person store transactions shifting to the reactive call centre, which now has again shifted to the proactive desire to build a relationship with customers.

Zone Labs demoed how a tweet was captured by SocialMiner as a result of multiple keywords identified as part of a campaign. The 42-person company, with 16 in customer service, can respond to the tweet within SocialMiner.

Etholm acknowledges the difficulty Zone Labs initially faced in fine-tuning the campaigns to reap relevant social media content. The first three months were also spent figuring out what to actually say to their target audience, and finally identifying the point at which an interaction should be escalated from standard reply to a conversation with an expert.

Zone Labs has implemented metrics to ensure SocialMiner works as it should. According to Etholm, total site visitors have increased by 200 per cent, and Facebook fans increased by 13 per cent.

A tool like SocialMiner captures valuable data with potential use for analytics, but Cisco would prefer to partner with a third party to add on that capability. Cisco also demoed a phone exchange with a customer where analytics technology from third party vendor Nexidia analyzes the conversation in real-time, identifies keywords like competition mentions, then guides the customers service employee by initiating the appropriate business process.

Nigel Wallis, research director for applications solutions with Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd., told ComputerWorld Canada the test case appears to have worked well for a company of the size and limited product range of Zone Labs, but he’s not so sure of the ability to scale for large enterprises.

Moreover, added Wallis, there must be thought given to how SocialMiner will work with the rest of the enterprise such as supply chain systems in order to integrate inventory data with customer service operations.
Ben Dickie, research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., said social media is useful for aggregating cloud data and doing analytics atop that, but Cisco’s approach with SocialMiner appears more focused on the former use.

“A big part of our point of view is that companies that proactively monitor and respond to customer conversations in the social cloud is of definite value to customers and you can build a lot more meaningful relationship with the customer,” said Dickie.

Last summer, Cisco announced Quad, a social collaboration platform that has since gone into beta, to aggregate posts, instant messaging, document sharing, video communication, microblogging and communities. SocialMiner will be able to be used within the Quad platform.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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