Budapest-based Bamako.Social provides ‘social listening’ so that companies can learn more about consumers through the billions of messages posted daily on social media.
A Time Magazine advertisement once boasted that the company published 50 million words in 1965. Tech experts estimate that it takes Twitter just over eight minutes to generate the same amount. In total, today’s more than two billion social media users worldwide produce about 15 billion pieces of content each day
Market researchers quickly realized the potential of that crowd. But tools from the pre-internet age are not tailored to find out what customers really need, so Bakamo.Social invented a solution to offer what it calls “social listening.”
The venture, uniting top marketers from Hungary and the U.K., harnesses the intelligence of both computers and human beings to help companies understand what is being said about them and their market on social media.
“Globally there’s so much conversation and information sharing taking place online; all we are doing is reading that with scale and intelligence,” Dan Foreman, shareholder and board member, tells the Budapest Business Journal. “We take the quantity and quality of conversations happening online and we can correlate that with sales and start to explain what’s going on. More importantly, we can predict what the next big thing will be.”
Foreman has just become chairman of the board in order to take the business to the next level. He says it is a venture where fresh thinking from the east meets knowledge and connections from London. “We have strong skills and great operational resources in Budapest that we can get here at exceptional prices, whereas the English capital offers the network and the clients. Marrying these two together creates a profitable business.”
Foreman should be a good judge of how to get a chunk of the global market worth some $60-100 billion, as he was previously a president at ESOMAR, the main global body for market research companies. In that position, he gained invaluable insight of what’s happening all around the world in terms of gathering business information, and he got to know the key specialists of the industry.
Meeting Dániel Fazekas gave the push to set up Bakamo.Social. Fazekas, who is based in Budapest, brought his decade-long sectoral experience and exceptional talent in technology and analytical thinking.
“Much of the stuff is repeated, and a lot of it is comment, but trained coders or machines can spot interesting stories. It’s like watching Neo in the Matrix. You’ve got 50,000 lines of comments exported into excel, and then a pattern is found. And Dani Fazekas is an expert at extracting that story,” Foreman says.
The process is essentially based on very soft machine learning. Yet, it is inevitable that humans would have to be engaged in the process. “We see the limits of algorithms; that’s why readers are needed. At the end of the day, computers cannot decide whether love or cynicism is meant by certain remarks. The key is to see the underlying intentions that drive people,” Fazekas adds.
One of the top clients, Adidas, for instance, has always been interested in innovation and growing its market share, and it would like to get the most out of free information on the web.
“Some of them are simple, practical things suggested by fans, like bringing out a specific new product or sponsoring a club, and we give this information to Adidas. We report every week what people say about the brand in the world. We are often asked to investigate specific matters such as what might be the reason for certain market trends in a given country,” Fazekas explains.
Real-time monitoring is part of the game, as indicated by Bakamo.Social’s campaign about the Apple watch in cooperation with a radio station in London. “If someone expressed interest and had the right profile, meaning they had enough followers, they would have the opportunity to win an Apple Watch. We saw an enormous level of online engagement thanks to content sharing and re-tweeting during the radio show,” Foreman says. Indeed, such real-time monitoring gets customers a low-cost way to reach out to a vast number of people.
Where companies have had to adapt to the new winds of the cyber age is customer care. They had to migrate their conventional customer service call center to staff that can read and understand social media. That’s what happened at firms like Philips, another client of Bakamo.Social.
“These days people wouldn’t phone a hotline, they would drop a line on Facebook to ask for a manual of an electric shaver and some person in China would send the relevant link even before Philips has the chance to respond. So the role of customer care is not to provide information, but to make sure that that a community of people helping each other are doing it in a way that reinforces the Philips brand,” Foreman says. “But for them to get there, we need to work a lot with them to define their exact role.”
According to socialbakers.com, an agency that tracks social media, Twitter users asked brands more than seven million questions in the first half of this year. This huge level of fan activity pushed firms towards taking the matter seriously. No wonder the overall question response rate on Facebook went up from 5% in 2011 to a record high 76% in Q2 2015.
An example from Wal-Mart highlights how sophisticated customer service can get. In spite of the massive data sets related to the brand, at times conversations could get really specific.
“The other day in a Wal-Mart in Minneapolis, a man complained that one of the lights was flickering in the cheese section. Wal-Mart is dealing with billions of dollars of transactions per week, but they still can instruct an engineer to go and fix that flashing light in the cheese aisle in Minneapolis,” Foreman recalls.
Assignments sometimes involve some unusual situations, as shown by the case of a premium dog food brand. “A huge number of dogs have their own Twitter account and they actually talk dog English,” Fazekas says. “They even invite each other out for dinner and afterwards they thank the dog food company for the delicious meal. People use this opportunity to express their joy and that’s where we come in to draw conclusions from it.”.