The July issue of the McKinsey Quarterly has a very interesting conversation starter piece about managing online presence.

It got me thinking… (well it is 5am!) that there’s a lot of opportunities out there for companies/start-ups to offer services that help companies deal with the complexities, time and management effort needed for managing an “online persona” in today’s (overly?) social networked world.

The article gives a little bit of structure to the idea of managing online presence; it talks of a model called “LEAD” – Listen, Experiment, Apply, Develop. I think there are opportunities right now in each of these areas:

“Listen”

Pain point: need to constantly monitor thousands of websites, news feeds, comment feeds, blog posts and the more ephemeral twitter, facebook, gtalk conversations.

The spit & sawdust approach would be to setup a “google-alert” that gives you a daily/weekly update on new mentions of your company, your products etc. Apart from the duct-tape feel this also means you can’t really react in real-time. Even daily updates are pointless if you don’t a significant chunk of time each day (or develop a process where someone spends x hours a day) to decide what’s relevant. It also means that you need to come up with a good process for handling a storm of negativity (or feeding a positive storm) should one start to brew…

A startup idea would be a company that monitors all relevant sources – blog feeds, comment feeds, product review sites and more than ever twitter, facebook, orkut streams … for you. The startup could also provide expertise/consulting related to persona management. There are plenty of brand/reputation management companies out there – still hard to know which is good and which isn’t. An example of a company using cutting-edge research in “natural language” understanding to help sort through the tons of data is: Attentio. (Hat-tip Sebastien, fellow Cambridge alum and current doctoral student. As an aside he also mentioned that Microsoft’s been showcasing DryadLINQ to students at Camrbidge University…)

Still, I think most companies would need to select 2-3 attentio like providers. Would be hard to know just how much coverage any individual company provides.

There’s also the possibility of developing a kind of application (web / desktop) that helps companies who want to have their own staff review/monitor etc get a nice unified interface. Think of a neat interface for culling information out of the firehose. Something of a custom frontend for Gnip perhaps?

“Gnip is radically simplifying the way companies access and integrate the web’s data for use in social and business applications.”

It’s an interesting area, tons of data to be analysed … It’s exactly the kind of thing you want to use Amazon EC2 or Azure for. Loads more data to analyse than say your average data-set, with the added spice of being relevant to business today. If you’re looking for investment ideas – I’d say go long AMZN while you can. Another startup operating in this space (currently looking for investors AFAIK) is iAccelerator 2009 mentee goldee (twitter.com/goldee). Intersting how it’s someone out of IIM-Ahd rather than someone out of MICA’s incubation cell
J

Taking the idea one step further – there’s another approach – outsourcing. Once a nice font-end is developed it should be easy to build it into a service manned live by “web” experts (students) in India/China/Philippines/etc who analyse the stream and pick just the things most relevant for you.

BTW: I was thinking about something like this ages back; way too ahead of the curve once again L. I even reserved a domain name “monitorbot.com”. I still own it; let me know if you want it!

Reversing the logic in “listen” – is “talking” – this is where companies like CoTweet come in.

CoTweet gives you the interface that lets multiple agents man your companies many twitter accounts. Google for example has over 30 twitter accounts. As does Dell. I think a common platform for managing all your online communications with a CoTweet like interface would be killer.

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