November 9, 2007, 12:00 AM

Front-end community exchange yields back-end business insights at The Guild

Networked Insights powers a user community on The Guild’s fine arts web site, A back-end dashboard turns user content into usable data.

What customers say to each other about a product or brand represents a gold mine of information for retailers looking to plan marketing, inventory and other aspects of their business. Online community-based social networking is the latest iteration of that, and a new on-demand community platform from vendor Networked Insights is yielding results for, according to the retailer. is the web arm of The Guild Inc., which sells original fine arts and crafts. Technology from Networked Insights supports a new user community established on around the topic of incorporating artwork into home décor. While community members can share comments and opinions by posting them on the site, the technology platform gives The Guild an easy way to categorize and evaluate what community members are saying to each other on the back end, by means of a dashboard that lets them mine that content for trends and insights.

The dashboard displays such information as the top categories being discussed by community members, and whether sentiment is positive or negative. Underlying the dashboard’s ability to deliver that data to retailers is natural language processing that can turn qualitative data, such a determining semantically whether a comment is positive or negative, into quantitative data, such as the percentage of comments that are positive or negative. Retailers can customize the interface and the data points they want the dashboard to deliver.

By mining what customers are already saying to each other, the technology in effect lets customers prioritize the retailer’s research agenda, versus methods such as surveys or focus groups, where the marketer sets the agency, according to Networked Insights.

“Networked Insights not only delivered a way for us to connect our customers and artists, but makes it easy for us to use the information contained in those interactions to impact our business,” says Toni Sikes, CEO of The Guild. The new feature also has helped attract new customers, with 60% of the more than 500 new community members added to in the first month of implementation new to the company.

While is the first announced customer for the service, Networked Insights anticipates that as other retailers sign up eventually their separate communities could become a “network of networks," in which data about what customers are saying on one site can be at least partially available on an aggregate basis to other retailer users of the on-demand community platform. For instance, if other retailers agreed, might be able to learn how often an art-related term, such as “beach glass,” is mentioned on other sites to gauge interest in that design element.

The Guild is No. 424 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide to Retail Web Sites.

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