July 15, 2010, 1:26 PM

What are consumers saying behind retailers’ backs?

ChannelNet launches a service that is designed to monitor online conversations.

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It’s an urge that goes back to grade school: People desperately want to know what others are saying about them behind their backs.

Online retailers are no different. And that’s why ChannelNet, a multichannel marketing services vendor, last week launched a product called Social Guardian that enables retailers to “hear” what consumers are saying about them across the web.

In this case, of course, the motivation for retailers is not figuring out if their best friends really like them, but to make sure complaints don’t evolve to threaten reputations and ruin profits. 



Social Guardian is software that crawls the web for clients to monitor blogs and other social media sites where consumers might be commenting on, or having conversations about, the retailer’s brand or products, says Paula Tompkins, ChannelNet’s founder and CEO.

“If consumers are unhappy, they are likely to post on social media sites,” she says. “It’s very important to locate and access these comments, and to engage these people.”

Clients that buy the Social Guardian service set parameters for how it will be used. For instance, a client will provide certain keywords that the software will seek out, and also direct what comments for what products or services should be monitored. Clients also will tell ChannelNet how to respond to comments and how to converse with consumers—this could include offering a discount to make up for, say, bad service. ChannelNet will assess the sentiment and tone of the comments for the client, too.

ChannelNet will go only so far with a frustrated or angry consumer, however. “If comments are really bad, they are referred to the retailer,” Tompkins says.

The service, being brand new, has yet to attract any online retailers, she says. But Tompkins sees a strong role for such technology as more retailers and consumers turn to social media.

“Social media is a lot like word of mouth in the old days, but a lot of companies still haven’t learned it’s a dialogue,” she says.

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