Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A New Kid on the Block - Viralheat: An Analytics First Approach to Social Media Monitoring

Executive Interview Series by Vinay Bhagat, CEO

Viralheat is a new entrant in enterprise social media management. Launched as a self-serve freemium offering in 2012 by technologists trying to predict which YouTube videos were going to go viral, it now has its sights firmly set on the enterprise.

I spoke to Jeff Revoy, who joined as CEO in 2013, to learn more about Viralheat’s vision and strategy. This article follows interviews with executives at Sprinklr, Spredfast, Hootsuite and Oracle about the battle for the enterprise within social media management. In full disclosure, venture capital firm Mayfield, who is also an investor in TrustRadius, funds Viralheat.

Analytics Powered Social Media Monitoring

At its essence, Viralheat is a social media monitoring platform and has focused on analytics as its core competency. “We monitor across the entire social web including platforms, blogs, and visual networks,” Jeff says. “Our core is analytics, but you also need to be able to engage so we've added publishing capabilities as we feel that it’s important to have one end-to-end workflow.”

Historically, social monitoring has focused on brand monitoring, sentiment analysis, competitive research, and crisis management. Jeff reports an evolution in this process as social now penetrates other departments in the enterprise stating that Viralheat’s “analytics and engagement capabilities significantly help in areas like customer support, sales, and HR.”

For sales, Viralheat uses social data to predict the likelihood of a consumer to make a purchase. Customer service identifies and flags support queries that come through social channels for follow-up. HR’s use case involves monitoring sites like Glassdoor or Indeed for negative comments about a company and subsequently activating employees to respond.

While social monitoring use cases have spread across functions, the marketing team, as primary users, remains the hub of social media management. Viralheat supports functional use cases through integration with other systems. Jeff shared, “Our core capability is to pull data in and analyze. We are very API based and focus on integrations with other systems that complement the workflow.” For customer support, Viralheat integrates with  Zendesk and Desk.com. For sales, they have built integrations with Salesforce.com and Sugar CRM.

To date, Viralheat has not built specific use-case specific features. “The horizontal solution we provide is sophisticated enough for the use cases we support today, “Jeff says. “However, we do plan to develop more specific capabilities for verticals like retail or e-commerce”.

Customer Adoption

In its first two years, Viralheat provided a freemium self-service product which attracted 25k small business clients. While they have since shifted focus to the enterprise, Jeff believes that initially creating a self-service product helped Viralheat focus on the tool’s ease of use.

Since introducing an enterprise product in Q4 2013, Viralheat has shifted its product development to strengthen this offering. “Our entire go to market focus now is on the enterprise, who represents the bulk of our revenue,” Jeff says. “It’s difficult for companies to straddle SMB and enterprise – both perception wise and in terms of product development. We are very focused on delivering a great product for the mid-market and enterprise.”

They have had some success penetrating certain verticals in the market. Jeff says, “the entertainment industry is a strength. We recently announced a large deal with Variety who is using our sentiment and analytics capabilities. Our retail clients include Ann Taylor and Michael Kors. Given our Silicon Valley location, we also serve technology and telecom companies like Deutsche Telekom HBS and SolarWinds.”

Viralheat does not measure enterprise adoption in terms of seats across departments, but rather in terms of use cases supported. “Ann Taylor is a heavy user but has a small, centralized team. We work with another global brand that has standardized Viralheat across 19 business units.”

When Viralheat is adopted across an enterprise, users sometimes work in a distributed model where the enterprise is standardized on the technology but the local entities are autonomous. In other cases, customers use Viralheat technology with a more centralized model but use features like workflow, teams, and organizations.


Viralheat primarily competes against listening solutions like Sysomos, Radian6 and Brandwatch. It competes to a lesser extent against enterprise engagement platforms like Spredfast, Sprinklr and Hootsuite Enterprise.

When asked why someone picks Viralheat over other listening solutions Jeff answered,“We are a second generation solution and our analytics are actionable. We don’t rely on 3rd parties for analytics because we pull our own data directly from the networks. We are a platform based on machine learning and have strong integration which enables data to be taken into the enterprise.”

When asked to expand upon their analytics capabilities Jeff offered, “There has been a proliferation of what you can monitor, and  we have the ability to process enormous volumes of data – including billions of social mentions per week. Within that volume of data, there is a high noise to relevance ratio. We have a unique ability to pull out the relevant insights and actionable data from that noise.”

When asked about the positioning of large enterprise software companies who pitch their enterprise-wide marketing suites, Jeff reacted, “I agree that social is a key part of the overall marketing mix, however it doesn’t mean you have to buy it all from one vendor.  Salesforce,for example, has not been able to create a true seamless experience even after acquiring Radian6 and BuddyMedia”.

Where They Are Headed

Viralheat plans to continue its focus on analytics. “The volume of data is only going to go up, hence the increased importance and benefit of our ability to process it all and turn it into actionable insights,” Jeff says. Viralheat also plans to work on delivering vertical and use case specific insights.
One method to drive more actionable insights is through deeper collaboration with partner systems.

One of the upcoming integrations Jeff discussed was an integration with marketing automation system Marketo. Jeff shared, “In Marketo, you get a lead score based on visiting a company’s website, and we believe social is an extension of that. Through the use of our proprietary link shortener and analytics, we can also factor social activity into an individual’s lead score if that individual also engages with content on Twitter, Facebook, etc. This increased score may factor into how you engage with the individual.”

Another area of investment is predictive social analytics, i.e. being able to identify purchase intent via social. Jeff expands, “With search, there’s clear intent. With social, there is not. However, it is a forum where people talk openly about themselves, and it’s possible to mine that data for potential buyers engage them. Our goal is to surface predictive insights and pull that data into a CRM so you can move them into different nurture campaign.”

What Customers Think

Viralheat has 18 reviews on TrustRadius, 11 from small/medium businesses (1-50 employees), 3 from mid-market companies (51-500 employees), and 4 from enterprises (500+ employees). The majority of their small clients are legacy self-service clients who have been grandfathered into the new enterprise plan. They are rated very positively with an average likelihood to recommend score of 9.2/10.

Clients report that its strengths are its monitoring, reporting, ease of use and customer support. They also really like its Stream feature: Instead of monitoring many columns of one keyword, we can see all the conversations in one stream. We can even customize the stream to show positive or negative sentiment for particular keywords which really helps when we are doing competitive research.” 

Those who use it for sales also like its lead identification feature: Viralheat uses their lead ID technology to surface users on social media that are potential leads based on what they say on social. The ability to pinpoint users who are already warm and pre- or self-qualified is a major bonus.” 

When discussing areas for improvement, customers would like to see more customization in reporting: “I’d like to be able to customize the analytics and reports a little more. All the information is there, but it would be nice to pick and choose the data we see in one particular dashboard or report.

Another request is more CRM integrations: It would be great for Viralheat to integrate with more companies outside of SFDC and Sugar CRM.”

Stay tuned for a report with a deeper dive into features and customer sentiment on TrustRadius.

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