Large companies are slowly starting to install upgraded Web analytics tools to gather and scrutinize data from their growing numbers of second-generation online applications.
For years, enterprises have used traditional Web-analytics tools to simply measure page views and keep track of traffic on corporate Web sites.
Now, with the spread of corporate-sponsored Web 2.0 applications such as blogs, chat rooms and online communities, forward-thinking IT managers are starting to install tools that can measure and analyze activities there.
Some executives say that companies could use the data from these sites to significantly improve customer relations and even measure the buzz surrounding their brands.
Kimberly-Clark Corp. first created an online community -- Scott Common Sense -- for users and potential users of its Scott personal care products in 2004. Earlier this year, the consumer products company began taking steps to analyze the data compiled by the Web 2.0 application.
The community has evolved to offer information such as personal finance and healthy living advice and enables members to interact with one another. This year, the company added information about Scott products for the first time.
Kimberly-Clark launched its effort to analyze the Web 2.0 data with the installation of a beta version of a so-called marketing warehouse from Portland, Ore.-based WebTrends Inc.
The WebTrends Marketing Warehouse operates as an enterprise-scale hub for online and offline data storage and analysis and can integrate the Web data with other corporate information sources, applications and systems, said Dirk Hoerter, team leader for relationship marketing at Irving, Texas-based Kimberly-Clark.
One key early finding: The more a user participates in the community, the more loyal he is to the company's products, Hoerter noted.
Kimberly-Clark is now using the warehouse to link data compiled on its community site with customer profile information, helping it identify its most loyal customers and determine which content they view or tools they use. Thus, the company can serve up the content most sought by the site's users, Hoerter added.
Over the long term, Kimberly-Clark hopes to use the analytics tool to determine the interests of specific segments of users, such as those whose children are going through the toilet-training process. In this case, Web 2.0 analysis tools could find groups of users whose children are ready to move from Huggies diapers to Pull-Ups -- both of which are Kimberly-Clark brands.
Kimberly-Clark will probably add more online communities, and the ability to analyze their data, for its other brands.
The WebTrends warehouse became generally available late last month.
John Lovett, an analyst at New York-based JupiterResearch LLC, said that companies like Kimberly-Clark can't afford to ignore information that may be spreading through the Web 2.0 landscape of company-hosted blogs and social networks.
"The rise of user-generated content has really forced brands to [seek a way] to monitor what consumers are saying about them across all the pages of the Web," Lovett said. "The ability to measure those comments and what is happening with the brand has become an important part of ensuring the integrity of the brand."
Lovett did say that although his research shows that 88% of companies with revenue greater than $50 million use Web analytics tools, he believes that most are still simply collecting data and not making full use of the new tools.
Nonetheless, several vendors are moving quickly to meet what they expect will be growing corporate demand for Web 2.0 analytics tools.
For example, Omniture Inc. and Lithium Technologies Inc. joined forces in September to link their products to provide corporate customers with what the companies described as a holistic view of user behavior across multiple Web properties, including online communities.
Omniture, an Orem, Utah-based Web analytics vendor, and Lithium, a social media platform supplier in Emeryville, Calif., said that the integrated offering will help businesses capture social data from customer-facing blogs and forums and then integrate that information with other pertinent company online data.
The vendors said that the joining of the Omniture and Lithium tools has already benefited Sprint Nextel Corp.'s use of data compiled from its BuzzAboutWireless.com online community for wireless device users.
BuzzAboutWireless, based on Lithium's platform, now uses Omniture analytics to better measure how social media can be used to acquire new customers and otherwise boost business, Omniture said.
And in August, DemandBase Inc. launched DemandBase Stream, a free desktop widget that can be used to identify visitors to a corporate Web site. When a company or organization visits a corporate site, the DemandBase tool streams the identity of the visitor across the bottom of desktops used by Web site operators, noted DemandBase CEO Chris Golec.
The operator can click on the name of the company or organization and get -- for a fee -- contact names and addresses via a link to the LinkedIn professional social network and a contact database.
Responsys Inc. is using DemandBase Stream to gauge whether sales calls or e-mails to potential customers have been successful, said Scott Olrich, chief marketing officer at the San Bruno, Calif.-based e-mail marketing company.
The sales team at Responsys, which has been using the tool for about six months, learns immediately when a recipient of a sales call visits its Web site. The company uses the LinkedIn process to contact the prospect, Olrich said.
Meanwhile, in October, start-up NuConomy launched a free hosted Web service that can analyze user comments, ratings, video plays, shared links and the use of Flash, AJAX and Silverlight technologies on company-run Web sites.
The hosted tool includes a data mining engine that monitors all aspects of Web site traffic and user behavior. It also automatically highlights key findings that can help companies improve business operations, noted Shahar Nechmand, CEO of San Francisco-based NuConomy.
He said the data mining engine alerts users to the key data on a site. It also identifies unimportant data that can be ignored.
NuConomy's Studio Web offering includes a two-way API that lets operators change the look of sites based on current metrics and insights. For example, Web site operators can change advertising on a page or push specific content to a user based on his interests.
Some analytics companies have also started following the lead of Web 2.0 companies such as Facebook Inc. and Yahoo Inc. by opening APIs in order to help third-party developers build applications using data compiled by the analytics tools.
For example, Google Inc. unveiled a beta version of the Google Analytics API in October. Brett Crosby, group manager for Google Analytics, said the new API was created after some "renegade developers" wrote scripts or created other ways to build new applications based on Google Analytics data -- without the company's help.
"We have a very large customer base, and a lot of these people are developers who want to do things with the data," Crosby said.
For example, some developers have built applications that display Google Analytics data on Apple's iPhone, while others have developed Flash-based versions of the service.
Google last month also unveiled an "enterprise-class" update to its free service that includes a slew of new features, including custom report generation, advanced segmentation and integration with AdSense.
In addition, in October Omniture Inc. released several different APIs to help developers more easily build applications on top of its hosted analytics tool, noted Chris Parkin, a senior director at the company.
This version of the story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.