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Visible Technologies Funded by Former Microsoft People

May Also be Breaking British Laws That Forbid Buzz Marketing

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Bot-guided pseudo-opinions



Summary: Unethical marketing firm funded and run by Microsoft veterans, who are managing some of Microsoft's brands by intervening in social networks

YESTERDAY we wrote about Visible Technologies, which manages perceptions [1, 2] for Microsoft. We showed that there were many incidental connections between Microsoft and Visible Technologies at the business and staff level, but a financial relationship was not shown at the time. After some searching we managed to find who funded Visible Technologies when it was younger. It turns out that they are funded by ex-Microsoft staff via the Ignition shell that we wrote about before. It is filled with former Microsoft executives who give money strategically.



From the Seattle P-I:

Visible Technologies, which is announcing $12 million in venture funding Monday from Ignition Partners and WPP Group, is trying to solve that problem. The 4-year-old Seattle company's products not only allow clients to track conversations on blogs and news sites, but also actively participate in them.

[...]

As a result of the investment, Michelle Goldberg of Ignition Partners has joined the board.

Goldberg said that Visible has a compelling technology that helps companies manage their online reputations.


Michelle Goldberg used to be at Microsoft. The large majority of Ignition Partners is just Microsoft veterans. To the naked eye, however, the investment above would probably trigger no suspicion.

It did not take long for more Microsoft veterans to join this company which does the AstroTurf campaigns for Microsoft (where such practices, when used in a more political arena, are also causing trouble like war, global warming, and other travesties that promote or justify harm in exchange of money). Here is Visible Technologies and Microsoft exhibiting together like a couple:

Webcast with Visible Technologies and Microsoft



On Thursday May 22nd I'll be participating in a webcast with Blake Cahill from Visible Technologies and Marty Collins from Microsoft.


Visible Technologies has another site, called "VisInsights". It's like another identity, just like TruCast and TruPulse. "Another visible technologies site [is] trureputation.com," says Ryan. The "About" page of VisInsights says:

Visible Technologies LogoVisible Technologies is a leading provider of online brand management solutions for companies and individuals in today’s rapidly changing new media environment


The site contains big tags like "Brand Management" and "Reputation Management". They are also concerned about some of their practices seemingly becoming illegal here in the UK. Those British laws must be such a nuisance to them!

Buzz Marketing techniques to become illegal in UK?



[...]

I am not sure how this one slipped by me late last week but thought I would share the update from the IPA in the UK. Effective on the 26 of May 2008 certain activities will become a criminal offense when the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations becomes effective.

Seeding positive messages about a brand in a blog without making it clear that the message has been created by, or on behalf of, the brand will be an offense. Using “buzz marketing” specialists to communicate with potential customers in social situations without disclosing that they are acting as brand ambassadors will be an offense.


From the comment found here:

Last night I read an article in the Post Intelligencer about this company called (ironically) Visible Technologies that's in Seattle. Their whole job is to monitor comments about their corporate clients that show up on blogs, forums, etc., and report back so that the company can respond. I think 'anonymous' is a faceless man in a suit.


Based on the Seattle Times, Visible Technologies may leave no disclosures. Microsoft certainly does not [1, 2, 3]. Yesterday we quoted from the The Seattle Times the following: "Clients pick an “author” or opt for anonymity. Visible [Technologies] also has a virtual army — thousands of personas registered with online forums."

"So many to choose from," remarks Ryan, "I wonder how many postings on forums are the same person from Visible Technologies replying to themselves. As of August 2006, they only had 28 employees, so either they did some hiring or those 28 employees are each 10 different people on every forum they "monitor"."

Professor Walter Carl had something to say about such marketing techniques:

One of the age old debates by many who don't know much about Word of Mouth Marketing is the argument that it's okay to pay people to be a shill for a company. The problem is that many of them never reveal who they are working for. There's a good interview with Professor Walter Carl of Northeastern University on NPR. I recommend you give it a listen!


Here is an example of AstroTurfing gone bad. Visible Technologies is quoted in the article.

Marketing campaign sinks Cruise Critic



[...]

“People are looking to people online to validate a purchase,” says Blake Cahill, senior vice president of marketing at Visible Technologies, whose clients include Microsoft and Panasonic.


More insight comes from here where Visible Technologies gets mentioned:

Most social data aggregators (like TNS, who is great, along with many of their stellar competitors like Visible Technologies, Radian6 et al) usually apply sentiment scores using a mix of people and programs. Unless a live analyst (fluent btw in both the local language and vernacular) is making the decision about whether a post to a blog or a tweet or blip is positive, negative or neither/neutral, you should be very suspicious of the accuracy - and more importantly, actionability - of any "score".

And it gets expensive quickly asking a live analyst to manually read, assess and score hundreds of thousands of such posts or tweets. So we all rely on technology to help, and it's a great but not perfect science.

You can do like we do and create language cartridges specific to the product domain or category and that helps. Or have our social media analysts scan samplings of the machine scored outputs of our data aggregator partners and fine-tune the "sentiment scores" from this.


Some time ago, Visible Technologies hooked up with the Aberdeen Group to justify its practices, just like Microsoft's patent troll, Nathan Myhrvold, funded a so-called 'study' to justify his hoarding/trolling which harms everyone.

Companies are learning how to leverage social media and tap into the rising tide of consumers participating in social network sites, blogs, wikis and Twitter.

According to the “The ROI on Social Media Marketing” report from the Aberdeen Group, sponsored by Visible Technologies, marketers have developed the tools and methodologies to drive marketing ROI by listening to and learning from customers and prospects.


Visible Technologies' TruCast is also abused in other areas of society:

“some of them are fakes” … but that doesn’t stop MSNBC, CNN, and FOX from reporting the fake information as news… that should tell you something right there.

The way that is happening is they didn’t come out of Iran in the first place. A firm like Burson-Marsteller has been behind them from the beginning, using technology they readily advertise on their website called TRU-CAST (which basically means, in the new Orwellian Speak, “lying on the webcasts”). They’re “shaping” the story to help force a regime change in Iran through the use of social media site like FaceBook and TWITTER.

“The understanding of “sentiment” allows us to FOCUS THE MESSAGE in a way that traditional media would not allow us to do.” Visible Technologies talking about the tool Tru-Cast

[...]

TruCast (Visible Technologies): Burson-Marsteller partners with Visible Technologies to helps clients interact, manage and grow their brands in the blogosphere and social media communities. With TruCast, Burson-Marsteller clients gain the following benefits:

o Social Media and Blog Monitoring to track viral conversations about the client’s brand and products and to react quickly to online dialogues affecting the brand o Social Media Learning and Measurement to brand Influencers and activists, assess the conversation volume about your products and brand o Social Media Marketing and Customer Engagement to drive influential peer-to-peer, word-of-mouth promotion and measure marketing programs and media campaign success

[...]

“The Visible Technolgies “Tool-kit”, the Tru-Cast Platform, the “Engagement Console” enables us to actually ACTION that analysis, to LEVERAGE that insight. It enables us to participate in the conversations, to FOCUS OUR MESSAGING… to help us better target how we place our messaging


Some other names of companies that engage in similar practices can be found here: (we saw some before [1, 2])

Radian6 has many competitors like BuzzLogic, Nielsen BuzzMetrics, and Visible Technologies. Brogan argues that these services are too expensive, charging upwards of $50,000. Radian6 has some solutions that are as low as $500/month. The big difference, said Brogan, is with Radian6 you get the toolset, not just a report at the end of the month that tells you what’s happening. Other services may charge you for every requested change. Radian6 lets you change the terms and tweak until you see what you need to see.


Marketing firms go further than this and may even create fake blogs (or "flogs").

Whether it's creating a "flog," or posting a shill review on Amazon.com, many people have taken to using the Web to help shape opinion, while also obscuring their own identities.


There's this recent article from Business Week.

If "pay per post" lets online writers shill for cash, why not go all the way and sell real-life opinions, too?


Well, Microsoft has done that too. Microsoft bribed professors who mentioned its software. Here is Microsoft's Jon Udell speaking about Visible Technologies.

You could of course monitor those conversations using the existing suite of awareness tools: search, link aggregation, tag aggregation. But a new breed of power tools is emerging, and she’ll be using the ones provided by Visible Technologies.


It must be exciting for Microsoft to ponder these prospects. "Those kinds of people are the reason I turned on comment moderation for all comments," argues Ryan. "[The] default for WordPress is that after you approve one comment, anything else they post automatically gets added, so I had people make one innocent comment then spew a bunch of crap while I wasn't looking."

"Can’t you funnel this PR money into making your products not suck instead?"
      --Ryan
"Chris Pirillo is associated with them," he added. "Pirillo has been a Microsoft shill for a while. They send him Windows shirts and baseball hats and free copies of all their stuff. Pirillo blogs about them [there is a video there, too]. Good video, seems to explain what they do."

In his own blog, Ryan concludes as follows: "It’s getting to the point where the web is so deluged with astroturfing agencies like Visible Technologies that you can’t trust anything you read, which is their entire goal to begin with."

[...]

"If this page gets a hit from Visible Technologies or Microsoft, I’d like to say that instead of trying to yell over your critics, might I suggest actually fixing the very real defects in your products they’re complaining about?

"How much are you guys paying these people to do damage control for you after you turn our PCs into black boxes for the MPAA and decide to save $1 per unit on the XBOX 360 console by skimping on the cooling system leading to five times the failure rate of the PS3, and nearly ten times the failure rate of the Wii?

"Can’t you funnel this PR money into making your products not suck instead?"

"No other large companies as far as I know use their employees as attack dogs to silen[ce] dissent. It’s time for Microsoft to stop this nonsense."

--The Prickly Prince From Microsoft Strikes Again



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