Rainmaker spotlight: DataSift’s Tim Barker on helping enterprises to grow big ears on social networks

tim-barker

tim-barkerAs social platforms proliferate and influence buyers from all walks of life, the need to capture, track, monitor and understand customer feedback, opinion and intent from data within social networks continues to rise. DataSift positions itself as a platform to help brands harness the power of social data. We caught up with Tim Barker, Chief Product Officer to understand the thought leadership required to create a new market segment.

RF: Social media management reporting is a relatively new discipline. Have you built critical mass, and are your customers from any specific vertical segments?

TB: Right now, we are supporting over 1,000 customers in 40 countries. Our run rate includes serving 1 trillion data points every week. We are seeing strong growth momentum. Our customers are from broadly three types of companies. The social technology and business intelligence community such as HootSuite and Conversocial use our insights to fuel their own solutions. Agencies such as PorterNovelli and W2O Group augment their portfolio with our platform. And large enterprise customers across the spectrum such as Toyota, DowJones, Deloitte and Oracle use us as part of their marketing function.

RF: How did you create demand and budget for solutions that did not exist 5 years ago?

TB: Initially, as a startup you have to place a few big bets. Our bets were on the growth of social and the diversity of use-cases that businesses have for social data. Then we had to integrate into the ecosystem of social networks that are ultimately creating the demand within the market. By working closely with Twitter during its early days, we built a processing-platform that could serve a large number of customer use-cases. What we’re focused on now is advancing the market beyond simply measuring social data, to deeper analytics and data mining. Thought leadership and sharing the experiences of our customers are a big part of this. For example, we founded socialdataweek.com as a global series of events to shine a light on the growing use of social data in businesses.

RF: This is a wide spectrum of tasks. And it is easy to see how the list of tasks will keep growing. What is the common thread?

TB. In a nutshell, we take big, fast, messy and text based narratives and process them to deliver relevant, rich, integrated data in formats that can be readily used by a number of target groups. Our work starts with aggregation by pulling together feeds from popular platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, WordPress, etc. We then filter, enrich and categorise to extract the meaning from the content. Our insights can be delivered in any or all of three ways our customers choose; push connectors, pull connectors or streaming API.

RF: How do you maintain relevance?
TB: By continuing to innovate to push the market further into extracting value from social data.Over the past 3 weeks, we have announced a round of major enhancements. At the aggregation level, we are adding new platforms such as WordPress, LexisNexis and Sina Weibo to our source pool. Another enhancement is the introduction of customer managed feeds and the option for customers to integrated data on a self service basis. This could potentially include internal social sites. In the processing stage, we are launching image management capability, and now provide the option for customers to privately augment analysis with natural language and machine learning. Most importantly, we have released Vedo which provides an engine and marketplace of data-science models to help extract meaning and context from social data.

RF: Who are the stakeholders you need to influence in order to drive adoption?
TB: In many ways, we are modernising reporting that was already in place when traditional media and channels were all-encompassing. So boards, management teams and marketing are accustomed to a certain level exposure to sentiment metrics. What’s different is the extent to which online conversations are now part of the equation. While CMOs may ultimately be the end beneficiaries of social-insights, enterprises are increasingly viewing social data as another type of business data that they need to integrate into their decision making. So an increasing amount of our focus is on winning the CIO and demonstrating how we can integrating into the technology platforms they have already invested in.

RF: You are a relatively small team. How have you managed to create such strong momentum?
TB: That’s right. We are a team of 100 across 3 countries. Like all young companies, everyone is enthusiastic and understands the business. When we announced our large financing round last week, one of the most read pieces on it was written by Mark Suster, our investor in Upfront Ventures. The other critical element is the way we work with our partners. Some of our technology partners have wrapped their value around our solutions, and therefore take us with them into new markets.

RF: What’s ahead?

TB: We believe the world is moving to realtime streaming data sets, and the job of aggregating, filtering, and reporting will only get bigger. We are looking forward to the platforms we work with getting bigger, not just in volume and numbers of users, but also in the scope of what they cover. There is so much about the Internet of Things at the moment, and we think there is a role for our capabilities to play a role here in the long term.

You can follow Tim on Twitter at @timbarker

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