I've worked a lot with call centers and contact centers, primarily those that handle incoming calls for things like customer support, product purchasing, account inquiries, and trouble shooting. Many's the time I wondered, while poring over statistics on incoming call type, call volume, and call resolution, "I wonder what the rest of the people out there think of us?"
Well, there are now ways to find out. I was reminded of this by a front page article in the Washington Post (registration required) today titled Blog Buzz Helps Companies Catch Trends in the Making by Steven Levingston.
The article describes how companies like ConAgra Foods and Hewlett-Packard are using the services of companies like Nielsen Buzzmetrics to track what people are saying in blogs about products like foods, TV programs, and the Olympics.
Now, I don't think that you can say that such services are really "representative" (in a statistical sense) of the general public. After all, not everybody blogs. But as a way to gather information about public sentiment, such methods are another means of measuring what "the public at large" is saying about a given topic. They won't replace a truly representative sampling of opinion, but as a way to constantly monitor public sentiments, there's a lot to be said for them.
One issue is that, as with any measurement based on secondary data, it is possible to influence the underlying numbers i ways that require careful scrutiny, analysis, and caveats. A case in point: I recently participated in an online experiment to "boost" the incoming links of a fellow bloggers blog. The experiment worked; web based measures of linking volume were impacted by concerted linking and even " A-List" bloggers took notice.
I'm not saying this is bad; it's a fact of life that communication volumes are impacted by many factors. But it is wise to take measures of what's happening in the blogosphere with, if not a healthy dose of skepticism, at least a grain of salt.
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