SocMetrics Reveals “TrueLens” Marketing Tech and Google VC Round

It has been interesting to watch the world of social-media analytics evolve over the past few years. Roughly speaking, tech companies have moved from sentiment analysis—getting the gist of what people are saying online—to doing more sophisticated text and language processing, to pulling out insights from huge amounts of Web data to try to help advertisers, brands, and marketers.

Now a Cambridge, MA-based startup, SocMetrics, is rolling out a new type of software for the latter purpose, through a division of the company called TrueLens. For the past year or so, the startup has been heads-down developing a way to feed data and trends from public blogs and social media directly to companies and brands to help inform their marketing efforts.

“We’re connecting that data to the customer database and marketing database of brands to reach customers more intelligently,” says Roy Rodenstein, the co-founder and CEO of SocMetrics. He’s a veteran of Going/AOL and an angel investor in semi-remission while he leads his own startup.

TrueLens has also recently raised $1.2 million in a round led by Google Ventures, which has been spreading its wings in the Boston tech scene, now with about a dozen local investments. Other investors in the TrueLens seed round are Charles River Ventures, CommonAngels, 500 Startups, Boston Seed Capital, and a number of prominent angel investors.

Let’s back up for a minute. SocMetrics (the “Soc” is pronounced as in “social”) started in 2010 and is known for giving social-media users “influencer” scores in specific categories like startups, fashion, and travel, based on how well-connected they are and how much online activity they drive. Brands and businesses use the service to identify customers they should reach out to for marketing campaigns and to peddle deals and offers.

But Rodenstein’s team was looking to “bring bigger value with the types of social analytics we’ve been doing,” he says. So, with TrueLens, the company is using some of its core technology—natural language processing, machine learning, and classification schemes—to take “millions of customer expressions in English and map those to actionable insights,” he says.

That sounds like the Holy Grail of marketing these days. The key is what TrueLens does with the data, which comes from publicly shared comments across a dozen platforms, including blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Digg, and YouTube. Rodenstein says TrueLens takes a hard line on consumer privacy.

“We don’t advocate that marketers target things at an individual level,” he says, adding that the intent is not for brands to send personalized offers to individuals. “We’re trying to bring marketing down to 1-to-1,000 or 1-to-5,000 segments.” (I took this to mean the trends and preferences that come to light would be used to design campaigns that try to reach certain demographics—for example, people who buy skiing and golf products and talk about it on Twitter—rather than individuals.)

In other words, TrueLens is trying to help big businesses segment their customer bases in ways that will actually move their needle. “Brands would tell us, ‘This influence thing is really interesting. Can you tell me which customers or leads or prospects are most influential, so I can prioritize?’ It’s a very hard problem. It took us a year of learning from the market,” Rodenstein says.

So TrueLens hooks directly into companies’ internal marketing and customer databases, identifying groups of people who are influential, what their purchasing intent is (whether they’re in the market for ski or golf apparel, say), how much affinity they have for certain brands, and so on. Rodenstein calls this “enriching their database.” (There does seem to be a slippery slope in terms of privacy, but marketers already have a lot of information on you; TrueLens just adds public data to that. By comparison, the world of online display ads feels sleazier.) TrueLens also provides a Web interface to display patterns for marketers to glean insights from.

The approach sounds a bit similar to Quant5, another Cambridge-based marketing tech startup; but Quant5 is more focused on analytics, and it’s going after different kinds of customers. Meanwhile, Constant Contact, HubSpot, and Unica/IBM are all established local leaders in digital marketing. But a bigger player to watch is, which has acquired both Radian6 and Buddy Media and is making strong moves in social-media marketing and sales.

For now, TrueLens is targeting big companies and brands, and its customers include Neiman Marcus, TaylorMade (a division of Adidas), and Game Show Network, as well as a large bank and credit-card company. The startup has a dozen employees, with plenty of room to grow—and plenty of time to start taking on the big boys.

It certainly won’t be easy. As Rodenstein says, “Everyone is interested in the intersection of social and marketing.”

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