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Opinion: Savvy marketers will harness the 'semantic web'

The breadth and scale of the opportunities for consumers to create content, hold conversations and share their opinions online just keeps on growing. But as we grapple with how to engage with consumers through these new channels, we need to understand what people are saying and what they mean.

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This isn't solely the preserve of the PR or word-of-mouth teams. Understanding and harnessing the semantic web can make a substantial difference to the success of your brand online.
 
Currently, you'll get many different responses to a generic search term. So if you  type 'Nokia N96' into Google, it offers you prices, reviews, pictures and videos in an attempt to refine the query.
 
Through your search engine marketing you can try to gain an understanding of the  consumer by creating, and tracking, ever longer tail terms with the aim of picking them up as they get closer to their purchase decision or to what they want to know.

While you can expect substantial returns from this approach, it misses the point that the consumer's request may not have been answered, or understood.

 
But if you consult your peers and wider network on Twitter for example by searching on 'Nokia N96', you'll get opinions rather than shopping results.

Again, this may not be specifically what you want, but at least you've got some more information -- specifically in this case that it's got a crappy browser and there's a big ad campaign behind it.

These opinions can start to inform your feelings about the product that you can't currently get from a mainstream search engine. Then you head back to Google to find out more about the issue of the 'crappy browser' but can't find any mention if it. The trail is cold and potential customers are lost.
 
So we've got a gap between how consumers search online and how they seek information in real life. If you were to ask your friends 'Is the Nokia N96 any good?' you'd get opinions. On Google you'd be directed to sources for opinions -- close, but not quite there.
 
In the real world, you wouldn't ask for 'Nokia N96, reviews', you'd ask 'Is the N96 any good?' So why can't we do this online? This 'natural language search' has great potential if harnessed well and marketers will need to look to linguistics experts to maximise it's potential.
 
Understanding semantics doesn't need to stop at search results though. Using tools like Radian6 and Attentio you can start to understand what people are saying around a specific topic, so you start to pay less attention to the volume of mentions about a brand or product and focus more on the sentiment.

If you can understand sentiment, you can tailor your campaigns to appeal to what consumers want and how they feel, adding powerful empathy and emotion.
 
The opinions are out there -- the skill is in identifying, understanding and harnessing them.

Jamie Riddell is director of innovation at Cheeze

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