18 October 2019
Jorn Lyseggen has expressed disappointment that AI is being packaged as a marketing tool. Photo: Meltwater
Jorn Lyseggen has expressed disappointment that AI is being packaged as a marketing tool. Photo: Meltwater

How AI and analytics are driving change in businesses

Meet Meltwater, the media intelligence company that provides media monitoring and social media monitoring to help companies grow and build their brand.

Starting with US$15,000 in 2002, Jorn Lyseggen built a version of Google Alerts before Google Alerts. Despite tech giants Google and Yahoo lumbering onto its turf, Meltwater quickly grew into a global leader in B2B online media intelligence, with more than 23,000 clients in 108 countries.

Lyseggen recently sat down with EJ Insight for an exclusive interview to talk about how analytics and AI are changing businesses.

Deploying AI to monitor market

In Lyseggen’s view, the world was drowning in too much information that any company can interpret, and he wanted to create software to help simplify things and make sense of it. “The idea was that when an executive wakes up in the morning, he’d have a cup of coffee, and then we’ll provide him with an overview about what happened in the world in the last 24 hours.”

The company has developed its own data analysis software which notifies clients about the findings and insights generated from the digital footprints that companies left online through various channels. It also offers tools that, for example, can distinguish positive mentions from negative ones.

“We process billions of data points in real time, and then squeeze as much insight out of that as possible. That’s where artificial intelligence [AI] comes in,” said Lyseggen.

In addition to tracking information via keyword search, Meltwater offers advanced analytics including sentiment analysis, rival comparison, as well as longitudinal analysis. They can also aggregate insights across information in different languages, “so that the sentiment in different languages is also normalized,” he added.

‘Outside insight’

Thanks to the internet and social media, markets can change dramatically over the course of just a few hours. Lyseggen points out there is an enormous amount of evidential data that companies leave behind as digital footprints, from news mentions, social media posts, job ads, patent applications, blog topics, and even web traffic data, all of which are publicly available online and can be crunched to indicate critical market changes.

Instead of focusing on internal data, he encourages executives to start making decisions based on third-party information available to everyone. “Outside insight shifts the focus from internal data and what you are doing to external data and what your industry is doing, allowing you to benchmark against competition and discover new threats and opportunities in real time,” he said.

External data can be used to help businesses adapt to fast-changing situations, and keep pace with the competition immediately. Lyseggen expects companies will put as much effort and as much investment mining external data as they currently do in their internal data. “See how large Oracle and Salesforce are”, he said. “Going forward, there will be a new software category emerging, and the biggest company in that space will be bigger than Salesforce.”

Marketing manipulation

With all the excitement around it, artificial intelligence technology is expected to change every profession and industry. But Lyseggen, debunked the hype around the technology.

Lyseggen, who started his career as a research scientist in AI, expressed his disappointment: “AI is a computer that processes a lot of data, and it helps you to find patterns, using statistics and normal mathematics; that’s what AI really is,” he said. “But now, AI is packaged as marketing.”

The AI revolution in marketing and advertising has been spurred by the influx of advanced data analytics tools, typically based on machine learning methods, and the availability of rich and extensive datasets.

But to Lyseggen, AI is giving an evil twist to marketing. “Marketing itself is an innocent practice,” he said that if companies were equipped with sophisticated AI technology, with an enormous amount of knowledge about consumers, they would know exactly what things to push, which seems more like a manipulation to him.

“And that skill set can also be used in elections, in referendums,” he said. “We have examples of these recently, where social media ‘pushed’ fake news in the referendum in the UK, as well as the presidential election in the US.”

In recent months, internet giants such as Facebook and Google have been under intense scrutiny about the privacy and control of data for users.

As the CEO of a global analytics company mining online information, Lyseggen believes it is good for internet companies to be regulated. “Facebook will only do what’s best for Facebook. They won’t do what is best for their uses,” he said. “I don’t think you can trust commercial players to regulate themselves.”

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EJ Insight writer