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Meltwater isn’t a new player in the artificial intelligence field. Since its beginnings, in 2001, Meltwater has been a pioneer in bringing the value of AI to marketing and communications teams. Bob van Velsen, Meltwater’s Executive Director of EMEA, knows better than anyone how this much-discussed technology will transform the ways that teams work and drive results.
Founded in Norway in 2001, Meltwater revolutionized the media monitoring industry, which at the time was still manual and focused on print media. Early on – even in a time before Facebook or Instagram – Meltwater saw the potential of online media, and since then they have developed this into a multimillion dollar business with a fully online solution. Within a very short time, Meltwater became the world market leader in media monitoring while also succeeding in media intelligence, media relations and media management in general.
From social media to videos to online editions of magazines and newspapers, Meltwater has always kept a watchful eye on the media landscape. With the increasing amount of online content these days (in 2022 alone, a data volume of 97 zettabytes was generated), it’s no wonder Meltwater enlisted the help of artificial intelligence over 20 years ago. Using AI, Meltwater can not only search for relevant keywords, but also conduct deep analysis of consumer preferences using real-time social data. As the market gets more and more competitive, Meltwater helps businesses gain insights into their competitors’ activities, strategies, and media coverage. By monitoring competitor mentions and analyzing their media presence, companies can make informed decisions and stay ahead in the market.
Additionally, Meltwater is leveraging generative AI, a technology that has transformed marketing when it comes to content creation and social media. The best example for that might be ChatGPT which is able to generate content in a matter of seconds, providing a benefit for PR and social teams by drafting PR pitches and social posts. Beyond generative AI, Meltwater’s AI engine is the technology that powers Meltwater’s solutions, processing 1.3 billion documents a day and structuring them so that teams can gain insight and make better business decisions.
In the middle of it all is Bob van Velsen. Born in the Netherlands, he studied business administration in Amsterdam and went on to earn a master’s degree in marketing. During his school and student years, van Velsen was involved in the Dutch national rowing team. “The time on the rowing team was the best school for life. I learned what it means to be a good team player, how to best motivate myself and that hard work leads to success,” he says.
In his ten years at Meltwater van Velsen has been able to put these skills to the test. Shortly after joining the company, he became the Managing Director of the Meltwater office in Amsterdam, and then Area Director of the German speaking region. Today he is responsible for the business in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Through his many years of experience at Meltwater, van Velsen has gained an extensive view of artificial intelligence and sees great potential in this future-driving technology today.
For Meltwater, artificial intelligence has been important ever since we were first founded in 2001.
Bob van Velsen
How can media monitoring in general help businesses grow?
Bob van Velsen: The amount of information on the internet has been growing massively over the past few years. This means it’s harder than ever for companies to understand what the conversation drivers are around their brand, products and competitors. Using Meltwater, our customers gain a very precise picture of their online footprint and how public opinion of their company is changing over time. By looking at the competitive and industry landscape, they can also predict how their online presence and opinion will change in the future. Overall, Meltwater empowers businesses to gain actionable intelligence from vast amounts of online data, enabling them to make informed decisions, enhance their brand reputation, and stay ahead of the competition.
Why is artificial intelligence important for Meltwater and when did Meltwater start working with AI?
B. v. V.: I think AI, in general, has become one of the buzzwords of the year 2023. Since February or March and the launch of Chat GPT, everyone has been talking about the possibilities and risks of AI. However, for Meltwater, artificial intelligence has been important ever since its foundation in 2001. Today, AI technology is a primary tool for us to achieve our vision to harness the world’s data in real time and unlock our customers’ competitive edge. With more data online than ever before, harnessing the world’s data is tough and takes a lot of time. This is where artificial intelligence helps us, both in terms of capturing and structuring the data as well as in terms of surfacing insights. We work with some of the world’s largest brands which have hundreds of thousands of mentions each day. They need technology that automates the manual work required to make sense of all this data, so that they can create data-driven strategies, and that is what our AI engine at Meltwater provides.
Is there some application of artificial intelligence that caught your attention – something you were surprised to hear is possible?
B. v. V.: There are definitely a couple of things we at Meltwater have been working with, that are really fascinating. One of the things that I was particularly impressed with is how our AI technology helps our customers to prove the return on investment of their sponsorship efforts. One of the technologies that helps us do this is called Computer Vision. Another buzzword, but what does it actually do? Imagine a big company sponsoring a sports team and therefore being interested in how often their name or logo is visible on television, live streams, and photo shoots. In the past, brands were limited to analyzing more static forms of content like news articles and social posts, based on text, keywords and hashtags. Today our technology can track and analyze pictures and videos on the internet with the company’s logo on them, pulling relevant data on the reach and views of this content. Additionally, we can also see who it was associated with, for example, if celebrities are seen with the logo or the product and if they are happy or sad. Recognizing emotions and connecting them with logos and companies is definitely something which is going to play an important part in the future. Until now companies were not able to check their return of investment so thoroughly.
Do you incorporate artificial intelligence in your daily work?
B. v. V.: Actually, I do. Artificial intelligence helps me, for example, when I do research on the market, companies, or projects. It gives you an overview of topics and you don’t have to waste countless hours browsing through websites. ChatGPT and generative AI, in general, are not only helping you create content but can scan and summarize multiple websites, which makes it easier for you to understand new topics. I would never use AI for complete research, but, as I said, it helps a lot. That is actually quite similar to our relationship with AI at Meltwater: It helps a lot with harvesting data, but when it comes to presenting solutions and an in-depth analysis of the market or a problem, human interaction is still key.
What does Meltwater plan to achieve with AI in the future?
B. v. V.: We want to help our clients make sense of all the noise and information that is out there. Our goal is to do that with the most breadth and depth possible. This is what makes Meltwater unique. Every business and even consumer can now access and utilize the power of, for example, ChatGPT. However, no one in our industry has a data set as large as ours. We are capturing as much information as possible so that we don’t miss anything, and then we make it as easy as possible for our clients to understand what’s happening in their market. On the other hand, our aim is to go from providing a description of what’s happening in the present to also offering a predictive framework for what we believe will happen in the future. That’s what we call predictive analysis. We already have the technology to predict trends that are about to happen. In the world of sentiment monitoring, it is crucial to detect subtle shifts in sentiment even before reaching a critical threshold. We, at Meltwater, recognize the significance of identifying emerging trends in sentiment analysis, and as a result, whenever we detect even a slight shift in sentiment, whether positive or negative, the AI makes sure to promptly inform our clients. When it comes to generative AI, we developed a Discovery BETA, a new AI-based Insight Assistant which can make out shifts in trending online conversation. This type of functionality maximizes our clients’ strategic decision-making capabilities, and we are looking to leverage the full power of AI technology to build even more innovations to similar aims in the future.
Bob van Velsen is Executive Director of Meltwater’s business in EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa). He joined Meltwater in 2014 after his studies in business administration and marketing. He has years of experience leading high-performance, high-growth teams, and previously led Meltwater’s business across the DACH region.
Text: Lela Thun
Fotos: Constantin Widauer