What’s the tone of your corporate email or text communications? There might be some important reasons to have a better understanding of how employees’ words might be interpreted, before they hit the send button.

Sentiment intelligence in the corporate setting is the focus for Lymbix, whose ToneCheck add-in for Microsoft Outlook 2007 and 2010 tags content across eight emotional layers (funny, exciting, angry, and so on) to make sure that it conveys actual intent. “We built a large emotive lexicon repository to essentially understand more of what people feel with respect to emotive context,” says Josh Merchat, co-founder and CTO. “We had to create a more advanced sentiment system because knowing just that something is positive or negative doesn’t give you a good understanding of where there could be misinterpretations in tone.”

In fact, in addition to software algorithms for tone analysis, it’s leveraging the crowd-sourcing model with its Tone-a-Day application. This lets real people (some 10,000 registrants so far who have to meet quality specs in terms of language understanding) rate the tones of words and phrases against its various categories of emotion to win points and prizes, as well as fees for service for its top community members. “We leverage what we believe is an important component to sentiment, which is the human approach,” Merchat says. Human subjectivity, he says, is where sentiment analysis technologies often fall down.

In a world where some 200 billion emails are sent daily, there are various reasons businesses might want to pay closer attention to tone, Lymbix thinks. Take, for example, those companies that outsource customer care to overseas contact centers, where English likely isn’t the first language of workers. That also can be an issue when businesses outsource to contact centers on home soil. In either case, Merchat says, there could be miscommunication around the tonality of the message. Its tone indicator comes up as the person writes the message, so the author can see that perhaps it reads too aggressively and may need to be revamped. At the same time, incoming messages could be routed based on tone, too – for instance, if a customer email is assessed as angry, it could be routed to a more experienced contact center employee rather than a newbie.

Merchat also sees more interest among enterprises in establishing tone policies for its internal employees, perhaps as part of a bigger risk management plan. Emails that don’t fit a particular tone threshold, for instance, can be bounced back to the writer, to protect the brand or corporate reputation for external communications, or to avoid tension or morale disruptions for internal communications. Merchat wants to be clear that this isn’t about reading employee email but about helping managers get overall reads on how employees deal with the public and each other, so that they can address issues that trend negatively in the corporate communications stream in real-time.

“Instead of being more reactive, you can be more preemptive by noticing some of the trends, and we’re building mechanisms to help track when things go differently than they usually do,” he says.  “Enterprise-level reporting is the biggest thing ever. It’s a no-brainer to tie in sentiment technology, run correlations with respect to other metrics the company is tracking – maybe help fill in the gaps to why something is trending in certain ways.” A BI portal to help deliver sentiment intelligence about communications to businesses is expected, and Lymbix also is working with Microsoft to establish how it could ship components to integrate with its existing BI solutions.

Lymbix also is working with Lotus Notes enterprise-app software vendor Sherpa to integrate adapters for its technology into solutions for that email and collaboration platform, to address the wider communications stream in organizations. In the next couple of months, Lymbix also plans to have a browser-based version of ToneCheck for Gmail, which would isolate processing to a more secure data center for business use.