Shoutlet is a licensable enterprise social media management tool that lets brands control their presences on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social sites from a single dashboard. I sat down with Shoutlet’s COO and President Aaron Everson to discuss his company’s comprehensive approach to Facebook Page Management.
Rather than focus on deep functionality in areas such as roles and permissions, ecommerce, or customer service, Shoutlet has instead aimed to integrate a wide breadth of services. This lets it meet the needs of a diverse set of brands. However, not having a specialization could hinder Shoutlet from developing a core customer base, and also make it vulnerable to commoditization. The company also lacks its own Ads API tool or a partnership with a major Ads API tool or service provider, which keeps it from providing a highly monetizable essential service.
The company currently faces big decisions regarding whether to build, partner, or buy other companies in order to provide Ads API services, branded games, or ecommerce checkout within Facebook. While waiting could prevent it from making a costly misstep, Shoutlet risks being outcompeted by nimbler specialty tools or larger Page management companies willing to invest to become best-in-breed in certain areas.
Founded in January 2010, the Madison, Wisconsin-based Shoutlet has since grown to 50 employees and is aiming to grow to 75 this year. It has taken $9.2 million in funding over two rounds and its customers include AAA, American Family Insurance, Nissan, Burger King, and Four Seasons. Shoutlet is a Facebook Preferred Developer Consultant and also has access to the Facebook Ads API, though it hasn’t built anything with it yet.
The company saw brands employing multiple specialty social media management services at once to meet their goals. It believed a single solution that handled publishing, promotions, app building, ecommerce and more would provide more efficiency and convenience to brands. The tool Shoutlet built can be licensed starting at $15,000 a year for small businesses, and $40,000 a year for enterprise. Sub-licenses for franchises or local agents start at $10,000 each, with discounts for clients requiring hundreds of sub-accounts
Shoutlet covers most of the bases necessary for brands to execute their social media strategy. Here are the core services that it offers:
Facebook Page Design and Publishing – Pre-made landing tab templates, scheduled publishing fan gating, no cap on the number of Pages a client can create. These features are relatively standard, though the templates make it extremely simple for brands to start converting visitors into fans.
Custom Web, Page Tab, and News Feed Apps – Drag-and-drop widget creation using templates for email signups, polling, content distribution and more; Page tab apps for contests, user generated content submission, and sweepstakes. Web apps my be Shoutlet’s biggest strength. Its widgets can be shared to the news feed and used in-line, which is important as so much engagement with brands happens through the news feed and not on Page tab apps.
Its apps are also HTML5-ready, so they can be accessed via mobile. Shoutlet doesn’t offer any branded game templates, though. These can help brands increase engagement with their Pages and gain exposure in the news feed — two reasons why Shoutlet competitor Vitrue recently bought game developer GamesThatGive.
Ecommerce – Pre-made store front templates with built in Facebook social plugins for sharing, the ability to import a data feed of products. Users can click through a product to visit its product page on a brand’s website, but they can’t checkout from within Facebook. This adds extra friction to the checkout process, but allows Shoutlet’s clients to better control the transaction process. Everson tells me Shoutlet is waiting to see what Facebook does next with its native ecommerce tools before investing in development of an in-Facebook checkout process.
Social CRM, Monitoring, and Analytics – Track conversations and mentions of a brand across social platforms and its different presences, keyword flagging, assign posts to be moderated by specific team members, determine influencers, exportable analytics reports. Shoutlet is adequate for some customer service departments, but not as robust as tools built specifically for handling complaints. The company is working to be able to integrate with Salesforce and other enterprise CRM tools.
Roles, Permissions, and Corporate-Local – Ability to set permission levels to allow for a corporate-local structure of a primary Facebook Page and additional Pages for franchises and agents, industry regulation compliance, content publishing approval system, content library for use by local Page admins. Shoutlet doesn’t allow clients to set custom permissions for different actions such as viewing analytics.
This means any sub-licensee of a brand can see the main brand Page’s analytics and other data, which constitutes a security risk. Everson defends Shoutlet, telling me his clients have been more concerned with the ability to set who can publish, and that brands can export analytics and send them to partners when necessary. Still, having to share corporate analytics with local branches is a problem, and more brands are moving towards a sophisticated corporate-local model, so Shoutlet will need to improve this part of its service.
Missing Services and Consolidation
A Facebook ads tool is the one glaring omission in Shoutlet’s service offering. If an ad tool was tied into the rest of its services, Shoutlet could allow clients to run integrated Facebook marketing campaigns that use Page updates, shares from applications, and traditional ads to generate earned media and seed Sponsored Stories. Everson admits the lack of a Shoutlet ad tool is a problem as “We’re definitely seeing requests from our customers (for ads services) as they see the value of ads that work along with their content.”
Without an ads tool, Shoutlet clients have to look elsewhere to run efficient, large-scale Facebook advertising campaigns, which makes it harder to track the performance of integrated marketing campaigns. As Ads API companies are rapidly acquiring, being acquired by, or partnering with Page management companies, this opens Shoutlet up to having its clients poached by competitors.
Shoutlet may not be large enough or have enough funding to acquire a high quality Ads API tool. It has access to the Ads API program, so it could build its own tool, as Buddy Media is rumored to be doing. However, it might take months before the tool was ready, and longer until it could match some currently available tools. Therefore, partnering with an Ads API tool or service provider and taking a cut of margins from the spend of clients it delivers could be the best solution for Shoutlet.
Regarding some core Page management services being offered for free or cheap by third-parties and Facebook itself, Everson says “we’re starting to see the first steps of commidtization. Theres some downward pricing pressure from some smaller tools entering the marketplace.” That means its more important than ever for Page management companies to at least have some functionality or vertical specialization to fall back on.
A comprehensive approach was a smart strategy two years ago when brands weren’t sure what they needed and there weren’t high quality free or cheap tools. But as brand marketing departments mature, I believe they’re going to want powerful tools designed for the industry they’re in. Also, as Pages focus more on gaining fans and Sponsored Stories tie together ads and Page content, providing Ads API services will become essential for Page management companies. Shoutlet has built a strong base of tools and customers — now it needs to decide how it will stand out.
Update: Shoutlet’s President Aaron Everson contacted me to say some details about weren’t clearly conveyed to me when we spoke. Shoutlet does allow clients to define custom permissions, and therefore corporate analytics don’t need to be shared with sublicensees. Shoutlet has already developed a social CRM integration with Salesforce. The company also apparently partners with Ads API partner Spruce Media.
We asked directly about whether Shoutlet had an Ads API partnership, and even discussed that we had heard Buddy Media was working Spruce Media. At the time, Everson made no mention of Shoutlet’s partnership with that Ads API company or any other. As such, we are leaving the article above as it was originally published.