The Business of Optimizing Social Media… for Business

Social Media has already proven itself to be a viable platform for traditional advertising. Now, a number of companies are attempting to track and successfully manipulate the elusive viral world - and there's no shortage of prospective clients.

In just a few short years, the widespread belief that social media was either not a viable advertising/marketing platform or an inferior one has been turned on its ear (and the experts who stated such are praying that nobody checks their blog archives). However, while tracking web traffic has been nearly perfected (along with the practice of optimizing said traffic through keywords), the same cannot be said when considering viral traffic through networks like Twitter and Facebook. However, a few savvy companies have swooped in to fill the void.

One of the premier names in the tracking and optimizing of social media content is the cheekily titled awe.sm. Originally the flagship product of Snowball Factory, its success (and catchy name ) have seen it become a brand in its own right. The awe.sm website describes its service as ROI (Return on Investment) measurement for social media marketing. Co-founder and technical lead Laurie Voss expands:

“In a general sense we are a “social media” company, and that’s quite a crowded space. But more specifically we are a social media publishing and analytics service, and that’s a much smaller field. We are often compared to bit.ly, because of our use of shortened URLs as one method of tracking content, but they are really aiming for the consumer market while we are focussed more on helping people whose job it is to publish content on social media do it better, by better understanding which of their users are sharing, where to, and what kind of traffic that sharing is driving back to them.”

When asked how one might simplify things even further for a layman, Voss stated:

“…Usually the way I describe it is “Do you share things on Twitter and Facebook and wonder how many people are actually seeing those things? What if you could know not just how many people, but which people? What if you could use that information so you could better decide what content to share in future?” That’s what we do. We make you better at sharing, which is better for you and more interesting for your customers.”

The genesis of awe.sm was back in 2008 when co-founder Jonathan Strauss approached Voss with the idea for an early incarnation of the product. While Voss (who was a co-worker of Strauss’ during the later’s tenure at Yahoo) was intrigued, his still existing contract with Yahoo prohibited him from joining Strauss at the time. After leaving Yahoo, however, Strauss invited Voss to join the company not just as technical lead; but due to what Strauss considered formative input, co-founder. As with most any dedicated internet startup, the company is a streamlined one: Strauss serves as CEO, and assisting Voss are a Front-End Engineer and Back-End Engineer. Awe.sm recently performed their first non-technical hire in the form of a Product Marketing Manager, whose duties are described as “to communicate our message more effectively to new and existing customers, and incorporate their feedback into the product.”

Awe.sm has managed to build up quite a client list and now serves tens of millions of redirections a day. While often compared to companies directed at the consumer market such as bit.ly (due to the use of shortened urls as one method of tracking content), Awe.sm is “focussed more on helping people whose job it is to publish content on social media do it better, by better understanding which of their users are sharing, where to, and what kind of traffic that sharing is driving back to them.”

Although their client focus and technical levels may differ, social media analytics companies and products all rely on one ever evolving entity: earned media. While continuing to use ‘free media’ as a synonym may not always be literally correct, it largely refers to unpaid promotion and publicity (as opposed to conventional advertising.) Before the internet this would often refer to promotion through news reports, reviews or editorial influence. The latest and greatest earned media battleground, however, is social media. And according to Voss, it’s quite a lucrative one.

…It’s a relatively new development that traffic from earned media has become as big or bigger than paid. That’s really the opportunity we’re seeing and the problem we’re trying to solve. People have got quite good over the years at tracking web traffic and optimizing it through keyword-based ads, but viral traffic from Twitter and Facebook has remained an unpredictable gamble — but there’s no reason it should remain that way.