Q&A with Vitrue on Facebook Marketing Tactics, Metrics, and New Open Graph Tools

Vitrue opened its doors in 2006 in Atlanta with the aim to connect marketers to consumers using social web services. It has expanded to Facebook in recent years, and expanded geographically from its home base in Atlanta to New York, Palo Alto and most recently Chicago.

Here’s our interview with chief executive Reggie Bradford. But first, some more background:

Vitrue works with both marketing agencies and brands to provide software solutions to allow them to manage their social presence across networks, primarily Facebook, but also Twitter, YouTube, Gowalla, Foursquare — and social objects. Last week Vitrue unveiled a new product, Vitrue Publisher 2.0, which is fitted specifically for Open Graph publishing. It allows owners of a graph object (such as a web page that has been Liked) to more easily manage content and publishing back to users’ news feeds.

The company is profitable and has received $15 million in funding, primarily through General Catalyst Partners, Dace Ventures, Comcast Interactive and Turner Broadcasting System, with various other angels, including Ron Conway.

Vitrue has worked with global brands such as McDonald’s, Best Buy, Kellogg Company, AMC Theatres, Project (RED) and Buffalo Wild Wings, among hundreds of others. Bradford spoke to us as part of our ongoing series of Page management company profiles, which has most recently included Likeable and Votigo.

Inside Facebook: What products and services does your company provide to clients using Facebook? What types of clients are you aiming to reach?

Reggie Bradford: We have products that marketers and agencies use (about 50/50) to manage their social presence and increasingly our product is growing through agencies. It’s software as a service and our target is Fortune 1,000 clients. We are expanding our footprint to mid-market as well, in three areas.

The first is publishing, via Vitrue Publisher, “How do I message and manage my fans in the social graph?” And we’re increasingly looking at fans of social objects. The second product is Vitrue Tabs, which allows a marketer and agency to manage and build their tab experience within Facebook, so, the look and feel of the Page, changing out campaigns, using it with all kinds of applications. The third area is Vitrue Apps where we actually do provide custom apps, such as sweepstakes, polling, video contest — those can exist on or off of Facebook. We back all three of those products up with Vitrue Advantage, which provides our enterprise clients with the tools and best practices to achieve success.

IFB: Can you share some highlights of how your company has helped clients meet their goals using Facebook?

RB: Our big belief is that the real sweet spot is the combination of communication and publishing to the Wall; managing the experience on the tabs to drive people from the Wall to the tabs and then peppering that with strategic media buys to amplify that messaging. Best Buy is one of our partners, and we’ve helped them through our products grow their Page from 25,000 to over 1.1 million over the past 12 months. We sat with them up front, aligned our technology and services with what their objectives were, put concrete goals together, relaunched their Page with more compelling apps on the tabs and then used our publisher to really drive a conversation calendar to drive the fans. Buffalo Wild Wings uses our publishing products through our agency partner 22squared, has grown from 75,000 to almost 2 million in the last 12 months. One of the things they’ve done very successfully that’s unique to Vitrue is Wall apps. In the news feed, apps get 110 times the engagement that you get on a tab; Buffalo Wild Wings has had very solid success driving coupons to fans through the news feed.

IFB: Overall, can you share metrics on the scope of your business?

RB: We manage currently over 178 million Facebook fans, or connections, and that number is growing dramatically; that spans over 600 Pages across 47 countries. We have hundreds of clients and the system is managing currently over 28,000 Wall posts created by Vitrue technology with 22 million clicks, 300,000 shares and 1.2 million audio and video plays. Another huge area for us is moderation. We currently moderate over 850,000 posts from customers and 12 million comments/Likes to date.

IFB: What metrics do you use to determine the success of a given campaign?

RB: It varies by the client and the initiative, but in general most marketers are focused on growing their audience, number of fans and driving the engagement with that audience. So it’s not just about size, it’s about the conversations that are taking place and the quality — that’s where our publishing features come in. Where you can create a coupon, a poll, a video, a slideshow, things that are going to get people to engage in that content. We’re veering towards ROI and we have a tool to help a marketer determine the value of their impressions, and then we work with clients to determine how much product they’re actually selling from a particular coupon. In this economy it’s pretty important, no marketer spends any money without justification today (and) you’re seeing increasing levels in investment justified by the returns. The market speaks for itself.

IFB: What have been your biggest challenges building on Facebook platform? What mistakes have you made and learned from there?

RB: The biggest challenge is that it’s a rapidly changing platform. They’re releasing software updates every week and so you have to constantly be on the balls of your feet to stay ahead of that and hope to make the right product advancements that are going to be complimentary to their changes. The biggest thing we’ve learned is that you can’t manage products on Facebook part-time. Two years ago we dipped our toe in the water and built a few apps, and now probably 95% of our company’s efforts are invested in managing those platform changes and staying on top of that. I think that’s a lesson for the market. There’s a lot of people out there that say they’re developing Facebook apps, and that’s fine, but I think more and more savvy marketers are realizing that they need companies like Vitrue to manage that through products and innovation; the part-timers are going to be left on the sidelines.

IFB: Beyond your own efforts, what Facebook changes have noticeably helped your company?

RB: I think the exciting part is that they’re constantly driving innovation and they’re continuing to focus on the user experience. I think secondarily for us, we deem ourselves experts on managing the news feed, I think their improvements to the news feed have definitely (helped) to maximize our product so the posts our marketers create actually get to the folks they’re trying to reach.

IFB: On the other hand, has Facebook made any recent changes that have noticeably hurt your company?

RB: Honestly, we’re pretty close partners with Facebook and I don’t really have anything that I can point to that has been detrimental to our business that we don’t like.

IFB: If you could ask Facebook to make a single change, what would it be?

RB: We spent a lot of time managing the Wall and the news feed, I think the biggest feature we could get would be to have the same access on a tab that we could get on a Wall. The ability to add the same access on the Wall and on the tab that we currently have on the app canvas, we could then target fans and friends directly instead of asking users to allow access. The great thing is it’s already available on the app canvas, so it’s not a far-fetched idea.

IFB: How does your work on Facebook relate to your work on other platforms?

RB: We made a strategic bet a couple of years ago that Facebook was going to be the next big platform after Google. Today, we’ve been of the philosophy that Facebook is becoming the operating system of the Internet and it’s sort of the hub of the hub-and-spoke model. It’s a big part of what we do, that said, we’re continuing to add abilities for our marketers and agencies to manage those relationships on their web sites, email campaigns or newsletters, on Twitter, through their YouTube relationships, integration of location-based services like Gowalla and Foursquare. It’s definitely a Facebook-anchored strategy, but it’s really about easily and affordably managing your social media presence globally.

IFB: Do you have any specific plans that you can share?

RB: We recently announced being able to help marketers manage social objects. As we continue to grow, we’re going to look at expansion, both through our own products, and also with partners, or looking at acquisitions of companies that have unique applications or products that we can use to expand our capabilities.