Industry Perspectives: Q&A with Jim Risner, President & CMO of Social Media Agency Votigo

As the Facebook Platform matures, an increasing number of social media agencies are bringing brands into the Facebook world by way of Facebook applications. Not just application developers, these agencies are increasingly working with clients directly to set strategy and design the rules of the campaign — and then manage the promotional spend inside Facebook once the application is launched.

Votigo is one such agency based in Emeryville, CA. The company has been doing social media campaigns since 2006, and since the Facebook Platform launched last year, has been building a big part of its business bringing brands into Facebook. (Note: Votigo is also an advertiser on this blog.) We sat down with Jim Risner, Votigo’s President and CMO, to learn more about the company and the trends he is seeing in the marketplace.

Thanks for your time Jim. Can you give us a little background on Votigo?

Sure – I started the company in 2006 with Mike La Rotonda. I was previously VP of Interactive Design at United Online (Juno, NetZero, Bluelight, etc.), and Mike was a PM at Yahoo (worked on 360 and other social products). The initial premise for Votigo was a video-focused UGC community site, but we quickly got interest from big brands and agencies wanting to take what we had and skin it for their own brands. So for example, we did a video contest with Victoria’s Secret PINK and received hundreds of entries and 100,000’s of visitors. From there, things snowballed, and we went from a B2C company to more of a B2B social media agency.

We have our own community platform for user generated photo and video contests that can be deployed anywhere. They’re all completely branded and centered on the campaign.  We do Facebook apps, OpenSocial apps, and branded community sites as well. Now, our focus is really on social applications and UGC campaigns.

What kind of campaigns are you doing on Facebook now?

When Facebook opened the Platform, we immediately started building there. We’re releasing a new version of our contest application this week actually, that we’re using to sell branded photo and video contests. For example, we recently did one for Kohl’s department stores with Appssavvy and Universal McCann. We did all the development and design, based on our contest platform.

We’re also building deeper custom applications. Just last Monday we launched an application for a political organization called Who wants to be president? Inside the app you earn points by sending faxes to Congress and inviting friends. The application uses components from our contest platform, which we try to leverage them as much as we can.

When promoting applications we’ve built inside Facebook, we always keep users inside Facebook – either on the application itself or on Pages – not to an external website. Pages are a great option too, and we’re doing more of that.

What parts of your business are you the most bullish on?

The parts of our business that we’re really most bullish on at the moment are Facebook applications (and soon Facebook Connect) and the video contests. Unlike some others, we don’t see applications as being short lived (except for contests) – we see them as being a part of your business. When we do them, we think long term.

We’re also seeing some traction internationally on OpenSocial. We built an app on Orkut called Rate People that has had 33 million visits from 15 million uniques since July – so we’re doing well in Brazil. So we’re also selling some sponsorships directly ourselves.

Thanks Jim. Any final thoughts?

It’s fair to call us a social media agency, but we also have a strong technology platform. For some clients, we do everything in house, but we also work with agencies who manage the design and are able to then leverage our technology and our platform.

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