Media companies aren't what they used to be as distinct technology companies and agencies may percolate within. Think Hearst/iCrossing, Gannett and its cadre of digital tools and services, The New York Times, Conde Nast - and Washington Post Company and SocialCode.
As CEO Laura O'Shaughnessy tells it, SocialCode is "the biggest player in the paid social space for Fortune 500 companies" and just at the beginning of what it can do for clients. It doesn't hurt that Washington Post's Don Graham sits on the Facebook board and, consequently, the social media leader is clearly a focus for SocialCode. But, O'Shaughnessy is quick to point out that the two public companies can't trade information on the latest and greatest innovations or plans at either company.
Since its inception in late 2010, SocialCode has evolved into a social media advertising agency with 75 people and offices sprinkled around the U.S. including Washington, New York and San Francisco.
AdExchanger recently spoke to O'Shaughnessy about her company and the road ahead.
Why did Washington Post Company start SocialCode? Any particular trigger in 2010?
LAURA O’SHAUGNESSY: It was very clear that this was an enormous advertising opportunity for brands. You could look at the space and say, "There's no reason to think that what happened with Google [and search], couldn't happen with Facebook in terms of it opening up a new marketing channel to brands." We took a swing at providing them the best solutions, highest integrity solutions in the space.
Back in 2010, Facebook was foreign to brands. They didn't think they necessarily needed to be there. Now in 2012, it's still a confusing, huge space, yet everybody knows that it is a critical piece of the marketing mix.
Do you think of yourselves as a Facebook marketing agency, or -?
Our goal at SocialCode is to quickly be able to assess and gather data on how an advertising channel performs for marketers in different categories. Then be able to communicate to those brand marketers and their digital agencies what we've seen as the best uses of the different platforms and even the different ad types within the different platforms.
Does SocialCode work across other digital channels such as PC-based display or mobile – other than Facebook?
Clearly, we're serving mobile ads on Facebook, and Twitter, and it's clearly something we're thinking a lot about. But, right now we don't have capabilities to serve display and mobile ads beyond what I just mentioned.
Let's move on to the Digg team that was recently hired/acquired. Can you maybe expand on what the plans are with that team?
We met with that team extensively leading up to the acquisition, and it was just an unbelievable fit in that they work in similar programming languages as our team, they have a similar culture as our interest and development team had today, and they worked really well together. They liked working as a group. It was a fantastic opportunity for us to grow our development resources substantially.
So, we're heads down working hard on some new technology projects which are going to allow our clients to have deeper visibility in their Facebook communities, and take action on those communities. This new team and our original team are working on these products and the speed of development has increased exactly as I hoped.
What might be a success metrics you look at for that acquisition down the road?
The main thing I'm looking at is the same as the expectation I have for the whole company: we will have launched a couple products where our clients are using the technology and it's providing valuable benefits.
Our focus is on those clients.
What would you say is the most typical client campaign today? Can you share more specifically what your company is doing today for clients?
There's not a “typical” campaign. As you can imagine, the campaigns should be always rooted in what are the business goals for the company. We work with auto companies on new‑car launches. We work with TV shows on tune‑ins. There's a huge variety of campaign goals that I think do map and always should map to the brand's fundamental business goal.
Have you seen a movement away from building the number of likes on a client’s Facebook fan page - maybe a more evolved strategy to put it nicely?
Definitely. Now, I would always say that there's a spectrum, and so [clients] are at different places along the curve. With some clients we are working on building up engaged fan communities that are very targeted for that client‑‑whether that's moms, or small business centers, or people in specific geographical locations, whatever criteria that happens to be. But even more so, now, we're focusing on how to engage those communities on Facebook and Twitter. Whether that is direct contest, or watching a video, participating in a poll or whatever that engagement measure happens to be. Then bringing them down the funnel even more to take the action that's most important to those brands, which is oftentimes trying or buying a product.
Facebook announced its Exchange recently. What's your take on that announcement?
My take is that I it's exciting. It gives clients is another data level to target on. Facebook is the biggest publisher in the world. The ability for advertisers to use it in a more advanced way is exciting.
What is the biggest misconception marketers have right now regarding Facebook advertising in particular, or social advertising in general?
There's still a lot of confusion about how best to utilize Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn to achieve business goals - in terms of which ad units are most valuable, and who is exactly in my community? - and how do I get them to take action? How do I engage them? There's still a high degree of brands and marketers learning about those platforms and how they should be used.
Finally, 12‑18 months from now, can you discuss some goals you’d like your company to hit?
In terms of goals and benchmarks for Social Code for the next year, we don't have any specific things that we talk about publicly. But, we're releasing a bunch of new technology that I am excited about and think will be useful for our clients. That's certainly at the top of my list of goals.
And then, in our current media business, we're lining up and positioning to continue to provide high performing advertising solutions to our customers on the social platforms.