SocialFlow builds an attention buying platform

Brands and publishers face quite a challenge in capturing the attention of distracted consumers because it’s hard to pinpoint where to target a marketing message when people are constantly moving across different forms of media. But for New York-based SocialFlow, there’s opportunity in the chaos.

The company is helping marketers time their messages for the fullest effect, in hopes of attracting attention at just the right moment. In February, it launched its optimized publisher platform, giving companies a way to time their social messages — tweets and Facebook updates —  to ensure they are there when their followers are most receptive to a particular message. And now, SocialFlow is poised to release a paid media platform that will allow clients to push out timed ads that will address consumers who are not already followers, the company told GigaOM.

SocialFlow has been testing the product with a client and expects to launch it by July. The paid media service will allow advertisers to target certain interests using Facebook ads, which will be timed and optimized to hit select groups when their attention is ripe for a message.

“With optimized publisher, you get the attention you’ve established through your connections with your customers and then with the paid media platform, you can then find people like your customers and buy that attention when you want to yield results,” Frank Speiser, CEO and founder of SocialFlow told me in an interview.

Both products build on SocialFlow’s core work in understanding attention and how it shifts over time. SocialFlow gets access to the Twitter firehose, allowing it to see the contextual habits of millions of users every day. It combines its historical database and a complex algorithm to understand how an online conversation can morph over time and where people will likely move to after starting on one topic. It also scores a company’s content based on their expected resonance with a target audience. By anticipating shifts in a person’s attention, SocialFlow can insert Tweets and updates that are relevant to their evolving attention. And with paid ads, they can also buy against interests that are relatively cheap  because they’re not in high demand.

The optimized publisher service now has 2,700 paying accounts on the platform after launching in February, including companies like the Economist and National Geographic. Customers who pay $99 a month also get back valuable data on the conversion rate of each message and how users engage with it.

SocialFlow’s approach contrasts with many existing social media and advertising efforts, where companies schedule tweets to go out at fixed times or push out manual updates to try to engage users. Traditional advertisers also similarly try to target people with ads but don’t take into account when they’re most likely in the mood to hear a message. In this social media saturated world, attention has become an even more valuable commodity, Speiser said.
It’s not about how much you spend but being smart about keeping people engaged, he said. “Nothing succeeds without attention. That’s the new battleground,” Speiser said.

Even for popular media properties like American Idol, advertising on the show becomes even more difficult because consumers often turn to their smartphones and tablets when commercials appear, he said. That’s the challenge for advertisers now. As a Pepsi client recently told him: “My competition isn’t Coke, it’s 30 million status updates.”

SocialFlow is seeing real results from its work. During the beta of its optimized publisher platform, SocialFlow was able to increase clicks per tweet between 40 percent and 60 percent. And with the paid media service, SocialFlow claims it outperforms traditional ads on Facebook.  Speiser said the ultimate goal of the paid media product is to help convert consumers into followers, who will eventually do something on behalf of that brand.

“The paid media platform will grow pretty fast. It’s really a strategic investment in the lifetime value of a brand to convert those people to followers so they’re paying attention when you reach out to them with earned media,” Speiser said.

I think SocialFlow has got the right idea. The way the world works now, everything is competition in the attention economy and it’s all about getting people to interact and engage. Brands and publishers need ways to stay in front of consumers and social media, while it’s one channel that can siphon away attention, it can also be a place to re-engage with people and hold on to that precious attention.

Image courtesy of Flickr user miranda.granche