Climbing the social (media) ladder

Published in the Ottawa Business Journal newspaper and website.
March 7, 2011 (March 8 on

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Ottawa firms measure value of online marketing campaigns

Scott Lake.
Scott Lake.
Ottawa Business Journal file photo.

Scott Lake says it’s a rare occasion when his company gets to meet a client face-to-face. Then again, that’s perhaps less surprising when considering his business’s focus: measuring the impact of social media campaigns on the online community.

With Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools increasingly figuring into a well-rounded marketing campaign, and as the demand grows for technology that can measure whether that strategy is actually working, Mr. Lake’s SWIX doesn’t have any trouble keeping busy – even if the schedule doesn’t include face time with customers.

SWIX’s technology tracks the number of clicks and level of engagement for each tweet, link, invitation and so on, breaks the data down by social media property, and then presents the information on a unified dashboard.

“It’s like Google Analytics for social media,” Mr. Lake says.

While not yet in the black, SWIX is “closing in quickly” on profitability, Mr. Lake notes. “We’re growing by about 15 per cent per month and we have about 1,000 accounts.”

He adds that the firm has customers in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, ranging from large marketing outfits such as Dallas’s Splash Media, which help implement social media campaigns on behalf of other clients, to organizations such as The British Council and The Home Depot Mexico.

The company is also doing beta testing for its new Social Marketer offering, which measures the return on investment and conversion-to-sales rate of each social media tool.

It’s all part of the nascent social media metrics industry, which has birthed a couple of interesting companies in Ottawa: SWIX is one, as well as the CNW Group’s MediaVantage, which began its life as dna13 before CNW acquired the local firm in April 2010.

“Our own business has evolved from a wire service with a one-way flow of information to a specific audience – which was, often, traditional media – to now where we’re at the hub of facilitating communications between our clients and an audience that is becoming more web-based. Social media forms a critical part of that audience,” says Carolyn McGill-Davidson, CEO of the CNW Group. “The metrics piece is becoming increasingly important as we engage more with online audiences, and we want to track and measure the results of our efforts.”

Ms. McGill-Davidson says the dna13 acquisition brought in big names such as longtime client Rio Tinto Alcan, adding that the inclusion of dna13’s brand monitoring and analytics strengths in the more “holistic” MediaVantage offering have helped the company expand to the U.S. market.

As such, the MediaVantage offices in Ottawa are preparing to grow by about 30 per cent in the near future. That mirrors staffing activity at SWIX, where the head count is expected to double to 12 by the end of the year, Mr. Lake says.

The key to the two firms’ success? Innovation and being quick on the draw, according to Joe Thornley, CEO of strategic communications and public relations firm Thornley Fallis, and organizer of the social media-focused Third Tuesday panels for Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.

“SWIX is a textbook startup that launched with a very simple application and then began adding features and innovating quite rapidly,” says Mr. Thornley.

He adds that MediaVantage has brought in “new digital smarts” to its offering with the addition of the metrics piece.

However, while Mr. Thornley says the two firms are in the right competition, they face a bit of an uphill struggle, especially in Ottawa where so much emphasis and support is given to more “traditional” high tech and to trying to bring back the glory days of companies like Nortel or JDS Uniphase.

“This is not the place I would expect the next hot measurement startup to reside,” he says, pointing to the fact that there are not a lot of local firms in this space. “The people doing it here are going against the flow and doing it with very little support.”

Mr. Thornley says there’s also tough competition from more mature solutions, noting that the simplicity of an application like SWIX could be a disadvantage when put up against more feature-rich competitors like Fredericton’s Radian6.

“So much can be measured these days, so while early adopters were happy to take the ‘comic book’ view, now people need more sophisticated analytics, deeper dives, new ways to cut the data,” he says.

For now, SWIX is continuing to do what it does best in a tight race.

“(The social media measurement industry) is still in the process of discovering what the appropriate metrics are for measuring tools and keeping up with every new tool that’s getting created, the value of each tool and how it fits into marketing strategy, and that’s hard,” Mr. Lake says.

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