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Making Money with Social Media

Do blogs and tweets help a company’s bottom line? One startup thinks it has the answer.

In retrospect, 2009 may be viewed as the year “social media” came of age: Facebook passed 350 million active users, Oprah made Twitter mainstream, and LinkedIn introduced a service to help recruiting agencies search the site for job candidates. But using microblogs, photoblogs, user-generated content, and even traditional blogs to interact with customers takes time and money, and some companies still question whether all that effort is doing them any good. So how does a company not only measure the results of its social media efforts but also effectively manage them?

Social costs: The Spredfast dashboard lets users track the reach and efficacy of integrated social media campaigns, including blog posts, Facebook updates, tweets, and Flickr streams.

Early in December, Social Agency, a five-person startup based in Austin, TX, launched a Web-based software package called Spredfast that helps companies manage their social media campaigns. The software not only measures audience size and engagement but also allows coordinated planning and automated posting across multiple social media platforms.

Specifically, the Web-based software counts how many people view a company’s Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr updates, as well as posts managed by several popular blogging platforms, such as Moveable Type, WordPress, Blogger, Lotus Live, and Drupal. It also measures how the audience is interacting with all this content–for instance, how much they are commenting on posts, clicking on links, or retweeting updates.

The goal, says Social Agency cofounder Scott McCaskill, is to let companies see “whether all the time put into doing those things is really helping build brand or product awareness, which kinds of content are most successful, what days and even times of day result in the most traffic or new followers/friends.”

A free version allows a company to manage a single identity or “voice” across each platform. Paid versions let companies coordinate multiple users and voices, and provide a longer data history. McCaskill says the software has had the most success with units of large companies and marketing agencies.

Media metrics: With Spredfast, companies can evaluate how people read, pass along, or comment on content on social media websites over time.

Spredfast gives companies a way to plan and manage content deployment. For instance, users can write blog entries, tweets, or Facebook updates ahead of time and then schedule when they will be posted. A store that might offer an online coupon code or one-day sale could, with Spredfast, have Twitter push that code out several times a day to increase the number of site visitors. The software’s metrics, McCaskill says, let marketers figure out the best times to post updates. Spredfast also makes it easy for them to test different strategies.

The company launched a year ago as a maker of custom Facebook applications. When Facebook redesigned its home page, says McCaskill, Social Agency’s business model was effectively torpedoed. As part of its sales strategy, the company had spent a lot of time helping clients plan their social media strategies. So the founders retooled and used their expertise to start building Spredfast about nine months ago. The software launched in private beta in September, public beta in October, and had its “official” launch on December 2.

Social Agency plans to introduce a feature by the end of January that will help users design a social media campaign based on their objectives. McCaskill says that Spredfast will most likely present users with a list of common marketing goals that they can check off. The software will suggest a template for a campaign based on what’s worked best for clients with similar goals.

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