Learning What and When to Tweet

Peter Hershberg was recently named president of Socialflow, a New York startup that uses social data to inform publishers and brands what and when they should tweet. Clients like The Economist use the service to cull through hundreds of pieces of content to find the ones most likely resonate with its audience — and at the time they’ll do so. Hershberg co-founded Reprise Media, a search marketing agency that Interpublic Group acquired in 2007. He spoke to Digiday about the need for Twitter analytics, how the social marketing world is reminiscent of the early days of search, and whether there’s a new bubble. Follow him on Twitter @hershberg.

Do brands really need Twitter analytics?
I do think that companies need analytics around all their marketing efforts. That’s something that’s critical. As it relates to Socialflow, the more important piece is how do you optimize your messaging and publishing across the platform. There’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 million tweets sent a day. How can you make sure your message is structured to resonate with users and is sent out at at time when your audience is most likely to engage with your message. You might have 1 million followers, but they’re not online in front of Twitter at all times a day. The question is how much of your audience is engaged at a certain point of time. What they’re talking about at that time is important. Socialflow is helping understand what links they’re clicking on and prioritizing messages.

What’s something surprising you’ve found about what resonates on Twitter?
It varies on a category-by-category basis. One of the things that works well is pictures that are taken at an event. People respond favorably all the time. It’s not terribly surprising, but it’s consistent. One of the things I’ve found is there aren’t many trends. The reality is there are almost no trends or patterns you can make good decisions about. We’re talking about marketing now but if there’s an earthquake in Japan, it won’t matter. Past performance isn’t an indicator of future success.

Can Twitter ever rival Facebook in importance?
We think that could be the case. A lot of our clients have been publishers. They have massive amounts of content that they can constantly post to Twitter. Publishers are finding the amount of traffic can be overwhelming. Facebook is clearly a larger platform and more evolved with monetization. Anytime there’s a platform with hundreds of millions of people talking, it creates opportunities. Facebook is more evolved as far as this is concerned. Because Twitter is more in infancy stage, it provides brands the opportunity to take a leadership position. It’s more early stage. It’s an interesting time to see what you can do now.

How do you see the social media marketing world evolving? Similarities with search?
Social is evolving a lot like search. It’s one of the things that attracted me to Socialflow. There’s a lack of integration. Anytime new channel emerges, marketers tend to treat it separately. Search was managed separately for years. There’s also confused metrics. Most companies embraced search because they heard it was effective. But they weren’t doing much to measure it well. The advertisers were measuring clicks but not what was happening on the website. Companies are now paying for likes. A marketer’s goal in social shouldn’t be disconnected from broader marketing efforts. There’s also tons of data collected in search process. There’s tons of other potential aspects for it. The same can be true for social. It can be used to inform marketing efforts in other channels and help with product development. There is a critical need of blending automated systems and human expertise. People will always be a critical part of any marketing effort. The idea is to give consideration of what parts can be automated and insert people back to the process. We know an algorithm is better at posting your message to Twitter. But when people start talking back to you, you need people responding.

You spent a couple years as an angel investor and startup advisor. What’s your take on the bubble question?
It’s hard to say if there’s a bubble having been through the previous one at a company that went public in 2000. It feels different to me. Valuations have gone up. The cost of starting a company has never been lower. It’s good that people with an idea have an easier time of seeing if it succeeds or fails. I’ve definitely seen a lot of companies where I’ve wondered if they need to exist. But if they don’t, they’re going to fail because they can’t raise a follow-on round. Worst case scenario, these companies fail and a lot of talent will be out in the marketplace.

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