ShareThis CEO Abrahamson Sees Brand Opportunity Ahead

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kurt-abrahamsonWith a year under his belt at sharing data company ShareThis, CEO Kurt Abrahamson says the past year was one of strong growth in terms of all the usual metrics of revenue, staff and success of clients – though he declined to provide specifics.

His optimism for 2013 starts with something ShareThis calls the “SQI” - that's Social Quality Index.  Abrahamson says the index is an indicator of volume of social sharing and clicks across all of the his company's publishers amid 27 verticals. One can imagine the index being used as a guide for the buy side in bidding on inventory where users are engaged (clicking, mousing over) versus not so much –and a guide for publishers as they set pricing floors, for example.

In fact, Abrahamson says that the SQI targeting “signals” are beginning to be made available to agencies and advertisers. “Insights” is another area that the company is eyeing by overlaying analytics on its sharing data tonnage.

So, where is programmatic media in all this?

Abrahamson says it's still hard to see the trend’s momentum from his "sharing data" point-of-view. He adds, "Publishers are saying that they're concentrating their best, most sophisticated inventory with their direct sales team. And, they are either enthusiastically or cautiously embracing the idea that the rest of the inventory can go into the programmatic market and be successful on a day-to-day basis, or over the mid-to-long term. That's where the success will lie."

AdExchanger spoke to Abrahamson recently.

AdExchanger: Is there a way for publishers to uniquely capture sharing data that makes it valuable, first-party data, if you will?

KURT ABRAHAMSON:  Publishers using the analytics tools that we supply are able to see all the sharing that occurs on their properties.  They're able to see the channels where the content is shared, the specific URLs, how that sharing differs across verticals.  They can get a sense of what's trending - and it'll be almost real time very soon across the ShareThis network.

So, using that data to understand how to optimize content, understand what stories are going viral on your site, as well as across the network, we think there's a lot of value in that.  We keep talking about the idea that social media optimization for publishers is just as important as search engine optimization was five to eight years ago and we're making good progress with those messages.

Is there a revenue model with the sharing tools in terms of the publisher?

Right now our belief is that we picked the right path - which is to make the tools available for free and the analytics for free.  We're comfortable with that, it has worked well for us.

One of the things that we are thinking about, though, is the brand-as-publisher [metaphor], if you will.  When you look at brands and what they could do with putting sharing tools on their sites to see how content is shared off and on to their commerce sites, brands could then turn those insights into actionable directions for media campaigns.  It could be a product that that we launch at some point, but we're still figuring those plans out.

How does the revenue model that comes from the buy side work?  Do you sell media, for example, or you're selling the data?

We do not sell our data.  We believe that the value exchange with the publisher is solid - we give them the tools and the analytics for free and we have the ability to use the data in our modeling.  We're not comfortable with the idea of then taking that data and explicitly reselling it in the market.  That's not one of the things the company has done in two-plus years, and I'm very comfortable with it.

We sell media and we use the sharing signals as a way to target the media.  We can help advertisers reach consumers who've shared content around specific keywords and topics because of what we see across the network.  We can help a client like Best Buy, for example, reach people who are sharing content around video game console, video game releases, things like that.

Then we also use the SQI audience signals as a way to try to find engaged audiences on the web, socially engaged audiences.  We use both the social audiences and the social domain signals as a way to target the media that we buy primarily through the exchanges.

What would you say is the biggest challenge of growing the revenue side to this?

The challenge is, one, it's just getting the coverage and getting in to talk about our story with the agencies and the clients.  Generally, once we're able to convince them to try us, we see a lot of repeat business.

There are a lot of companies out there that have something that they're trying to bring to market.  We've been lucky in that we have a very simple message: ShareThis has a sharing tool that allows users to share content to their social media channel choice and through email.  We have an advertising model that lets brands target people based on the content they share.

That's pretty straightforward.  We don't need any algorithms in the pitch.  Generally, the challenge is just how you scale a business and make it larger.

Do you find ShareThis having to package other things that maybe aren't related specifically to your sharing data in order to be a part of a plan with your agency partners?

No, not really.  What we do try to package is the insight that we can see from all of the sharing across the network that two million plus sites. Sharing is not dissimilar to search in terms of showing intent, showing what people are interested in and showing what they're tracking across the web.

Do you consider sharing data as providing then a more of the bottom of the funnel opportunity versus a top of the funnel brand-awareness opportunity?

Our solution is proven to work for both.  I think frankly the larger opportunity is the higher-up funnel using sharing as a signal of what people are interested in, what they're willing to share with their friends, their networks.

Giving your sharing data competitive set, how are you going to differentiate – especially as companies like Twitter and Facebook grow their sharing data sets?

One of the advantages we have is that we see sharing across all the social -  120 sharing services on our website that publishers can choose from.  Now, obviously, Facebook is the largest; Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, they are the majority of it, too. But, the point is that we're able to see activity across all the social networks and we're able to see the nuances and differences between individuals in terms of how they share into different services.

If you magnify that across the network that is a differentiation for us in that we're able to see this activity across all the different social networks plus email and things like that.  Obviously, Facebook has a lot of data, they've got a lot more users globally, but we feel comfortable about where we are right now.

How big is the company in terms of people today?

We're a little under a hundred people.  Yes, we're going to continue to hire and expand our sales footprint in the US and most likely overseas.  We have strong product and engineering departments - we'll probably do a bit more there. Most of our staff is in Palo Alto but we have a great sales/marketing hub in New York, so I like the geographic spread of the company.

So, what's the end game here?  Do you see more funding down the road or is there an IPO in your future?

We're trying to build a significant business that has scale.  I've done that before.  The IPO markets could be an option as we move through the next months, but right now I'm just focused on building the business and figuring the opportunities ahead.

Follow ShareThis (@sharethis) and AdExchanger.com (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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