Wildfire CEO Ransom Says Marketers Need To Get Consumers To 'Willingly Engage'

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wildfireVictoria Ransom is CEO of Wildfire, a social marketing software company whose sector has drawn strong interest recently from companies like Salesforce and Oracle.

AdExchanger discussed Wildfire and industry trends with Ransom recently.

AdExchanger: Regarding momentum in the social media marketing space - Oracle buys Vitrue, Salesforce buys Buddy Media - what do these acquisitions mean for advertising and marketing?

VICTORIA RANSOM: Clearly, it's a great validation for social media marketing. It's a young industry and when we first started in 2008 there's no question we were giving it experimental budgets. Nobody knew if this was going to be a thing of the moment or if it was going to endure.

Fast‑forward just four years and it's become a fundamental part of companies' marketing strategy, which has been validated by much bigger players wanting to come into the space.

The other interesting thing is that it talks to the breadth of the impact that social media marketing is having. It touches the entire customer life cycle, everything from building awareness, to when you support a customer, loyalty or advocacy.

And in terms of the competitive set for Wildfire, who is in yours?

It's obviously a space with a number of different players. It depends on which part of our market that we're looking at. Certainly, we've looked at Buddy Media and Vitrue as successful competitors in our space.

There is a connection being drawn to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) with these two, recent transactions. Why? And is this what Wildfire helps enable or are there other places for you to go?

The [CRM] connection is through social media - you are building connections with your customer base. You're learning a lot about them, and then you're having an ongoing communication. There has been a lot of talk about social CRM and I think the market is evolving towards that end, but I don't think anyone's nailed it. It'll be interesting to see exactly how that gets done.

In terms of Wildfire, we've always had a lot of options in front of us. We've been growing at a very fast pace and started selling our product in 2009. In 2010, we had seven employees. We're now well over 300 employees. We've had phenomenal revenue growth - three times growth last year, continuing to have very rapid growth this year. I believe that we're going faster than anyone in this state.

We've also been extremely capital efficient and certainly been putting all of our ducks in a row so that we have multiple options in front of us, including the option of going public.

Do you call yourselves an agency or an advertising technology company or a software developer company?

We call ourselves a social media marketing software company with a definite emphasis on the software. We've been very focused from day one at Wildfire on building a technology solution that provides a great deal of flexibility to our clients but that's also easy to use so that they don't have to rely on us for a lot of agency‑like services.

In terms of the services part of our business, our idea's much smaller than many in our space who are more a hybrid between a technology company and an agency. We work a lot with agencies, though, and clients.

Can you take us through one of your most popular use cases for your technology today?

Victoria: Yes. We have a complete end-to-end solution for social media marketing and that includes everything from a management system where you can generate engaging social learning pages, a promotion engine where you can run different kinds of promotional campaigns, to our messenger products where you can keep track of what fans and followers are saying about you. You can send out messages, too.

Then we have the analytics product that ties it all together and, more recently, through an exclusive partnership with Adaptly, we started offering the ad-buying component as well. They have a really great technology solution.

It's hard to separate those out because they're all part of a complete set of activities that companies need for social media marketing to succeed. To give an example, we had a client that was doing a launch of a new lipstick and they did it primarily in social channels. It was their most successful launch ever. They used all of the tools I just mentioned and created interesting content that people could learn about, discover and share about this new product.

A lot of our clients offer campaigns where you can get access to an exclusive coupon code, which will encourage purchasing behavior. Then, of course, you need the analytics in order to understand what's working and what's not working.

It's all part of a complete program. Certainly different clients have different goals. So some of our clients, particularly ecommerce clients, are focused specifically on how much I can sell and they're able to measure ROI quite directly. Others are on the other end of the spectrum where it's about getting the brand out so, for example, they're satisfied when they're getting a lot of sharing.

The goals definitely vary from marketer to marketer - even within the same brand.

How important is Facebook to your offering?

It is very important. They actually have been a very important partner and are our customer. They use Wildfire's technology to manage over 30 of their own brand pages, which is exciting for us, and a great validation.

Facebook is extremely important but I think there are a lot of other social sites or social networks that are important to brands, too. These sites have been growing over time such as Twitter.

LinkedIn, at the end of last year, opened up their developer platform. We think they're headed in a direction where there will be more flexibility, and more interesting things that brands can do.

We recently became a partner with YouTube. Obviously, YouTube has had brand pages for a long time, and there's a lot that we can do for our clients there. And, last but certainly not least, Pinterest has come out of nowhere and is getting enormous traction and interest. I think there's a great deal of potential there.

How important do you think paid media is overall to social media marketing?

It's very important. You've got to grow your audience and encourage people to form a connection with you. Then you need to engage and build a relationship with them and, over time, they spread the word to others. That organically helps to grow your audience. But that initial stage of getting people to come and engage with your business [involves] the paid component.

One of the mistakes that we see some of our clients making is coming out with promotions or campaigns, or whatever it is that they're running, and not putting enough behind the paid part.

You need that to kick start the whole thing. Then the sharing can happen and it starts to self‑perpetuate. We see far greater success when clients combine what they're doing with us with paid media.

Looking at where you are today with 300 employees, where would you like to be in 12 to 24 months? Any milestones you'd like to achieve in that time frame?

We're working on a lot of different things simultaneously. Certainly, we're a Bay Area‑based company. Over the past year, we've been focused on expanding beyond that. We now have offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. We also have over 30 people in London, and people in France, Germany and Singapore. International growth is a huge opportunity for us.

The amazing thing about social media marketing is it impacts nearly every business of any size throughout the world. Thus, there's a huge amount of opportunity for us globally. We are also very much focused on our product, and we have some exciting things that we're working on - which we will be able to announce fairly soon - but which we think can be a signal for the next evolution of our products and the industry.

It's such a young industry. There's still so much left for us to achieve on the product front and continuing to build the product through partnerships, and eventually acquisitions will be very important to us on that front as will continuing to expand the reach within North America and internationally.

Another thing that we're investing in is marketing. At the beginning of the year, we hired a new CMO, Doug Laird, who has a stellar background. “Getting the word out” is and important goal for us.

Finally, why is it that Wildfire's offering should matter to the CMO?

Social networks are where consumers are spending their time, now. Whether a marketer likes it or not, that's where they have to be to reach their. More broadly than that, there's a real shift in how consumers react to marketing. Marketers would push their message out to consumers - whether it's via TV, radio or newspaper ads or whatever - and hope that they would engage with it and respond. Consumers are both getting very savvy about how to block out advertising – TiVo, ad blockers and so on - and, at the same time, they're fairly mistrustful of advertising.

If you look at stats, studies would show that people trust an advertisement a lot less than a friend's recommendation. We're moving into a world where marketers need to get consumers to willingly engage with their marketing, in order to build a relationship with them, and encourage those loyal advocates to spread the word to others.

It's a trusted way for people to discover new brands and new products. The market is shifting and social media marketing has become the vehicle for marketing, in my opinion.

By John Ebbert

Follow Victoria Ransom (@victoria_ransom), Wildfire (@wildfireapp) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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