Facebook Strategic PMD GraphEffect Tackles Collaboration Challenge

GraphEffect “has it all” on the Facebook platform. Or almost. The company holds three of Facebook’s four badges (Ads, Pages, Insights) and was recently named one of Facebook’s 12 Strategic Preferred Marketing Developers.

But its positioning is unique relative to a number of other marketing platforms playing in the Facebook ecosystem. Through its Shift collaboration platform, the company is focused on marketing collaboration for agencies and brand managers involved in developing content and buying media together. CEO James Borow speaks about paid media as the “end point” – but not the whole point – of its workflow management tools for these stakeholders.

Recently the company launched an API program for its Shift software collaboration tool, and hired a well connected Facebook exec to run it. (Adam Gerston was partner manager for the PMD program.) The Shift product is now available to any software developer that wants to support greater teamwork among users — Lettuce and Kenshoo are early users.

Note: This recent interview with Borow took place before Shift was split off as a brand distinct from GraphEffect’s social marketing tools.

AdExchanger: Describe GraphEffect and its revenue model.

JAMES BOROW: At a very high level, GraphEffect is essentially a collaboration platform for marketers.  We’re creating a cross-organizational space for people to work on planning, contact creation, analysis, and also the advertising. If you think about the problems that brands occasionally have with social… it ends up being a collaboration and workflow issue, so directing that in a big way.

The model is very straightforward.  We offer a managed service in which we charge a fee for helping execute your media buy using our software, or we have essentially a consult service, which actually is totally free to use GraphEffect’s collaboration platform.  The only time that we ever charge a fee is when you actually deploy a media spend within one of our applications.

How much of your business is focused on the Facebook platform?

Well, quite a bit is on Facebook.  We also offer the ability to advertise on Twitter. If you think about it, the advertising piece is ultimately the final stop of people working on our tool.  There’s a lot of the contact creation, the analysis, the planning, the strategy that’s happening within the platform itself.  It happens to be that most often the end place for the media is on Facebook, primarily just because it is a high-performing ecosystem that brands in particular have embraced.

Who’s your target customer?

We are working with any brand or agency that is trying to work across organizations.  The target customer is larger organizations that are trying to coordinate their paid, earned, and owned, or any type of marketing initiative that they are addressing. It started off, our initial clients had been the AmEx’s of the world, Toyota, Estee Lauder, Clorox, Samsung. And as we have begun to open up our platform more and more, smaller agencies and even smaller companies have wanted to embrace it.  We have been encouraged by the fact that almost everyone finds a need to make the marketing process more efficient and more collaborative.  The bread and butter over the past two years has been these big brands and now we are beginning to expand to everyone.

Where does the Facebook Ads API fit in for you?

We think of the Ads API as essentially being like an application on our platform.  Again, at a high level, GraphEffect is creating the social network for these marketing organizations, and we are helping them go ahead and get their jobs done in a variety of ways.  One way we have done that is we have created an application for them on the platform, which is called Story Manager.

Story Manager allows these people to manage their Facebook pages, to analyze their content, and then go ahead and turn their content into ads via the Ads API.  It is just a way of sending out a message on Facebook.  It’s just the end point.  It’s the communication hook.

We are one of the few companies in the world now that have the Pages and the Ads and the Insights API badges.  I think that is a testament to the fact that we are trying to help all of these different clubs work together on their social.  To do that well you have to be able to understand why things are working and you have to be able to turn content into media.

What do you make of the rapid pace of innovation on the Ads API?  Facebook seemed to roll out new capabilities for it almost weekly during the summer.  Is it hard to keep up?   

We have a team of engineers who are solely focused on building out our Facebook applications on the platform, so they have been able to iterate and take advantage of it.  It’s a nice thing about being a company with not a lot of licensing issues, in that we can really iterate and implement things as quickly as possible. We’ve found it to be very much in line with our culture and our philosophies, so it has worked well.

Who is in your competitive set?   

We ultimately look at ourselves as competing against some of the Basecamps and the Yammers of the world.  We’re trying to help this vertical of marketers just work much more efficiently together on whatever it is they are working on. Because Facebook has been such a focus for marketing in general, we think we can offer a big opportunity to help them work together to create better content and ultimately create better ads out of that content.  We’re focused on helping people work more efficiently together, and Facebook marketing is just one of those places that we’re focusing on.

Does GraphEffect’s platform have a place within the marketing stacks being assembled by enterprise software companies?

Our goal is to ultimately address every single need and want that a marketer would have.  The way we’re approaching it is that a couple of weeks ago we announced our own platform API.  We’re allowing developers to bring their applications onto our platform. Today we have apps that help marketers work more efficiently on Facebook, but over the next couple of months you’re going to see us push out applications for display, search, even actually working on design, things of that nature. We’re trying to look at GraphEffect as that platform for these marketers to work on anything.  That puts us in a situation where we can iterate faster and actually offer more to a marketer because our ecosystem is open as opposed to being closed.

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