Entrepreneur Jan Rezab talks with the excited confidence of a man who has the world — or at least the parts he wants — in the palm of his hand. And why shouldn’t he — he had started his first business by the time he turned 16, and now he’s the CEO of Socialbakers, a global social media analytics company which just opened its US headquarters in San Francisco (the fifth office, adding to ones in Prague, Munich, London and Paris).
Rezab says the company, founded in 2008, has been profitable since day one, and last year they received $2 million in funding. “I’m very success driven,” he says, “I really wanna make things work.” He’s young — only 25 — and he barely looks it. He comes to the interview early and well-prepared, in a suit and trademark rimless glasses. He says he’s also “vision driven,” which to him means pursuing “the right thing to do,” and making it easier for others — in this case, marketers — to see what the “right thing to do” is.
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At its core, that’s what Socialbakers is: a tool to help marketers make the right decisions. “We believe that marketers are sometimes not making the right decisions,” he explains, “because they have bad data, or they don’t have any data.” Socialbakers aims to collect and provide the data, and more importantly, to make sense of it. “We’re trying to deliver the value of that data,” he says, “read it, for the clients.”
Taking publicly available data and finding a way to sell it is nothing new. Social media makes it easier than ever to do, and the marketing industry is saturated with people trying to capitalize on that. But Rezab thinks most companies are going about it the wrong way: “The US social analytics market might seem penetrated,” he says, “when in fact there’s only social listening companies out there.” Social listening companies are those “that tap into a search stream and just download the keywords, download a particular keyword and their mentions.” “With Socialbakers”, says Rezab, “We’re looking at the competitive intelligence piece and the whole picture of it.”
An important elements of this is comparing social media profiles by category, so companies can see how they’re doing against competitors. “Before, for companies it was just about visitors on my website, maybe some impressions, right? And it was their own sites,” he says.
This all changed with with social media, which makes direct comparisons much easier. Rezab calls social media an element of earned media, a subset of marketing somewhere between paid media (advertising) and owned media (like a website) [not everyone agrees on these definitions: Forrester Research puts social media profiles under owned media]. For companies, says Rezab, earned media is “anything that [they] don’t directly control, that sits somewhere else, but [they] run it.”
Earned media, as he defines it, is huge right now. “Earned media is now mobile, you know, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest now, my god, for retailers, you name it, right? I mean there’s so many sites,” he says, “Somebody has to make sense of creating a unified set of metrics. And that’s what we’re doing at Socialbakers. Making sure we rank those companies, in the right category, and giving the proper metrics.’”
Another key element to providing the full picture is coverage of all major social networks. Socialbakers tracks statistics for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube, with advanced tools focusing on Facebook and Twitter. Rezab is open to supporting more platforms, as long as the data is publicly available and usable (they’ve been unable to track Google+ to the same extent as Facebook and Twitter because the proper APIs are not yet available). For platforms interested in partnering, he says “we’ll even help them create the metrics around what they do.” (Tumblr, we’re looking at you!)
But most statistics are still just “listening.” Rezab says a key element of Socialbakers is its engagement ratings. Instead of defining success by simple measurements of popularity like follower counts, Socialbakers tries to measure engagement with companies’ social media pages. This provides a more useful picture of how well a company’s social media marketing strategy is working, because “what is important is the quality of the fans and how they engage with your page.”
Engagement rankings are available for Facebook and Twitter, and are calculated daily by taking the number of likes, comments and shares or favorites, replies and retweets, respectively, and dividing them by the total number of fans on that day. Then an average is calculated, and that’s what Socialbakers calls “engagement.”
“Delivering actionable data, from our perspective, is critical to the market,” explains Rezab, “and delivering it in a centralized way,” with standard metrics. Simply put, Rezab sees Socialbakers as a tool to help marketers do what they do better, by showing them “what really works.”
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“Because nobody knows the brand better than the marketers themselves,” he says, “and we keep giving emphasis on different studies, but really, the marketers know better. And when you show them that data, they suddenly know what to do.”
The engagement aspect is part of Socialbakers’ pro product; there’s also free data and rankings. The pro product starts at $50 a month to monitor one page, and goes up into the thousands for larger companies.
Socialbakers has more than 750 customers worldwide, with 60 in the US, a number it hopes to grow with the new US office. Including the free product, Socialbakers has more than 275,000 registered marketers.
“Typically the companies that started using Socialbakers went up in their engagement by 50–100 percent,” Rezab says. In larger markets where Socialbakers is very penetrated, like Germany or Turkey, “we look at the top 50 pages on the market, and we look at the ones who use Socialbakers analytics, and the ones that don’t, the ones that do have three times the higher engagement rate, on average.”
Data and creativity
Collecting data is pretty straight forward; it’s a matter of crawling pages and using APIs. The more interesting aspect — where Rezab and Socialbakers get to be creative — is with how that data is presented (when I ask him if there’s a creative element to his role in a data driven company, he answers enthusiastically: “Oh hell yeah.”).
Data’s only useful to most marketers to the extent that it can be effectively visualized. That’s very important to where Socialbakers is now, but even more so to its future. “For now, we’re tapping into maybe 5, 10% of the visualization potential,” says Rezab. In the case of actionable data (as opposed to creative data, like data relating to the elections or sporting events) visualizations can be improved, he says, by providing more data with less visualizations. “So taking 7 data sources and making one chart out of it,” he says, “That’s readable. That you get. When you look at it, you get the numbers, you look at the numbers, you look at the chart, you get it and you know what to do next. That’s actually quite an art.”
He gives the example of a new visualization they just created that shows “the amount of engagement by hours and days of week in a beautiful chart,” which condensed multiple charts into one. Before, making sense of the same data was a struggle. But now, “you look at this chart, and you see ‘aha!’, my heat point is between 11 and 4pm in the afternoon, from Monday to Saturday. And on Sunday it’s in the evening. And it’s like that for my entire market. Boom. Data decision, one chart, you know it all.” When a new customer starts using the pro analytics, Rezab says it should immediately make sense. “They open it up, they add Twitter pages, they add Facebook pages, they’re there,” he says, “they do not have to learn anything.”
Unsurprisingly, Rezab thinks analytics are key to brands, marketers and media organizations being able to make better decisions and optimize their investments, by knowing what content and what networks are most effective (he says right now, Facebook is leading in terms of marketing effectiveness). But his faith in data goes beyond marketing. He thinks everyone can benefit from data driven decision making. Someday, he expects social media analysis will be able to predict elections, equal to or better than current techniques like polling.
An emphasis on data driven decision making does not mean disregard for creativity, however. He thinks data can foster creativity. “Because ultimately marketing is about creativity,” he says,“But it shouldn’t be creativity-only driven. It should be data and creativity driven.”
With offices in five countries and customers on every continent, Socialbakers is clearly a global company. But the company was founded in Prague in the Czech Republic (by Rezab and Martin Homolka, CTO, Jiri Voves, VP of Products and Lukas Maixner, GM for Candytech), and getting to a point where it could compete on a global level — against companies that started in tech hubs like San Francisco, (whereas Socialbakers is just now opening operations here) — wasn’t easy.
“To originate a startup from Europe is hard,” says Rezab. It involves bootstrapping, which Socialbakers did, starting with agency business before transforming into its current incarnation. “We had to make money since day one,” he says, “we had to eat rats for a year and a half, as founders of the company.” He says startups originating in Europe need to focus on “building a stable company with a good business model that will be profitable,” because many US investors don’t invest in certain areas of Europe.
Now, he says Socialbakers is getting an “amazing” amount of investment offers from important industry players in the US, because they’ve reached a level of relevance in the world. He says it’s just a matter of getting initial traction, but “not many companies get through that filter.” Fortunately, he thinks more will. He believes the Czech Republic just needs a “big exit” to put it on the map. “We hope to give it to the country,” he says, “and to support more entrepreneurship in a global way.”
For companies looking for a global market, he says it’s key to think globally from the start. “Build everything like you were physically [in San Francisco]. Just half of the day imagine you were there. And act as [if] you were there,” he says. “We don’t make it secret that we’re European, no way, we’re proud of it,” he adds, but for a company aiming for the global market, he thinks discounting the local market and local clients is the best way to scale.
Socialbakers is already one of the worldwide leaders in social media analytics, and is doing especially well in Europe. But its footprint in the US is small, and the recently opened San Francisco office, and related hiring of Martin Huml as President and Chief Operating Officer and Katrina Wong as VP of Marketing, are an attempt to change that. “We have the data,” says Rezab, “and we just have the partnerships rolling out now, so it’s gonna be a good focus on the market, really get out there, show it to the advertisers, and make sure they love it… now’s the time to really pump out the US market.” For now, development will remain in Prague.
“You’ll be seeing some interesting stuff — product launches, feature launches, and partnerships being announced in the next sort of 12 weeks,” says Rezab. He mentions “the potential of crossing [currently covered social data] with other activities and platforms down the road,” and hints at improving social media management, which is something he thinks is lacking for teams and companies.
Overall, Socialbakers seems to be heading in the right direction: Recent research ranked social media engagement as the top priority for digital marketers in 2012.
“Social media is not one platform anymore. It’s not a Facebook, it’s not a Google+, it’s a use case,” says Rezab. “We’ve all learned to be social, regardless of what. And that use case will never change.” He foresees a future where “social” is not a feature, it’s everything.
“I believe online will ultimately only be social, so we won’t call it social or online, it’ll be just ‘connecting.’”