The profession of "online community manager" didn’t really exist until a few years ago. But now, it’s one of the most important channels brands have to reach consumers through social media—and that’s fast becoming a problem. "For most brands, the community manager is doing everything—all the knowledge about the brand and its content strategy lives inside that person’s head," says Noah Brier. "We’re trying to institutionalize that knowledge, so brands can survive past that single individual."
Enter Percolate, the New York-based startup Brier founded to help brands create and curate content on the web. Rather than leave a brand’s Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr feeds in control of whoever is at the controls on this day or that, Brier has developed a service to streamline and centralize the process of communicating with consumers online—a tool that’s caught the attention of investors and brands alike.
In December, Percolate raised $1.5 million from First Round Capital and Ron Conway’s SV Angel, in addition to snapping up hot clients such as American Express, GE, and Nokia. The startup underwent a slight pivot after launching in private beta in July—back then, it was designed more for social sharing rather than as a tool for brands to connect with consumers. "Over the past three years, every brand has been collecting fans and and followers on all these platforms," says Brier, a veteran of digital agency The Barbarian Group and creator of Brand Tags. "The next step is figuring out what to say. Being a community manager is incredibly difficult: You’re entrusted with this important asset for the brand, and you’re expected to push out a whole bunch of content in addition to responding to people and all the other things. How can we help you do your job better?"
When a brand first signs up for the service, Percolate runs what it calls a "calibration workshop" to help identify interesting sources that might complement the brand. Brier believes that in the next couple years brands will need to start sharing at least 40 to 60 pieces of content per day: a dozen or so Facebook and Twitter updates, Tumblr posts, Instagram pictures, Pinterest items, and so forth. The content can’t all be promotional; to boost consumer engagement, content needs to be interesting. But what content is both interesting and of relevance to a brand? The two-hour workshop helps Percolate and its clients pinpoint that intersection: For a green-tech company, say, eco-friendly sources might create the most interesting and complementary content to share.
These sources become part of a brand’s "Brew," a dashboard that helps bubble up interesting and related content using Percolate’s algorithms. When a community manager sees an interesting piece of content, he or she can opt to share it, add comments or media, and push it out to various social channels all from Percolate’s platform. It creates a simple method for finding and sharing content—eliminating the hassle of building an RSS feed, and streamlining the process of creating unique posts across all social channels. The "Brew" library is continuously updated: New sources will be recommended, and their influence adjusted depending on what content a brand wants bubbled up for potential sharing.
Percolate essentially has created a more efficient workflow for social publishing. The "Percolating" dashboard shows which posts are seeing the most amount of social buzz. The tool tracks everything from clicks to Facebook "Likes" to retweets to reblogs, helping brands determine what type of content is most resonating with their audience.
"When you think about brands traditionally, they are all about what’s on the outside: how they look, how they talk, how they act," Brier says. "What we’re trying to say is that it’s as important to know what brands consume." In other words, if Brier’s Brand Tags illustrated how consumers view brands from the outside, Percolate demonstrates what influences brands from an inside perspective. The result is what Brier refers to as a "brand’s interest graph," a network of influences that Percolate distributes to all its clients. Here’s an excerpt from the interest graph of Reuters’ Counterparties news brand:
Percolate is now hiring more engineers, and expanding to larger offices in New York. The startup, which is already profitable, charges brands a monthly licensing fee that ranges anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000. Percolate’s success indicates it’s heading in the right direction.
"We’re moving to a point where brand communication is always going to be on," Brier says, "a future where marketing on the web is all about content."