Interview: API-driven Branding with Google Plus

Expion, a Social Media Management System (SMMS) company, specializes in helping companies manage their brand images on social networks, from Facebook to Youtube to Twitter, often relying on partners' APIs to pull of some of their more interesting feats. Most recently, it was chosen by Google as a Google Plus API partner for the brand-focused Pages feature.

Expion focuses on content planning, campaign management, and fan moderation. among other areas. They've become adept at using APIs supplied by social media partners to manipulate and deliver data that their clients and their clients' brands need to stay on top. As an example that preceded the Google Plus arrangement, in July, Expion announced it began using Facebook's API to become the first company to market with geo-targeted Wall photos. This allows Expion's clients to do things like target movie ads only to people in the location where a theater is showing the movie, or to let a multi-location clothing store like Old Navy announce local events only to those within the event's surrounding area. The name of the game in this instance is to heighten the relevance of ads to the recipients while eliminating delivery to those customers who can't possibly use them. Ads for fun activities to loyal fans who aren't in the area could be not just annoying but corrosive. The Facebook API eliminates that.

Expion's partnership with Google Plus is another example of how it uses the APIs of social media company's to further its clients' brands.

But this isn't just about, or even mainly about sticking the right ads onto the screens of the right customers. Expion's goal with Google Plus is to integrate features into their product suite in order to help brands connect better with Google users.

As Expion notes about its partnership with Google Plus from the press release,

"With Google Plus Pages, millions of businesses and brands are now connecting with their followers in meaningful ways online. Expion will provide content management, moderation and extensive metrics that will allow brands to maximize their presence and engagement on Google Plus. "We're excited to apply our extensive experience in developing content management systems to help brands build their presence on Google Plus," said Peter Heffring, Founder and CEO, Expion. "We've been working with Google to bring high quality Google Plus integrations into our product suite and we look forward to helping brands better connect with Google users." Expion is available as a social media management solution for Google Plus Pages immediately. With the addition of Google Plus Pages, Expion allows brands to manage and monitor their presence on today's most popular social platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube."

In this exclusive email interview, Programmableweb discussed the opportunities and pitfalls of social media for brands, and Expion's role in that arena, with its CEO and co-founder, Peter Heffring.

Greg Bates: Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus are all in the same world of social media yet are used very differently. How does adding Google Plus to your services change what your clients can do with their customers and fans?

Peter Heffring: Google Plus is the only Platform to allow groups of people to be created via circles, and this is a powerful targeting tool for brands because they can push relevant content to specific audiences which leads to higher engagement. If Google fully integrates Google Plus with Places and local search, it will allow our clients with multiple locations to extend the social reach of each location with consumers as they search – this would be huge differentiator.

Google Plus will also become integral to SEO and SEM initiatives for keywords. Facebook is very much about newsfeed disruption for a brand that is trying to catch consumers’ attention with sharable content. For smart brands, Google Plus should become as much about using keyword rich content to bring people to your Google Plus Page or resources. Just as websites have SEO/SEM enhancements, smart companies will also look to the dynamic content of Google Plus updates to help consumers discover relevant content. Also, the localization will aid in mobile as time goes by. Facebook is focused more on sharing, rather than finding relevant content which is a focus for Google Plus.

GB: A lot of what Expion offers companies in the social media space is self-explanatory: campaign management, content planning and fan moderation. But what are "business insights" as you use the term, and how does Expion provide or enhance them?

PH: Expion provides business insights to companies through the aggregation and distribution of data. This data includes metrics and reporting (fan reach, fan engagement, customer response time); alerts and triggers (real time updates on posts, campaigns or key words); and competitive benchmarking (top performing posts, most fan actions, etc.) By maintaining and storing this data, brands are able to track how they measure up against both competitive and aspirational brands and identify the most engaging content socially.

Expion also allows brands to customize dashboards and filter content to ensure the right insights reach the right people. By streamlining specific feedback on products, services or locations, brands are able to divide and conquer actionable data as quickly as possible.

GB: In your October study on fan engagement with restaurants, you mention that it's on the rise. You mention that brands are focusing on engagement rather than gaining fans. What's the difference between them? What do brands need to do differently to switch their focus to engagement and succeed at it?

PH: The core difference is brands are finally taking conversation more seriously as an integrated piece of strategy to deepen relationships. Similar to trying to increasing foot traffic offline, they are increasing conversation traffic online to create a top of mind presence to fans and friends of fans. Brands need to simply start responding with a genuine effort by answering questions and thanking people who've taken time to write on the brand page or Twitter account. It's very simple to find success but committing to consistency is a different story.

GB: I've been looking at two of your clients on Twitter and Google Plus, Applebee's and Philly Creamcheese. I see different strategies between the two, though they both seem to provoke positive emotional responses toward their companies. Applebee's just promoted veterans eating for free on Veteran's Day, making me think, gee, that's cool. How does Expion help with something like that?

PH: Expion’s software allows Applebee's to publish posts, manage the channels and measure success. The strategy behind how brands execute content or conversation styles is handled by the AOR or social strategist at each brand.

GB: The Philly Cream Cheese strategy, at least at the moment, is more focused on retweeting fans, and joining in the conversation. Perhaps especially for those tweets with photos of yummy desserts that had Philly CC as an ingredient--I certainly wanted some. Is there a different role for Expion here?

PH: Again, Expion is the software tool that executes the posting, replies and retweets but the AOR or in-house social media team is behind the strategy. Our software is the database that helps execute the strategy and the analyze the results.

GB: You have spoken elsewhere about how Chick-fil-A handled the controversy over its Chief Operating Officer speaking out against gay marriage, how the company posted that it would “leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.” It seems that social media can ignite controversy as never before. What is Expion's role when your clients face the need for damage control?

PH: Expion has the ability to turn on custom keyword scans that run every 10 minutes. The software becomes a watch tool during a crisis for conversations, data collection and overall routing to the appropriate team members. We also have a listening module that can scan sites like blogs, open Twitter search, review sites and other spots that might not be considered social but could still cause damage.

GB: As you gain more clients, and more history with watching your clients' efforts, I imagine Expion could become a vast storehouse of what works, what doesn't. You could be amassing a knowledge base that could far exceed what an individual client learns just from their own experience. What are your plans to leverage that?

PH. We are already using vertical focused data to find best practices to share with our clients. Using this analysis also helps Expion’s team understand when Facebook or Twitter are making changes to their algorithms. We can answer one clients questions based upon impacts another client may have seen on engagement. All the information we share is public data and based more on numbers and results than on strategic information. It's about benchmarks and vertical reporting.

GB: You posted recently about how Facebook has inaugurated global pages, recognizing the need to segment local content from global. In this fast changing social media realm, what else cries out for more refined differentiation?

PH: Another area of differentiation that will be critical for social networks will be to allow brands the ability to target specific groups of people based on their behavior, demographic, and lifestyle and save these as specific segments for targeting marketing. Furthermore, the social networks should create a process for allowing brands to merge these segments with their existing extensive customer marketing database to truly provide seamless marketing across all channels.

GB: Thanks, Peter.

Be sure to read the next Social article: 945 Social APIs: Twitter, Facebook and Delicious