CEO Interview: Brandon Evans of Crowdtap

The CEO interview series continues with Brandon Evans of Crowdtap. If you’re not familiar with Crowdtap, they describe themselves as “the network for Brand Influencer Communities. Crowdtap allows marketers to easily collaborate with and mobilize their targeted brand crowd of influential consumers for real-time research, collaboration or powerful word-of-mouth marketing.” I’ve been playing around with it and I think the concept is interesting, and more importantly I definitely see this as a platform more and more brands will turn to.


Rick Liebling: Tell me about Crowdtap, why should brands be paying attention?

Bradon Evans: Crowdtap is the network for Brand Influencer Communities. We enable brands to easily recruit, mobilize and market with their influential consumers. As marketers find it harder and harder to reach and more importantly impact consumers with traditional media, maintaining deep relationships with their best consumers and having a direct channel to them has become increasingly important. Over the past five years, including my previous work at social media agency Mr Youth, this topic has become top of mind for many leading marketers and will only continue to increase.


Rick Liebling: What sort of consumers are you looking for to participate within the Crowdtap community?

Bradon Evans: Crowdtap has a wide variety of members across demographics. What’s most important is that they enjoy participating with brands, provide meaningful feedback, share products authentically and effectively. We have a lot of measures in place to measure the quality of a member’s participation so the members that stick and can really get something out of the system are those with high quality scores enabling them to receive more opportunities.


Rick Liebling: Crowdtap utilizes a variety of game mechanics, what do you think is the key to properly using game mechanics?

Bradon Evans: The key is to really think a lot about what behaviors you want to promote and identify the best ways to reinforce those behaviors while not recognizing those trying to just “game” the system. We’ve also done a great job with really recognizing members positive behaviors in a meaningful way and making them feel valued by Crowdtap and the brands they participate with. We have a lot of new and exciting stuff upcoming around this.


Rick Liebling: What’s the advantage of Crowdtap over, say, BzzAgent?

Bradon Evans: We don’t really compare ourselves to BzzAgent as we are really a platform that is about ongoing advocacy and participation. BzzAgent focus on a single marketing activity (sampling) and operates on a project basis. We are focused on enabling brands to leverage their influential consumers across the full marketing lifecycle from helping to co-develop products and marketing to spreading the word online and off through a variety of different ways. We offer a social sampling action that brands can leverage and is heavily integrated with social networks but our platform really allows brands to continually engage and build advocacy with their crowd of influential consumers. We feel this is a critical ongoing channel that most brands are not properly leveraging currently.


Rick Liebling: What’s next for Crowdtap? What are you secretly working on that you’ll be unveiling soon?

Bradon Evans: Well, if it is a secret, I wouldn’t be able to say, would I? [Ed. Note – touche] But, what I can tease is that we have some really big things in the works. We have a lot of improvements in the works that will put brands even more front and center in our system and really building them deeper into the game. We also are working on some really interesting things around measurement and reporting so our customers really can visualize the impact that their crowd is making for their brand.



CEO Interview: Kevin Fremon of

Time for another installment in my CEO interview series, this time it’s Kevin Fremon from is a “location-aware web and mobile platform that gives people the ability to see and experience the world around them in a whole new way. By doing a “vibe update” via a smartphone app, SMS, or website, users share the vibe they get from places they visit, news they read, or products they use while earning “Karma+.” helps users navigate through locations and events by offering a real-time map view of all the vibe updates happening around them.”  I thought this was a really interesting idea, the ability to “view” places based on sentiment, so I tracked down Kevin and he was kind enough to speak with me via an email interview:


Rick Liebling: First, tell me about, what is it exactly?

Kevin Fremon, CEO of

Kevin Fremon: is a simplified social network similar to Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+.  Although, what makes unique is that it’s based specifically on people sharing their “vibe” (emotion, sentiment, feeling) in relation to a variety of things that are a part of our day-to-day life.  An example I love to give that always gets people excited is being able to “check-in” and associate a vibe to a specific location like a restaurant, bar, or even a stadium watching a ball game. users will also be able to view the real-time vibe of any location.

The location aspect is fun to talk about but that’s just one of the facets. users can associate a vibe to just about anything such as trending topics in the news, #hashtags, media, products, brands, or just their daily life as it happens.

RL: What was the inspiration for creating

KF: Over the past 6 years my two co-founders (Will Mason & Dustin Brown) and I have run a digital agency ( here in Santa Monica. Our niche was developing sophisticated web software for other entrepreneurs with BIG ideas.  We’re suckers for collaborating with passionate people and expounding upon already really great ideas, hence we were very successful as an agency.  Over time it really got to a point for all of us where we wanted to bring our very own BIG idea to life and would brainstorm every now and again during lunches, down time, etc.

Then one beautiful summer day last year I was out on my typical afternoon walk around the block with my dog Luna, who also happens to be the mascot.  The sun was shining, had my flip flops on, and all was right in the universe.  At that moment I grabbed my iPhone from my pocket and popped open the Facebook app and proceeded to update my status as “I FEEL AWESOME!”… Suddenly I said to myself as I quickly deleted my status update “Man, people rarely do status update about how they feel” and canceled out.  At that moment the “light bulb” went off.

RL: It seems a new platform, service or tool is introduced every day, why should people choose to spend some of their online time on What’s in it for them?

KF: The value I believe people get from making a part of their daily social routine comes down to a variety of things. Our users are telling us that they really enjoy using because it allows them to add a bit more “depth” to their social updates.  Also that they feel more “connected” to their friends because they get a sense of actually how they are doing throughout the day vs. just what they are doing.

Beyond the deeper connections people will be able to maintain, what I’m personally excited about is all the amazing data that we will be able to provide our users with through different visualizations.  One of our initiatives as we release the mobile app and reach a larger scale will be a vibe map feature.  Imagine being able to see the real-time vibe across the country (or world) as it happens. Then being able to add other data sets on top of that such as weather or current events. Since our data is very quantifiable and everyone can relate to a vibe or feeling, it will be very intriguing and powerful in my opinion.

RL: Mobile is becoming a more important element in people’s lives, especially as it relates to social media, Does have a mobile app, or plans for one?

A4: I couldn’t agree with you more. absolutely has a mobile app currently in the works and we’re very excited about it’s release later this year.  Often I’m asked the question, “Why didn’t you start with the mobile app?”  While our team and users have been jonesing for a mobile app from day one, we wanted to establish as a full social platform vs. just another kitschy social mobile app.  Also, the web provides a much better landscape to find our product/market fit by getting the idea out there in front of people, gathering user feedback, and continuing to iterate along the way.  It’s completely different with mobile apps these days since there are so many awesome apps out in the market.  If your app sucks, likely people won’t ever give it another chance no matter how much you improve it.

Our vision with the mobile app is focused around simplicity and intrigue. Since we’re essentially asking people to use an additional social app we want it to be as easy as possible to get in, update your vibe, and have a look around with as little friction as possible.  Sorry, but using you won’t be made the “Vibe King” of establishments or receive “brownie patches” for updates.  Instead, we’ve added in a simple point earning structure called “Karma+” in which users are able to gain points that they can later use to vote on which charity should donate to that month, as well as, get swag items like t-shirts or other fun stuff.

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CEO Interview: Alan Chan of

Alan Chan, CEO of

Keeping up with the latest developments in social and digital media isn’t always easy. New tools and applications are introduced constantly, some with great fanfare, and many disappear just as quickly as they came to light. Many things more difficult is the marketing blogger community who desperately try to find the “next big thing.” That results in some ventures being overly hyped before they are really ready. I’ve been trying over the last few months to really step back and examine the tool before rushing to judgement. One of the best ways to understand the intentions of the creators is to ask them directly, that’s why I’ve been doing the CEO Interview feature with more regularity. I hope you find these brief interviews helpful and informative. Today I’m speaking with Alan Chan, the man behind the URL shortener tool,


Rick Liebling: Tell me about Where did the idea come from?

Alan Chan: is a social recommendations platform that allows you to attach a 5-second personalized billboard to any link you create using the URL shortener. You can recommend (or “toast”) anything you want, from your favorite charity to your own website. Watch this video to see how it works:

If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it's missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe.

The inspiration for came when I was working on my last company, Arbitrage. I felt 140 characters was sometimes not enough to express myself and I wanted to create a tool that empowered anyone to meaningfully promote the things they care about.
RL: How does work?

AC: works in three easy steps. 1) On our site, you create personalized digital billboards to promote your favorite things. We call each billboard a “toast.” 2) You shorten links using the link shortener and share those links on Twitter and Facebook. 3) When your friends and followers click on your shortened links, they will see your “toast” for five seconds before being redirected to the link you shortened.
RL: There seems to be a focus on brands and celebrities, is that who you see as the primary user of the service?

AC: is perfect for anyone who wants to make the links they share more meaningful, but the URL shortener is especially useful for online content producers who have something to promote. Our diverse users include entrepreneurs seeking exposure for their new ventures, individuals raising awareness for their favorite charity, and public figures promoting their personal brands.
RL: Tell me about the analytics the platform offers?

AC: A history of all your shortened links is stored on your profile, along with click-through data by day, week, month, and lifetime. The development team is working hard to build new features and analytics which will be rolled out over the summer.
RL: I think‘s really clever, and I can see a lot of great uses for it. I can also see it being used as a crude, spammy tool.  How do you see the platform evolving in order to keep it fresh?

AC: Curating a good Twitter or Facebook account means sharing content that people enjoy. When used correctly, is perfect for that. Every “toast” is voluntarily created by the friend whose link you clicked. Users are encouraged to share meaningful recommendations because “toasts” are customized with their photo and a personal message. If you don’t want to see your friend’s toast, you can always skip it by clicking “Continue” in the top right corner.


Like all the CEOs I speak with, I encourage you to try out their service and judge for yourself if it has value for you. I think you’ll find, if used judiciously, can be a terrific tool for brand awareness or driving interest in something you really believe in.

CEO Interview: Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute

If you work in the marketing industry, you’re familiar with Content Marketing. Maybe you know it by another name, but the concept of providing customers, potential customers and other stakeholders with content of value rather than just jamming advertising down their throats is now accepted wisdom. Joe Pulizzi has been at the forefront of this movement for a while now. You may know his work through the Junta42 website, his blog, the new Chief Content Officer magazine or his many speaking engagements.  Joe is also behind the upcoming Content Marketing World Conference happening this September in Cleveland, OH.

Joe was kind enough to answer some questions about the conference, and Content Marketing in general.


Rick Liebling: Tell me about Content Marketing World. What can people expect from this event?

Joe Pulizzi: Content Marketing World, September 6-8, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio will be the largest gathering of marketing professionals, all focused on the art of storytelling for business.  Content marketing is the concept that we can attract and retain customers by acting more like a publisher, telling them compelling stories to maintain or change behavior.  We are bringing in over 50 of the world’s leading marketing experts (including speakers like NYTimes David Pogue, leading author David Meerman Scott and Writer/Director Kevin Smith) around content in the areas of B2B, B2C, Small Business/Non-Profit, Content Marketing for Executives, Indepth Content Strategy and Online/Social Media.

Lets face it…most organizations struggle with this.  We’re not used to selling this way.  But today we have to.  Our customers have too many choices.  How can we stay relevant to customers?  We do that by giving them information that solves their problems.  When we do that, they see us as the experts and want to do business with us.  That’s content marketing.

People who attend Content Marketing World will start to get answers.  They will leave with real-world strategies that can be implemented immediately for any sized-organization.  We’ll also have a lot of fun in the process, including our opening reception at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

RL:Crowdsourcing. Gamification. Just two of the ‘buzzwords’ we’ve heard in recent years. Is Content Marketing just another buzzword?

JP: It’s possible…I can’t deny it.  What’s important about the term content marketing is the fact that businesses are starting to talk the same language.  Before using content marketing, we used branded content, custom publishing, custom content, customer media, corporate content and on and on.  Now we can actually communicate with our staffs what we are actually trying to do.  It’s important for the practice and for marketers in general.  And, since we are just getting started, I do believe content marketing is going to be relevant for a very long time.


RL: Your operation has grown quite a bit from when we first met. Tell me about CCO magazine and the Content Marketing Institute.

JP: The Content Marketing Institute was created to teach marketers the “How-To” of content marketing.  There were so many organizations talking about how we should all be doing it, but not many were actually giving us step-by-step instructions.  So, every day, we give you a how-to post about content marketing at  We also send you the only international magazine dedicated to the practice of content marketing – Chief Content Officer (delivered in PRINT to over 20,000 and digitally in seven countries). CMI also provides indepth content strategy consulting and a variety of content services like small business blogging and vendor matching through Junta42.


RL: I think Social Media has reached a very precarious place. The combination of ‘shiny new object’ syndrome and practitioners in it for a quick buck have left many feeling that the ROI just isn’t there. How can serious people who believe in Content Marketing convince bosses or clients to stick with it?

JP: Remember the days when we had typing rooms, like you see on the show Mad Men?  There were people in the workplace that their sole responsibility was to type for other people.  Obviously those people don’t exist anymore.  We all type.  It’s a skill we all have at an early age today.

Now think of that in relation to content marketing.  We all now have the ability to create content.  We have all these fancy tools.  Some do it well, most not so well.  Content creation will soon become as natural as typing is today.  We’ll all be very good at it and understand the tools.  That’s where this is going, but it’s going to take some time.  Typing rooms took decades to die out.  The same will happen here until we all use social media without thinking and we all develop content to communicate with customers on a regular basis.

To sell this to CEOs, I usually just use a series of questions.  It invokes fear and works for the most part.

– If someone typed in the terms of your industry into Google, would they find you?

– Are your customers sharing your content on a regular basis?

– If your prospects are asking questions on LinkedIn or Yahoo! Answers and you’re not answering, who is? (your competitor most likely)

– Are you considered the place that your customers go where they have real problems that need fixed? (content can answer those questions)

– How much money are you spending on salespeople answering questions that content could be doing at a fraction of the cost?

– How are you keeping prospects involved in your brand and in a conversation until they are ready to buy?


RL: Back to CMW to wrap it up – if people are unable to attend Content Marketing World, how can they still benefit from the exchange of ideas that will happen there?

JP: Great question.  They’ll be able to follow all the sessions on Twitter at #cmworld.  We’ll also be doing live blogging updates in a variety of ways and are working out the details now.  We are also considering packaging up an online version of the conference.  That said, we’d rather have you just attend.  You won’t regret it.

CEO Interview: Kris Duggan of Badgeville

Badgeville helps turn customers into fans

My series of CEO Interviews continues this week with Kris Duggan of Badgeville. As you know, I’ve started to write about Game Mechanics a lot recently and am currently working with Badgeville on a client project.  This is a new and developing area and I think you’ll be interested in reading what Badgeville CEO Kris Duggan has to say:


Rick Liebling: Let’s start off by giving a quick overview of Badgeville. Who are you guys, what do you do and who do you do it for/with?

Kris Duggan: Badgeville is the leading Social Loyalty Platform. We make it easy for marketers of commerce and content brands to drive user behavior using smart gamification techniques. With Badgeville, you can reward any user behavior in real time and measure the health of your community by tracking user behavior and identity using advanced engagement analytics. Badgeville customers range from large online retailers, such as, to entertainment and media brands, including Interscope Records and Island Def Jam (Universal Music), to community sites such as The Active Network, and many more.

The typical Badgeville customer has users/customers that already are interacting with its web product occasionally, and is seeking to leverage gamification techniques to increase user-driven business objectives and conversions. We launched at TechCrunch Disrupt in September 2010, and are one of the fastest growing companies in Silicon Valley with over 60 customers in 15 countries around the world. Our team of 25 includes experts in game design, social gaming, social media, software-as-a-service, and building large-scale applications. The Badgeville Platform includes the Dynamic Game Engine, with support for sophisticated business rules as part of a gamification strategy, and the Widget Studio, for highly configurable turnkey widgets to deploy a rewards program in a matter of weeks.


RL: Game theory, gamification, social rewards. This is still a pretty new area and terminology is still being solidified. Can you explain which terms you prefer to use and why?

KD: That’s a great question! Terminology for new technologies sometimes can make an industry that solves a real market need sound like passing trend. Gamification is one of those words that happens to be describing this really hot industry right now, and to some has a negative connotation. However, the word gamification, which means using game mechanics for non-game experiences, is something that can be applied in very positive ways. Gamification has really been around forever — loyalty programs are gamification, Girl Scout badges are gamification, karate belts are gamification.

However, modern gamification techniques need to be applied strategically in line with a company’s larger business goals in order to work in the long term, and not end up hurting a brand more than they help. We call ourselves a “Social Loyalty Platform” because loyalty (and conversions) is what good gamification delivers. Social rewards are one mechanic that can be used as part of a gamification strategy. Regardless of whether you’re seeking gamification, social rewards, modern loyalty, game mechanics, or something else in this world, we’re confident that our platform is flexible enough to handle unique implementations that represent the angle each customer wishes their deployment to take.

RL: Talk about the difference between designing social rewards for collaborative vs. competitive play and when you should use one or the other in a community?

KD: Designing a gamification strategy for our customers always starts with an analysis of the site audience demographic and business goals. Some companies want to inspire a very competitive experience on their site, which can be very effective in driving user behavior for the users to “win” social rewards and status. On other sites, collaboration is more powerful, as the community is less about being the top fan of the site or brand, and more about contributing regularly and expressing loyalty by bringing friends to the site to participate.

Some people ask us if male-focused sites should be competitive and female-focused brands should have collaborative programs only, but this isn’t true. We have some female-focused deployments that are very competitive, and some male-focused sites that are more collaborative in nature. Ultimately you have to figure out what you want your audience to do, and which members of your audience you want to drive to do these behaviors.

There are also ways to have a combination of competitive and collaborative rewards, which often works very well in allowing the top fans to compete for status, while also making everyone else feel part of the program without having to compete.

RL: Jane McGonigal gave an amazing talk at TED, saying we need MORE play to solve the world’s biggest problems. Do you see Badgeville as a tool in that sort of ambitious goal?

KD: Yes. One of the exciting parts about what we have here at Badgeville is that our software platform can power just about any loyalty program or game based on behavior. While not every Badgeville customer is using our platform for solving the world’s biggest problems, there’s a lot of potential in partnering with the right creative company in developing a program that can not only drive revenues and loyalty, but can also crowd source a program to better the world.

We’ve spoken with a lot of large brands that are interested in ways to use Badgeville to help drive more participation by customers in their ties to charities and causes around the world. The right creative minds could really make a difference using our software, and we look forward to see future implementations using Badgeville to promote all the ideas McGonigal talks about. Currently, we see customers in health, education, and finance using Badgeville to help drive positive behaviors that, while tied to business goals, are also designed to help users solve global problems on a personal scale.

RL: What will we see next in this industry?

KD: This industry is at its infancy, and even so, innovative companies of all sizes have taken note. Expect to see gamification applied in a variety of ways, and as something that becomes an expected part of our everyday experience. We see interest from such a wide range of industries today, it’s clear to us that these techniques are going to become more and more prominent over 2011 and beyond.

For instance, SAP, one of the largest enterprise organizations in the world, is currently running a Gamification Cup, where its developers are using Badgeville’s API to compete in a challenge where they have to come up with creative ways to use gamification to improve existing SAP experiences. Everyday, our horizons for the breadth of this market and industry expand. There will be plenty of surprises along the way, but we are confident that gamification, social rewards and social loyalty will have a long-term effect on helping many industries connect with their customers, drive behavior, and understand their audience on an entirely new level.

For more on Badgeville, see this recent Forbes article.

Social Media CEO Interview: Pierre-Loïc Assayag of Traackr

Continuing my series of CEO Interviews, this time I’m speaking with Pierre-Loïc Assayag or Traackr. A seemingly inescapable part of Social Media marketing surrounds the idea of identifying influencers.  Traackr is one of several tools on the market that can help brands and their agencies try to figure this out. I think Traackr is a pretty compelling tool and this conversation with Pierr-Loic demonstrates the depth of thinking they are putting into this.

Rick Liebling: Tell me about Traackr, how does it work and what makes it unique from other tools that help identify online influencers?

Pierre-Loïc Assayag: We’re fundamentally different from other tools out there in that we believe that relevance drives influence. There’s no such thing as an ‘influencer’ outside of a specific context, defined as: a topic, an intent and possibly a geography. For instance, Ashton Kutcher may have millions of followers, but he would be of no help to someone working on a campaign around cloud computing, even Robert Scoble, one of the most respected technology bloggers, may not be the right person to go to for campaigns around B2B niche cloud computing products.

This is the reason why Traackr only scores people in context of a specific search being run by a Traackr user. We don’t assign people a ubiquitous Traackr score as one level of influence changes drastically with context. Our tool uncovers influencers through a set of keywords. With the keywords, we’re able to identify the people on the web that are driving the conversation within a topic.


RL: What sort of brand, or what situation, is Traackr best for?

P-LA: Traackr works great irrespective of the industry, how broad or niche your topic is, B2B/B2C, etc. Customers of ours have used Traackr on large B2C product launches and very targeted (some would say obscure) B2B awareness campaigns with equal success.

The value of Traackr’s influencer data tends to grow with the precision of the search criteria and diminish for vague searches. For example, we’re often asked about ‘Mommy influencers’. Our answer always is that there’s no such thing… Being a mom doesn’t begin to define in what context one exerts influence; for that matter there are lots of parenthood topics or ‘mommy topics’ where influencers are not ‘moms’ (see this great post from Jeremy Pepper for more).


RL: The notion of ‘influencers’ really gained steam with Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point. More recently, Duncan Watts has put together data refuting Gladwell’s theories. Where do you stand on the issue?

P-LA: I have a love/hate relationship to Gladwell’s writing or more precisely, I love his insights, I hate how they are being overstretched (by him included). We also have to be careful not to misrepresent Duncan Watts findings: DW is also saying that small groups of people (call them influencers) sway issues, spike a trend, or kill brands or products. He’s differing from Gladwell in that:

1- he believes that anyone can be an influencer and doesn’t buy into Gladwell’s notion that there’s a special breed of influential people

2- he observed in his research the patterns determining who’s influential around a specific brand or topic to be random and unpredictable (therefore let’s not waste time trying to find them)

I wholeheartedly agree with the first point: everyone is to a degree an influencer in a certain context. For any and every context, the group of influential voices will change radically. So from that standpoint, he’s right to denounce Gladwell’s ‘tipping point’ theories around mavens, salesmen and connectors.

Interestingly, our findings show that tipping points take place all the time: on any given topic, 2 to 3% of contributors to a conversation yield over 90% of the performance metrics, so Gladwell is right. They also show that these 2-3% change completely from one conversation to the next, so Watts is right…

I disagree with the point that predicting who the relevant influencers are in a specific context can’t be done: there are ways to discover who are the people most likely to have a tipping-point-like impact on any issue; or at least there’s A” way.

If you’re interested in this topic, I actually wrote about Gladwell and Watts about 3 yrs ago now when Traackr was just a toddler.


RL: Of course identifying influencers is only part of the challenge. What do you think brands should be doing once they’ve identified the people they want to engage with?

P-LA: Absolutely. Finding the right people for your issue or business is just the starting point, it’s an actionable piece of information that still needs to be actioned. Many of our clients are communication professionals and engage influencers to get a positive mention or review of the product/brand they represent. These influencer engagement campaigns can be tactical in nature or be more strategic / relationship-building. Marketers learn very quickly that influencer engagement requires a new approach, based on transparency and building mutual value.

Market research uses Traackr as an entity disambiguation tool, in other words, filter the topic they care about by the people who matter most and listen to what they have to say. Product marketing uses Traackr to bring together groups of subject matter experts to provide feedback on a prototype, brainstorm a new idea, etc. These are only a few of the many creative ideas our customers have come up with to best leverage our platform for their business.


RL: In social media you have to innovate or your dead. What does Traackr have in their labs for the next generation of influencer identification?

P-LA: In business you innovate or you’re dead. We have in our DNA not just the innovation gene, but the disruption one: we want to bring things to life that are game changers for our partners and customers. So what’s next?

1- Bring a version of Traackr to the general public. I can’t say much about this except that this won’t be another Klout or PeerIndex, getting people to claim their profile and offering them an influencer score. Stay tuned for more on this soon!

2- Surface more influencer insights: we collect and process much more data than we have made available in our interface so far and we will keep expanding the analytics we offer our customers.

3- Go international. Right now, Traackr only searches influencers communicating in English. We have in the works to add new languages.


If you’re interested in the topic of Social Media influence, check out my other CEO Interviews with Azeem Azhar from PeerIndex and Duleepa Wijayawardhana of Empire Avenue.