Social media engagement is certainly a program many brands and publishers have included in their marketing and public relations arsenal. However, for some, finding the right balance to create a proper environment that is seamless and native can be rather difficult. Does a business seek out developers to find ways to bring in feeds from available APIs? Should community managers be resigned to operating in a relative silo by managing all conversations on the respective services? Yes, there are useful dashboards to aggregate communications like with Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, but it’s still separated from the major brand product itself: the website.
For marketers, being able to tie everything back to a website is an important thing. It’s there where they have complete control over the brand. It’s the digital billboard and by not having the conversation situated there could give some the impression that the complete brand strategy hasn’t been thought through. Fortunately there are services out there that make this possible, such as Livefyre, Spredfast, Chute, and Echo. It’s the last one, Echo, that this post will be focused on. The company has been heavily involved in the social media curation side of things, but until today, it required its customers to utilize a developer to help make the integration — it had the means to compile the data, but there was some assembly required, so to speak. Today that all changes, as the company debuts its Experience Studio.
The Experience Studio
This is Echo’s biggest update in the past three years. Other updates have included new SDKs, products, etc. Case in point, back in 2011, the company debuted E2, its real-time stream server designed to “make it easier for developers to build powerful real-time apps.” Now it’s time to evolve the platform once again. These aren’t really incremental changes either — Echo originally was a competitor to Disqus where it functioned as a commenting service, but as the conversation expanded to other medias, the company needed to thinking bigger.
But while the Experience Studio offers a simpler way of aggregating content to be integrated into websites and other online/digital properties, the fundamental difference here is that the process by which someone collects the data has been streamlined. You won’t necessarily have to pay a developer to create the output engine. Echo says that this release will make it “as easy to use as Apple Keynote.”
“What if we focus less on the widget, and more on the end-to-end process of crafting an experience for Brands, Agencies, and Communities.”
Here’s the details
Customers can log in using one of four social network logins: Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Yahoo. But for those in companies where an account is managed by multiple people, or if you just don’t want to provide your personal login information, Echo says that there’s a Google Docs-like workflow whereby users can invite other team members to help edit and manage projects.
Regardless, once you’re in the service, you’re looking at your dashboard. You can review/create projects, explore all the different services that Echo offers, like moderation, analytics, along with its cloud services (StreamServer, DataServer, BackplaneServer). When you want to create a project, the interface has some similarities to Storify, the social storytelling startup acquired by Livefyre in 2013, where you just drag and drop modules onto the canvas and when you publish, the data magically appears.
Once you’re in the project creation space, the interface may seem a bit overwhelming, especially for marketers, brand managers, and social media folks who may not completely understand what’s going on. Yes, there’s a lot of things going on, but the power behind Echo can be frightening. The best thing is to come to grips with the potential one has through this interface. Although, it would be pretty helpful if Echo did include some more instructional assistance (there are some already included) when non-developers are using this service for the first time — in my opinion, if could be a tad simpler of an interface.
Among the many things that a user can add to their project are:
- Social: comments, streams, pinboard, live blog, and maps
- Stats: tag clouds, historical volume, social sources, recent participants, content velocity
Brands, marketers, publishers, and the lot may be wondering why this is relevant to them. Make no mistake: Echo isn’t the new kid on the block — it’s just been flying under everyone’s radar for the past few years, but it certainly has worked with some significant customers. Among the notables include ESPN, WWE, NASDAQ, Sony, StumbleUpon, WebMD, Slate, The Washington Post, and the Food Network.
And Echo has tapped into social media in a pretty substantial way. While it hasn’t released any new figures this time around, in November 2013, the company announced that its platform processes 85 billion API calls and 4 billion real-time streams on an ongoing basis.
Let’s get back to talking to each other
As alluded to earlier, Echo’s mission with this release is to put less emphasis on the tools and instead on the communication between brand and customer. Yes, it has done well producing social widgets, but that’s no longer the name of the marketing game — we’ve evolved to one where people just want to talk to their customers without having to worry about the tools that they have to choose from and the logistics behind it.
Echo’s Experience Studio could ease the stress that marketers have in wanting to keep track of social media discussions around their products and brands — no longer will they need to scope out detailed specs to provide to developers and pray that the APIs work out exactly how they want. Now, they can produce the page themselves through a WYSIWYG (“What you see is what you get”) type interface and then simply provide the code to their team to be integrated into the brand website. Or you can take advantage of the managed hosting offering, but you’ll have the URL be brandproject.echostudio.co.
So what can this be used for? According to Echo, journalists can create a feed of what’s happening around breaking news, a company executive could use it to sell creative media experiences, brand managers may be able to run social media campaigns, and of course, events.
Customers can use Experience Studio for free, but will have hosted pages with Echo branding. It’ll come with moderation tools, analytics, and forum support. It’s a subscription service so for 1 active embed and additional features, that’ll cost you $99 per month and for those in the enterprise space, it’s $950 per month.
However, while this is certainly good for Echo and brands that it counts as customers, how does it help elevate the company so that it better competes against the likes of Livefyre and Spredfast — two companies that have rather dominated the news in the past year or so. It’s going to be interesting to see how customers resonate to the launch of Experience Studio, but while there’s certainly going to be drawn comparisons to Livefyre’s Storify, could it be that Echo is focusing more on the ease of use and the bundling of products under one system in order to show that its platform is better for brands?
Needless to say, the social media curation/storytelling space is certainly crowded as is and companies in this field need to further separate itself from the rest in a meaningful way. While it’s not entirely clear how these companies will distinguish themselves in the eyes of their end users, there’s certainly something about Echo to help heat up the marketplace. Certainly don’t count Echo out of the mix — as I mentioned at the beginning of the year, there’s something about this company that you should keep an eye out for…in the age when conversations are taking place practically on every social network, the one with the most connections will be the victor. Is Echo in a position to dominate?
Photo credit: CC0 Public Domain/Pixabay