Interview With Social Storyteller SocialSamba: How a Beer Becomes a Business

"The gummy bears are fed up with being eaten. They plot to destroy humanity. Who's side are you on?"  That's one of the teasers for a social storytelling software Social Samba presenting at the Media Camp Demo Day on September 13 in San Francisco. MediaCamp is an accelerator program for media startups. You can follow it on Twitter by searching for #mcdemoday.

SocialSamba is a social storytelling software. You know all that fan art and all of that free-floating social media paraphenelia floating around in the social web? Why isn't anyone using that to create narrative? I mean, that's the ral problem with media these days.

Mostly, it's just collections of bits of things, of scraps really. Who is telling the stories? Well, we've got something for the narrative makers among us. Basically, by using SocialSamba, you can create stories using all the available social media available online, regardless of who created it. Literally, there are endless possibilities. This video explains how it works. 

And to think this all started out with a beer (read the interview below to find out how).

How did this greatness happen, and what are the implications it brings to social, media, and the entertainment industry? We interviewed SocialSamba CEO and co-founder Aaron Williams to find out. 


Aaron Williams, CEO and Co-Founder of SocialSamba, photo courtesy Aaron Williams and Turner MediaCamp

What was the most difficult challenge your business faced this year?

In March, we made an important pivot.  While our traditional business of providing our platform to networks like USA and MTV was doing very well (we were nominated for an Emmy, we had hundreds of thousands of fans using our platform), we recognized that there was not hockey-stick growth serving just those large companies.  We needed to go down the long tail, and get storytellers of all sizes and audiences to use our platform (ala YouTube) in order to see the explosive growth that we wanted.  So, we shifted some of our resources and launched SagaWriter, our free tool for creating social stories.  It was the right move, but it was very hard to let something successful go in order to try for something bigger.

What signals from your consumers do you look for to signify that you are winning?

We provide our customers with weekly reports on how their stories are doing on our platform.  We can tell we're winning when our customer's executives start using those numbers in their public speeches and press releases.  That means we've delighted them, and made them look good, and that is a huge win for us.  Executives are always looking for the easy to consume, easy to repeat sound bites about how their innovations are going.  They're not going to go dig it up, they may not even know enough about it to know what to look for, but if you show them their project is setting a new standard in the industry for fan engagement, you can bet they'll love to talk about it.

When you need to ask questions on your team, who do you go to? Who do you usually turn to outside of your organization to ask questions?

I rely heavily on my co-founder and CTO.  He's a rock-star technically, but he's also been through start-up life and exit before, so he's got a great nose for tough decisions.  We've assembled a board of advisors outside the company – 8 entertainment leaders that we rely on for advice, introductions and guidance.  We're really blessed to have a smart, diverse team for me to leverage when I need it.

What has overjoyed you in the past month?

Fans are amazing, and their reaction to the stories that are built using our platform always make me smile.  We spend our time behind the curtain, where we know all the tricks and it's easy to forget the experience that the fans have connecting with the characters and experiencing their lives.  About once a week we see a tweet or a Facebook post from a fan of Teen Wolf on MTV talking about how they feel like they're flirting with the characters when they participate in Teen Wolf: The Hunt, the social story we built with the show.  When we can give fans that deep of an experience, I'm overjoyed.

What does something in your business vertical need in order for the product to be successful?

The media and entertainment industry can be a little overwhelming, with a lot of large companies playing interlinked, well-entrenched roles within the value chain.  Creatives write and act, studios produce, networks market and broadcast, and operators deliver into the home.  In order to be successful, businesses need to understand this complex value chain, and target a specific link that has the rights, the need, and the money to use their product or service.  Of course, the internet has only added to the complexity over the past decade, but I would caution small companies to not overestimate the pace of change.  There are billions of dollars at stake, so no one in the chain will be ready for massive disruption until something new is proven.

What came first for your company – the product idea or your existence on the internet?

Our product idea came first, from a great night of beers with my co-founders.  (Like all good ideas, right?)  We got to talking about how we were relatively late users of Facebook, but how much we liked it for connecting with friends and family.  After a couple beers though, and looking at our news feeds, we were laughing about how boring our lives really were.  We all had one or two friends doing really interesting things, lumped in with pictures of cobb salads and barely-coherent political rants.  Until someone said, “Imagine if one of your interesting friends was Homer Simpson, or James Bond,” … and the idea for social storytelling was born.  We spent the rest of the evening trying to one-up each other with a better character to friend.  We didn't get a presence on the internet for another 9 months, after we looked at the data, and vetted the idea with friends and TV industry mentors.

You can follow SocialSamba and Aaron on Twitter:



You can follow the #mcdemoday hashtag today on Twitter to take part in the Media Camp demo day.

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