Marcus Nelson, co-founder of customer service startup UserVoice, left his role as head of social media at Salesforce.com back in April to start a company called Addvocate and now he's starting to talk about what he's up to.
When I met with Nelson yesterday, he gave me a quick demo of the initial product (currently in private alpha testing) and talked about his broader vision. He says the idea came from his work at Salesforce, where convincing his coworkers to share content on Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites was always a bit of a struggle a complaint he's heard from other companies. The problem is that "share this blog post!"-type requests usually come at the wrong time, like when someone is just trying to read through all of their email or catch up on all of their updates on an internal social network like Chatter. Sometimes, they're even passed along via Excel spreadsheets (ouch).
"Knowledge is your best marketing," Nelson says. "However, I feel this speaks to where social enterprise products are going, not the products being offered today."
With Addvocate, on the other hand, companies can make these suggestions at the moment when employees are logged into their social networks and primed to share. After someone installs the Addvocate browser plugin, they'll see a bar at the bottom of the screen whenever they're on Twitter (and eventually other social networks). Administrators can use the plugin to add links that they want to promote (for example articles that talk about the company in a positive light, or new posts on the company blog), which then appear when employees log in.
Nelson argues that in many ways, employees are a company's best advocates on social media. After all, if you follow a company on Twitter or "like" them on Facebook, you're probably expecting promotional messages and deals. On the other hand, if you follow someone who works for the company, you probably expect them to be, for lack of a better word, a real person, who is more likely to share genuinely interesting content. (That's doubly true if they're might a friend of yours.)
Of course, not everyone wants to become a shill for their employer. That's why one of Addvocate's key features is that you can always say no to a suggestion, and only share the content that seems like it might be relevant to your followers. Ultimately, Nelson says he's hoping this will encourage companies to create content that's more interesting and less nakedly self-promotional.
Nelson and his co-founder Abraham Williams plan to release a beta version of the product in August, perhaps after raising some funding. The browser plugin will be free, with customers paying for additional features, Nelson says. For example, he plans to offer analytics that give companies a better sense of which messages and employees are driving the most engagement, so they can take a more systematic approach to their social media strategy. He also told me about some more ambitious plans for future products, but I've been sworn to secrecy.
Marcus Nelson is a recovering entrepreneur, adviser to startups, and Director of Social Media for salesforce.com. His many hats at the company include social media engagement, company spokesperson, and blogger. In his spare time, Marcus rummages through Radian6 graphs, massages messages in CoTweet, and occasionally looks at bit.ly for link love conversion. Past adventures for Marcus include co-founding UserVoice, a customer feedback service, Superstarch, a web strategy & design consultancy, and developing a hyper-local citizen-journalism blog called...