10 hot social media startups to watch

CMO's US sister publication CIO uses crowdsourcing to pull together the top 10 list of social media startups every marketer should be watching

This roundup of hot social media startups was culled from a list of more than 40 nominees that were originally compiled on Startup50. Because narrowing a list of so many compelling startups down to 10 is both tricky and subjective, we turned to crowdsourcing for part of the decision-making process.

Nearly 2,000 people voted, and the top 10 vote-getters were then scrutinised for any weaknesses. Eight out of the top 10 made the final list, proving not only the wisdom of crowds, but the wisdom of getting your businesses message out there effectively. The top vote getters clearly have made real investments in PR and marketing, and as a result, they understand their customers better, have tighter messages and have refined their positioning.

For more on selection criteria and weighting, click here. One thing to note, one factor normally weighted heavily--the amount of VC funding raised--is deemphasised in this roundup.

Social media startups just aren't as well-funded as, say, cloud or mobile startups. One factor is that no one has really figured out which business models will actually generate revenues consistently in this market.

Second, social media startups tend to be cloud-born companies that don't require nearly as much up-front capital or development efforts as startups in the past did. Most of these startups provide focused services, not huge, complicated on-premise software suites.

Finally, VCs are still a bit wary of this market. After Facebook's IPO underperformed, can you really trust even the leaders in this space? That perception will likely change over time, but a lack of funding certainly isn't slowing down the formation of these startups.

1. 9Lenses

What they do: Provide cloud-based ‘Social Enterprise Performance Software’, which unlocks employees' critiques of their companies, as well as their ideas for improving the companies they work for.

Headquarters: Leesburg, Virginia

CEO: Edwin Miller, who is also a managing partner at (i)SAGE and who previously served as president and CEO of Everest Software.

Founded: 2010

Funding: The company is backed by US$1 million in angel funding.

Why they're on this list: 9Lenses intends to change how C-level execs communicate with their workforce. Every CEO knows his or her company isn't perfect, but it's tough to get constructive criticism from those in the know--employees. 9Lenses' ‘interview apps’ are designed to open up employee thoughts and ideas in a way that is positive and engaging, giving CEOs the chance to respond and act in a way that isn't defensive or conflict-driven.

The platform comes with more than 100 pre-packaged surveys. Companies can also gain insights into specific events, such as possible mergers, and they can use the surveys to identify workflow bottlenecks, encourage data-driven decision making and facilitate strategic planning.

Market Potential and Competitive Landscape:We're not aware of any direct competitors to 9Lenses. However, it indirectly competes with the consulting industry and with more traditional Enterprise Performance Management tools.

For many social media startups, their business models are a bit nebulous. There are tons of great social media concepts out there, but few proven ways to monetise those concepts. 9Lenses looks like a possible exception. Customers include HP, Raytheon, CoreSite, Oracle and Parata Systems.

2. BeFunky

What they do: Provide a photo-editing platform.

Headquarters: San Francisco, California.

CEO: Tekin Tatar, who was formerly business development manager of McCann Relationship Marketing.

Founded: 2007

Funding: US$2 million in seed and Series A funding from Golden Horn Ventures.

Why they're on this list: As blogging, self-publishing and photo-sharing through social media all continue to grow, more and more people are seeking photo-editing tools. These people don't want to spend a ton of money on something like Photoshop, and they want something that is easy to use. BeFunky intends to meet those demands.

Market Potential and Competitive Landscape:BeFunky isn't the only game in town. Aside from incumbents like Adobe, alternatives such as PicMonkey will give BeFunky a run for its money. BeFunky claims more than 5.8 million active users.

3. Bloomfire

What they do: They provide an ‘intranet solution that is reminiscent of Pinterest, to address the knowledge sharing, collaboration and content management issues that are plaguing modern businesses’.

Headquarters: Austin, Texas

CEO: Craig Malloy, who sold his previous companies, ViaVideo and LifeSize Communications, to Polycom and Logitech, respectively.

Founded: 2010

Funding: In March 2013, the company secured an US$8 million second tranche of its Series A round, bringing the company's total funding raised to $18m. Austin Ventures, Redpoint Ventures and CEO Malloy are the investors.

Why they're on this list: Bloomfire's software unites information silos across cloud, social and mobile platforms with a centralised user interface that enables workers to instantly connect with subject matter experts and relevant content across their organisation, promoting anytime, anywhere collaboration.

The goal is to make collaboration and information sharing easy, while also promoting collaboration among workers and departments that wouldn't communicate otherwise. Bloomfire argues that it creates a ‘Pinterest-like experience’, which is highly visual and intuitive. Too many enterprise collaboration/content management tools are cumbersome . If Bloomfire can truly deliver a simple Pinterest-like experience, it's a step in the right direction. Moreover, Bloomfire has attracted some serious VC money for a social media startup.

Market Potential and Competitive Landscape:Gartner predicts that by 2016, 50 per cent of large enterprise organisations will have internal social networks. Bloomfire believes that the content management, messaging and social enterprise markets will soon exceed more than $40 billion in combined annual revenues.

Bloomfire competes with both startups and incumbent collaboration and content management providers. These include Microsoft (Yammer and Sharepoint), Jive, Huddle, Basecamp and others. Bloomfire has more than 220 paying customers, including Etsy, Kellogg's, Comcast, Bechtel and the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and claims more than 65,000 corporate users worldwide.

4. CrowdTwist

What they do: CrowdTwist helps brands recognise and incentivise their most influential fans or customers, helping to build brand loyalty.

Headquarters: New York, N.Y.

CEO: Irving Fain. Before CrowdTwist, Fain ran the digital marketing and social platforms for Clear Channel Radio Digital.

Founded: 2009

Funding: CrowdTwist raised US$6 million in Series A funding at the end of 2011 in a round led by SoftBank Capital and Fairhaven Capital. kbs+p Ventures and Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments also participated.

Why they're on this list: CrowdTwist looks at customer behaviour holistically, rather than, say, just by measuring social media sentiment and Web traffic. It attempts to measure every way a customer interacts with a brand whether online, via social media or when a customer purchases merchandise in a physical store, giving businesses a much more granular knowledge of their customers than was previously possible.

A major part of what CrowdTwist helps brands discover is customer loyalty. Once the most loyal and valuable customers are discovered, CrowdTwist then helps brands reward them with unique experiences and VIP access. For example, top Miami Dolphins fans can earn the chance to run the team flag onto the field before a game.

Not only do these rewards help a brand by building loyalty, but they also trigger word-of-mouth support.

Market Potential and Competitive Landscape: There are a million and one loyalty programs out there, everything from airline mileage programs to credit card cashback programs. Additionally, companies like Belly, BadgeVille and BigDoor all compete with CrowdTwist.

CrowdTwist says what sets it apart from competitors is the emphasis not on rewards, but on rewarding the right people. Customers include the Miami Dolphins and FOX.

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