A Q&A with BlogFrog co-founder and CEO Rustin Banks. The Boulder, Colorado–based company was founded in 2009 and recently raised $3.2 million in Series A funding. Investors include Grotech Ventures and TechStars founder David Cohen.
SUB: Please describe what BlogFrog is, and the value proposition you bring to brand marketing and the blogosphere.
Banks: BlogFrog is a social activation platform that partners brands and digital influencers to power and amplify online conversations. Our technology platform lets brands engage social influencers according to niche topics and target demographics, create advocate-driven content and conversations, and measure performance with in-depth tracking and analytics. Bloggers use BlogFrog to increase readership and traffic, create interaction with readers and followers, and increase revenue through participation in brand programs.
A brand program on our social activation platform can involve dozens to thousands of influencers on a variety of social channels including blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or Pinterest. Brands can measure their conversation influence with analytics that quantify consumer awareness, consideration, preference, and even purchase intent.
SUB: What are your target markets?
Banks: Fortune 500 brands use our powerful technology and influencer platform to enhance their social presence and nurture and create brand evangelists. The past year brought rapid growth for us with the addition of dozens of new consumer clients, tens of thousands of new influencers, and the launch of several national channel partners.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Banks: The solutions available to brands who want to engage influencers online are very limited. The most popular way in the past decade has been to do online advertising via banner ads, but brands are recognizing that it is not enough to just drive awareness among consumers—they need to drive engagement. Engagement means participating in conversations that put a brand’s message in the content of a site, not just the sidebar. We are the only technology platform available today that allows brands to create instant conversation and community among a target niche of influencers and then scale that conversation across the web to reach millions.
SUB: What differentiates BlogFrog from the competition?
Banks: We are different from all other social technology companies and blog networks out there because the company actually combines the power of both social and blog networks to offer brands three key offerings. The first is a Brand Community that goes inside of a brand’s website. Top bloggers create content for the community as “community leaders,” then share that content out to their social networks. A good example is http://udisglutenfree.com/community where our product is used to engage top influencers who in turn engage their audiences in conversations in their community. This community generates about 1 million mentions each month across blogs, Facebook, and Twitter and 6,000 comments each month.
The second is called “Sponsored Conversations”—a product that allows a brand to engage many influencers to post content that is sponsored by the brand. The content from these blog posts and social shares reach millions, and all the content is aggregated to the brands website or Facebook page. A good example is http://creativecrescents.com, that has reached over 2 million readers and generated over 16,000 engagements.
The third is called “Custom Publishing”—top influencers create quality shareable content that lives on a brand’s website or Facebook page. These influencers then share this content to their social networks on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. It is a great way for brands to generate meaningful content, and quickly.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Banks: Holly Hamann and I founded BlogFrog in 2009 to reinvent the community platform and enable communities to be created, discovered, and joined with online social behavior in mind. The goal: enable like-minded people to form interest-based communities, arm them with sharing tools that tap their influential social behavior, and transform those conversations into revenue-generating content.
We started by focusing on women and moms because that demographic, while being the most powerful consumer segment, is also the most underserved and misunderstood. BlogFrog’s network now includes over 75,000 women and mom bloggers that reach over 10 million moms each month. These moms participate in thousands of niche-based communities that bring together like-minded moms—moms with special-needs children, foodies, military spouses, infertility, multiples, or a love of photography. BlogFrog is currently the largest network of mom bloggers in the country.
Holly and I knew that true influence does not happen when you loosely connect millions of people in one destination. It happens when you connect smaller groups of people who are extremely passionate about the same topics—niche-based communities.
After building an organic following of over a hundred thousand women, we built conversational marketing technology—Brand Communities, Sponsored Conversations, Custom Publishing—that enable brands to engage with consumers via their online conversations.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for BlogFrog? Was there an “aha” moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Banks: The “aha” moment came from my wife Tara’s blog. When we moved to Boulder she became a casual blogger who used her blog to keep family and friends updated on our growing family. As her blog grew, I knew there had to be a better way for her blog readers to interact and I began working on a beta product of BlogFrog during nights and weekends. BlogFrog became a hit on Tara’s blog so I recruited Holly, a startup and marketing veteran—and blogger—at the time, to help launch the service to the blogosphere. Within months, the community platform was being installed by thousands of bloggers each month, and rapidly adopted within the women’s space.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Banks: BlogFrog is all about creating a mutually beneficial eco-system between interest-based influencers and the brands who want to reach that audience. One challenge the entire industry is facing is the need to keep relationships and content transparent. It’s really easy for relationships to become inauthentic, causing blog readers and influencers to lose the trust of their followers. We are incredibly dedicated to making sure programs and partnerships between brands and influencers stay transparent and relevant. The moment you drift from either of those is the moment you aren’t serving anyone—the brands, bloggers, or their readers. We worked together with brands and bloggers to create a truly valuable and authentic place for like-minded people to connect, ask each other questions, get advice and, yes, even get info. on products if they wanted. Branded communities are experiencing rapid growth when they provide genuine value to everyone involved.
The tides are shifting and brands are now quickly understanding that it’s not enough to just advertise to consumers—they have to be part of the conversation people are having online already—about money, food, health, their kids, relationships, the economy, etc. Real influence is happening in the conversations people are having way before they see an ad. BlogFrog offers that ecosystem where brands can engage with consumers by leveraging the online influencer—those people who form communities and lead conversations online.
SUB: You recently raised $3.2 million in Series A funding. What are your plans for the funds?
Banks: The Series A financing, led by Washington D.C.-based Grotech Ventures, with participation from existing investors including David Cohen, founder of TechStars, will be used to accelerate the expansion of our social activation platform to further serve brand marketers, broaden its feature set for advertising and marketing agencies, and expand the company’s network of publishers and online influencers.
This round of venture funding
will also be used to further expand the company’s offering to brands in market verticals such as food, fashion, entertainment, fitness and technology. I hope to double our headcount before the end of 2012 and open an additional office in New York City to serve their growing base of agency clients.
SUB: Do you plan to raise more outside funding in the near future?
Banks: It’s hard to say right now, but it’s highly unlikely that we will be raising money anytime soon. This recent round of funding was truly a growth round of financing to help accelerate our existing success in the market. Prior to the funding, the company was already at a multi-million dollar run rate so this cash infusion helps sweeten our growth trajectory even more.
SUB: What are your goals for BlogFrog over the next year or so?
Banks: We are investing in our automated influencer database that gathers and segments influencer data such as readership, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, Pinterest followers, and YouTube audience. We are also investing heavily in our measurement and tracking abilities to show the true value of a social activation program. Our rapid growth has come from serving mainly women and moms, which represent only a small portion of the entire influencer market. 2012 and 2013 will see expansion into other highly desirable consumer verticals including food, fashion, fitness, entertainment, and technology.
BlogFrog – www.theblogfrog.com