The success of Seattle’s Wetpaint has paralleled, and to a significant extent, propelled the ascendancy of Web 2.0 by answering two of the most interesting and pivotal questions about the Social Web experience. “What features make a Website a social site?” is the first one. By virtue of a Wiki-based foundation that allows collaborative document creation, threaded discussion and group participation, a robust feature set and flexible design palette for creating interactive pages, and extraordinary ease of use, Wetpaint sites evoke the highest level of social interaction among users, up to 240 times that of a Facebook page!
The second question is “What makes some Web experiences and social sites more social than others?” To Wetpaint, the difference lies between the end-user acting like a friend or behaving like a fan. Friends tend to be passive. Fans are active. Friends are basically congenial. Fans are evangelical. Friends tend to stay within the confines of a social circle. Fans reach out to embrace a larger community. If you’re a marketer for a television show on HBO, Showtime, CBS or FOX, knowing the difference between your friends and your fans could spell a hit following for a show vs. a tepid trickle.
No wonder the entertainment world has beat a path to the Pioneer Square door of this social science factory to harness the interactivity of the present, and glimpse the future. As Senior Vice President Marketing, Rob Grady explains in this interview, it’s all about enriching the user engagement.
Seattle24x7: Your marketing background has led from Procter & Gamble to Real Networks, and then from Starbucks to your current role as SVP Marketing at Wetpaint. Is there a common denominator in those varied brands in terms of marketing between offline and online?
Rob Grady: While I think that there are many different variables, the thread that I would draw would be creating rich consumer experiences. For example, the connection that exists between the Starbucks experience, which is an offline, physical community gathering spot and an online social media site as a community experience are both key. In my current position, I am working to apply those same dynamics for Wetpaint.
Seattle24x7: Congratulations on the WTIA 2009 Best Consumer Product of the Year Award. Your latest product, Wetpaint Injected, was one of those spotlighted at the award show. Where is Injected right now in its product life cycle?
Grady: We will celebrate a one year anniversary for Injected on May 19th, but I think our biggest Injected milestone was yesterday when we announced our partnership with Microsoft. MSN will be using Wetpaint Injected technology to integrate superfan content into fan sites on MSN Entertainment. We’ll be starting with four sites, four superfan contributors, and then we’ll expand to a couple dozen more in the next quarter. This will represent the biggest deployment of Injected at any point in its young history. We have had a lot of success with it, and are serving around one million unique users on a monthly basis.
Seattle24x7: Injected is one part of the Wetpaint family. Can you tell us how your offerings are segmented?
Grady: There are three different segments. The first is that Wetpaint can run the entire website for you. For instance, we work on some entertainment properties where the entire fan site for a TV show or a movie is hosted entirely by Wetpaint and run by fans on Wetpaint. Secondly, you can add Wetpaint to your site as an attached Wetpaint feature set. So, say my website is Seattle24x7.com. I can add a tab that says Community, and that would link to seattle24x7.wetpaint.com or whatever URL you want to give it. The third segment is Wetpaint Injected which is what our new MSN deal is about, using our Injected technology and embedding it right into the website.
Seattle24x7: Over the past few years you have been magnificent in injecting the whole social media toolkit into your Wiki basecode. For example, you added Friend Feed and other tools. Where do you fit into social media networking in terms of social profiling and portability?
Grady: I think the profiling method that has the most traction right now is Facebook Connect. For the majority of Wetpaint sites today, you can use your Facebook user name and password to instantly connect and invite your friends. While we’ll be adding additional functionality as we go forward, it’s clear that the 200 million users Facebook has claimed has the biggest reach in terms of a universal authentication mechanism. So that is the one we’ve focused on and the one a lot of our partners have asked us to include.
Seattle24x7: In addition to that, you’ve created a number of tools for Facebook users as Widgets that they can play with.
Grady: You can take the droplets from our site and put them on any social site whether it be Facebook, MySpace, or any other site. You can basically create a little Widget for your favorite Wetpaint site, and take it with you wherever you go, whatever network you go onto.
Seattle24x7: You recently announced an affiliation with Picnik.com. What other Seattle area synergies are you developing? What is your impression of the Seattle Web 2.0 community?
Grady: There’s no question that Wetpaint wants to work with anybody who values our platform and has a large audience that they think can benefit from Wetpaint’s products. We look at it as a two-way street. If other folks have a product that Wetpaint users can benefit from, there are definite integration opportunities there too. That’s clearly what happened with Picnik.
In terms of our local relationships, it doesn’t get much bigger than what we’re working on with Microsoft. We’ll be working with MSN to deeply integrate the Wetpaint Injected experience to drive a lot of uniqueness to MSN Entertainment sites . As a fairly open platform, we are confident about our leadership position in the Seattle Web 2.0 marketplace. We want to work with whoever is out there and interested, and who has similar goals to ours.
Seattle24x7: Speaking of Microsoft and super fan sites, how would you characterize the most compelling aspect of that user experience? What is it that distinguishes the super fan experience?
Grady: I think one of the emerging themes in this Web 2.0 economy is that consumer generated media can rank among the most valuable media assets there are. Historically, there was a sentiment that fan sites might be too passionate or too overzealous. The reality is there are a heck of a lot of consumer generated media sites out there today that our technology and network enables in the easiest way possible. Wetpaint is the easy way for Microsoft and MSN to integrate user generated media into everything they do in entertainment. Super fans add amazing, compelling content.
Seattle24x7: We wanted to ask you about the extraordinary client list you have cultivated.. How are you fashioning all these incredible relationships with leading brands? How do you create these synergies?
Grady: Well I think creating value for one customer begets additional customers,. So when the folks at HBO or Showtime, or T-Mobile, and Fox all talk about what are the unique benefits of the Wetpaint platform, other people who either work with them or are competitive with them, want to hear about the value that we’re adding.
I also think that it speaks to an awful lot of effort being applied everyday by the teams at Wetpaint who are working their tail off to create a great user experience. Because if you don’t create a great user experience in the end, the other stuff won’t matter.
Seattle24x7: What is your take on Twitter’s appeal in relation to Wetpaint’s social toolkit?
Grady: Twitter has a wonderful amount of traction in terms of consumer interest, but I don’t think there’s a business model behind it. I think the same thing can be said about Facebook. I don’t think that those brands have long term traction yet in terms of a business model.
Fundamentally, business models behind advertising are about connecting brands with engaged fans. That takes more than just a communication medium between two users to create value. This is why we’re very focused on our business model of attracting super fans around properties and then giving access to those fans to brands that really want to connect with that particular demographic.
Seattle24x7: Is that monetized through premium services? Is it monetized through advertising?
Grady: We have three different business models, or revenue streams, today. One is our partner business where we partner with Fox, Showtime, HBO and we offer them a turnkey service to actually have fan sites. Number two is advertising —where we have over 8 million unique users who come to our website who have a high demographic and high social influencer index. We also have a premium subscription business where anybody who wants to have a user generated content drive website without ads on it can pay us for that subscription which is $19.95 a month.
Seattle24x7: The super fan site concept suggests a more activist customer base. Is that the distinction you make? That fans are an enthused and energized group of people?
Grady: Yes, and this is an important difference. People talk about how they have Facebook friends or they are tweeting with friends. This kind of one-to-many type of conversation doesn’t really have the context that is valuable to brands. Friends have a wide variety of interests around a wide range of topics that are very hard to categorize. Fans are super engaged and are huge social influencers. If you compare a Facebook fan page user and the amount of time they spend there versus a Wetpaint fan site superfan, the time spent on Wetpaint is 250-times that on Facebook.
Then if you look at the level of influence they have over others, the social influencers on Wetpaint sites have 20x the influence on their friends regarding the topics they are fans of versus people who are simply friends and who have a casual influence on something. There is actually a very clear Comscore metric in terms of amount of influence some individuals have over others which is an indicator of how we determine social influencers. So friends are very popular, they ebb and flow. But fans are passionate, committed, socially influential people. And those are the people that are on Wetpaint. We don’t have 200 million but we sure as heck have 8 million really passionate, excited people.
Seattle24x7: Can you give us an example of one of the most creative or original interactions where the community has come together in a social interaction?
Grady: For “Flight of the Conchords,” which is an HBO show, Wetpaint helped to facilitate a fan art contest that generated hundreds of submissions of artwork for Flight of the Conchords’ posters. When you think about it, it’s a fascinating contrast. A marketer can pay agencies turnaround and pay people to create artwork that would cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. With Wetpaint, the super fans created it all from their passion.
Seattle24x7: Wetpaint inspiring the painting of thousands of superfans. We like the analogy!