A few years back social was all the rage. Then mobile first had its moment. Now content and the brand as publisher models are the "it" trends in brand marketing. Each of these has merit, and expertise in each discipline is valuable. But none of these ideas live on their own. They're all different facets of the same gem.
Social is just a behavior, a way that people share and communicate. And mobile without content is just a blank screen. Content flows through the system; it is created and distributed through social channels and ultimately surfaces across a wide variety of devices and screens, increasingly mobile ones.
Are the newest consumer and ad tech innovations social? Mobile? Content? It's becoming more difficult to neatly place the emerging products into these buckets.
But one theme is consistent across each of these intertwined disciplines: speed. The pace at which content is created, shared, and consumed is constantly increasing, with consumer creation and consumption behavior usually outpacing a brand marketer's ability to keep up. And so with this lens, a new generation of startups rise in a self-perpetuating cycle that enable more seamless, rapid development and delivery of content, as well as solutions to organize, manage, and digest this ever-expanding and accelerating stream.
Here are nine startups that break down the silos between social, content, and mobile to stand out in today's cluttered consumer tech ecosystem. I've broken them down into four sections, by the most prevalent trends and opportunities that I see emerging in our industry.
Vyclone and Stringwire are taking on a serious challenge: enabling seamless, real-time collaborative content creation. Both companies use cloud-based online interfaces to sync video coming from a variety of devices to a seamless multi-camera narrative; they combine multiple perspectives to tell the whole story of a shared moment. They're slick. They're simple. They're making sophisticated synchronization technology invisible in the background while intuitive interfaces empower us to merge content into a single awesome piece of reporting in real-time.
Stringwire is more journalistic, with a network of verified, quality content creators baked into the core product. These content creators can be mobilized to cover breaking events at any moment, anywhere across the globe. Imagine what this means for law enforcement. If widely adopted, civilian eyewitness reporting takes on an entirely new meaning. What if every single person with a smartphone virtually became a security cam to capture every perspective of any event, criminal or otherwise, that happens around the world, all in real-time? Omnipresent transparency. Forget PRISM. We're becoming our own Big Brother. But in this case, transparency feels like a good thing.
Vyclone, backed by concert powerhouse Live Nation, focuses more on unique entertainment experiences by enabling attendees to work together and let the world in on the shared experience of live events -- a concert, a sporting event, a wedding, anything. To date, those who watched live events online have had two options: They could watch the "official" produced livestream or piece together clips and commentary broadcast over the social airwaves. But the professional stream can't capture all the nuances of being in the crowd, and fan clips are disparate fragments of the experience.
Now Vyclone powers a whole new level of access, with a cohesive stream from the vantage point of anyone there in person. A recent partnership with Jason Mraz and Madison Square Garden showcased the power of the tool, capturing the entire concert experience from the inside out. Expect more enhanced entertainment experiences like these to come.
New content media
Zeega is a new storytelling platform that empowers people to use various forms of media to easily weave together photos, videos, images, gifs, and music to create content. Think PowerPoint meets iMovie meets Pro Tools meets Tumblr meets Gifbin, built on a cloud-based web interface that enables users to create an entirely new medium of content. It's such a literal embodiment of mash-up culture that it transcends parody and becomes something truly awe-inspiring. The end product hardly resembles any medium of content that we have seen to date, but somehow it still tells a cohesive story and churns out a captivating viewing experience.
And these stories are easy to make. Zeega recently showed off what the tool is capable of at a San Francisco Museum of Modern Art event. The event gathered content creators with real chops to put together a series of vignettes around themes of their choice. But as a novice, it's not that much more difficult to take cultural references, personal and collective, and weave them into a narrative that both tells a compelling story and is captivating in its novelty.
Free market content and the influencer economy
YouTube is far from a startup, but it has paved the way for a new category of content creators who are becoming a trend with momentum that cannot be ignored. The platform empowers content creators to develop their own built-in audiences without any intermediary. But more so than the direct-to-consumer delivery model, the paradigm shift to note here is the diversity of the type of content and "star" that is gaining traction. Whereas the creative industries have historically monetized actors and musicians, the YouTube star has blown the doors off what constitutes celebrity. Today some of the biggest names are really just popular personalities, quite literally cashing in on social currency.
One new social content startup to watch is Pheed, which has recognized this trend and is creating a platform for this new influencer economy. Creators have embraced a model of giving away content that can be ripped, shared, blogged, and tweeted to develop audience. Then, once the fan base is amassed, they then monetize that audience. Currently they build their fan bases on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and so on, and then monetize off these platforms elsewhere, via touring, record sales, or in -- the case of the new creator -- with brand subsidy.
Pheed gives creators of any kind -- from photographers to comedians, musicians, or even just popular personalities -- the ability to build audiences and monetize them right within that very platform. The better the content they give away, the more it is shared and the more their followerships grow. And once audience and demand has been built, creators can choose to put up a pay wall for specific releases (an album, a single, a piece of photography, or even just a well-timed vlog post) and choose the price point. At the end of the day, free market principles apply: If the content is compelling enough and priced properly, people will pay for it. A new-age content marketplace, Pheed gives a new era of creators a platform to build audiences and their careers.
And for brands to get involved in this ecosystem, startups like Outrigger are forming products like OpenSlate that help identify up-and-comers in the creators space. Such solutions enable brands to tap into their potential and find undervalued talent before they're "discovered." Along these lines, in partnership with Outrigger, Digitas is now co-developing the Emerging Talent Tracker to help brands identify, engage, and partner with emerging talent on YouTube before they are discovered by the masses.
Keeping pace: Startups to manage startups
If anything is a testament to the speed of innovation, it's the ever-more common practice of startups that are built on the backs of other startups. Nativ.ly is a startup that was built to discover and help monetize startups. How meta is that?
CallSnap is a brand new startup that was built off the popularity of, and the trends behind, the still nascent Snapchat. While Snapchat lets you send photos and videos to your contacts to open a line of communication, CallSnap essentially lets you do the opposite. It lets you snap a photo and send it after you decline the person's call -- a way of briefly showing the person why you weren't available. The two apps are built for different purposes, but they both rely on the increasing importance of photos via mobile to get your point across.
Waze, brought to the limelight of potential for brands by Nativ.ly earlier this year, was just bought last week by Google for more than a billion dollars, just months after its first monetization efforts. Waze in large part owes its recent acquisition -- at least its valuation, to a certain degree -- to Nativ.ly founders Jared Katzman and Mark Chu-Cheong, for proving its value to brands with a first-of-its-kind program that demonstrated real potential for brand dollars.
The convergence of social, content, and mobile
Are these content startups? Social? Mobile? Yes. From Vyclone to Pheed to CallSnap, all of these startups are blurring the lines between disciplines. They feature collaborative social elements that help create, distribute, and consume new types of content in new ways, across desktop, tablet, and mobile.
As consumers adopt social and mobile as part of their everyday lives, the startups to watch are the ones that don't specialize in any given silo. Instead, they focus on enriching people's lives in new ways, no matter the channel. The ones that will be successful are the ones that are nimble, move fast, and keep pace with the ever-increasing speed of innovation, consumer adoption of new behaviors, and the stream of content that we're consuming more of -- and more rapidly.
"Landscape, sunny dawn in a field" image via Shutterstock.