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SocialFlow Tries to Crack Science of Twitter

doctor examining Twitter bird

Social media experts are a dime a dozen. Self-proclaimed gurus boast of their ability to manipulate the blogosphere, to make anything go viral—or, in the words of one social media satirist, to "jack the strat." But is there really a science behind having success on social media?

That's exactly what SocialFlow hopes to prove. The New York-based startup, a sister company of and Chartbeat under Betaworks, claims to have cracked the puzzle of real-time conversation, and boasts that it can "take the guesswork out of what to say and when to say it on Twitter, Facebook and Google."

SocialFlow's aim is to determine the best time and content for a tweet or Facebook message. It provides analytics to monitor what's resonating with online users, and uses that data to refine future posts. Metrics include clicks per tweet, clicks per follower, performance of retweets and mentions and shares—all using an algorithm integrated with's monthly clicks—all five billion of them.

For media companies, if a particular subject or topic has seen high resonance in the past, SocialFlow will suggest optimized times to publish that content and send out tweets and Facebook messages about it. For example, users can compare how social media performance ranks on Tuesdays ...

... with Fridays.

A tweet's success can be monitored by overall performance or by click distribution charts. Essentially, the idea is to measure content consumption patterns on a microscopic level, rather than just follow the common metrics of volume and quantity.

"There's a fair amount of guess work whether people will pay attention to your social media," says Michael Chin, SocialFlow's VP of marketing. "We want to maximize return on everything you send out."

[Image by Andrew Hur]

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  • Social

    SocialFlow looks and sounds a lot like ObjectiveMarketer, which was recently acquired by Emailvision. How is it different?

  • vdvdvdv

    Great! So the stuff you're reading in the newspaper, internet, television, or internet media becomes "phenomena" because of it's respect to time such as hours, days, months, year. The "content-timing" is maximized so as to influence your thoughts and purchasing decisions.

    We already know this exists to some extent! I just think the mass population doesn't realize that and that is why they are "sheep."

    Listen. Everything about the media is one big gimmick! He who owns the media companies controls the flow of information and the interpretation of that information. The blind leading the blind will never figure that out.

  • vdvdvdv

    Great! So the stuff you're reading in the newspaper, internet, television, or internet media becomes "phenomena" because of it's respect to time such as hours, days, months, year. The "content-timing" is maximized so as to influence your thoughts and purchasing decisions.

    We already know this exists to some extent! I just think the mass population doesn't realize that and that is why they are "sheep."

    Listen. Everything about the media is one big gimmick! He who owns the media companies controls the flow of information and the interpretation of that information. Hmmm. I wonder why there's such a high concentration of one type of religion in the media. Those people are definitely manipulating bastards...

  • Jeffrey Lee Simons

    Great discussion. I'm not in favor of automating social media, but I do think some intelligence on scheduling, distribution, dissemination, etc. can be helpful. Like any tool, or weapon, it's the use to which it's put. If it helps companies learn what messages matter, then it may serve, as some have said here, to lessen the noise. Not that a tool like this will stop the rising wave of spammy marketing tweets and hot-babe-DUI feeds. Looking down the road, I fear Twitter will eventually be overwhelmed and we'll all move on to what's next. Again.

  • SirMichael

    Couldn't agree with your point about you get what you put into it. In our case, we've found that customers that have great content and engage well with their customers and audiences see the greatest success.

    The way to evaluate a tool like SocialFlow is to think about what people should and can do best and what machines and software can and should do.

    - Michael

  • Scott Brown

    There seems to be an awful lot of variables not accounted for here.

    The first would be is this process a one size fits all? Or is it customized per message per market segment? If so, what resources does such an approach require?

    Has it been tested by credentialed experts. Not just people who know how to use twitter or someone who at one time ran a focus group, but an actual expert in both scientific method and the effects of social media in the realm of social psychology? Because if it hasn't, if there is no science behind this, then once again, we're looking at a guess and a clever metric. Has this been tested and proven? Not just in a case study, but in a way that's repeatable and valid?

    If not, it's not knowledge and it's definitely, in the words of Mr. Chin, "a fair amount of guess work..."

    For more, check out

    Scott Brown
    Consumer Psychologist/Creative Director

  • SirMichael

    Scott -- You're right, there are a lot of variables to account for and our team is constantly factoring those in as we develop our product.

    No, it's not one size fits all. We've found that language usage enables us to understand and infer conversation interest and engagement. We don't care what the words actually mean, we care more about how they're used, the words they're used with and the actions around those words. That's more accurate than trying to guess the intent based on some assumed sentiment analysis.

    This varies from Follower set to Follower set and changes as your audience composition changes. For example, you might have 1k Followers but in six months, you have 200k. You need to factor that in. We do this in real-time. All the time.

    Our approach is based on science and math. We measure success through data. So far, we've found that it is repeatable and validity comes from the results that we see.

    We are focused on is helping our customers earn greater audience attention, get more desired actions (clicks, RTs, mentions) and grow engaged Followers, by optimizing what to say, when on social channels. In other words, we're very mindful of not over-stretching and applying our products in ways that don't make sense or hold true.

    - Michael

  • Williskoo

    It is like u have millions more fingers pointing to the moon. It does not help if your product is not great. We have enough lunatics trying to squeeze for more.

  • Tom

    Like it or not...people will always find ways of automating various parts of the social media ecosystem...and just like other aspects of Internet marketing there will be versions considered black hat or white hat. Social Flow to me seems like a very white hat way of working within social media. Your message can still be authentic and your engagement with the public will also. The only difference is that you have a better idea of the topics, time lines and conditions within which your message can be viewed optimally. This kind of automation has always been part of authentic commerce and branding...and as a social scientist myself I welcome these kinds of innovations 100%.


  • Andy Rice

    Sorry, not buying it. The only reason this company exists is because of clueless corporate types who are desperately trying to game these new media platforms the same way they gamed mass media before the Internet. When are companies going to wake up and realize that this is fundamentally different, that people want to talk to people, and that we aren't just a click or a metric on a screen?

    The whole point of social media isn't that you know exactly 'what to say or when to say it'. The idea that you can perfect your 'message' is a relic from old school ad mentality. Stop feeding these companies. Here's a piece of advice that will save you buying this snake oil: treat people like people.

  • Scott Brown

    I find it amazing that people profess to know anything about "how social media works" when they know nothing about social psychology beyond what's offered at the typical airport book. Seriously, chalking up the notion of NOT perfecting your message to a "relic of the old school ad mentality..." is beyond ignorant. This is the problem. People talking out of their ass because the think that what's new is actually new. It's not.

    Want proof? Go consult the basic yet useful Shannon–Weaver model of communication and then ask yourself about the importance of crafting a message.

    Here's what I think about all the social media marketing gurus, having worked for one for about a month before realizing how full of crap the whole "new school" really is.

    Here's the problem: these guys try to put as much distance as possible between you and the "traditional ad folks" screaming "YOU DON'T GET SOCIAL" the way guys who knew Flash animation were convinced that the landing page was the pinnacle of all things marketing. You're wrong. Social media is a channel, a tool. The way it is used by people who are far more than people who need to be "treated like people" is the purview of social psychology. Why? Because they have asked and found answers to the important questions pertaining to how people interact, why they do it and who is using what to fuel this form of communication. The key is to ask questions.

    Like this one for example: "Who doesn't use social media?" Answer? According to the Center for Journalism & Communication Research at the University of Texas at Austin, people with low levels of anxiety are less likely to use social media. That includes the alpha dogs, and in some cases, your entire market segment. Now with that information in hand...

    How does "treat people like people" work for those who DON'T tweet? They're not on Facebook. The answer is you can't treat them like people because they're your market. They're NOT people. You're not selling to their gestalt, you're selling to the part of them that wants to feel good about the tires they bought or to vote for a certain candidate. You think what Corey Booker tweets ISN'T marketing? If it weren't, he wouldn't be tweeting it. Period. Social is merely a different marketing channel on a different communication model than mass communication. Understand that and then what you have to say will be worth some company paying you to do it.

    Remain ignorant like the rest of the social media gurus out there that think they're Jesus, Buddha and Yoda rolled into one and you'll be in the unemployment line next to the guy who thought the pop-up ad was a great idea. In a word, clueless.

    My advice is get an education. Then, keep getting an education every day. The only way to avoid blanket statements like "old school ad mentality" and looking foolish is to actually go to school. Consider that advice a retweet from as far back as Aristotle.

    Scott Brown
    Consumer Psychologist/Creative Director

  • SirMichael

    @Andy -- Far from it. We exist because we think there are ways to improve the ways businesses (brands and publishers) communicate with their customers and audiences on social media channels. Authenticity and engagement is foremost and if your content sucks, there's nothing anyone can do to help you. What you can do is try to understand how not to suck and treat people like sh*t by being useful, interesting and relevant. That's why we exist.

    - Michael

  • jeanette okwu

    I agree and my guess is that people then will look for and find something else where they can escape the marketing hunt.
    It's all fair to be wanting to get a piece of the social media action but we should remind ourselves why it became so popular in the first place. Because we felt it was a safe haven from exactly the stuff that wantsto "crack our code" in order to make some dough.

  • SirMichael

    @Jeanette -- Yes absolutely. If you can improve the quality of the *signal* from brands and publishers, doesn't that make social media all the more interesting and valuable to us all? That's what we've been studying and building.

    We're with you, we can't stand the noise and the nonsense.

    - Michael

  • atimoshenko

    Sigh. Here we go again. The only reason that social media is at all a popular way to interact for commercial purposes is because it has not yet been automated, optimized, and rationalized. In other words, where the phone sends one first to a robot and then to a call center, a tweet may actually produce a quick and genuine human response.

    Unleash the telemarketers, the spammers, and the outsourcers and their effect on consumers will be identical to their effect on consumers in other media. It's only worthwhile, in other words, if it is small scale. Companies really ought to try to think more from the perspectives of their customers, rather than their own.

  • Hans Eisenman

    Couldn't have said this better Andrei. I'm a big fan of measuring results (particularly with promotional campaign efforts), but there's only so much automating of communication you can do before you realize *nothing* will ever take the place of real, live, authentic mano-a-mano (even if digital) communication. The automation might help us get to that live communication (or not), but it will never replace it.

    Having said that, sometimes a small tweak in a word or two can make all the difference in getting someone's attention and measurement can help determine those kinds of incremental improvements. And if it helps the reduce the noise and increase signal (there are so many millions of web outlets screaming at no one out there), then that's something I can appreciate as well.

  • Scott Brown

    Here's a question... what if a message is tweeted via automation that is useful and another message is tweeted by a person who happens to be a total moron? The automation isn't the problem. You nailed the problem in your last sentence. "Companies really ought to try to think from the perspectives of their customers, rather than their own."

    That's great advice for companies and, moreover, for the social media marketing agencies who are selling these BS market research divisions claiming to have insight and some magic connection to "consumer engagement." I recently worked at a big, hot new social media agency that claimed to have such a process; one rooted in research. Great! I thought. I quit my agency job, take a pay cut and sign up. Guess what? The night before a presentation to a major company who spent millions on this agency, the Executive Content Director (who was the Creative Director just days before this) spills the beans and ruins my day. "I just go through the brief the brand agency gave us, write down the words that pop and then make some shit up." I almost threw up. All the research that was done was lost in translation. Nothing has changed except the communication channel and the model. It's a bummer but all these gurus spend their days perfecting their PowerPoint presentations, not developing an understanding of their consumer's perspectives.

    That last sentence really nailed it for me, glad to see it Andrei!

    All my best,
    Scott Brown
    Consumer Psychologist/Creative Director

  • SirMichael

    @Andrei Timonshenko -- Hello, it's Michael from SocialFlow.

    Could not agree with you more that companies should think more from the perspective of their customers or audience, rather than their own. This is one of the core philosophies that SocialFlow is built on. A couple of points to consider:

    1. Content should always come first:
    We came to this solution because we believe that in order to improve the quality conversations, companies should put only the best content out there that resonates and is relevant to their audience. This is often deciding what not to say because your audience could care less about a given topic at that point in time. As a result, spam and noise gets killed.

    2. Humans should do what they're good at and look to science & math to help where it can:
    Your success in social media, as you know, is largely dependent on your content and how you engage with your customers. That's a human problem to solve and is best solved by humans.

    Figuring out when you should get a given piece of content out via social channels, as we've learned, is a problem that is better solved by science and math. The simple fact is, at scale (say you have several million followers), you don't know when people are engaged in a given conversation or have a high intent to consume what you have to say. We've found that you can improve the receptivity of your messages when you get them in front of people when they care about what you have to say.

    Again, the content has to be good otherwise there's nothing anyone can do for you. To @Austin Carr's point, authenticity is far more important and without it, you're not going to do well.

    Have a happy new year,

    - Michael

  • acarr

    I absolutely agree, Andrei. Authenticity is far more important and effective than automation.

  • walidmrealtor

    Interesting. Sounds like a great tool for anyone trying to manipulate the flow or dissemination of information. Should be interesting watching who takes advantage of the tool, and for what purpose.