Austin Evarts is the CEO of GoChime, a platform that mines social media for phrases like "I want" and "I need," and then uses an army of brand advocates to respond with special offers. Live on Twitter, GoChime is working on expanding to Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. We spoke with Evarts—person to person—and discussed pro wrestlers, "The Truman Show," and the Turing test.
Fast Company: What is GoChime?
Austin Evarts: It’s a social advertising platform. We mine social media—right now, mainly Twitter—for expressions of commercial intent, people talking about products and services they need or want. We pull those expressions and match them with a relevant offer in our system. We then deliver that offer via a crowdsourced network of recommenders or advocates we call "chimers." On average we have about a 30% clickthrough rate. The average clickthrough rate on Google AdWords is 2%.
Why so much higher, do you think?
We think the future of social advertising is the person-to-person model. These are real people reaching out to other real people based on expressions of intent they used.
Who exactly are these "chimers" who will tweet me offers of things I want?
The majority are people who have come from other crowdsourced networks. A lot of them are stay-at-home moms. We had a doctor in there. We had a pro wrestler in there once.
A pro wrestler?
He was in one of the minor leagues of the WWF. He just spends a lot of his free time online, poking around, working for different crowdsourcing networks. For a lot of these people, it’s a replacement for solitaire. You get a large variety of people.
I think if some rando tweeted me an offer, I’d probably be creeped out, or think it was spam, or malware.
All of the messages are ad hoc. We penalize the chimers if they start copying and pasting, and we’ll kick them out of the system if the score falls too low. Each message is customized to the specific expression of intent.
If I were one of your "chimers," I feel like I would need all 140 characters just to explain that I wasn’t a spambot.
We’re trying to provide more transparency. Maybe the link isn’t in the first message, maybe the first message is, "Hey, I’m so-and-so, and here’s what I do." The more transparent and more personal, the better it is for the chimers and for the end consumer. The system’s performing great with 140 characters, but yeah, we could use another 140.
This gets me thinking about the Turing test. Could AI get to the point where you could simulate the person-to-person marketing pitch, but really have it be automated?
We feel passionate about the human, these-are-real-people model. That being said, we tried automated messages. It still worked, but it didn’t work as well. For social media to work in general, you can’t remove the human. There has to be a human element to it. We’re big believers in that. You can’t build a giant automated system to cheat at social media. It’s social. It’s human at its core.
The term "brand ambassador" or "brand advocate" often makes me a little nauseous. It reminds me of Laura Linney in "The Truman Show," pitching hot cocoa mix while Truman’s trying to have a real conversation.
I think you’re right. The general sense of the brand ambassador is someone who comes off as selling themselves out to sell products to friends. In our system, it’s important to note, it’s starting off with an expression of need. So Truman’s wife isn’t just trying to pitch some product in between a conversation. Truman’s actually asking for the product. Truman says, "God, I need a new pair of designer jeans," and she’s saying, "There’s an offer at the place down the street." But I know what you mean. I know that feeling.
We’ve written about how the key ingredient of Pandora’s technology is people—the musicians who break down tracks by category. It seems like it’s your key ingredient, too—so how do you find these people?
We’re experimenting with different ways to source them. We can use our own system to find more chimers. So many people talk about needing jobs on Twitter.
So if I tweet "I want money" right now, will a chimer offer me a job at GoChime?
No, we’re not running that campaign right now. But the point is, we could.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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