Episode 156: Kurt Abrahamson on Ads as Social Experiences
Kurt Abrahamson is inventing "people powered advertising." The intersection of social graphs and online display ads is rich with opportunity. Find out how leadership brands are integrating Tweets, FB Page comments, Yelp reviews and Foursquare Check Ins into their advertising and how they're handling the negative sentiment aspect of dynamically-served social commentary.
Susan Bratton: Welcome to DishyMix. I’m your host, Susan Bratton, and on today’s show you’re going to get to meet Kurt Abrahamson. He’s the CEO – and this is a fairly new role for him – at socialmedia.com. What a great URL! Kurt came from Google, but I’ve known him for a long time, probably oh, I’d say ’94, ’95, because he’s one of the original Jupiter Communications crowd, all some of my favorite people; we’ll talk about them on the show I’m sure. So we’re going to have another show about social media and about Kurt. Lets get him on the show and welcome him. Welcome Kurt.
Kurt Abrahamson: Hey Susan, how you doing?
Susan Bratton: I’m great dear. I know we were just, before we started the show we were talking about the fact that you and I kind of saw each other – well we’re both really tall – you and I saw each other from across the room at the AdTech Chairman’s Reception, and I was saying that you were kind of on your way out and I couldn’t even get over to you because I had on these towering high heels and the floorboards were, they had these huge cracks and gouges in them and I didn’t even drink a glass of wine while I was there. I thought to myself “I’m going down in this place if I don’t be careful.” So we never really got to connect there, but we knew we were going to have this time together to do the show, which is awesome.
Kurt Abrahamson: Yes, thank you very much.
Susan Bratton: It’s my pleasure. You know, before we get into socialmedia.com and what you’re doing there, which is fascinating to me and I can’t wait to talk about it, I did want to talk a little bit about your time at Google. You ran sales ops for first global and then North America, but one of the things that you did there was you came up with the idea to do the Google’s Zeitgeist events. And I was always jealous that I never got an invitation to that, but I wasn’t spending big bucks on Google so I couldn’t have. Tell me some of your favorite moments from some of the Zeitgeist events.
Kurt Abrahamson: Well I put together Zeitgeist with my friend Patrick Keane who I worked with at Jupiter and at Google…
Susan Bratton: Yeah, I know Pat.
Kurt Abrahamson: and Patrick and I came up with the idea, and I have to say it was definitely the most rewarding experience I had at Google. I mean we had the support of a Eric Schmidt to do this event and we wanted to do it in a very different way and not just make it about, you know, Google and its products, but to make it about, you know, the interactive and the technology world that we all lived in. So we had, you know, wild carblanc to bring in really whoever we thought was interesting. We had an amazing presentation from David Remnick where he – an editor of The New Yorker – where he talked about his view of the Bush Administration and what they had done with the Iraq war, just a fascinating presentation. We had John Legend perform at the event during the actual show and then talk about some of his charity, charitable endeavors. We had Malcolm Gladwell, we had Bill Clinton, Al Gore, David Cameron who I believe is going to be elected prime minister of England today. So it was just a great chance to sort of pick the people we thought were the most fascinating in the world and give them a forum to speak at the campus and it was really just an incredibly rewarding experience.
Susan Bratton: Based on all of the people who spoke at all of the Zeitgeists over the years, was there any moment that you particularly remember that had more of a profound effect on you, something that was maybe a little more remarkable than you were expecting or gave you some insight that you hadn’t ever had before?
Kurt Abrahamson: Yeah, there were a number of times where that happened. I mean I’m trying to think… specifically, you know, Al Gore gave a talk pretty much around the time his movie came out and then he won the Nobel Prize the next day. So that was sort of a remarkable thing to be part of. We had a woman, you know, and her name slips my mind because it maybe wasn’t completely as memorable, but who directed that movie Born Into Brothels, who talked about her experience filming that movie in the slums in India and she just gave very impassioned talk about the role of movie making and the positive impact it can have in the world. I’d have to say that at each show there were five or six moments that were just like “Wow, I can’t believe we’re having an opportunity to do this in this fashion.” The David Remnick one, like I mentioned, he just came out with a point to make and he started slowly and then he just really, you know, wound it all the way around to make a very specific, you know, indictment in terms of what he thought the Bush Administration was doing in terms of trying to the silence the press in Iraq. So the best thing about the event was these moments happened over and over again, and I definitely take a certain amount of pride about having been involved in that.
Susan Bratton: Yeah, it’s almost my experience going to the Ted Conferences where each moment is another, it’s like a never ending wave of goodness, so much so that it all becomes a blur but it leaves you with this really expansive creative positive feeling that there’s, you know, hope for humanity.
Kurt Abrahamson: Yeah, absolutely. And we really, you know, sometimes it got a little, I don’t know, I mean we had some criticism that it was, you know, it was too, you know, liberal in its intent and all that, although we had, you know, Colin Powell speak and we had, we tried to balance it and we tried…also we had fabulous business speakers. John Chambers talked about his vision of management. We had Michael Dell give a great talk. So we really tried to balance it off and just have as many different perspectives as we could possibly manage.
Susan Bratton: So I want to talk about Jupiter Communications. That was when you and I first met…
Kurt Abrahamson: Yes, absolutely.
Susan Bratton: You were part of that original Jupiter crew. And to this day I still adore so many of your peers who were there at the time that you were forming that organization. I mean a week and a half ago I had so much fun at dinner with Peter Stork. I mean we had side splitting laughs; mostly him laughing at me because I’m like this crazy abberation in his life, you know. But he just can’t believe the stuff that comes out of my mouth when we’re drinking wine at dinner. But it’s such a great group of people – Peter, Gene DeRose, Marisa Gluck, you know, Kitty Kolding’s now over there at House Party with Gene. I know you’re on their board. How did it happen that that crew of people came together? What… you guys were a special group of people, and you’re still close.
Kurt Abrahamson: It’s really, that’s really nice for you to put it that way. I mean, Gene and Peter and I grew up together…
Susan Bratton: Is that right? Was that what it was? You guys were all from the… There was some level of depth and connection that you had; it was growing up together, huh?
Kurt Abrahamson: Yeah, well and House Party, the company that Kitty’s running is in Irvington New York…
Susan Bratton: Yeah.
Kurt Abrahamson: which is where we all grew up.
Susan Bratton: You all grew up in Irvington. Interesting.
Kurt Abrahamson: Yeah, I was the best man in Pete’s wedding and we’ve known each other for a while. You know it’s amazing because, you know, that group even is, you know…
Susan Bratton: Evan, Evan Newfelt.
Kurt Abrahamson: Yeah, remarkable to me even now because, you know, Dennis Crawl, he was a research associate, is the CEO of Four Square and Evan Cullin worked there with him and Dave DeRose, who’s Gene’s brother, runs a small research company, he’s the CEO there. And Patrick Keane of course is the CEO of Associated Content. So it had quite a successful group too, as well as very high quality people. And I don’t know, I mean Gene and I, you know, we got a good group that started there and they bring good people bringing good people – that’s definitely the, you know, what I learned at Google as well. So it was a great time and, you know, we rode the market all the way up and then when things got tough we rode it all the way back down…
Susan Bratton: As did we all.
Kurt Abrahamson: As we all did, and it was a great experience. I count those people as some of my closest friends still at this point. So it was a great experience.
Susan Bratton: Just love them all. Absolutely love them all. If you guys go off on adventure, take me with you. I need to be an honorary member of the original Jupiter crowd, you know. I feel like I am.
Kurt Abrahamson: That would be fun.
Susan Bratton: So people powered advertising; speaking of great people, you’re now at socialmedia.com, you’ve come in as CEO, and you’re doing some pretty unique and interesting things. I remember the first time I ever thought about this idea of dynamically generated distributed unique stuff was Jim Nail from Forrester, right? Jupiter’s kind of arch rival in a way during that time. Jim coined this term distributed content or something, distributed dynamic content…
Kurt Abrahamson: Mm hmm.
Susan Bratton: And then the next time I got a real sense of the possibilities of it - and that was probably ’96 – the next time I got a real sense of it was maybe three or four, five years ago when Brent Hurts started Bizarre Voice and he was showing me how within ads he was integrating reviews and ratings by site users on websites for e-commerce companies, dynamically inserting use reviews good and bad - you know, the whole idea being real is better than fake, a bad review is more plausible than anything. And I thought “Oh yeah, this is the next step in this”, and now at socialmedia.com you’re using the social graph and friends within ads making these kind of interactive dynamic social ads. That’s my perception of it, and I feel like that’s the next big chunk of where this is all going. You will explain this more beautifully, so articulate what you’re doing there.
Kurt Abrahamson: You did a pretty good job. That was well done. I think that I’m very excited about what Social Media is trying to do and even more so now than when I started four months ago, which is a good thing. And I think that when you look at – this is the basic premise from my point of view; when you look at all the time that people are spending, you know, in doing social activities online and all the time they’re spending on social media sites, it’s inevitable that, in my mind, it’s inevitable just like with content and search, that all that activity is going to find its way into advertising, and there are lots of companies who are looking at that - obviously Facebook has been successful. But we’re really one of the only companies that is looking at how that is actually going to impact the content and messages in advertising itself. So we’re not trying to create campaigns for brands that launch Facebook pages and we’re not listening, you know, doing the sort of listening that some of these companies are doing. We’re really focusing on the idea that the messages and the statements in advertising themselves will become more social over time.
Susan Bratton: You’re focused on display ads, integrating social content into display ads, as I think by looking at your website.
Kurt Abrahamson: Absolutely. And the way we do that is we use data sources that are available on the web, whether it’s Tweets from Twitter or whether it’s comments on Facebook fan pages or reviews from Yelp or check ins from Four Square. What we try to do it, or what we do do is we pull in data from different web API sources and combine them in ad units to create interesting messages, and then we also have the ability to tailor those messages to the individual. So in a very simple level if I’m a male in New York I will, and I’m looking at advertisements from Miller for instance, or Budweiser, I would see different Tweets or different Facebook comments in New York than someone in San Francisco would see. And the more data we have, the more we can target that message. So we’re very excited about it. I mean I think it’s, you know, getting brands and agencies excited about it too is the challenges, you know, that we’re addressing right now, but I think overall I feel very comfortable about what we’re trying to get done.
Susan Bratton: Well what you’re doing is absolutely right on. It is absolutely the way it has to go and the brands that embrace it early are going to win. They need to get out of general display and rich media and they need to immediately get into social. The big scare I’m sure is that 50 percent of the comments about a particular brand are going to be, you know, somewhere in there whatever the percentage is are going to be negative, so what do you do to get over the fact that if a brand creates a container of display ads that you then pull content in from, whether it’s reviews or comments or check ins or Tweets or whatever the flavor du jour is, and some of that’s bad, what does a brand do? (Unintelligible) Could you have filters? You know, when does it become inauthentic? What do you do about that?
Kurt Abrahamson: We actually can filter it based on keywords. It’s like, you know, which is fairly common these days, we actually can review them to our account teams to make sure that the messages are appropriate. I mean…
Susan Bratton: You can take out the naughty bits, for sure.
Kurt Abrahamson: Yeah, I mean what we’re seeing right now is exactly what you’d expect Susan, which is that industries that tend to be more conservative and more brand focused that’s on the CPG side, are still looking for a lot of control in terms of what they, in terms of statements that are made about their brands. Industries such as entertainment and movies, you can see now how they’re getting more comfortable with the fact that the social commentary about their brand is a dialogue and it’s along the continuum. And so you will see movie studios perhaps not going for “This movie sucks”, but they going for “Overall I liked the movie but I thought, you know, Bruce Willis sucked.” And so you’re seeing just as you see in, you know, advertising overall a continuum in terms of which industries are most comfortable with social comments and which industries are not, and I think, you know, this is a very early stage on this stuff. You know, over the next three-five-seven years you’ll see a lot of change, and I think, you know, social involvement and social commentary’s here to stay, and what people say, what real people say about your brand ultimately has more resonance with friends and communities than what the brand is trying to stay and I just think that is an inevitable, you know, inevitable force in terms of the direction of advertising over time.
Susan Bratton: Inevitable. Completely inevitable. You must do this if you want to be pertinent.
Kurt Abrahamson: I think, you know, it’s interesting to see, you know, because we’ve work with publishers and they get it and we work with agencies and we work with advertisers and everyone sort of gets it, but there’s still a fair amount of hesitancy to understand how it can work directly for them and what would happen and being more comfortable with losing control…
Susan Bratton: Yeah. When you get down to the weeds of your own brand, then it’s very easy for me to sit her and say it’s inevitable…
Kurt Abrahamson: Exactly.
Susan Bratton: But if someone’s talking DishyMix and that’s in my ad, how do I feel about it? I actually feel good. I wish I had the money to do a campaign for my products because this is the campaign that I would do once I did my PPC.
Kurt Abrahamson: Right, right…
Susan Bratton: From your old Google, you know, Google haul, that’s the, you know, that’s the beast, right?
Kurt Abrahamson: Yeah, well one of the things we’re trying to figure out frankly is how do smaller advertisers take available of the things we’re working on because obviously in general they don’t have, you know, Twitter pages or Facebook pages with lots of commentary and they don’t have that kind of distribution, so one of the things I have our product team focused on is really what is the angle here that would work for mid and smaller size advertisers, and we don’t have an answer for that yet, but it is obviously something where, you know, that would make sense because that’s where you can really gain skill.
Susan Bratton: Yeah, you’ve got to get to the automated. You know the value of automated; you worked at Google.
Kurt Abrahamson: Yup, absolutely.
Susan Bratton: All right, we’re going to go to a break and when we come back one of the things that I’d asked you about were giving me a couple of topics about which you’d enjoy speaking in advance and one of them was how will Facebook dominate social advertisers. Well you’ve given quite a bit away in how you structured that question, so clearly you came from Google, a company that dominated advertising, and now you have an opinion about Facebook. I want to talk about that. I want to talk about some of the other things that are going on with you, how you got arrested. I want to talk about the trek in Nepal that you took. We got some fun things to talk about. Plus I’m not done talking about social ads. So we’ll go to a break, thank my sponsors and when we come back lets get into that. Sound good?
Kurt Abrahamson: Yes, absolutely.
Susan Bratton: Awesome! All right, I’m your host, Susan Bratton. We’re here with Kurt Abrahamson. He’s the CEO of socialmedia.com. They’re recreating the next level of social meets display. Stay tuned. We’ll be right back.
Susan Bratton: We’re back. I’m with Kurt Abrahamson. Kurt before we left I was kind of chuckling over your sentence. You want me to ask you this – so, Kurt, how will Facebook dominate social advertising?
Kurt Abrahamson: Well Facebook is dominating social advertising, and I think obviously, you know, the success of Facebook is, you know, it’s the next Google story, it is nothing short of phenomenal in terms of what they’ve done, in terms of building the brand and executing. And most of the online advertising dollars that are spent in the social space right now are spent on Facebook, and I don’t see that significantly changing and they have the social graph data which they can leverage very effectively. But like with Google I think one, they will not own the entire market, and two, there will be, you know, companies like coincidentally like socialmedia.com which can offer some alternatives. And what we’d like to do is, especially when we talk to publishers, is to say that, you know, you want your social advertising to be more than just driving traffic to Facebook fan pages. You know, that may be part of what you’re trying to do or willing to do. But, you know, how we position ourselves to publishers is we can pull in data from the web and we can pull in data from their website to allow them to create social ad products that work just on their site. And that’s what we do with MySpace, that’s what we do with IDG and a bunch of other publishers. So Facebook is going to be clearly the dominate player in the market, but we do see a lot of opportunity around what they’re able to do.
Susan Bratton: Well a couple of things. One, you’re building walled garden solutions for other publishers so that they can have the kinds of ads that Facebook naturally has because of their social graph data.
Kurt Abrahamson: Absolutely.
Susan Bratton: So I get that you’re doing that. You’re also, I think, creating multiple campaigns that allow a brand to run a campaign outside of Facebook on multiple publishers websites, right?
Kurt Abrahamson: Correct.
Susan Bratton: So now you’re going to publishers and saying “You need to carry our ad units.” You got to go call on the ops people and get them to QA your ads, like rich media companies had to do, right?
Kurt Abrahamson: Exactly.
Susan Bratton: Okay. So that’s a bit of a pain in the ass but it’s basically just a knock ‘em down kind of a thing, which you can accomplish…
Kurt Abrahamson: It is a pain in the ass, yes.
Susan Bratton: I hope you got a good guy or a good woman doing that for you ‘cause it’s a thankless job.
Kurt Abrahamson: It is.
Susan Bratton: It’s a hard one, you know, but it just takes like sheer will, you know, to stay on that stuff, but it’s doable, so you got that as just an executional thing. So these pieces of information are good. The thing that I think advertisers haven’t completely become aware of with Facebook is that what you said – and I wanted to pull it out of your statement – when you advertise on Facebook you’re in a walled garden. When you do those ads that have the social graph in then you have to spend a minimum of $25,000 dollars a month and you have to have a Facebook fan page and those ads that you see running across Facebook don’t link out to a brand, they only link back into the page, the fan page of a brand. And I don’t think that everybody completely understands that you’ve got to have big bucks and it only goes into Facebook. They’re literally getting brands to spend tons of money just circulating people around their own site. What do you think about that?
Kurt Abrahamson: You know, I think it’s really fascinating and I think of course the part that has not been completely proven out on the Facebook model is can they monetize at the sort of billions and billions of dollars that that, you know, that will be necessary to really own the market. You know, I’ve had people say to me that one of the things that Facebook is pitching or they’ve heard of being pitched is, you know, get rid of your corporate marketing sites. Don’t spend all that money…
Susan Bratton: Fat chance.
Kurt Abrahamson: on hiring those people and running those sites and doing all of that. Just have a Facebook fan page and drive people to that and think of all the money you can save. And that to me is a really, that’s an interesting proposition and I can see the appeal of that to certain brands, but that is seeding a lot of power to Facebook. I mean that is saying that Facebook is going to be, you know, a dominant part of the infrastructure of the internet and not just, you know, a services company. And, you know, people think that’s possible, but it’s…
Susan Bratton: Not me…
Kurt Abrahamson: It’s really interesting.
Susan Bratton: I’d never do it. I’d never do it. Ever. And I’d never recommend anybody seed that level of power to a particular company like that. My god, especially because there’s only a gazinta, there’s not gasouta on Facebook, right. I mean all the data goes in but you can’t get it out.
Kurt Abrahamson: Right. But you’ve heard that too, right? I mean that is sort of what, I’ve heard that being discussed that that’s one of the things that people, that’s one of the bitches.
Susan Bratton: Oh, it’s the biggest bitch.
Kurt Abrahamson: Yeah.
Susan Bratton: Absolutely. So what do you think about Twitter’s 9 points of resonance with their new ads, ‘cause it’s really modeled on like page rank and inbound links and that whole, you know, Google algrithm world, right…
Kurt Abrahamson: Yeah.
Susan Bratton: Don’t you think? I mean when I read it I was like “They totally took the Google thing and took it to the next level. I like that.”
Kurt Abrahamson: You know Twitter is another, you know, we’re lucky to be living in a time where all these interesting companies are because I’m not convinced that Twitter wants to make money. I’m not sure Twitter wants to be a dirty ad company, and I think that they are not convinced that they will need the infrastructure to get that done if they commit that way, and I don’t think that’s the case. I mean I think that as you know as well as I do that if you’re going to sell to Madison Avenue and you’re going to sell to the big agencies you have to have the infrastructure that they’re used to and demand in terms of servicing them. You know, Google was, Google is the most efficient ad organization in the history of the planet and it still has 1200 people in North America serving large companies, so I think Twitter needs to decide are they really going to get in and – ‘cause they really are a brand play, they’re not really a DR play and, you know, if they’re going to play then I think they’re going to have be more aggressive than they’ve been so far.
Susan Bratton: Well I actually Twitter’s more of a DR play than Facebook at this point. If Facebook is just, you know, an internal cluster F, right, I mean it’s just like all you’re doing is you’re just clicking people through to your, you know, your walled garden page, where at least with Twitter the ads are being served all over and they can link to anything. It’s much more like Google where it’s relevant content clicked on by people who are interested that takes them to an alternative destination outside of Twitter.
Kurt Abrahamson: I agree with that too.
Susan Bratton: Yeah, so there’s much more opportunity for DR. You serve an ad that people like and they click on it and it links to a landing page that has some great content and, oh by the way, lets you buy something or whatever it might be, and you’re making money or you’re giving away a free white paper to get leads or whatever it might be – I mean there’s lots of ways to, you know, Trojan horse your way into upsell funnels with Twitter because it allows you to click out. Where with Facebook, what are you going to do? Send them to your wall?
Kurt Abrahamson: No, that’s true. I agree with that.
Susan Bratton: Yeah. I’m not sure, I haven’t thought through like when they get to the wall what could you do? There are ways you can get them from your wall to something else, but that’s a big hop, you know…
Kurt Abrahamson: Yeah, I think there are…
Susan Bratton: And how do you keep the wall fresh with the thing you want them to click on.
Kurt Abrahamson: Yeah, I mean I think there are limits to what Facebook is trying to do. I think that, you know, the fact that their user base is still growing so quickly, you know, is obviously, you know, the opportunity that they’re looking to leverage. So the interest in spending time on Facebook has not, it’s not slowing down, but how they capitalize that really, you know – I mean one of the things that was, one of the turning points - and Google is very different from Facebook – but one of the turning points was really when some of these large companies started spending $50, $100, $150 million dollars a year on Google. I don’t see how some of these, I don’t see how GM spends $50 million dollars a year on Facebook, and if they can’t get that kind of spending ultimately I think there is a bit of a cap to their growth.
Susan Bratton: I think so too. Now another thing that I want to talk about with you – and then I want to get into the personal side, ‘cause you’re interesting to me and I want to make sure I get to that – but I don’t even want to talk about what comes next in social advertising. I don’t even want to talk about like your next innovations and what your product roadmap is at socialmedia.com; I want to talk about what you’re selling right now that I can buy that you like that you think is the smartest thing you sell.
Kurt Abrahamson: I think the smartest thing we sell right now is the ability to pull in web, to pull in comments from either Twitter or Facebook or individual websites into ad units to show how the conversation is evolving for a brand, and I think the best way to think about it is movie releases. That’s the one I’ve been focused on lately because movies are nothing but social experiences and one of the reasons, one of the things that most determines what movies you’re going to see is what your friends or the people you respect tell you about that movie. And so what our ad products allow movie studios to do is to capture that bar as it’s beginning out on the web and bring it into ad units and as they near this sort opening day really, you know, capture that excitement and interest and get it out into the web in a very quick efficient way, and then after movie opens to keep it going. Now obviously if you have a movie that has really poor feedback, then that strategy is not going to work. But most of the studios know pretty far in advance which are the movies that are really going to have people excited. So that’s what excited me because, you know, when you open the New York Times on Friday or Saturday and see all the reviews posted in there, we like to think that we can take that excitement, enthusiasm and get it out on the web as it’s occurring and really help studios capture that buzz.
Susan Bratton: You know, the only problem with the movie business, calling on the movie business, is that everything is so short-term, you know. They’ll do a two-week promotion and it’s all last minute, and they slash budgets and add budgets. If you want to get a whiplash business it’s putting too much focus on the studios. So I think – and you can’t often get them to commit to like long-term strategic relationships, they just don’t have that mentality. They are the, they don’t even have a 30 day mentality. It’s shorter than that. And so that’ll drive you crazy. So what’s your number two, ‘cause you need like the automotive or a more solid number two that’s going to have sustainable programs?
Kurt Abrahamson: Okay, well that’s good feedback. I’d take some of that short-term movie buzz right now, but…
Susan Bratton: Absolutely. I think they should be the frosting on your cake. You need to have a really good L.A. sales person that lives and breathes and has all those contacts and is a go-to kind of pioneering thinker for them and understands their business deeply, and you can get that cream if you bring the right person in. But it’s not going to sustain socialmedia.com to, you know, stay there obviously. So what other one do you want?
Kurt Abrahamson: Well the other thing that we have is a unit that incorporates a lot of the different things that we do – the streams from the web and some polling and survey type things as well as the ability to imbed a video, and what I’ve been excited about is not specifically for any industry, but the idea to use these units to capture excitement around an event, not just the brand. So using Yelp reviews and ads to help, you know, where’s the best place to take your father for Father’s Day, using Four Square or Yelp reviews to help, you know, drive back-to-school traffic. So it’s the idea that an advertiser doesn’t have to just drive a conversation about themselves, they can drive conversation where there’s conversations actually happening – around holidays, special events, back-to-school – and we’re getting some interesting and exciting traction around that really using our products to not artificially create a conversation around a brand, but create a conversation that a brand would like to be associated with.
Susan Bratton: Okay, so here’s one for you. So events are great but they’re temporal, which means you’re constantly chasing your tail. Here’s one you can think about: one that comes to mind for me for you is consumer electronics because people are always buying new cameras, new laptops, all the little millions of – just like open the BNH Photo catalogue and go after those, a lot of those companies, or Amazon’s top, you know, consumer electronics products. Those brands, they need to influence purchase of products that are kind of medium impulse, you know, like $200 to $800 dollars, because people want reviews of those kinds of products to make those decisions, but they’re quick decisions – there’s a lot of volume and those companies can afford to do it and sentiment is important to them and features and reviews are important to them. That could be a good business for you.
Kurt Abrahamson: That’s a good idea. Maybe I should come on every week just so I can get more business tips from you.
Susan Bratton: I just like thinking about it. You know, I’ve been thinking for 15 years about…
Kurt Abrahamson: I know.
Susan Bratton: dynamically generated display advertising. It’s like a little channel for me of interests, it’s like a little groove in my cerebellum. And of course social is my favorite thing that’s ever happened to the internet, so it’s a good combination for me I like to think about. Plus, you know, I’ve called on a lot of people about a lot of pioneering stuff over the years, so I know where the holes are, where the gofer holes are. So, all right, here’s what I want to talk about now…
Kurt Abrahamson: Okay.
Susan Bratton: I just, I was just at a Ted X San Francisco, part of the Ted, kind of an outgrowth of the Ted Conferences, and I got to meet Dr. Paul Watson. He runs seashepherd.org.
Kurt Abrahamson: Right.
Susan Bratton: And he has something in common with you, I think he has it in common with you, I could be wrong, but I know – well he has one thing in common with you. I’m not sure that he’s been arrested while working for Green Peace, he might’ve been fired by Green Peace, but I’m sure he’s been arrested while working with Green Peace.
Kurt Abrahamson: He’s been arrested many, many times.
Susan Bratton: Many times.
Kurt Abrahamson: That I know, and rammed and sunk and all that kind of stuff.
Susan Bratton: And you have too. What did you get arrested for when you worked with Green Peace?
Kurt Abrahamson: Well I worked there for a very, for about a year and a half when I was out of college and one of the things that you do when you sort of (unintelligible) was a fundraiser, you know, a door to door fundraiser, but work on some of the issues. So I was given an opportunity to work on one of the campaigns, which was trying to stop chemical waste dumping into Chesapeake Bay…
Susan Bratton: Oh, I love the Chesapeake Bay. Soft shell crabs…
Kurt Abrahamson: Yeah.
Susan Bratton: It’s a beautiful riparian area.
Kurt Abrahamson: Once you get into that point they say, you know, “Would you like to work on a campaign, and if it occurs that you get arrested are you willing to do that?” And so we went down to this factory in Chesapeake Bay and blockaded the pipes that were dumping waste into the water and we got arrested and taken to jail, much to my parents chagrin, but all the charges were dropped as long as I didn’t get arrested in Maryland for the next 12 months, which I was able to meet that condition, but…
Susan Bratton: Exactly.
Kurt Abrahamson: that was a younger time of my life. But, you know, Green Peace is a great organization…
Susan Bratton: Yeah.
Kurt Abrahamson: It was a really fun experience and, you know, I respect the people who do all that work.
Susan Bratton: So do I. I think that’s the future of my daughter’s life, so I keep an eye on it. So I ask this questions sometimes of my upcoming guests and sometimes people answer it and sometimes they don’t, and I liked your answer. I asked in what area you might feel superior to most people. And some people wrestle with the concept of actually admitting that they might feel superior in some area, and I appreciate about you that you didn’t. You said in general you’re more organized and focused than the average person. What is it about you that allows you to be more focused or more organized or both?
Kurt Abrahamson: You know, I don’t really know how it works, but I’ve always just been very, very capable at keeping a lot of things straight in my head and keeping organized and, you know, I realize that when I was working at Jupiter that I never really had any true business experience before and I joined Jupiter, it was 12 people, and we built it up to about 500 people, and what I was just very good at was knowing what needed to be done today, next week, next quarter, you know, next year, and I’m just able to keep a lot of, you know, different data points straight in my head. It drives my family and my fiancé crazy because I’m able to stay pretty organized and on top of things when, you know, most people sort of forget what they’re trying to get done at any given period of time.
Susan Bratton: Yeah, so it’s the keeping the data points in your head that’s…
Kurt Abrahamson: Yeah, I have a conceptual way of doing that…
Susan Bratton: Yeah.
Kurt Abrahamson: I don’t know exactly how, but…
Susan Bratton: Well right, it’s just how your brain’s wired.
Kurt Abrahamson: I can tell you how my brain isn’t wired too but that’s how it is wired.
Susan Bratton: Yeah. So that’s good. So you know that about yourself and it’s interesting because I ride the lines on that. I’m like you, able to accomplish a lot, but I have to check in all the time with myself and with my partner, Tim – he’s my husband and we work together – and you’ll frequently find me saying, “Okay, now what do you think our priorities are? What do we need to do first, second, third, and are we going to get it done in this time?”, you know, so I don’t hold it all but I know how to compensate for it by asking the questions, making sure we’re all on the same page about who’s doing what when.
Kurt Abrahamson: Okay.
Susan Bratton: But I agree with you that that really is a big part of accomplishment is holding that. I also think goal clarification, goal setting is really, really important. I’ve done a number of shows to help my listeners with really getting clear on their goals. I work with John James Santangelo and he comes on every six months or so and we talk about that. And I’ve even had him do guided visualizations for people so they can think through, have a process, a framework, a guided framework for understanding how to prioritize what they do, ‘cause not everybody’s wired like you are Kurt.
Kurt Abrahamson: Thank goodness.
Susan Bratton: Well you’ve found a way to leverage it, which is important. So another question, a lot of your time at Google was very internal. You were an ops guy rolling out big stuff. Now at socialmedia.com you need to be out in the world more evangelizing the concepts of this integrated new social display, you know, paradigm, and what is that we can help you with? You know, you’re here on a show with some of the most important people in digital marketing and media. We’re listening to you. What would you like, how can we help you get out in the world? What platforms would you like? What exposure? Where do you want to get involved? What would you like to do?
Kurt Abrahamson: Well thank you for offering me that. I mean it’s, that is very much the difference between my two roles and I’m really relishing the opportunity to do that. Love the opportunity to speak at, you know, any events or conferences that your listeners are organizing, and I think we have a really interesting perspective in terms of how we view the web and what we’re trying to do. We also are, you know, trying to get our stories out to agencies and brands to get companies that are interested and even just sort of testing ideas. We clearly don’t proclaim to know, you know, we don’t have all the answers but we think we’re on to something and we think that, you know, brands and agencies should try what we’re doing and see if it works for them and see what their experience is. So both those two areas are helpful. And I’d also just like to have, you know, intellectual dialogue – it actually doesn’t have to even be intellectual – but just the dialogue with people about how they see this space and how they see social advertising evolving over the next period of time because I really do feel, I feel like it’s in its infancy. I know Facebook doesn’t view it as sort of a new thing, but I think it is very much a work in progress that’s really just getting started, so I love talking to people about their perspectives on the industry and where they think it’s going.
Susan Bratton: All right, so if someone wants to reach out to you and invite you to speak or if a brand or agency wants you or your team to come in or someone wants to connect with you at a, you know, pretty reasonably high level of possibility around social ads, how would you like them to connect with you?
Kurt Abrahamson: Email’s always the best. I mean I’m very responsive. It’s just [email protected]
Susan Bratton: Good.
Kurt Abrahamson: It’s an easy URL.
Susan Bratton: You’ll get some response.
Kurt Abrahamson: That’s great. Thanks.
Susan Bratton: I want to end the show – and I don’t know, again, I don’t know exactly know how your brain is wired so do your best. I’m going to ask you to do something and I want you to do your best with it, and it’s okay if it’s not perfect, but what I’d like you to do, this is an auditory medium, we’re on a podcast. But I would like you to tell us in some pictures and as much visual dialogue as you can conjure what it was like hiking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, because you’ve done that. You know, not that many people have had an opportunity to do that, it’s an amazing beautiful landscape, and I’d like you just to maybe give us a couple of what I call frames which are visual, auditory, smell, taste, feel, sensation, little snapshots of what that experience was like.
Kurt Abrahamson: Okay. Well I mean the biggest visual I can give of that is you are essentially spending 15 days walking around circumnavigating what is in reality one mountain, which is as they call now, you know, the Annapurna (unintelligible) I guess – I don’t know if I have the French right – but you literally spend 18 days walking behind those mountains, crossing a path and then coming around in front of those mountains. And so you may think you’re, you know, on a hike but really you’re just going in a large circle around one of the largest mountain ranges in the world. And the whole trip you go from small, you know, small village to small village. Some are very dusty, some are very lush. You hike through a rhododendron forest where you see, imagine, you know, your front yard with 7 or 8 rhododendrons on it and then imagine an entire forest that is nothing but purple and red and magenta rhododendron trees. And you’re also just following rivers the whole time, so there’s nothing but the sound of rushing water both on the way up and on the way back.
Susan Bratton: Wow! So beautiful. I know that was one of your kind of travel experiences that changed your life. In what way did having that experience change your life?
Kurt Abrahamson: I think it’s actually having taken the time to walk for 18 days and just experience a culture and a land on foot. There was an interesting article – I don’t know if you saw it – in the New York Times, I think it was in the New York Times a few weeks ago, how essentially all but like the last 20 or 30 miles of that is going to be paved within the next…
Susan Bratton: I saw that. They’re building roads.
Kurt Abrahamson: Yeah, they’re building roads, both up both sides, and so there’s very unique experience where you actually got to walk through the concrete side and up over this path. It’s essentially going away. You can still walk, but as everyone knows it’s very different to walk on a side of a road than it is to walk on a trail. So…
Susan Bratton: Absolutely.
Kurt Abrahamson: just having the time and the, you know – actually it was one of the most physically demanding things in part than I’ve ever done either, so it was that that I really enjoyed about it.
Susan Bratton: Nice. Have you ever read A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson?
Kurt Abrahamson: I have.
Susan Bratton: Isn’t that good?
Kurt Abrahamson: That’s a great book. I…
Susan Bratton: I like everything he writes.
Kurt Abrahamson: I aspire to do something like that, but…
Susan Bratton: Me too.
Kurt Abrahamson: I’m not sure where the time is going to come in the next period, in this period of my life for sure.
Susan Bratton: Well you know, you have to take it as you go. Don’t save it for the end. ‘Cause you’re going to be old and crotchety soon.
Kurt Abrahamson: I’m already old and crotchety.
Susan Bratton: No you aren’t. You look great. And you sound great and you are great and it was really fun to have this time with you. Thanks so much for coming on the show and telling us how we can support you and your work at socialmedia.com ‘cause it’s good work.
Kurt Abrahamson: Thank you so much Susan. It was great to chat.
Susan Bratton: My pleasure. All right, you got to meet Kurt Abrahamson, CEO of socialmedia.com. If you can help him out, do it. I’m your host, Susan Bratton. Have a great day and I hope we’ll connect next week.