In this podcast episode, we interview Naren Hariparanthaman, Co-Founder and CEO at Social Animal, a content intelligence platform.

Naren shares his journey to founding the platform and reveals how Social Animal reduces the need for ‘manual’ work; helping B2B marketers with the full content marketing journey, from finding content ideas, through to distributing and building relationships with influencers.

Transcript: Interview with Naren Hariparanthaman – Social Animal

Mike: Thanks for listening to marketing b2b tech, the podcast from Napier, where you can find out what really works in b2b marketing today. Welcome to the latest episode of marketing b2b technology, the podcast from Napier. Today I’ve gotten around Naren Hariparanthaman, who’s the co founder and CEO of social animal. Welcome to the podcast and Naren.

Naren: Hey, thanks. Thanks, Mike, for having me here.

Mike: Great. I mean, I’m really excited to have you on because if I look at it, you’ve had an amazing career building companies around digital marketing, do you want to talk through your journey and some of the companies that you’ve helped start and grow?

Naren: Sure, so I have a degree, master’s degree in computer science. So actually, I should have been into fully into coding. But I switched gears and got into stumbled SEO to be very specific in digital marketing. And that kind of like, got me into this marketing career. So I did my masters in the US when I landed a SEO opportunity, which is your internship opportunity. And then I kind of like cloud the way things work. And it was fascinating for me, and then I after like, then switched. Then after my internship was over, I decided, Okay, this is my career, I don’t want to do coding anymore. And then I start, I went and work for a digital marketing agency in Austin, Texas. And that is where I learned most of advanced concepts of digital marketing, and particularly SEO, and we used to like, do SEO for large customers, like many fortune 500, some ecommerce stores, a lot of interesting projects. And then I, my hometown is India, Chennai in India, so I decided to come back to start my own digital marketing agency. And then I started my digital marketing agency here in India and started working with clients both in the US, as well as in India, and most of them b2b companies and like enterprises. And we were doing like a, like, full for main full suite of digital marketing, like SEO, paid paid social media, content, marketing, everything. And since I have a technical background, I’ve always been fascinated with, how things how software work. And so that actually helped me in like, kind of like looking at, like, if I could like build something. And social animal is something that we put to use every day in our work, digital marketing related or content marketing work that we do for the client. So that is when we thought that, okay, this is a software that even we could use ourselves. So why not be just like, build it and start, like having it as a separate product. And then kind of like, it all kicked off from there. And this was back in 2016, when we actually launched social animal in its first version, it was like, very different when it was first launched. Now waiting, we have come a long way. And we are basically a data company. So we process a lot of lot of data. It’s a huge infrastructure. So we have close to like 480 million articles in our database, and then some 200 million influencers, some 500 million Facebook posts. And like we add close to a million articles, fresh articles to database every single day. So yeah, that’s my journey.

Mike: And I love the idea that you built the software to solve a problem in the agency, and then realised it was something you could actually sell more broadly, rather than just trying to start a company on its own. I think that that’s, that’s great. It was already solving a problem. Correct? Yeah.

Naren: So we were like doing like a lot of content research. And, like, we were doing a lot of spare time was spent on tasks that were taking a lot of time, which could easily be automated. And also, Google is good for search. But let’s say if you want to find influencer for a particular brand, it’s very hard to use Google for that. So we were like, trying to do a lot of things manually. And then we internally built a very, like I maybe MVP version of social animal and we were using it and then it was proving to be like really useful. And then we thought, Okay, why not? We just like maybe Get into like a proper product and then launch it. And that’s how Yeah, so first like main, we built it to scratch our own itch and then a lot of people also found it really useful.

Mike: Awesome I’m gonna have to ask you this because obviously you’ve got you know, really good success both in the US and also in India. I mean, is there a difference in terms of what clients want between clients based in India and clients based in the US?

Naren: Um, you know, from a marketing and social media standpoint, it is more or less same. The only thing is in India, it’s, it’s more tricky, like, I mean, I would say most of our customers are from the US. In India, we don’t have a lot of customers, the one in India, the requirement might be in local languages, there are like, lots of languages here. So certain things may I mean, they may need it in a in a local language. Let’s say there is a Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi, like a lot of languages. So but in English, it’s even more straightforward. So in the so we went up to the US market, because we could do a lot of advanced stuff like say, NLP, natural language processing, sentiment analysis, and all that it is, like, sentiment, NLP libraries are available, easily to process English. But for local languages, it’s, it’s even more harder. So that’s what that’s the primary difference. But otherwise, the from marketing needs standpoint, it’s more or less the same. And of course, English is also a big here. And enterprises, like create content, mostly in English. So we, our enterprise, clients here in India, use it mostly for their English.

Mike: That’s, that’s fascinating. So let’s go back to social animals. So you had this tool within the agency, and you decided to spit it out as a separate company? I mean, what drove that decision? Were you just finding the cost of maintaining these hundreds of millions of articles too high? Or was it more an opportunity that you saw,

Naren: I think it was more of an opportunity, because I stumbled into digital marketing. And since I think my technology background helped. And we kind of like when I did the first version of the software, we kind of like shared it with a few agency friends and all that who kind of gave were really positive feedback, they thought that it was useful. And then I clearly got kind of a Go ahead, like, Okay, this seems to be something, it’s not just useful for me. Other people also find finding it useful. So then, I thought, okay, let’s just like, launch it as a proper product. So we had to do a lot more like UI UX, we need to do a complete overhaul. And then we had to, like add more sources, like data sources, because initially, we were interested in only not crawling the web, when it full scale, like how we do now, earlier, we were just like, looking at specific sources that could be of use to our clients. And then we thought, Okay, why not? We just like, crawl the entire web and process popular content, and all that. And then social animal happened. And so even now that it’s a, the sources keep increasing, like, even now we continue to add more and more sources and right on so that people can get as much value out of it as much as possible.

Mike: Amazing. Sounds like there’s been an awful lot of work since when it was an internal tool to make it a tool for other agencies, rather other customers.

Naren: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So because internally, it could be like, we know how it works. So from for others, we had to like, get a proper UI UX designer, and then just reimagine certain things. So basically, like turning it into a proper SAS product, market ready product. So that’s what we went after. Yeah.

Mike: Awesome. And I have to say, when I first saw social animal, I had no idea that it was originally an internal tool. So you’ve certainly done a great job of making it into a proper, you know, SAS product with all the UI that you’d expect if you come to it cold rather than it being an internal tool. Yeah, yeah. Sure. Thanks, Mike. So I’m interested around when you you started developing the product. I mean, what problem were you trying to solve? What was the kind of question people were asking that you needed a tool to answer?

Naren: Sure. So when we started, I mean, what problem does it solve actually, if you look at the benefit, it saves a lot of time like when you do content, research, and then content districts You’re on content, like reaching out to influencers for amplification, like there is a lot of manual work involved. So like somebody needs to like just scour the web or the social media channels, and find, like, interesting pieces of content, what’s trending and all that. So, so, we wanted to make a tool that will help any content marketer to content marketer or social media marketer to save a lot of time in their in their day to day day jobs. So if you ask like what social animal does, then it helps. It’s a content intelligence product that helps content marketing content marketers, and social media marketers to like, in their entire content, marketing journey, the sense content creation, content distribution, and as well as content amplification. So social animal helps, like throughout whatever they want to do, from from ideation, were finding content ideas, and then once the content is created, even during that time, like what should be the length of the content, what type of content is resonating well with the audience, and deciding what to write. And then once it’s created, like where to distribute it to get maximum reach, and then also like, like reaching out to influencers and building relations with them, and amplify the reach of the content? So it can it can help in all this. And in addition to this, like, people also use social animal to, like, monitor competitors, like say, what, what’s going on with competitors, what content is working for them? Or like about like, also news and all these things?

Mike: The first thing in terms of what platforms you’re you’re using? I mean, where are you looking for content? You mentioned, you keep adding sources all the time, but I’m interested, you know, what are the key platforms at the moment?

Naren: Sure. So we crawl the web, and we get articles from across the web. So it could be like any new sites, to blogs, like all types of once we get the articles, we have a like a data pipeline. So we do NLP on them natural language processing. And then we kind of like, understand what the article is about. And then we extract entities. So without even looking deep into the article, you will know like, okay, these are all the things this article is talking about. These are all the topics. So we do that. And then we look up engagement for each of these articles on primarily for social networks, which is Facebook, Twitter, Twitter, Pinterest, and Reddit. And then we we calculate, like total engagement. And on top of that, we also have YouTube, like, we also get data from YouTube, like what’s trending on YouTube. And, like, also other associated metadata with YouTube like views, upvotes, likes, comments, number of comments, stuff like that. So So basically, the article comes from various sources, by sources, I mean, websites, as well as we look at social media and if anything is trending or like a lot of people are kind of like sharing it. If anything is going viral, then we will always definitely have it in our database in our content will be added to a database almost pretty immediately.

Mike: That’s, that’s fascinating. So you’re, you’re characterising or categorising it by topic. And then you’re measuring, if you like, how successful that article is, or how much impact it generates by the engagement on social is that is that the right way to explain it?

Naren: Yeah, that’s correct. So on Google, it’s based on the articles are ranked based on relevance where the primary like the signal for relevance is backlinks. So, that has been always the case. But here we look social signals is our primary driver or primary signal for finding popularity. So for any given topic, so now once we have all these articles, for example, if you search for Coronavirus in the last like say 24 hours, we may have like several 1000 articles. And so from that each of them gets shared in different ways. So probably we rank it based on the number of social shares. So you know, like what’s, what was the most popular content on social media for Coronavirus, published in the last say 24 hours.

Mike: That’s amazing. That’s that’s, that’s really helpful. I can see how people can take that and use that to work out what they should be writing to get more engagement. So that’s great. I mean, I guess one of the problems that you face in Iran would be LinkedIn because LinkedIn is famously difficult to get data from. I mean, do you think that’s something that’s always going to be a problem to understand what’s happening on LinkedIn or do you see that changing

Naren: Ah, Yeah, you’re spot on that. So in fact, we had LinkedIn share counts data up until February 2018. That’s when all of a sudden without any pre announcement, they just like that cut off the API access to everybody, not just us, everybody. So we after that point, in in February 2018, we stopped having LinkedIn share counts, and we started. In fact, that’s the point when we added Reddit before then we didn’t have Reddit. And then we thought, okay, we’ll add Reddit. So, yeah, LinkedIn has always been being unpredictable. So I don’t think there is no reason for them to bring it back on. Like, they already had it. And they killed it. And it’s been like, more than three years now. So I think that’s not the case. Same way, we also had engagement data from Google Plus. And so of course, Google Plus has been shut down. And so we also had to remove that from our, from from social animal. So we always but look into other other sources as well, like, whenever there is anything we try to like, cover more platforms. So I hope like we’ll be adding more platforms.

Mike: So amazing. I think most b2b marketers are incredibly frustrated that they’re spending all this money, you know, marketing and promoting content on LinkedIn. And LinkedIn, just isn’t giving them the access to the data. I mean, you obviously get some access to your information. But you, it’s so hard to see what competitors are doing on LinkedIn. I mean, I certainly find that lack of API a real frustration, I think a lot of other people do.

Naren: Kind of Yeah, but I mean, Twitter is also big, like a lot of the b2b companies also use Twitter, to share content and all that. So of course, it’s nothing, it’s not a replacement for LinkedIn. But still, you can get a good sense of like, what they are up to, on other channels. And also, overall, the content that they’re producing what’s working for them, so So it’s, it’s okay. And also, when you go to LinkedIn, I mean, there are also like, some b2b publications, right? Say, for example, Business Insider, or websites like that. So you could also like have a bunch of websites and see how, let’s say a brand mentioned in Business Insider, how is the reach of that particular article, or let’s say, a PR campaign was done. And so what are all the brand mentions, across, say b2b publications, stuff like that those things could be measured using social animal? But yeah, not having LinkedIn, direct numbers from LinkedIn is definitely a disappointment.

Mike: Yeah, that’s great advice, actually, that we shouldn’t say here complaining, we should go and look at other ways to get that kind of insight. So I think that’s great advice. And you talked about distribution, I think, you know, that’s something that’s really clear, you say that you can help people understand which channels are going to give them the most engagement. Can you just explain a little bit about how that works?

Naren: Sure, yeah. So we are looking at all these like articles published on a given topic or on the website, and all that, right. So you could search and then find, like popular content. So from that you can also get a lot of insights on we aggregate the data, and we kind of like give information on. Okay, so this particular website, b2b company has published articles, and then how has it performed that across social channels? So, for example, a fashion brand, or let’s say, a recipe, somebody who’s like producing content on recipes, that though, those type of content tend to do much better on Pinterest, compared to say, maybe Facebook will be second, Reddit, maybe not. And Twitter may not be that great engagement on Twitter. So we kind of like now what I’m saying is just a high level, like hypothesis, but you can validate this hypothesis by looking at actual data. So you can see okay, this is a if you search for a recipe, then you can see what are all the content that has been published and where all that has been shared. So if let’s say you are a food brand, and you are going to create content on recipe, probably you can spend more time and engagement on your ad budget on Pinterest, rather than say, spending it on Twitter. So we kind of help in understanding that. And also we also try to give more insights on what type of content works so we look at say for a given keyword you can find we also categorise what are the different types of content being produced. So for example, if the keyword is say again, some recipe and then we can we will know whether it’s an article or video or image, or is it a guide, how to guide or if it’s a quiz. So we have like different types of categories content on like, different classified content into like different types. So and then we aggregate now Members, and we can tell you, okay, videos are really getting more engagement than long form articles or like, say, short articles. So we can give insights like that which you can use, we can let you can apply in spending your efforts in the right channel that will give you like maximum bang for the buck.

Mike: Oh, that’s amazing. That sounds like you’re not only saving time, you’re also helping people understand where they should spend their time, or where they should focus to be more efficient. So that’s great. Yeah. And then, of course, the last or the third, the third element is understanding influences. And here, I think a lot of people listening to the podcast will think, well, I’m working in b2b in a very niche area of engineering or something like that, you know? How can I find that there’s probably not that many influences, how can social animal actually help me find influencers in a very specific niche?

Naren: Sure, so we have to influence a mod. In fact, actually three influencer mods. So you can even if it’s a it’s basically a keyword, right? So you can search for a keyword and you can fall in the niche or like a bunch of keywords and find three types of influencers. So how we classify influencers is one we do a tweeter Twitter search, so you can do a Twitter bio search. So you can find if let’s say they are in the for example, in the welding industry, which is which may not produce a lot of like, Shadow the content, the case if you search for welding, then you see who are all the people who have mentioned welding in their in their Twitter BIOS, and you can be sorted based on the number of followers. So you can see like who are really influential in welding with by the sheer numbers, so that is first step. And then we gave a lot of filters where you can also narrow down by location by number of followers, and then whether they have a particular URL on their bio and all that so, so we give advanced filters with which you can narrow down influence. So that’s one. And then the second even more powerful way to find influencers is we have a shared content board. So in that we kind of like do influencers, who, who have shared content that that has gotten a lot of reshares or engagement that contains a particular keyword. So that’s the niche that you are in. So for example, let’s say if you are looking for chef, if you search for Twitter, BIOS for chef, some Hollywood actor would have just mentioned chef, but in their Twitter bio, and they will show up on the top because of the sheer number of followers. But they are not really influencer in cooking or, or anything related to that. So. So when you do a shared content mode, search in SharePoint mode, we look for content shared by a particular user that gets that has the word, Chef. So for example, if Mike shares the content on the waist, I mean, the best chefs in the world, something like that. And let’s say it got a lot of shares, then we’ll list Mike as an influencer for chef. So this is really powerful in finding people who are driving real engagement for in your niche. So that is one. And then the third mode is the author mode. So we also gather data from within the articles, we have the author, author boxes, right? So we have information like who is the actual author who has created this particular piece of content. And so we also rank them based on how much shares this author has gotten in that particular industry. So that is super useful. And on top of this, we also have some filters, cool filters like a journalist, right? So if you search for a keyword, and if you’re looking, if you want just journalists, so we have a filter, and you can find journalists in that particular post covering journalists who are covering news in your particular niche.

Mike: Wow, that’s, that’s really cool. And I think, particularly for PR agencies like us, you know, the, the ability to find out very quickly, what journalists have written about recently is is super helpful. So that that’s really cool. Yeah, yeah. I’m so I’m interested. I mean, you obviously started this as a project within an agency. Who would be your typical customer? Or do you not have a typical customer? Are there lots of different types of customer?

Naren: Ah, yes, we do have lots of different types of customers, but I would my pocket them mostly into content marketing, and social media marketing teams in small or medium businesses and enterprises. So those are our primary. I mean, they constitute a large percentage of our customer base, who are mostly like, who take content marketing seriously, because somebody who’s just doing it as a hobby may not be really interested in like growing they’re getting leads are like growing their audience through content, so they may not be the great fit, but usually like businesses, small and medium businesses and enterprises do these days. Take content on social media seriously, and those are the people who can actually save a lot of time. And also get a lot of insights and monitor competitors. There are like seven several use cases. Yeah.

Mike: So I’m interested, you said to anyone from small business to enterprise, I mean, is social animal an expensive product, then it’s got so much functionality, it sounds like it should be, you know, quite an expensive product.

Naren: Ah, not at all actually, it’s like, so we have like a SaaS product, that’s like three tiers. So the lowest plan is like, it’s just $49 a month. And then we have agency plan, with Facebook features, and multi user access and all that. So that is a 190 $9 a month. And we have enterprise plan, which is 499. So compared to products in the market with like similar features, you will see that it’s a social animal is definitely more affordable. And particularly for agencies, since they will be handling multiple clients at the agency plan is like, just they just need one subscription. And they can invite up to five team members, and they can use it. So we have like a lot of customers in that segment, who are like making social and multi use.

Mike: Wow, that’s, I mean, that’s great. And particularly if you’ve got multiple seats for that price as well, that that’s brilliant. Yeah. Yeah. So I guess the other thing is, I mean, you’ve got all these functionalities, it quite difficult to learn how to use social animal or, you know, how do people pick up the, you know, the different features and how to make use of them.

Naren: I mean, it’s pretty intuitive. Like, we always try to make the UI and UX like as simple as possible. So it is pretty intuitive. But like I mentioned earlier, like, it’s also there are like multiple use cases. So social animal can be used for, say, content research, and then finding influencers, find monitoring competitors. And then like finding places where to distribute the content, and then keeping up to date on industry news, trends, events, which is like content intelligence, and then finding insights on like, what content is working, what are the top domains for a particular keyword. And then who are the top authors for a particular topic in the niche, or, and then like, say, for example, content curation, like what are all the content, I mean, to establish somebody as a thought leader, they may not just create their own content, but also share other people’s content. So these are all multiple use cases. So we have customers who may not be using all the features, they may be using something more heavily, for example, if it’s a PR agency, then they are more into influencers, they want to find journalists, stuff like that. But if it’s more like a blogger, then blogger is interested in finding content ideas. So I think it’s more like, that’s why we, I mean, kind of call it like a, it’s a, it’s a Swiss Army knife for content marketers. So you there are like a bunch of tools you may need, you may use it however you like, there is no limitation on any one of these tools, or any of the subscriptions. So it comes as a suite. So like I mentioned, all these use cases are possible with social animal and based on the use case, like people use it in different stages of their content marketing and social media activities.

Mike: That’s awesome. So, I mean, if people have a tool like this, I’m really interested, you’ve obviously, you know, through the tools seen an awful lot of activity on social neuron. Do you have any tips or advice on what really works? Well, on social that maybe some of the, you know, the people listening to podcast could use to improve their presence on social?

Naren: Yeah. So I mean, from social media standpoint, there are a few things like first one is choosing the right channels, right, that itself is super important. So it depends on where your businesses are, where your customers are, like I gave a example earlier, if it is, say, a food business, or if it’s a fashion business, then I, they might get better returns by focusing on Pinterest, rather than, say, Twitter, for example. So this, I’m now giving a very high level, like how to choose the right channel. So that’s where a tool like social animal can help. So when somebody is before doing a complete campaign strategy, they should pick the right channel and focus their energy there, and then move on to other channels rather than just spraying and praying, just to see like, what works, what sticks. So that’s not the way to go. So based on data, there is data available out there. And you can look at like, see what competitors are doing. And another advice would be to like monitor competitors and brands that do really well on social media and try to do understand like, what is working for them and try to maybe take a lesson or two from their book and just implement it. So that is one and then Also like keeping a track of everything like so benchmarking, and then like publish a content like how is it performing? And let’s say somebody else is publishing the content on the same topic, if they are getting more engagement, what have they done differently? Is it like the content itself? Or is it the distribution so that today with tools like social and well, it’s easy to kind of do this at scale, like, look at, understand the metrics for a particular any campaign. And also, one basic advice that most people don’t follow is not being consistent, like being consistent, and like trying out a strategy. Because social media, it takes time, right to build an audience to build a following. And then it’s about building relationships. So just like publishing a piece of content today on like, or sharing it on social media, and then just like coming back after like three months and chatting on more piece, nothing is going to, I mean, it’s not going to help. So the cadence, everything should be maintained, and engagement should be monitored. And like I mean, different. I mean, trying different schedules on like, when to share content. So all these things should be tried, and also be consistent. That will help in growing your social media audience. Yeah.

Mike: That’s brilliant advice. Thank you for that. So I’ve just interesting, we’ve covered an awful lot. And actually, I could have kept asking you questions for hours. I think it’s really interesting what you’re doing. But is there anything else you think we should have covered in this interview that I’ve maybe missed?

Naren: Um, not much. I think we kind of like touched upon a lot of things. So yeah, so one of the things that we have also been doing recently is, so we realise that people use our data more than outside of even marketing. So we have API’s, so we launched API’s, and our API’s are being used by a lot of products to get our data into their product. So that is something interesting. So if let’s say a b2b agency wants to build a custom dashboard for their customers are for the clients to show, like, let’s say, top industry news, let’s say that, let’s say a b2b Agency, or let’s say a PR agency, or a b2b agency is has a healthcare client, and they want to show all healthcare related interesting content in a dashboard, then they could build a product build this, I mean, we give our data through API’s, and they could build this dashboard in like, under a week, and just sell that to their, to their clients. So that is something now we have we have launched, I mean, we have a pay customers who are using it for this particular use case. And we found it really fascinating because we did not have an API and people came and asked us Do you do have an API? And we were like, interested. And we I mean, I set up meetings with them. And I asked like, okay, so we forgive API, what will you build, and that was like, really, that open opened up a lot of interesting ideas. So So that’s something I would say, like, API’s can be used to build products or like, custom apps for clients. And we also have one like, you know, blood buffer and Hootsuite right like that there is a there is a social media management product called post planet post planner is one of our eBay customers, so so they pull data from us and they give to their audience for curation, like interesting content to curate, with one click their users can curate. So things like that. So now we are seeing our data being used, even outside of marketing, which is like, super fascinating.

Mike: That’s, that’s really interesting. And, yeah, clearly, we need to get working in Napier, to make use of some of those business ideas. I mean, I assume people who have heard this a very interested to find out about social animals. So if somebody wanted to learn more about the product, you know, is there an opportunity for people to go and try the product online?

Naren: Yeah, sure. So they can go to social And then we have a 14 day free trial. So they can just try the product and see, like, all whatever features I just mentioned, like they can use everything, and they can see how it works for 14 days. And then they can then take a call. And then if you have any questions like they can directly email me at Naren at social n a r e n, at social

Mike: Wow, that’s that’s very kind to give out your own email address. So yeah, but I’m sure a lot of people will want to go try it out. But no rent. I mean, thank you so much for your time on the podcast. It’s been fascinating. I really appreciate you being a guest.

Naren: Yeah. Thank you so much, Mike, for having me. Have a great day. And, thank you.

Mike: Thanks so much for listening to marketing b2b tech. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And if you did, please make sure you subscribe on iTunes or on your favourite podcast application. If you’d like to know more, please visit our website at Napier b2b dot com or contact me directly on LinkedIn.