The Digital Anthropologist: Ramsey McGrory of AddThis on Social’s Next Wave

Ramsey McGrory was CEO of AddThis in 2012. This story originally appeared in The Advertising Technology Review in 2012.

There are voices which claim, with a barely shrouded hint of indignation, that social media is a Wild West of unfiltered interactions of varied importance, and not a substitute for traditional online advertising. Social data, nonetheless, has begun to redefine the digital publishing landscape and social media’s role has become inextricable from that of advertising technology as a preferred method of brand messaging.

Ramsey McGrory, CEO of AddThis (formerly Clearspring), believes that social content publishing is fundamentally transforming the way brands and their marketers connect with audiences across multiple platforms, supplanting the old ideas about the role of advertising technology. “Social media is a horizontal force that connects with all of the vertical elements that we create, such as mobile, display, search and traditional publishing,” said Mr. McGrory in an interview with The Advertising Technology Review. “Social is a layer that is forcing advertisers to become publishers and publishers to become advertisers”, Mr. McGrory asserts.

The AddThis social sharing technology has been installed by publishers on 14 million websites and loads 90 billion times per month. The day that AddThis decides to create a new model of content or data management for brands, it may dwarf some of the America’s largest advertising technology companies simply by default. AddThis gains much of its value from its data and its ability to turn that data into enriched portraits of consumer behavior for brands and publishers.

Aggregating its data, AddThis has the largest interest and sharing graph on the open web. There is also the possibility that AddThis, by virtue of its scale and the intrinsic value of content-derived consumer data, may be able to turn the publishing and advertising technology industries inside out.

“Traditionally, if you wanted to read content, you went to the publisher’s domain, now, that content is increasingly being distributed through many channels,” said Mr. McGrory. “Publishers are now thinking of ways to get consumers to become content distribution channels,” Mr. McGrory believes. The key determinant of publisher success, according to Mr. McGrory, is how well publishers are able to use powerful content to win loyal consumer fans whom willingly integrate their content choices into their interactions with their social graph.

Content sharing and the rich data that accompanies it has changed the way brands look at the very definition of engagement, speeding an industry-wide shift from click-based metrics to a model which promotes lasting consumer-brand connections. The role of AddThis in this shift is, according to Mr. McGrory, not only to facilitate content sharing for consumers, but also to serve as a reservoir of rich data.

No one shares banner ads, but content shares are rich in “organic” data, giving clues to a consumer’s psychographic landscape in a way that a banner click simply cannot. The genius of AddThis is its simplicity as a channel to bring consumer content preferences closer to social data in a logic-driven way, allowing brands to use valuable data to personalize consumer’s online experiences. “A lot of marketers spend a lot of time at the top of the funnel, attempting to gauge and inspire awareness, interest, and intent,” said Mr. McGrory. “If you can leverage the power of social across paid, owned and earned media you can accelerate consumer brand awareness and action.”

The AddThis suite of social tools maps the content and social connections of its 1.3 billion users, allowing brands to use site, search and social data to create customized content and ad experiences in real time. This combination of data sources, when joined with the ability to graph connections on such a large scale, creates an effective fail-safe for marketers interested in amplifying the value of their own audience data, even data derived outside of the AddThis suite.

“The world of anonymous data has collided with the world of the personal, allowing marketers to connect the dots between content sharing and online behavior while still respecting privacy,” stated Mr. McGrory. “There is a powerful gush of data that marketers and publishers have not had access to; nor have they had the tools to leverage that data,” said Mr. McGrory. “Creating social tools leveraging big data allows publishers to create deeper engagement experiences and marketers to create better campaigns,” Mr. McGrory believes.

Social data is bringing an end to the shotgun approach to advertising, causing advertisers to think more critically about how to enable consumer engagement experiences, and how those experiences may be shared in a way that multiplies their impact across numerous audiences. Mr. McGrory highlighted several new social tools that AddThis launched recently which expand beyond sharing, and hinted that the company has plans that to venture much further into the territory of social technology and data. “The question that we ask every day is,” quipped Mr. McGrory, “when we have a data set this large and the DNA to build social technology, what do we build? “Imagine how many areas into which you can drive value for publishers and advertisers with intelligence that leverages the power of the open web.”

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