(Oregonian (Portland, OR) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 26--That random tweet from your favorite soda supplier or coffee company might come across as the offbeat musing of some anonymous marketing intern.
As social media marketing grows up, and even Oreos have online followings in the hundreds of thousands, it's increasingly likely that tweet was part of a carefully crafted promotional campaign. A dozen or more marketers could have had a hand in those 140 characters, working to stand out in the stream and endear a brand to its followers.
"It's amazing how many stakeholders are involved in the process," said Steve Giannini, president and chief operating officer of Portland startup Opal Labs.
Opal wants to manage that online complexity. The 18-person Pearl District company has just completed a $2.1 million investment round, led by the Oregon Angel Fund, to help it develop and market collaboration software for social media marketers.
Founded in 2010, and an alumnus of the Portland Seed Fund, Opal Labs had experimented with various forms of business-collaboration software -- a market popularized by Jive Software and Yammer, among others. Ultimately, the Portland company decided to target a specific market for its technology and settled on social-media marketing as an emerging sector crying out for new tools.
Done well, corporate Twitter accounts can give a brand personality, making it appear savvy and smart. Old Spice, for example, provides a steady stream of irreverent commentary. It once critiqued Taco Bell's "Fire sauce" for lacking real fire. In response, Taco Bell asked if Old Spice deodorant is "made with really old spices."
"Depends," Old Spice shot back. "Do you consider volcanos, tanks and freedom to be spices?"
When things go wrong, though, they can go really wrong. Stories of botched tweets abound.
Fashion designer Kenneth Cole famously compared the 2011 upheaval in Egypt to excitement over a new clothing line, then evoked the turmoil in Syria -- and debate over interventionists' "Boots on the ground" -- in a tweet about "sandals, pumps and loafers."
"You can ruin a brand in 140 characters or less if you're not careful," Giannini said.
Social media marketing is an emerging specialty within Portland's startup scene. Others in the space include Janrain, Little Bird and Chirpify.
Opal's new software, Opal Moments, manages the design of a social-media campaign and helps marketers coordinate images, messages and timing. Opal rolled out the tool quietly last fall and has a handful of big clients already, including Nestlé USA, NASA, Levi's and Beats by Dre.
The company kept its head down while it was developing the new software last year, said chief executive George Huff. Opal will use its new capital to raise its profile and hire sales and marketing staff to find customers.
"Now it's bang the drum and hello world," Huff said.
-- Mike Rogoway; twitter: @rogoway; phone: 503-294-7699
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