Not many companies are able to successfully monetize the visual web yet. Many ideas, but not many cash flow positive results. With its Visual Commerce, Olapic is part of those few that have seen their growth match the excitement around photography, especially in the e-commerce space. We caught up with co-founder and ceo Pau Sabria to find out what has made them successfully ride the wave of social media photography.
How was Olapic created and what issue are you trying to solve?
The idea for Olapic came long before Instagram existed: in a trip to Las Vegas with my co-founders, Luis Sanz and Jose de Cabo.
We had a great time with a large group of friends, and took a lot of pictures.
Afterwards, we realized how great it would be to have a service that would collect photos from various attendees at an event and make it easy to share with others, say weddings. How great it would be for the bride and groom if they could automatically gather all the photos their guests had taken.
This initial version of the idea never really took off so we had to rework it a few times and even came close to the limits we had set on the project. It was our passion for the idea of putting all the visual content generated by people to use that really kept us going and lead us to creating the visual commerce category.
You source images from the UGC world so that brands can increase engagement. Why do brands need amateur pictures? What is wrong with the professional images they have been using before?
Picture creation has exploded, picture consumption has followed, and brands are realizing that there’s an ever increasing thirst for visual content. Traditional methods of content creation and licensing (ie. Shutterstock, Getty, and others) are growing to fulfill that demand, but it’s hard to keep up.
In this new paradigm, we believe that brands have to complement their traditional professional efforts with clever sourcing of content that can scale exponentially. We believe that curated UGC can help fulfill the demand.
Finally, by experimenting with different types of photos and contexts, we are able to understand why and how we react to photos, how they move us, and engage us. And that’s something brands can only achieve if they constantly put to the test a large catalog of photos.
In time, will social media photography replace pro photographers for brands?
UGC will not replace pro photographers, but will help brands understand what type of photography resonates with an audience. It will be then that brands will have a large understanding about visual and its influence in audiences.
We believe that as the visual web expands, new applications and opportunities will arise. It is not crazy to think that Visual Search Engines are in the horizon and the more visual content brands have, the better they will perform. And as a result, visual marketing will become key within marketing organizations, and with that, demand for professional photography will increase.
What is compelling content for a brand?
The most compelling content for a brand is content that demonstrates its customers’ passion. When people love a brand or product enough to photograph, hashtag and share it on social media, they are showing genuine excitement that can’t be staged.
Do you simply look for hashtags or does your search algorithm involve product recognition and more? How far and powerful is your search?
One of the methods we help brands collect content is through the use of hashtags. These hashtags are designated and/or created by the brand to help refine the collection of photos based on a topic, theme or product. Frequently, brands will create a specific hashtag promotional campaign based on a product launch or something new. The brand then supports the promotion of that hashtags on social media and other customer communications to help spur usage.
How do you curate the results to match the brands needs?
We offer the industry’s leading moderation tool. Brands can collect photos from across platforms (including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Vine, Tumblr), filter them (choosing from a number of options) and then apply Photorank, our proprietary machine learning predictive engine to analyze photos based on more than 45 different visual and contextual factors and then by their expected conversion power. This makes content curation significantly faster and more effective than random or manual selection. This machine learning algorithm helps narrow down on photos based on the computation of an expected performance, or ROI. The more our brands learn about what type of photos perform, the better we are at picking and selecting those photos automatically.
Where do these images typically end up?
Brands use customer photos in multiple locations on their site. A popular display is on the homepage or on a dedicated gallery page, but the most effective placement is on the product detail page. We are seeing those photos appear both in desktop as mobile experiences (web and native).
Rights. How do you navigate the complex world of copyrights?
Because people are volunteering to hashtag photos and participate in promotions, they are willing participants. Also, we are governed by the Terms of Service for each of the social media platforms themselves. For brands who want more explicit permissions or who might want to use images in offline campaigns, we offer an advanced rights management platform that allows them to contact the owner directly. Most people are thrilled to share photos and really see it as a badge of honor to have their photos used on a brand’s website.
What can brands expect as result when using your service?
They can expect a very positive experience. On average, our e-commerce clients see a 9.6% conversion rate in sales among shoppers who interact with customer photos on their site. In addition to an impact on sales, shoppers view an average of nine customer photos per visit, which increases engagement. We also have research that shows 63% of shoppers trust customer photos more than brand or retailer photos.
Your space is a little crowded, What makes Olapic stand apart from its competition?
We created this category and called it Visual Commerce. Olapic was the first company to help e-commerce brands incorporate user-generated visual content into the purchase path and we currently are the company most large brands trust. No other competitor has more customers than us. Because we have such innovative clients, we are always discovering new ways to use this content and learning how visual content is changing the Web overall, so our innovation cycle is shorter and faster than that of our competitors. Also, our algorithms leverage a scale that is unmatched.
Some numbers please: How many brands do you service? How big is the company? How much investment did you receive up to now?
It has really been an amazing ride so far. I am always a bit blown away when I step back and look at how quickly things have changed. We started with a photo sharing idea in 2010 and after a few pivots, began to focus on e-commerce in 2011. Now we are working with more 170 retailers and brands around the world and have offices in New York, London and Cordoba, Argentina We have secured $6 million in funding and have close to 90 employees.
With 880 billion photos to be taken in 2014, how do you process such a volume and will you be able to keep up?
User-generated visual content is on the rise and managing volume will be an ongoing challenge. Our moderation process aims to really refine the collection of content, then we have an Express Moderation feature – sort of like a ‘Hot or Not’ button – that allows brands to quickly pull the best content – and then we allow for tagging content into various streams on the page. It has to be quick, easy and accurate – we are always developing new ways to stay on top of volume.
Do you see a trend in images that work same main color, same type of content, etc) or does it vary per verticals?
Actually we conducted some very interesting research with the University of Wisconsin about what aspects of a photo can increase conversion vs engagement. Interestingly, we found when optimizing for sales, brands should feature visual UGC with high levels of yellow or blue colors positively affect the likelihood of purchasing. Blue in particular makes people want to interact with the content more. We also found the more text that accompanies an image, leads to a positive effect on the shopping rate. But question marks or exclamation points should be left out as they have a negative effect on the shopping rate. The biggest point, no filters. The use of filters does not increase the likelihood of purchase.
Talking about verticals, which ones seem to benefit more from using social media photos and why?
I think now, every industry or vertical can benefit from user-generated visual content. Some of the best Instagram accounts come from B2B companies such as Oracle or IBM. We work across a variety of verticals including retail, fashion/apparel, home décor, consumer electronics, travel, beauty/CPG and luxury goods and automotive. All of these industries have users that share enthusiasm for brands and products and want to share the life moments that include these brands.
What would you like to offer your clients that technology cannot yet deliver?
Image recognition to a level that can accurately discern products would be great for the industry. It could greatly help brands draw insights from this big opaque box that is visual content. Right now, image recognition has very niche applications. But that’s the area where big players like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook are investing a lot of money.
Featured Photo by Mr. Theklan
Author: Paul Melcher
Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur and Managing Director of Melcher System, a consultancy for visual technology firms. He is an entrepreneur, advisor, and consultant with a rich background in visual tech, content licensing, business strategy, and technology with more than 20 years experience in developing world-renowned photo-based companies with already two successful exits.