StoryStock has the ‘write stuff’ to build brand tribes

26 Nov 2018

From left: Shane O’Connor and Francis Fitzgibbon. Image: StoryStock

Our Start-up of the Week is StoryStock, the Tralee-based creator of the TribeStarter ecosystem for brands to source original content from their biggest advocates.

“We initially built as a content bank fed by a 1,200-strong content community but after a year talking to customers about their pain points, we are getting ready to launch TribeStarter, a new StoryStock product,” explained StoryStock co-founder Francis Fitzgibbon.

“The feedback we were hearing was that businesses were spending millions on professional content but it wasn’t always connecting with their audiences and customers in any real way. Customers are increasingly distrustful, educated, sceptical, jaded, and don’t appreciate you wasting their time bombarding them with generic adverts every time they go online.

“Marketing teams based at head office were ticking boxes by using stock photography, generic slick videos produced in January for the year, and content that was having no real impact or return on investment.”

‘We are taking the guesswork out of marketing and allowing you a direct route to your customer’

Fitzgibbon explained that TribeStarter software is focused on the idea of rewarding the customers, staff and advocates for telling a brand’s story.

“Who knows the brand better and who can create more on-point authentic content? Not only are you then using the people who are most passionate about your brand to tell your story, but you are tapping into their networks and hitting their friends on social media using the software. We have created a whole ecosystem platform where a brand can crowdsource content from customers, staff and advocates, but also store, curate, publish directly to social media, discover new trends, link to all your sites and other platforms, and become part of your customers’ conversation.”

The market

Fitzgibbon said that brand marketing departments will spend $300bn on content by 2019 but it has never been harder to reach and connect with target audiences at the right time, with the right content and in the right place.

“Brands are struggling on platforms like Facebook, who now prioritise friends’ content over a brand’s. That means brands are finding it harder to get in front of their customers despite massive spends on professional content. Most brands’ content is not relevant to the audience, their conversations, and it becomes an interruptive piece of content that annoys the customers rather than engaging them on any level. Despite this, brands still spent $40bn on social media advertising last year, most having no idea if this content is connecting with customers and driving sales.”

The team

Fitzgibbon worked as a series producer with Newstalk radio and was a freelancer with TV3 and Independent News & Media. One of his last roles with Newstalk was as a freelance reporter on The Pat Kenny Show. He took a sideways turn from journalism and content in 2014, and worked as a political adviser in the European Parliament in Brussels for two years before returning to Ireland to set up StoryStock.

Shane O’Connor is the founder of media company Peanut Productions, a media company providing content, consultancy and training in the Irish media market. He previously worked at the BBC, Newstalk and iRadio, as a journalist and content creator with more than 10 years’ experience in media, design and content management.

Paul Maidment is head of content partnerships and is based out of London. He is the former director of the BBC’s commercial video clip content business, Motion Gallery. Maidment left the BBC after concluding a multimillion-pound deal with Getty Images for the network. He has worked with Irish start-ups Recipe Guru and Sky Tango as well as UK based start-up Brave Bison, an influencer platform.

New Zealander Michael Houghton is an experienced software developer and entrepreneur who has worked on platforms including the Cake Development Corporation. He co-founded in 2004 and, in April 2014, was accepted as a Toptal Developer as part of an exclusive talent marketplace for world-leading software developers. It is said that Toptal chooses the world’s best remote developers and that it accepts less than 3pc of applicants.

The technology

The core of the TribeStarter platform is a cloud-stored content library where clients’ marketing teams can curate, organise, store in folders, and publish content directly to a variety of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. “Our clients can invite users to join their community by sharing a link on their social media or emailing an invitation,” Fitzgibbon explained.

“Users can upload content to the brand’s platform in exchange for rewards, either directly from a phone app or by using a specific hashtag. So, for example, a hairdressing chain styles 1,000 people daily. Using our system, the stylists or their customers could easily upload pictures or videos of the finished hairstyle to the TribeStarter content platform from their phone, and a minute later the marketing team in head office can be sharing that directly on any or all their social media channels, inserting it into a brochure, emailing it to another client, storing it or publishing it directly to a styles page on their website. Similarly, a craft beer company could run a campaign asking its customers to submit pictures of themselves and their mates drinking their beer. We gamify rewards so that customers and staff are incentivised to share pictures and videos they are probably taking anyways, with the brand.

“Our analytics allow brands to put their finger on the pulse of their customers’ community – what are they talking about, liking, taking pictures of, wearing, eating and drinking. We are taking the guesswork out of marketing and allowing you a direct route to your customer.”

Loyal tribes

Fitzgibbon said StoryStock is focused on delivering more authentic content at scale to its client base at a lower cost than they are currently paying.

StoryStock is currently testing the TribeStarter platform with 10 live customers, including an international charity, a gym chain, an adventure tourism association, a wedding platform and a chain of training centres.

“Testing is going really well and we are taking in some valuable feedback. We have initial signed interest from eight clients, who have committed to signing up for the monthly package.

“At this stage, we need to take on investment and are keen to talk to anyone who may be interested in getting involved. We are looking for an initial offering of €250,000, which will be match-funded by Enterprise Ireland. StoryStock is EIS-approved.”

Similar to most budding entrepreneurs, Fitzgibbon said the biggest challenges have been development costs and general start-up costs. “We need investment to progress the platform quickly and take on a sales team.

“Early-stage investment in rural Ireland can be a difficult prospect but we have now begun to look to London for investment. Sourcing high-quality team members can be difficult when you are based outside of Dublin, which is why our team now works remotely, staying in constant contact using up-to-date technologies. When we go to build the team further, it will be challenging to recruit the people we need to our base in Kerry and, at that stage, we may reconsider relocating.”

Fitzgibbon said that the start-up community in Kerry is a small but tight community that looks out for each other, for the most part. “But our location and relative isolation from Dublin make it more challenging to grow a company.”

His advice for fellow founders is to have a vision for their start-up. “On day one of my start-up journey, someone told me that I need to have a vision for StoryStock. A vision for where you are going, what you are trying to achieve and why you are doing this. I didn’t understand at the time, but I do now. Have a vision – it’s important.

“More importantly than having a vision, I would say, is knowing that you cannot do this on your own. Seek out help from mentors, friends, professionals, experts, and sit down and have a coffee with everyone who can help.

“Networking is a key asset for any founder and it is ultimately what will separate those who are successful from those who are not.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years