With $53.4M more funding, Lithium says social will change marketing as we know it

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Lithium‘s goal is to make your existing customer base like the stands at a Raiders winning home game — crazy about your brand. The company announced a $53.4 million fourth round of funding today, which will be used to create those grassroots marketers.

For Rob Tarkoff, chief executive officer of Lithium, social is the next frontier for marketers. Lithium uses social media — beyond Facebook, as Tarkoff stresses — to connect with a brand’s customers and decipher who the bull horns are.

It’s well understood that people are more willing to buy a product if the recommendation comes from a friend, as opposed to coming from the company itself. We are taught the sellers are inherently untrustworthy. Company statements are easily written off because of this, but if a peer’s has something to say, we’re persuaded to listen.

“Marketers are starting to recognize peer-to-peer and there are going to be big changes over the next three years,” said Tarkoff in an interview with VentureBeat. “CMOs are saying they’re going to double or triple their spend on social.”

Social media is effectively free marketing for a company who knows its customer base. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and other users all drive huge amounts of content every day and deliver it straight to your customers’ inbox. In order to get your product into social mouths, however, Lithium must identify the big influencers and convince them to start talking about your product on the Internet. They accomplish this convincing process by appealing to the high schooler in all of us: feeling popular. Lithium calls this the, “underlying science of behavioral motivation.”

“In the online world reputation is everything, it’s the content you produce,” said Tarkoff.

Lithium’s “engagement” products make you feel like a “thought leader,” an industry expert on a certain subject. It makes you feel like people are listening. That sense of self righteousness is your ticket to social media buzz.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg sees this sharing as the way people will ultimately engage with anything. That is, he believes when you share socially, you influence your peers to listen to a certain kind of music, read news articles, watch similar movies and more. At the company’s developer conference in September 2011, Zuckerberg announced that Facebook likes would evolve to have its own vocabulary. People sharing would then be able to do more than like, they could “play,” “buy,” or any other number of verbs.

“I absolutely think [what Zuckerberg says] is right and is at the core of our business,” said Tarkoff. “Facebook is totally aligned with us.”

Lithium plans to use the funding, led by new investors New Enterprise Associates and SAP Ventures, to acquire complementary technologies. Tarkoff, who joined the company in September, says Lithium has been on “cash flow positive” for the last few quarters and hopes the money will help it become a “consolidator” in 2012.


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