Social Media Is Becoming Useful, Finally

In one of my recent columns, I addressed how Pinterest has succeeded by creating a space in between Facebook and Google: balancing a “cry for attention” with “utility.” And when I mentioned Google, I was actually referring to the search component, not to its social media tool (Google+). It’s because then I wasn’t aware of Clipboard (privately beta-launched by end of 2011). This new social media tool – backed by Index, Andreessen Horowitz, and CrunchFund – was opened to the public in May 2012. Clipboard is now looking to turn social media into something useful.

Welcome to Clipboard

I had the opportunity to interview Gary Flake last week. This entrepreneur is not only the founder and CEO of Clipboard, but also an experienced digital marketer who was formerly chief science officer at Overture, the company that invented paid search. Flake’s aspiration is for Clipboard to become a web-centric service that allows consumers to save “pages,” turning it into a personal depository place.

So what’s the buzz about Clipboard? People spend more of their online time either searching or sharing content and information. The problem is: how do you collect all those results and “shares”? In the past, people either copied and pasted it into an email or Word document or they used social media tools (Facebook or Pinterest) to curate that information. The first of the options helped keep the words but most of the times images and visuals were lost. The second option helped keep the format but made it harder to index or find the content.

Clipboard’s solution seems pretty easy. It allows people to pull and save parts of the web that they care about with the ability to share them as well. Its clippings and savings are much more likely to be an accurate representation of who people really are. It’s focused on grabbing things from the web, preserving the look, feel, and functionality of web clips. Users can clip presentations in different formats: SlideShare presentations, images, videos, Facebook postings, even games.

By default, your clips are private unless you decide to make them public. Hashtags are used to categorize the different content. If you want to check it out yourself, here’s an example, or sign up for a free account and share your experience with our readers.

Playing the Social Media Game

Facebook has become a synonym of social bragging, showing to our world of “friends” our curated version of what we want people to believe about us: “the ideal me.”

Pinterest is an effective marriage of utility and a cry for attention. Its interest-based visual content facilitates sharing the “ideal me” by providing ideas and images for inspiration. While functional and easy to use, it provides room for sharing and competing for who gets the most repins or likes, and has that sense of “social bragging” á la Facebook. On the right side of the equation, Clipboard wants to own a space that used to be limited to search players: the utility component. Flake says it better: “Clipboard experience encourages users to solve real problems: clippings and savings are much [more] likely to be an accurate representation of who you are.”

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The Future of Clipboard

Today, the company is focusing on client acquisition. One of its strategies is increasing distribution via affiliate business models: online publishers will be able to embed a button that will glow when hovering over so that users can easily clip the content.

Expanding group collaboration will be the next phase for this new social media tool by allowing users to plan and share research privately. Currently, companies are already using it to do marketing analysis, recruiting, and sharing best practices. Some paid options will be rolled out for corporate subscriptions.

In the longer run, the objective is that Clipboard becomes to social curation what paid search is to ads. The company is exploring its advertising model and different ad formats. Brands will be able to behaviorally target consumers via a deeper knowledge of their interests based on the content they have been collecting and sharing.

Clipboard Wants You. Will You Be Clipboarding?

With more than one-quarter of our online time spent on social media sites (e.g., Facebook visitors spend 405 minutes per month on average), is there room for yet another player? Flake is very confident about Clipboard: “All of this may sound simple, but we think it’s actually quite significant. We believe that someday soon everyone will be saving and organizing their online life in a way that is easy, fun, and reflective of themselves.”

I believe that if Clipboard leverages its utility factor, it can succeed, but, of course, marketing will be a deciding element too. In that direction, the company has established relationships with some major players including Microsoft’s “Beauty of the Web” advertising campaign this summer, which incorporates Clipboard in the TV ads and a featured spot in the IE9 gallery.

This column was originally published on August 3, 2012.

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