Startup Watch: Linqia Looks to Play Matchmaker for Brands and Bloggers

Bloggers Given Creative License and Paid Based on Clicks They Drive for Brands

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Brands love the idea of enlisting people with big online followings to spread their messages, and now a startup called Linqia is pitching them on a way to automate the process.

Maria Sipka, CEO of Linqia
Maria Sipka, CEO of Linqia

Launched last fall, San Francisco-based Linqia has developed a technology that matches brands with bloggers who have a carefully-tended social-media presence. The matching is done based on the content of an intended campaign. For example, a marketer can locate the parenting bloggers in California with an interest in environmental sustainability and provide them with material for developing a post on a related theme if they choose to accept to accept its offer. It pays Linqia on a cost-per-click basis for actions generated like clicks to a landing page, and Linqia accordingly pays bloggers a cut, also on a CPC basis.

Linqia has raised about $4 million from Javelin Partners, has 15 employees, and executed campaigns for marketers like Coca-Cola, Clorox, Dove, One Kings Lane, Method, and Nestle for Arrowhead water.

The notion of driving online buzz via people who are influential on social media has been undertaken by various startups, notably Klout, which developed a program for brands to distribute free products to users with a strong following around relevant topics. But Linqia's CEO Maria Sipka said its value proposition is in tapping smaller communities with an average reach of about 16,000, as opposed to tech celebrities.

Linqia currently focuses on parenting and home-and-garden related content, but ultimately plans to expand into other verticals, Ms. Sipka said. The system has so far added about 2,500 English-speaking "communities" in the U.S., U.K. and Australia that were located through an automated process that includes web crawling.

Since Linqia has a high bar for adding bloggers to its system -- only those that have contact information displayed and who post frequently, among other factors -- brands have an incentive to develop content that will resonate with the writers and their niche audiences. (The most enterprising "community leaders" in the Linqia system could currently earn a maximum of about $1,000 or $1,500 a month, according to the company's president Nader Alizadeh, so the company isn't positioning itself to be their main income source.)

"[Brands] need to be able to provide some value to the end user that isn't sales-oriented," Ms. Sipka.

Method, the maker of environmentally-conscious cleaning and laundry products, has used Linqia to order up posts for two month-long campaigns this year with budgets of $10,000 or less, and more are in the works. The marketer initially sought out Linqia as an alternative when it had been obliged to end a blogger outreach program that had been managed through its agency, since it had decided to invest more heavily in TV ads this year.

Social-media manager Rachel Rosenblum noted that Linqia takes care of signing up the bloggers, which means that her team doesn't have to be bogged down in contracts and thus reduces the expense. She develops content that writers can use to guide their posts, but the idea is for them to be creative about what they produce, like with this piece that starts as an homage to the writer's baby. It includes an animated GIF of the baby playing with a bottle of Method hand soap, along with product links. (Linqia and the writer are paid when those links are clicked on.)

"I'm not going to tell the community leaders what to say because I find that the best content comes when they can be creative," Ms. Rosenblum said.

Mr. Alizadeh noted that Linqia is aiming to be in compliance with the Federal Trade Commission's guidance on the use of testimonials and endorsements in advertising, which holds that bloggers who are remunerated for posts should disclose the connection. Linqia staff currently manually check posts to ensure that the writers disclose that their sponsorship (which they agree to do when they opt into a campaign), but Mr. Alizadeh said the company is looking to automate that verification process as the company grows.

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