You don't have to be Kim Kardashian to have a high degree of influence. A hairdresser in Brooklyn might be more influential within their professional circles than a "classical" influencer, and everyday consumers like these can be used to create great content. So says Social Native, the two-year-old startup out of Beverly Hills, California. Unlike many other companies in its category, Social Native doesn't work with influencers. Instead, they mine consumers for great content, which can come from anyone: from a small business owner to a traveling salesperson to yes, even a hairdresser in Brooklyn.

Social Native's end goal is not to get individuals to talk about brands, since that's what influencer marketing does. Rather, Social Native helps brands leverage consumers who opt in to create personalized, relevant content. By getting individuals to create content relevant to the consumer segments they belong to, brands can then feed this content to social platforms to be used to market to those very specific consumer segments. This is a major upgrade from how things are done today: those brands that do target ads do it in a very basic way. They might change the copy overlaid on an ad or an accompanying caption. Social Native, by contrast, believes that brands win when each ad is changed completely and has different, relevant content.

I met up with Social Native's CEO David Shadpour at SXSW to talk about his company's solution and he came up with what I thought was a perfect example. We're both animal lovers; I have a Bearded Collie and David has an English Bulldog. "Let's take Petco as an example," says David. "How much more impactful is it if they serve you an ad with a Bearded Collie, and me an ad with an English Bulldog?" Completely personalized advertising like this seems to be the wave of the future.

Don Draper is dead, folks. There's something very old-fashioned and antiquated about the concept that the fictional ad man and Saks Fifth Ave have a meeting and decide, almost arbitrarily, that the woman in a campaign should wear a red blouse, and now all of a sudden every single ad is a blonde-haired blue-eyed girl in a red blouse - a great strategy that results in spectacular sales. This type of advertising doesn't work anymore, despite what companies like Heinz think. Instead, today it's about crowd-sourcing ideas from today's most creative consumers.

A Problem That Needed Solving

A few years back, Shadpour was managing social content for brands and just couldn't keep up with the demand. There was too much recycling of existing content, particularly in the retail category. The result? The content was not doing well. Shadpour wanted to solve the content problem: the brands he was working with simply didn't have enough content for social channels. Naturally, the entrepreneurial Shadpour saw this as an opportunity.

Since then, Social Native's approach has evolved significantly. At the beginning, it was just a problem that needed solving; now, there's a good deal of data science behind it. The platform can now start getting predictive and say that it should use these particular consumers to make content for this particular brand, and "these types of content perform best."

So while it wins on the data front, the platform really wins on the creativity front. You've heard of the wisdom of the crowd? At its heart, Social Native is a platform that embraces the creativity of the crowd. Because of that, in many ways, Social Native can be compared favorably to creative agencies. It's a comparison Shadpour is comfortable with, since they win in terms of cost efficiencies, speed, and scale.

That last part is particularly important one. Social Native focuses on content at scale: for one brand, the platform was able to develop 700+ pieces of content in a day. It has been able to turn around over 500 different videos over a two-day span. Not only is Social Native making content, but their system tags it all so it can be used for targeting to specific groups and automatically fed to third parties like Facebook.

The Dreaded "I" Word

When my Firebrand Group team was releasing its Future of Influencer Marketing ebook early this year, Social Native was nowhere to be found, and for good reason: while it has been erroneously compared to influencer marketing companies, in many ways that's the opposite of what Social Native is actually doing. There's a good reason Shadpour has been quick to zig when everyone else was zagging. There are over 100 companies doing influencer marketing, the majority of which are one hundred percent managed by humans without any real proprietary technology advantage. These agencies' business plans are largely based on an arbitrage of manpower hours, with the vast majority of them unlikely to exist in a few years. A few of them have even reportedly reached out to Social Native to get acquired. There was a boom in the influencer market, and while quite a few people made money in the gold rush, now the market is really crowded. Every company claims to be different, but their strategies tend to be more or less the same. While some claim to be a technology, a decent percentage of those I've covered appear to mainly include an analytics dashboard instead of any real proprietary tech.

A little trick when you're evaluating a firm in a category like Shadpour's: go on LinkedIn and look at the staff. How many engineers are employed at the firm? If they have a lot, they are a true technology player; if not, then they're mostly pushing paper. Shadpour proudly shares that over 50% of Social Native's headcount is in research and development.

With investments back into its R&D efforts and a well-respected management team, Social Native should be increasing the efficiency of brands and agencies' dollars for plenty of years to come.