ADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — Jason Feffer is no stranger to the power of social networks. The man who was in on the ground floor at MySpace has started a new company called SodaHead that is truly making the social network an online democracy.
ADOTAS: Give us some background on your company SodaHead and the inspiration for starting it.
JASON FEFFER: SodaHead launched in September 2007 as a new way for people to express their opinions and meet people based on interests, passions and today’s hottest topics. Several sources of inspiration crystallized to create SodaHead. It struck me that nothing existed to collectively ask my friends and family their opinions while also learning new opinions on the issues that mattered most to me. Secondly, social networking connects people who, for the most part, already know each other, but today people want to make new connections based on ideas, values, passions and news. Also, as the former VP of Operations for MySpace, I saw the difficulty in monetizing social networking and saw SodaHead as a great opportunity to prove high value CPMs in social networking.
ADOTAS: You have a rich history in social media. How has your experience with developing MySpace translated into your newest venture, SodaHead? What similar practices are you using and what are you choosing not to do?
FEFFER: We created a phenomenon with MySpace. Some say we got lucky or think we had it easy, but we made thousands of good decisions. One shared decision we live by at SodaHead works very well: listen to users. We’ve changed some major features based on feedback and watching user behavior.
ADOTAS: It seems like there are a lot of different forum categories people can choose from. Who are you trying to target and has your audience reflected those targeting efforts?
FEFFER: SodaHead’s broad appeal presents a great opportunity and challenge at the same time. We started with politics to attract a mature audience, and then we opened it to music and entertainment to gain the youthful, viral audience.
SodaHead appeals to a mature crowd with issues like politics and to a young crowd with hot issues like Miley Cyrus versus the Jonas Brothers. This creates an amazing dynamic when those crowds come together on issues that we all feel passionately about, like faith, sports or even American Idol.
SodaHead, unlike forum sites or even many social networks, has successfully connected a wide range of people, cultures, ages, genders, faiths and with different purposes.
ADOTAS: Does the company primarily generate revenue from advertising?
FEFFER: Yes, SodaHead generates a high eCPM using only Google AdSense at the moment. We’ve achieved high rates for several reasons, which I expected after serving over a trillion online ads in my past. SodaHead pages have focus and meaning, which make targeting obvious. The large amount of text not only makes it easy for AdSense to serve the right ad, but serve an ad that will gain attention, unlike the noisy page on most social networks. We have just started to feed in the demographic and public preferences of our users’ extensive profiles, and to sell the inventory directly to advertisers and agencies.
SodaHead recently began selling an interactive polling widget that allows videos, themed skins and can capture registrations. Partners can incorporate the widget into their media buys on other sites for branding and ROI-driven campaigns. Historically, we’ve seen extremely high conversion rates on this unique ad medium.
ADOTAS: On the “About Us” section of the site, it mentions that sometimes good and trustworthy information is difficult to find on the internet and that the more credible information, so to speak, finds its way to the top of the site on SodaHead. How is this achieved?
FEFFER: The active SodaHead community helps legitimize good content and reflect popular sentiment with voting, commenting and raving. Also, SodaHeads have public profiles and track records so anyone can see their background to gain a better perspective given opinions. Profiles include community ratings and comments to quickly inform new visitors whom to trust and respect.
ADOTAS: Also mentioned on the “About Us,” is the claim that SodaHead is revolutionizing online forums and social networking. How is SodaHead changing this part of the industry?
FEFFER: We’ve made starting and joining discussions very accessible and appealing to people previously turned off by forums. SodaHead adds the social element to forums unlike any other site, diversified the audience, added community moderation tools, added a customized widget, and made it easy for people to participate in a variety of conversations simultaneously and in near realtime. We’ve taken a slice of social networking, forums and live chat and created something completely new that has engaged 600,000 people spanning five continents, from as young as 13 and as old as 84.
ADOTAS: Do you see anyone else taking on similar practices to yours at SodaHead?
FEFFER: Many sites have similar features as SodaHead, but I haven’t seen a successful site marry all the features together yet. Some have polls and widgets, or profiles or raving tools and discussions. But we’ve taken each of these farther than others and, in a sense, we’ve just getting started.
ADOTAS: Since launching, what have been your biggest challenges with the company?
FEFFER: Moving quickly to adopt to change and at the same time keeping an eye on the future. We know we’ve chewed off an awful lot by having an ambitious goal at achieving something very different for a diverse audience. Users and partners often don’t see the bigger picture and want changes that reflect short term issues. We want to accommodate them but can’t take our eye off the prize. It takes a lot of patience to keep things in balance.