PinIt2WinIt

It’s hard to overestimate the value of social media in ecommerce today. For many companies, it’s the primary way they interact with their customers. For all ecommerce companies, it offers the opportunity to engage with, incentivize, and analyze the behavior of consumers in ways that were never before possible. For consumers, social can be the only channel through which they can get a sense of an online brand’s identity and its perceived value to consumers

“Social engagement has proven itself to offer the most attractive ROI for online marketing,” says Al Lalani, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based ecommerce marketing startup Social Annex. “But social media is constantly evolving.”

Social Annex offers ecommerce retailers a suite of online tools to incentivize, track, and increase sales conversions, while developing brand awareness, building customer relationships, and making e-commerce a fun. Where most companies in its category focus on a single tool or solving a single problem, Social Annex aims to be a one-stop shop, and currently offers 26 tools across the social sharing, social engagement, social discovery, and social analytics categories.

The latest product introduced by the company is a PinIt2WinIt button, a social shopping experience aimed at helping online retailers drive leads. Last week, many of the company’s clients launched a yearlong campaign giving shoppers the chance to win products simply by pinning them on Pinterest. The more items a customer pins, the more chances they have to win, and pinners get additional entries for every additional shopper that clicks through to the retailers site via the original pin. The shopper with the most pins, and most actively engaged pins, will be declared the winner each month.

Lalani’s company consults with its clients on the use of PinIt2WinIt and other tools, with the goal of integrating its customizable white label products seamlessly into a retailer’s existing site experience, and then optimizing campaigns for maximum impact. For example, the tools in the company’s Sharing suite are focused on maximizing visitor and consumer shares on social networks. The Engagement suite focuses on developing consumer relationships, and the Discovery suite uses Facebook’s Open Graph to aid in product discovery. All tools can be customized in terms of color, look, and location on a etailer’s site, making the experience appear as native as possible ot the consumer.

On the analytics front, Social Annex offers tools to measure and optimize social media marketing including social net return on investment, statewide audience distribution, audience likes and interest, and social demographics. Companies can also track referrals and conversion rates, as well as identify  “top influencers.”

Online retailers license Social Annex on a flat fee monthly basis and get unlimited access to the startup’s entire suite of tools. Fees are based on monthly unique visitors and can range from $1,000 to $10,000 per month. The company currently has 7,100 customers, including AutoTrader, Swatch, CafePress, Jewelry Channel and Entertainment.com, and focuses on those online retailers that have a minimum of $1 million in revenue.

Social Annex operates in a highly competitive space, but is backed by some of the godfathers of ecommerce. The company raised an undisclosed round of investment from PriceGrabber founder and former CEO Kamran Pourzanjani, Legalzoom, ShoeDazzle, and Honest founder Brian Lee, Shopzilla CIO and SVP of Technology, Joxy Mulkey, and Oversee.net co-founder Lawrence Ng, as well as Siemer Ventures, Tech Coast Angels, Juvo Capital, and others.

The startup has been profitable since months after launching and has grown to 60 full time employees, including 40 engineers, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and India. The company recently added pinterest integration and rolled out its HTML5 mobile product and mobile SDKs in early February, making Social Annex available on nearly any device its customers and their consumers may use.

Lalani is banking on his company’s comprehensive approach to the problem to differentiate itself from the competition. “Not only can we offer nearly every social tool that a retailer would ever on their site, but we feel that we can best the competition on a tool by tool basis as well,” he says. Many look at social media marketing as a smoke and mirrors category, but the founder vehemently disagrees. “The biggest misconception out there is that social can’t make money,” he says. “We prove every day that it can.”