Interview with Carrie Layne, BestBuzz

In the new world of social media, how do you get the attention and interest of users enough that they'll be willing to post to Facebook or other social networking sites about your company, product, or cause? Dallas-based BestBuzz thinks its has the answer, in the form of a mobile app which allows you to scan a QR code to enter contests and promotions, and at the same time let others know about the sponsor. To better understand what the firm is up to, we caught up with Carrie Layne, founder and CEO of the company:

What is BestBuzz?

Carrie Layne: BestBuzz is a social media and mobile marketing platform. We started developing it two years ago, and have two patents pending on the technology platform. Basically, what it does is create a new layer of communications between brands, events, charities, any kind of small or large business. It's a new layer between them and their customers and friends.

When you say a new layer of communications, what does that look like?

Carrie Layne: When I saw a new layer of communications, I mean that we use different forms of communications, such as QR codes, where we have a scanner app. I saw that technology at South by Southwest, and so we started developing a technology platform around QR codes. We also do SMS text message marketing, and people can download our scanner, which is integrated with Facebook and social media platforms. That allows businesses, brands, and agencies to do real time special offers and rewards, all from a dashboard on their mobile phone. No matter where they are living, people can scan the code, get a message, and it also sends it out to their Facebook wall.

What's the story behind BestBuzz?

Carrie Layne: The story has evolved a lot. The very first company I started was on the Cayman Islands, which allowed you to see what was happening in real time. I started building a platform around that, so that locals and tourists could communicate back and forth, so they could learn when happy hour was, hear about the best local events going on, the best place to have sushi, and so on. It evolved to become a social media and mobile marketing platform, and so I started to leverage the tools to get people to buzz in with QR codes, tied into real time messaging, so you could send real time messages relevant to your friends.

It looks like you have lots of events and nonprofits now using your platform too?

Carrie Layne: Ironically, most of clients have been local events or charitable organizations. Right now, we're doing a campaign with Cadillac Escalade in Texas. We met with six charities, and allowed them to create buzz codes with them, so people can go to their website, scan the buzz code, and it shares a message with their friends. We let them know how many scans, how many friends, and how many social impressions they get, and come up with an average number of friends those users are reaching. Plus, we're not just reporting the Facebook average of 170 or 180, we're actually getting a real time number, tracking who takes action from that, and who eventually becomes a donor. One of those charities in the Caddilac campaign, Taylor's Gift, just a few weeks after starting their campaign increased their donor registration by 40,000 people in Texas. We're now trying to help them in all 50 states. We're helping them to build awareness, and tying in social good. Cadillac is awarding one of those charities a $150,000 grant on October 30th.

How did you get into this?

Carrie Layne: I graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in advertising. I had things like basic HTML and web site building on my resume in 1998 and 1999, when I graduated. I got a job at Saatchi and Saatchi Interactive in San Francisco. At that time, the Dot Coms were going crazy, and it was really fun. But, when the bubble burst, I went back to Austin. I ended up at Hoover's, which was sold to D&B. I then ended up taking a trip to the Cayman Islands, and while I was there got offered a job, and figured why not. I went down there, working with a local newspaper to get them online, help them make money, optimize their pages, and use things like RSS feeds, blogs, and social media. The, Hurricane Ivan Hit -- it was a Category 5 -- and I was on the island for that. We actually went without power or water in September of 2004 for over two months. I started to focus on how people were communicate when there was no technology, no power, and no water, and saw how they would talk to their neighbors to get news. I was fascinated with that communications. After Ivan, I launched my own company, and got a Canadian partner and investor, an early investor in WebMD, to put $1M into the company. I launched a website in the Cayman Islands, then we bought a bunch of domains to scale into other countries. We thought with BestBuzz we could capture the mobile base, and offer a quick way for people to find the best place for sushi, best places to stay, all using word of mouth referrals.

Your product relies on QR codes--although early adopters seem to understand QR codes, how are you finding general consumers are aware of how to use them?

Carrie Layne: It's very interesting. Obviously, we're in a world where we are sprinting, and sprinting all of the time. You go to an event, talk to people, and what we find is over 90 percent of people have seen them, although they are not sure what to do with them. What we've done is make it smarter. I think when you build SMS and texting into your platform, you're using what people already know about technology. That's thanks to things like American Idol, where you can text your vote and all of that, and we're riding on the way that mainstream media has used texting. That's why our campaigns have an integrated approach, where we can say, we have SMS - check; QR codes, check; social media, check; we have all of the real time recommendations that they want to bundle into a package. By texting, we bridge that gap, and we automatically redirect users depending on the kind of mobile device they are using to the right app on the App store. That not only allows them to buzz in and get a reward, they also get a free scanner for their phone, so they can scan codes anytime

Finally, what's the next step for you?

Carrie Layne: The next step for us, is we are really focused on doing some really cool promotions in Q4, and are expanding to the Caribbean and Latin America next week. We're trying to be a pioneer in the space, and stay ahead on the technology. It's all about how creative we can get, and having fun with the technology and software