Interview with Carlos Villa, CEO of buho, a social media intelligence company in Colombia.
Hi Carlos, what is your professional background, and what does your current role at buho consist of?
I went to the University in Bogota, Colombia, and graduated as an Industrial Engineer. I then completed an MBA degree at IESE Business School in Barcelona. As a founding partner and CEO of buho, I need to be sure that we focus our efforts on what is relevant for our business, and that the whole team has the resources to be able to achieve their goals, and have a good time doing so.
What differs buho from other social media intelligence companies in Colombia?
We give clarity to our customers; we let them know what all the data on social media really means. In Latin America, the tradition of social media measurement is still based on quantitative data. We can say that the quantitative data is the raw material for the qualitative evaluations that we make of the data. We provide evaluation that is not made solely by technology, but by a group of talented people that understand the particular needs of our customers.
We have a close relationship with all of our customers, and we get together on a regular basis with them. This is crucial so that we can understand their strategic priorities, and also important for them to really understand what the data means, and how they can use it to make strategic decisions.
What type of companies benefit from your services, and where are your current customers mainly based?
While we work with different sectors of the economy, 60 percent of our business (both traditional and social media evaluation) comes from the private sector, which includes financial, telecommunications, gas and energy, as well as mass consumption products. The rest of our business includes the Colombian public sector, such as the Presidency of Colombia, political campaigns, and quite a few public institutions throughout our country.
Although our operation is based in Bogota, 50 percent of our invoicing comes from abroad - the United States, Spain, Mexico and Guatemala - are our main international markets.
What are your greatest challenges ahead at buho when it comes to serving your customer analysis and developing your offer?
I divide the challenges into three categories, which are also related to my first answer as far as my role as a CEO:
- Having the best possible team - We need to be sure that we have the best people available in their respective areas of expertise.
- Innovation and technology - We dedicate 3 percent of our annual income to innovation. We need to catch up with the crazy rhythm of how communications are taking place today. The Brexit, the USA elections, and our local process with the Colombia peace referendum, are clear examples that the traditional methods of understanding communications are not working anymore. We need to offer our customers a new approach to data evaluation, while doing so in an efficient and profitable way.
- Education - Media evaluation as we do it is something relatively new in the world, compared to the traditional public relations services that are offered globally. And in Latin America, there is almost no tradition at all to invest resources in media evaluation. Therefore, education in order to promote the relevance of media evaluation is crucial for our sales growth.
Do you have any specific plans to expand your business in the near future, like new markets or products?
Our plan for the next four years is to grow an average of 30 percent per year. Fifty percent of this growth should come from markets such as Mexico, the USA and Spain.
Ninety percent of our income comes from media evaluation services. As a consequence of our evaluations, our customers have come to several conclusions; one of them is that although they have a clear PR strategy, they really don't know how to tell their story to various stakeholders. So, we are now helping our customers to create their stories using storytelling techniques so that they can engage with their audiences. And, afterwards, we measure if the storytelling is really working.
New sources of income should come from other services that complement our evaluation products, like focus groups and spokesperson trainings. Those new services, in addition to the ones developed by our buho lab team, should represent 30 percent of our total invoicing by the end of 2020.
Can you give a specific example where one of your clients has made changes in their communication, organization or similar, based on the information or analysis you provided?
It’s difficult to choose one after eight years of providing service to our customers, but one of them comes to my mind.
For confidentiality reasons, I can't get into specifics, but an American association funded by the government has been established in Colombia for a few years now. Their goal is to promote the relevance of a specific product and hope that the consumers take into account that product when they make their purchase decisions.
They made a social media campaign to promote the benefits and attributes of the product, and they asked buho to help them understand the impact that their campaign had.
After our first evaluation, we told them not to waste any money on someone that will tell them how many likes, tweets, retweets they had, or who the influencers that interacted with their campaign were. What we proposed to them was to evaluate how a significant part of the users that interacted with their campaign used their personal social platforms. The output was a profile of the users that interacted with the campaign, segmented by gender, age, and with rich information on the way that those users used their personal social profiles. We analyzed Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest in this process.
Our customer used that data to design a new campaign with specific content according to the platform they were using, and taking into account the preferences of their audiences.
Which social platforms do you see having the most potential in the future when it comes to gathering relevant information for your customers?
In Latin America, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube will still be kings in the next five years.
Are there any social platforms that are closed today that you would be interested in tapping into for analysis that would benefit your customers?
Facebook is a closed platform, so it is not possible to get access to a big volume of data. We are more concerned with how to measure Snapchat; even though it is sort of an open network, the way that it functions presents a real challenge as far as how to measure it.
But the biggest challenge comes from the relevance that messenger apps, such as WhatsApp, serve as a communication and influence tool.
How do you think the measurement and social media intelligence industry will change in the next five years?
They will become the main source of information for people in general - news, products, marketing and entertainment. All the information will be searched for and discussed on social networks, which will become the largest source of consumer data available. This will bring new challenges for every kind of company, and buho is here to help our customers to understand and make sense of all the available data.
By Renata Ilitsky