The Power of Social Data: A Conversation with Dane Atkinson, CEO of SumAll

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DaneAtkinsonEver since starting a dog walking business at the ripe old age of 10, Dane Atkinson has been hooked on entrepreneurship. He wrote his first piece of software at 12 and starting working in advertising at 13. By the time he was 18 years old, Dane was the C.O.O of an advertising company with about 30 employees. Now, he’s making headlines as the CEO of SumAll, a social media and e-commerce data platform, where he’s implemented a company-wide pay transparency policy. 

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Dane when he came in to film a live stream. Read on to discover his thoughts on entrepreneurship, open data, social media, and more. 

You were the C.O.O of a company by the time you were 18 and have launched a dozen businesses since. How did you get started in entrepreneurship and what excites you about tech?

Oddly was born to it, had a dog walking business when I was 10. Sold my first piece of software at 12. I think the beauty of conceiving an idea and watching it become something touching lives in the real world is amazing. Since I have done this for so long now, I also cherish the learning it provides those in the path.

Tell us about your latest venture, SumAll. What does the platform do and why is it useful for small to mid-sized businesses and marketers?

SumAll helps half a million businesses, freelancers and consultants understand their audience or their customers’ audience. We believe data should be free and the intelligence around a company’s customers shouldn’t be locked up in platforms like Facebook or PayPal.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about using social media for business? How can it affect a company’s bottom line?

The biggest misconception is that social media is just a tool for brand awareness or engagement. However, it really does affect the bottom line, the data shows it. The approach to social ranges widely and folks often get caught up on metrics that may not matter. By looking at the wrong metrics, they may be missing out on profitable opportunities. For example, although your audience is smaller on Instagram, those users might be worth 10x more than those on other platforms. You have to use the data to help you make smarter decisions about where you spend time and resources.

What are some of the most valuable insights companies large and small can yield from social data?

Companies that use learnings from the social space to apply to their large campaigns find huge value. This can be on a 1-1 basis, i.e. this follower is very outspoken on social and could be a great brand advocate to a more global view where all your customers also seem to like a complimentary business. We see that emailing folks directly after they engage with posts on social media platforms like Instagram, has over a ten times return compared to standard messages. Just focusing on the 20% most engaged segment cuts the cost of your ad buy in half with the same sales.

What are your predictions for the future of social media and data? Where do you see the industry heading in the next 5-10 years?

Sadly, it seems that the players are more focused on contracting their data and sharing less. As big data continues to grow, each platform will have their own universe of data. These major players are also likely to horde/isolate content. While the data will get amazingly powerful, and it is our hope that it serves everyone not just the platforms advertisers. Data will, hopefully, be easier to understand and use by smaller businesses.

A little off topic, but we recently listened to your appearance on Planet Money. Tell us about salary transparency at SumAll, and what affect this policy has on company culture.

Data only works when transparent; so why not salary? It makes for a more fair and balanced internal market that corrects on its own. It also improves trust among our teams. When you can see how someone’s role at the company correlates to salary, you’re more likely to have an honest conversation about where you fit in.

Finally, a GA staple: Who was your favorite teacher and why?

So not fair to the many great ones I have had, because there have been multiple. I have no go-to answer, but I have to say, Mr. Fox, my high school science teacher, for allowing a young kid to believe he could create anything—even superconductors.

Get more great insights on understanding social data from Dane.

Watch the Video