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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Following his own lead

By Samantha Malott The Spokesman-Review

When Marc Mims jumped on the Followerwonk team, he didn’t expect some seven years later to be the owner and currently, sole employee of the social media analytics service.

It’s the most recent leg of a journey that began as a child, when Mims got hooked on the tech field working on computers with his dad. His interest led to 15 years with Spokane Software Systems, before he decided to quit his job and take up freelance work.

That was when he was introduced to the world of Twitter. After helping build Followerwonk through an online connection, staying on through an ownership change and helping prepare the company for resale, Mims realized a dream he never knew he had – owning the business himself.

But despite the big financial moves the acquisition took, the long days spent at his computer and an uncertain future, Mims says the risk is worth it.

Owning his own company “is kind of achieving a dream of sorts I didn’t even realize until it closed,” he said.

Followerwonk helps Twitter users analyze their followers and those they follow, find and connect with others related to their goals and compare their results to other users. Limited access is available for free or users can choose from two different subscriber levels that include enhanced services and the use of more than one primary profile.

There are four primary tools: Search bios, compare users, analyze and sort followers. The most popular service, search bios, allows users to search among the 650 million Twitter profiles currently indexed by Followerwonk based on keywords, such as names, job titles, locations, interests or other factors listed in profile bios. Those results are then broken down to show total number of tweets, which users they follow, who follows them, account age and social authority – a ranking between 1 and 100 that includes all of the previous criteria along with engagement on the site.

Mims said this tends to be the most popular tool among employment recruiters. The compare-and-analyze service is a great tool for companies and individuals, such as politicians, to see how their Twitter account compares to their competition.

For example, Mims said, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers could look at her followers and see where the majority live, what time of the day theyare most active, who is following her counterparts and not her, or what her followers saying. She could also look at the social authority of her followers to see if they are engaging in what she is sharing and if there are a large number of low authority followers, which are typically “Twitter bots,” a software bot that autonomously controls an account by tweeting, liking, following and direct messaging other accounts.

The data is brought up in easy-to-read graphs, charts and breakouts that can be downloaded to Excel spreadsheets for presentations or be merged with other data-analysis software.

“There’s so many reasons people do it. I don’t think I know them all,” Mims said.

Putting an idea to use

Karri Carlson, vice president of social insights at Leadtail, a social media agency focused on business-to-business clients she co-founded, said after five years of use, Followerwonk has become an everyday tool used by her company.

She said Followerwonk allows the Burlingame, California, company to search through followers with very specific filters, which fundamentally changes the approach a B2B company uses with social media.

Previously, Carlson said, it had been hard to explain why a company’s competitor could be increasing over their own. But, “with Followerwonk we are able to compare multiple accounts and look at each of the clients and a neutral brand and see the patterns within their Twitter followers side by side,” she said.

Carlson said they were able to determine that many of those new followers were low “social authority,” helping the competitor realize they weren’t the most valuable of followers.

For Moz, a search engine optimization company and the owner of Followerwonk from 2012 until Mims’ purchase last year, it proved to be a valuable tool to help its clients better understand their social media strategy within their online presence, said Adam Feldstein, Moz chief product officer.

Companies want to publish information, get people to notice it and build advocates for their own brands, he said. One of the core functions of Followerwonk is to help companies and individuals find people who can amplify those messages and connect with them, but “people have found ways to use it for whatever their own purpose,” Feldstein said.

“I really think people are just now starting to do some analysis and think critically about what to do with the social presence of their business,” said Leadtail’s Carlson.

It’s shifted from ignoring social media because there is no return on investment or numbers that can be attributed to an ad campaign, to focusing on who is in your audience and if they are the right people, she said.

“If you’re ignoring social media and you’re a brand, and if they’re talking negatively about you, you are missing out on a conversation that you need to be a part of,” Feldstein said. “You can’t ignore it. It’s going to be happening whether you’re involved or not.”

With that shift underway, tools like Followerwonk are only going to become more valuable.

For Mims, the future of Followerwonk still remains unclear. On one hand, he would like to “start small, stay small;” on the other, grow it to the point it needs to partner with a complementary program.

From Moz to a home in Spokane

How Followerwonk came to be Mims’ is almost as wonky as its name.

Playing around with Twitter APIs after quitting his job in 2007, Mims eventually got in contact with a man in Portland, Peter Bray, who hired him as a contractor for a multitude of projects. As Followerwonk gained traction, Bray asked Mims to join that team and a few months later Followerwonk was acquired by Moz.

Mims spent the next four years working for the Moz Seattle office remotely from Spokane, traveling a few days every two weeks.

Feldstein said the purchase by Moz was a bit of an experiment for the company to broaden its services. It was a powerful tool and had good visuals to go along with it, he said, but after trying to utilize it several different ways, it wasn’t getting the results they had been hoping for.

In 2015, Moz decided to sell Followerwonk. During the process, Mims stayed on, keeping it up and running for prospective buyers.

Although the business side was not his forte, Mims dove head first into the venture after other proposals for Moz fell through. By June, Followerwonk will be completely migrated from the Moz systems and under Mims’ full control.

“Funding it was kind of crazy,” he said. But with some help from the Spokane Small Business Development Center and various plan rewrites, he and his wife, Jenny, decided to take a second mortgage out on their paid-off house, take out a lean on his wife’s 401(k) account, and use some of their savings to acquire the company. The total cost of the deal is confidential under the terms of the agreement, but Mims said it was in the mid-six figures.

“It was great to see it go to Marc,” Feldstein said. “We know the product will continue in good hands.”

Mims said he had a lot of confidence going into the purchase, but understands there are risks, the biggest being “if Twitter closes down access to its APIs or starts charging for it.”

There’s also a lot of competition, given it is a wide open space.

“The risk seemed reasonable and the alternative would be picking up and moving, which I didn’t want to do,” he said.

Currently, the business is comprised of Mims working in his son’s old bedroom at his Spokane home. In the future, he hopes to hire a few contracted employees to work remotely to help keep the site running properly.

From there, much like the tech and social media world, he said, Followerwonk’s journey could take many different turns. .