How is it only August? It feels like two years since January. Especially here at SparkToro, where the year’s had so much upheaval, despite our attempts to maintain Chill Work. Shortly after our pricing change in February, Twitter/X’s new owner announced a bevy of pricing and access changes to their API, including the deprecation of data SparkToro’s infrastructure relied on for our following graph (and, even worse, destroying the data-and-connection rich ecosystem Twitter provided for the prior 14 years). We had a big year planned: the expansion of Audience Tracking, a host of new persona-building features, and our first in-person SparkTogether. But the world’s richest man seemed intent on throwing monkey wrenches in those plans.
I (Amanda) was two months pregnant. And as much as we wanted 2023 to be the in-person debut of SparkTogether, we felt it prudent to keep it to a virtual summit. Casey Henry (our CTO) had to cancel his own plans in favor of a complete architectural rebuild – a project we’ve named “SparkToro V2.” We’ve been working with Asia Orangio of DemandMaven on some deep customer research (thanks to everyone who took our V2 survey and the dozens of folks who’ve had customer interviews) and with 5FourDigital on a new UI for V2.
Now, as we approach the end of summer, all of these projects are nearing fruition. And instead of the dread we (well, at least Rand) felt in the Spring, we’re honestly excited about it. If we were a venture-backed company, we’d be in trouble. Our metrics since April are frustratingly flat. But, since we’re not in VC-world, and remain profitable, our stress is quite low. Instead, we’re heads down, building something better.
1. SparkToro Version 2 Launches Soon
We’ve worked through wireframes, data types, UI/UX, and user-testing. We’ve signed new data partnerships. Casey has rebuilt the infrastructure from the ground up. Instead of just social follower/following relationships, we’ve got clickstream panels, keyword+ranking relationships, cross-visitation, and more. We’re <90 days away from launch, and SparkToro is about to get a whole lot better.
Historically, Twitter served as our primary connector network to validate/verify audience data. With a Twitter identity, especially those that link to other networks, we got a lot of rich information about tens of millions of online folks’ interests, posts, and demographics. But no more. Even if Elon hadn’t killed the public APIs, the behavior of Twitter’s users has shifted so much that an index of that site’s activities is no longer useful to our marketing audience. Twitter was always ~30-40% culture, politics, and social content, but in 2023, that percent noticeably doubled. Gardeners don’t join Twitter to follow gardening sources. Authors don’t join Twitter to network with other authors. Today, people join Twitter to engage in hot-button issue fights and, embarrassingly, talk mostly about Twitter, the owner himself, and attempt to dunk-on/fight-with one another. It’s just not a place where rich interest and intent data can be found anymore.
So, SparkToro is evolving to use a combination of three primary data sources:
- Cross-visitation and traffic data from clickstream sources
- A LinkedIn-centric social graph with additional data from 15 other networks (including our historic Twitter data, and possibly more Instagram/Threads/Fediverse-centric in the years ahead)
- Keyword and ranking data sourced from Google’s SERPs
By aggregating these sources, we can show not just what an audience follows or posts about, but which websites they visit, what keywords they search for, and what skills, interests, and demographics they possess.
Why is this better?
- It better matches what our customers value – websites, keywords, demographics, and engaged-with articles/posts were the most highly-rated pieces of audience research data in our July survey of more than 500 SparkToro customers and users.
- It enables far greater development of new features – since we no longer need to tie every profile across networks back to a Twitter identity, we can expand in ways V1 never enabled. Want to know which pieces of content in Google Discover & Google News were popular with your audience last week? We can now build that!
- It’s resilient – unlike our Twitter-centric infrastructure, V2 isn’t subject to the whims of any particular billionaire with a midlife crisis. With multiple providers for all the sources we’re aggregating, we’ve got a much more stable, reliable core.
We’ll have more news on this very soon, so stay tuned. Until then, here’s a sneak peek of the new dashboard:
2. Brendan Hufford Joins as SparkToro’s Interim Head of Marketing
Because I feel psychologically safe at work and am comfortable saying the quiet part out loud: Going on parental leave is really, really scary. In many workplaces, your colleagues are all too happy to throw you a conference room baby shower, and they’re usually happy to take on parts of your work to help you out. You get recommendations for shows to binge-watch and you smile at the employer-branded baby onesie. Going on parental leave starts to feel exciting.
But then a few well-meaning colleagues will ask, “Aren’t you thrilled to be at home for the next three months?” or your boss breezily says, “Enjoy your time off!” …as if you’re not going to spend at least a full month in bed, recovering from a traumatic accident while also taking care of a complete stranger who was in that same accident with you.
You press on. Because you have to. You start training your colleagues on different aspects of your job, and you cross your fingers that the team won’t forget about you — that you’ll actually have a job to come back to in a few months.
…at least, this is how I felt. I love my job and I was a little sad about leaving it, even though I know it’s temporary. I can’t imagine not working at SparkToro. But Rand and Casey made sure I was set up with a wonderful parental leave policy, and we started making a plan that would ensure I could get some needed time off while also not leaving them in the lurch.
This plan includes a temporary hire that I’m thrilled to announce: our dear friend, Brendan Hufford. Brendan has a wealth of experience in B2B SaaS marketing, SEO/content, and community. He runs the All In B2B marketing community as well as his consultancy, Growth Sprints. He’s been an avid SparkToro customer for years, and we couldn’t imagine a more perfect person to take the reins in my absence.
As Head of Marketing, Brendan will run the Audience Research newsletter, email marketing, content, social media, and most importantly, our product marketing efforts for the launch of the new SparkToro. As a professional, he’s done it all: He started his career in education, and in the marketing world, he’s worked at an agency, gone in-house, worked as a part-time freelancer, and been a full-time consultant. And as a hands-on dad of four, he embodies what it means to make a long-term impact at work while also setting healthy boundaries. The perfect example of our core values, BELUX.
I’m honored to have Brendan join the team, and I hope you all enjoy the coming content and newsletter that will have Brendan’s flair!
As for me, I’ll be winding down this week and spending the next couple months covered in spitup… with an occasional cocktail in hand. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Next time you see me on camera will be at SparkTogether on November 16. I hope you’ll join us then!