Michael Szewczyk was sitting around this past summer, taking stock of all the photo sharing apps that were blossoming and wondering why all this user generated content wasn’t being monetized better. So the director of operations at San Francisco start-up Qwiki left the company and returned to New York, where he set about tackling that opportunity.
The result is a new iPhone app called Kapture that lets merchants, businesses and brands reward loyal users for sharing pictures of a business or product on Facebook. It’s taking a habit that many consumers already do – taking pictures of meals and establishments – and giving merchants a way to leverage that as a marketing channel and also build a better relationship with their customers. And it lets consumers benefit from their interest in certain businesses and brands.
“We created Kapture to take this experience that people already know – taking pictures and sharing them – and we asked: why not reward users for sharing this with their friends,” said Szewczyk. “With Kapture, the individuals visiting a business become their social media troops in a way.”
Photos ops offer rewards
Kapture is starting at 25 businesses in New York including the Gansevoort Park hotel and Battery Place Market and has many more lined up to go soon. The merchants offer a range of small discounts and free items for users who take a picture and share it on Facebook. For example, Gansevoort Park is offering a free glass of champagne for people who take a picture at its rooftop bar. Spin Ping Pong is also offering a free drink for a picture of a user’s game. The pictures gets stamped with a water mark from the merchant and link back to a landing page from Kapture that tells where it was taken and provides information on any discounts. The Facebook posting itself doesn’t include any discount information so it appears like a regular update.
The app allows users to see what “photo ops” are nearby and when they get to a participating location, they can take a picture through the app. They can then tag friends, share the picture directly to Facebook and then receive a coupon, which they show to employees. Kapture plans to extend support for Android and Twitter next year. Kapture doesn’t actively try to ferret out fraud but does include a button to report abuse. Szewczyk said social pressure on Facebook should also curb people’s desire to spam their friends using Kapture.
A tool for merchants
Szewczyk moved to the Bay Area from New York two years ago to be part of the founding team on Qwiki, which presents search information in short multimedia presentations. He was excited to return to New York and get started on his own venture, which is now up to 7 people. He is in the process of still raising seed funding and has gotten investments from Qwiki CEO Doug Imbruce and COO Navin Thukkaram. He’s also signed on some notable advisors including Serkan Piantino, who is leading Facebook’s New York engineeing office and Alexia Giles, principal of new business development at Google (s goog).Merchants can set up their own Kapture account online through a dashboard and set their rewards and what they want users to do in the picture. They can also determine how often they want to run rewards and how many they want to offer each day. Business owners will have a Kapture sticker they can put in their window and they can also put up signs directing people to specific discounts and the app.
Leveraging user generated content
I think Kapture is a smart idea that can be a helpful tool for merchants if it can scale up. Business owners are getting bombarded with offers from companies like Groupon (s grpn) and Living Social. But those deals often require them to offer steep discounts with sometimes half of the revenue going back to the deal provider. That can be helpful for some businesses, who want access to email lists from these deal providers. But for many merchants, they already have an avenue for getting the word out: their own customers. If they can better leverage their existing fans, they can market to a wide audience without having to offer big deals. Using photos is also smart because it’s an action that people already do. I just took a photo of a dish I had in Brooklyn just because I liked the meal. Getting rewarded for that might push me to come back and it would definitely make me appreciate that restaurant more.
This is a growing opportunity, helping merchants and retailers leverage social actions and user generated content. I recently wrote about Social Passport, another New York company that lets people use QR codes and NFC on their smartphone to trigger social actions such as liking, following, checking-in or posting about a business. Piictu, yet another New York company, launched publicly in September and offers users a way to have conversations through pictures. The company said it sees a way in the future to help brands sponsor picture conversations on Piictu and help create user-generated content. Szewczyk said pictures are just the first step for Kapture, which will eventually become more of a platform for leveraging all kinds of user generated content.
Long term prospects
Kapture still has a ways to go and there are all kinds of companies looking to capture the local advertising budgets of merchants and retailers. And I wonder if this will be a feature that other competitors will try and incorporate into their products. Facebook and Google could also be interested in picking up Kapture if it gathers steam, especially considering their advisor connections. But I’d like to see what Kapture can do on its own. It’s got an interesting take on user generated content and could be a good tool for merchants looking to make better use of social media.