Bobby Palmieri is CEO at Lilo Social (Brooklyn, New York), a social-media-based marketing agency focused on creating better social content. In this interview, Bobby explains his company’s objectives for its clients: to get a customer to buy the client’s product, grow the client’s social following, grow the brand, and/or increase a viewer’s engagement time—and how utilizing Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Pinterest (and some LinkedIn) can provide “the best bang for the marketing buck.”
Increasingly, people are realizing effective marketing is not about “impressions,” it is about “engagement.” Lilo works with two classes of customers: leading brands and startups. Bobby is very aware of social media platform trends, open to working in challenging spaces, and dedicated to applying technological expertise to enhance customer experience.
For such leading brands as Microsoft, Live Nation, Foot Locker, and Under Armour, Lilo creates innovative, interactive content (e.g., chatbots, micro games, Snapchat lenses, Instagram Stories) to entice viewers to engage for minutes instead of seconds—boosting engagement and building brand equity.
Startups and scale-ups need to get the next user at the most cost-efficient rate. Lilo facilitates user acquisition and e-commerce sales. In today’s environment, Lilo has found that the most scalable way to deliver maximum lifetime value to customers at the lowest acquisition cost is through Facebook and Instagram ads.
Tomorrow’s greatest social media platform? Who knows? Tomorrow’s technological innovation? Again, who knows? Technology comes in ever-evolving waves, and Bobby notes that each new iteration brings opportunities for savvy marketers able to adapt to everything new, build sophisticated assets, and stay ahead of the technology curve
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I am joined today by Bobby Palmieri, CEO at Lilo Social based in Brooklyn, New York. Welcome, Bobby.
BOBBY: Thank you for having me.
ROB: It’s great to have you on here. Thanks for joining us. Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about Lilo Social and about what the company is great at?
BOBBY: Absolutely. At our heart, we’re a social agency, so 99% of what we do is across social. Everything is built platform-specifically. We do stuff on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Pinterest. Those are the Big 5 that we use—and LinkedIn a little bit, but the five I mentioned are really what we use.
We essentially are marketing, but it’s all social-focused. We have a big focus on engagement time and growth. Everything we do is really focused around how we can get people on social to either buy a product, grow a social following, stick around for minutes not seconds.
That’s what we’re focused on at our heart: creating better social content. There’s kind of two sides to our business.
One is working with today’s leading brands. We’ve worked with Microsoft, Live Nation, Foot Locker, Under Armour. That’s really based around creating content for engagement, whether that’s a chatbot or creating a micro game or something along those lines.
Then the other half of our business is working with startups and scale-ups to help with either user acquisition or ecommerce sales.
Those two sides of the business both blend together on social.
ROB: That’s quite a client roster there. You mentioned Snapchat and you also mentioned LinkedIn. You mentioned the bigger brands; are they more the Snapchat, and then the startups and scale-ups are more of the LinkedIn, and the other channels are more core across clients?
BOBBY: It’s actually funny where our clients fall on different platforms. We got our start on Snapchat. We’re really good at marketing, we’re really good at social media, being a young company. We really understood the human behavior behind social media and then blended that with some business knowledge and were like, “let’s do social media marketing.”
But what we found out is there’s so many different marketing agencies and social agencies. Not to say that we were doing the same thing; it was just a watered-down market. Everyone we reached out to was like, “We already have a social team. We’re in contract for the next 6 months.”
We’re like, “What can we do that’s a little different?” That’s where we stumbled on Snapchat. Snapchat in 2016 was just hitting its peak, and we were like, “Let’s focus on this.” No one was really jumping on it from a market perspective, but there was a huge fan base and huge user base—but it was a unique user base.
So we started doing Snapchat marketing. Everything from geofilters to helping people with their content. Our first big break was launching Maroon 5’s album through Snapchat. We worked with them hand-in-hand to do the whole album rollout.
It was about a 3-week long campaign, and it was entirely through Snapchat. If you go look at their album cover for Red Pill Blues, they all have Snapchat filters. So it just tied together super nice that we were able to do the marketing from a Snapchat perspective.
Since then, now that we’re in with these brands, it’s like, “Okay, these were the Snapchat guys; what else can we do?” Instagram Stories got released the following summer. It’s kind of spiraled out into mobile content, so everything has a mobile focus.
But, yeah, I think when you talk about brands versus startups and scale-ups, the brands are more focused on engagement, building that brand equity and things like that where you can have a little more creative freedom. It’s a little more platform agnostic at times.
Startups and scale-ups are really looking for how to get the next user at a cost-efficient rate. The biggest metric is lifetime value to customer acquisition cost. Right now, the most scalable way to do that is Facebook and Instagram ads, so that’s where we’re spending a lot of time with startups and scale-ups on that front.
ROB: That’s an interesting strategy. I think I saw on your site that you have just launched a Snapchat lens for the band alt-J. Is that right?
BOBBY: Yeah, that actually came out yesterday. It was a very interesting project, the way that came about. Their first album, Relaxer, was focused on this PlayStation game. They built out this whole world and had the rights to the game. They built a web experience where you could move through the world.
We’re like, how can we do a more interactive experience with that? So we took that world and created an alt-J Snapchat lens where, when you unlock it and use the lens, it’s this fully immersive, augmented reality experience where you can look around. There’s hidden messages throughout it. That’s all through Snapchat.
ROB: Wow. Between that and other Snapchat work you’ve done—you mentioned chatbots as well—it sounds like you have a certain capability toward building more sophisticated social assets than someone who’s just cranking out content, maybe a photo. What you’re doing is even deeper in some cases than video.
What do you think it is about you and your team that pulls you in that direction and pulls you in touch with clients that are looking for that deeper investment?
BOBBY: We were incredibly lucky to build a team that’s laser-focused and bring on the right people at the right time to allow us to do some pretty innovative stuff.
I think a lot of that really comes down to we knew from the start that we wanted to be doing social, and we knew that we had to do it differently. We reverse-engineered, how are people using social and where is that falling short for marketing?
A lot of it was almost autonomous, where people were just scrolling down the feed, and maybe they’d like some stuff, but they weren’t really spending time with the brand. They weren’t converting on ads. It doesn’t even make sense for brands. All the attention is on social media, but brands aren’t getting any of that attention.
So we wanted to take a different approach and be like, how can we get people to spend longer? Even when we do photo or video, it’s based around how we can get someone to stop in the feed and stop scrolling.
A good example of that would be for Snapchat before Memories rolled out. We’re like, brands are going to want to pre-approve content. They can’t just hand us their Snapchat account and let us go wild with it and then put it live to millions of people.
So we created a Snapchat rig. Essentially, the rig was we took like a janitor cart and put a tripod in there, and then at the bottom of the janitor cart was a TV screen. We would clip the phone in and record the TV screen, so it would look like it was shot live but it was actually prerecorded content. But it was all live through Snapchat.
We’ve just been really focused on finding innovative ways to do things like that. We created a game with Under Armour on Instagram Stories. You would swipe up and play for a Steph Curry shoe release.
Getting back to the original question, our team has always been focused on pushing the limits of social, and sometimes that’s more than photo and video. There’s some dev behind it, there’s web experience. Something that’s going to get someone to be like, “Hey, here’s a brand that I’m familiar with doing something that I actually want to do on social.”
We’ve built the team around that and just brought in the right people with the right toolset. Everything from coding games to augmented reality designers and developers, things like that.
ROB: Right. It reminds me of when the Pixel 2 phone launched and they had these augmented reality Star Wars characters that you could drop into your pictures. That seems like something that would be right in your wheelhouse as well.
BOBBY: Yeah. It’s funny you say that. It’s kind of adapting to everything that’s new and then also being ahead of that curve. Like, where can you fit in and then use the existing technology?
One of the things that—I don’t want to say it’s the biggest challenge, but one of the things we’re always looking to utilize is on social, it’s restrictive in a sense. We’re not building the capabilities that can be put on social. Instagram dictates that, and then we have to be reactive and predictive to what’s coming next. We want to create this piece of content, but Instagram doesn’t allow that upload. Just being agile in that sense has really played well.
ROB: If we rewind the story a little bit, Bobby, what led you to start the company?
BOBBY: It’s pretty much your typical startup story. Just in a college basement, hacking together websites for anyone that was willing to pay—and sometimes not pay, at the time. We were just building WordPress sites.
Got really good at that and then realized that we weren’t really innovating; we were just creating normal websites. We wanted to do something that pushed the boundaries a little more. We had some clients that we rolled over into ecommerce sales on Facebook. They were like, “Hey, you did our website, you can do our marketing.” That was kind of their thought line. We’re like, “yeah, of course.”
We’re like, we really like this and we see something tangible. I know that there’s definitely dev agencies out there that create websites and you can see conversion rates increase from 3% to 8% on the new website, but as soon as we hit the marketing world and we were doing sales for ecommerce business, we spent X amount of dollars and you got a 4x return on your ad dollars.
I thought it just made a lot of sense from a marketing standpoint. This is super sellable because it’s creating tangible results for people. We really liked that aspect.
That’s when we pivoted the business from websites (which was a short-lived run) into social.
ROB: Very cool. Was there ever a point where you thought about going out and getting a more traditional job? Or was there no looking back from there?
BOBBY: It was kind of no looking back from there. I think part of that was being a little naïve on what challenges would come, but we were making enough money to keep the ship afloat.
We realized we were young, and especially when we got into the Snapchat world, we thought we were onto something bigger—something that other agencies of 400 people weren’t agile enough to do but saw a real product market fit with brands and startups. We’re like, let’s see what our runway is and take this out as long as we can.
ROB: You mentioned not knowing what you were getting into. What are some things you’ve learned in building Lilo Social that you would do differently next time if you were starting from scratch?
BOBBY: I think there was a lot to learn. Part of that, from the agency and service-based side, was figuring out exactly what we were selling. We always knew what we were doing; we just didn’t know what we were selling. Which is an interesting problem to have. It’s easily correctable once you identify it.
At a certain point we were like, “Let’s just go sell Snapchat,” but then we realized, what are we actually selling? That’s helping brands reach a unique audience in a unique way. Snapchat was the service, but the value prop was who we were reaching, how we were reaching them, and what we were getting them to engage with.
Once we figured that out, it really changed our business. So I would say going back, I think we could change figuring out what the value prop is versus what the services are.
Now, when we approach social, when we approach a campaign or a new client, we really look at what they’re trying to solve and then take that, pair it with who they’re trying to reach, and then figure out what the content and what the platform is after all that has been established.
It’s just a better model in terms of producing results when you really understand the KPI and what we’re trying to achieve. From there you can put together where it’s best to reach them and how often to reach them.
ROB: As you’ve learned that lesson, what impact has that had on the types of engagements that you’re able to get into with clients?
BOBBY: In terms of types of engagements and also the length of engagements, it’s really been a big change and big difference.
I think there’s a huge component to immediately defining success with any client we engage with. That can be a variety of different things. It could be 4x return on ad spend, it could be follower growth of 60% month over month, or it could be a minute-and-a-half engagement time on this game.
There’s a variety of different PIs that are the primary KPI for the different engagements we have, but establishing that from the beginning and really understanding exactly what the client is looking for has been more than helpful in producing great results and in communication with the client.
When everyone knows what the goal is, what the objective is, it’s just a smoother transition to be like, “This really hit” or “This didn’t hit” and knowing where you fall short or where you over-performed. When you go to report back to the client, there’s no guessing, “Are they going to be happy or not?” You know, “Okay, our KPI was a $17 cost per acquisition and we were at $14. That’s great, but here’s how we can improve.”
So I think that has changed a lot in terms of how we sell and also how we manage. From the selling side, we can better understand exactly what they’re looking for and how to build out a whole campaign for them and be like, “This is exactly the tools, the way we’re going to do it, how it’s going to look, how it’s going to work, results we can expect.” It just makes things go a lot smoother both on the selling and also on the doing side.
ROB: That’s a really interesting lesson in there. I was having a similar conversation this morning with someone who’s built their business and they’ve been able to grow it more, the more they’re able to—not exaggerate expectations, but to level up the business value of what they’re trying to deliver.
I think it can be very easy to get trapped at different spots. Nobody really goes out there and says, “Would you like to buy a word?” You don’t buy a word, but you do buy a bunch of words. “I’d like to do social posting for you.” That’s a very small objective.
You continue figuring out, what is it that they really want? And how do you deliver what they want? You can get a lot better and a lot more strategic deals, and it sounds like that’s been working for you.
BOBBY: Yeah. On that, it’s like what do they want and how do you quantify it? Social posts, the captions have been approved and the photos have been approved, but how happy are they, 1-10? Stuff like that gets lost in the mix. But it’s like, we want to use new social posts and new creatives to sell more product. That’s a qualitative KPI that we can hit or not hit, but at least we know where we fell on expectations.
Managing expectations is just as important as producing on those expectations. So I totally agree with that. What they’re buying and what they’re looking to get out of it is a good thing to set forth before and during the engagement.
ROB: What are you seeing in terms of both what people can expect from organic versus paid social and what clients are expecting? What do you see in terms of the shift towards paid, what people are expecting that may or may not be realistic from organic?
BOBBY: The shift to paid is here, it’s happened, and people need to make that happen.
We live in a paradigm now where you have to pay for your followers and then you have to pay to reach them. You have to spend money, whether it’s influencers or ads, to grow an Instagram following, and then you have to pay to boost that to those followers to keep your engagement. It’s not a great way to go about it, but it’s just something that’s here and needs to be adapted to.
We’re always looking at ways to—I don’t want to say game the system in terms of the algorithm. I think the more you try to go against the grain with the algorithm, the harder it’s going to be. The algorithm is always going to work, and if you build out a model just based on the algorithm, that can change in a minute. You saw that with publishers on Facebook.
What we do is try to understand ways that we can implement strategy to increase organic content because if it’s all paid, the ROI on it is going to be much less.
For instance, when you look at the Instagram algorithm, one of the big deterrents and factors on how your posts get served is how much time people spend with your content. The first 10% of people that see your post, Instagram’s going to use that as a gauge as to who it should serve it to and how many people it should serve it to.
If you write longer captions, people spend more time reading that. It’s a good trigger sign for Instagram to be like, “Okay, people are enjoying this content. Let’s put it out there more.”
I think to say that you don’t need a paid strategy is almost foolish at this point, just about everywhere except Twitter. But to say that you only need paid, I think that’s not here yet. I think there’s a lot of ways to work with the algorithm to get your content out there.
At the end of the day, whether there’s an algorithm or not, great content is always going to win. Figure out who your audience is and what content they engage with, and your paid and organic will perform better.
When you think about what an algorithm is, people spend hours trying to figure out what actually goes into it, but all it’s trying to do is serve better content to the right people. If your content is great for the people you’re trying to reach, your organic reach is going to be better.
So I think that people spend a lot of time complaining about the algorithm, but if you have good content it’s going to help you.
ROB: Right on. There’s a solid pro tip in there that I think would be remiss in not pointing my voice and my finger at and making sure people go back and listen to it. A big ranking factor for the Instagram algorithm is how long people spend looking at your post, and the longer descriptions can help you with that. I want to circle that and put a button in that. That’ll change, but that is an of-the-moment thing.
And you’re getting to what is true of any feed, which is they are designed, as you said, to serve people what they want. So when you’re writing your description, you should think of what people also want to read.
You mentioned that Twitter was a little bit of an exception on the paid side. Is that because the amplification possibility if you get a lot of retweets is still pretty good? Or is that somewhat about the value of paid Twitter that may not be up to par? What’s your take there?
BOBBY: I think it has to do with the amplification of retweets. It’s much easier to organically go viral on Twitter than Facebook, and infinitely easier than Instagram.
But also, the chronological feed. If you grow your follower base and you tweet, as long as you’re tweeting at the right times, it’s going to show up in their feed. They show every tweet in chronological order, so there’s no way that your tweet can get down-ranked in an algorithm.
I think there’s a lot of value in paid ads. I also like that Twitter has a follow ad that actually has a follow button so you can grow your following at a pretty affordable rate. Then you don’t have to pay to reach those followers.
The only thing you can pay for on Twitter in a general sense is to reach new people. You already own your audience in the sense that it’s going to show up to them chronologically. In Instagram and Facebook, you can post, and even if someone checks their feed 10 minutes after you posted, it might not show up for another 32 posts.
That’s the difference with an algorithm-based social feed and a chronological-based social feed.
ROB: Very solid. One question we often ask, but I think you may be especially well-equipped to answer, is, what are things that are coming up in marketing and technology that you’re excited about? What’s something that you think a client might pay you to build for the first time tomorrow?
BOBBY: I think we’re in a very good time for the people that are trying to innovate on social. I think it’s a very scary time for other agencies that are older and they’re selling a different way now. They could sell Facebook impressions and tell a brand “we can get you 6 million impressions at a $12 CPM,” and they’re buying it for $2.
People don’t want impressions anymore. People want tangible results. Those results can be sales goals, they can be cost per lead, or they can be engagement time or just interactions in general.
But I’m super excited about the shift. I saw Adidas come out the other day and say “for our World Cup promotions, we’re not worried about impressions; we’re just worried about engagement and building a lasting brand.”
When you think back to marketing, that’s really what it’s all about. It’s not how many eyeballs you can get on that, because in this paid world you can just pay for that many impressions. It’s what you do with those eyeballs once you have your brand on their screens. I’m super excited about that.
I think there’s a lot of innovative things that can happen. AR is getting more and more advanced. Snap is spending a ton of money on their tech—their ad tech specifically. Doing things like games and stuff like that in AR is super exciting. I’m super excited to get a chance to build that.
But also just web experiences. I don’t think it’s groundbreaking technology, but I think these brands are putting a focus on these agencies to get actual, tangible results in one shape or another. I think you’re going to start to see people spending a lot more time thinking about, “What if we do this? How will people interact with that on social?”, not “Let’s take a pretty picture and boost it for $300,000 and get tons of impressions.”
So I’m super excited about that. I think the technology of AR and what you can build on the web and drive traffic to from social is beyond exciting from a marketer’s standpoint of getting back to the basics and producing real results, not just eyeballs.
ROB: That’s interesting. I think we’ve almost perhaps underleveraged in this conversation your expertise on the more B-to-B side. What might be a little bit different or nuanced there that’s worth being attentive to?
BOBBY: In terms of B-to-B marketing?
BOBBY: I think B-to-B marketing, from a social perspective, is super valuable just because the lifetime value of a customer in B-to-B is so much higher. If you’re selling toiletries and someone buys a shampoo every 3 months for $3, their 3 month lifetime value is $9. So your acquisition costs have to be $4 or less when you factor in margins.
When you talk B-to-B, some of these B-to-B contracts are hundreds of thousands of dollars, and social is the first place that really can track down the lifetime value of a customer and where they came in in the funnel and how long it took them to convert.
There’s a huge opportunity to take the data that’s available, whether it’s through purchase behaviors, things like that, and build out a customer persona and reach them at the right time. I think LinkedIn marketing from a content perspective is super interesting for B-to-B. I think long form video on Facebook for B-to-B is super interesting.
And then just making sure that those are tangible results. When you do B-to-B marketing, most of those products are usually schedule a demo, whether it’s SaaS or things like that. But having the proper technology in place where you can drive traffic to a landing page and then tie whoever converts to a specific ad campaign on social is super important so that you can track what’s working and what’s not and return on that.
The amount of data out there for B-to-B marketers is immense. It’s a lot bigger than consumers. So I think that’s a huge opportunity that you’ll see a lot more people grasping onto: leveraging audience first and then working back on the creative.
ROB: When I think about agencies that have navigated this transition to paid social well, there’s usually some sort of secret sauce in there that has helped them. In part of your story, what I see is that even when you’re in consumer, when you’ve been building high value customer experiences, you create this expectation that the content itself is valuable and the campaign itself is valuable.
Thankfully, for a lot of people, the industry in general is coming around. When you had content that was getting exposure for free, I think the value assigned to the creation of that content was lower than a lot of people liked. It was a little bit lazy in the content sometimes.
But I think perhaps by doing high-end consumer experiences, it also sets the table for you in B-to-B marketing, and it sets the table for an era where this is valuable marketing that is expected to drive business value. It seems like that’s been a great path for you.
BOBBY: Yeah. I think you touch on a good point there as well. We’re living in a content-heavy age to the nth degree. People are consuming content so fast. You just need to be creating content to keep up with that. You can’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on one TV commercial, because that TV commercial on social has a lifetime of 1 day. You need to be creating new content every day.
So I think it’s really stepped up not only people’s creative abilities to create ideas for daily content, but also their process to have a photoshoot and get 30 days’ worth of content done in 1 day. That’s kind of the world we live in; we can’t allocate hundreds of thousands of dollars to this, but we also can’t spend 10, 15, 30 days creating content. It really has cut down on people’s process for the better.
It also contributes to business goals, because now you’re doing it more affordably and you have to put some budget behind it as well. I think you’re going to see that kind of uprising too, where people are creating B-to-B content that’s a lot more scalable and a lot more ROI-focused.
ROB: Indeed. Bobby, when someone wants to get in touch with you and Lilo Social, how can they find you?
ROB: Fantastic. Thank you for your time and expertise. It’s been great to have you as a guest.
A special thanks goes out today to Brandon Pindulic from OpGen Media for this introduction. We love great introductions to great guests, and we got that today. Thank you, Bobby.
BOBBY: Thank you. It was a blast.
ROB: Take care.
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