As seen in Transworld Business.

Tapping into people’s vanity is an age old business model that really hit the after burners with the advent of social media. Users share over a billion pieces of content daily on Facebook alone, an increasing number of which are photos of themselves and friends.

A new company, Snapsportz, is tapping into this by feeding action sports athlete’s desire to get professional quality images of themselves riding. But the crux of its business  model is partnering with resorts, brands, and park owners to turn these riders into brand advocates by helping them share watermarked images from events on social media sites, gaining exposure for the brands as well as “likes” and followers.

In 2004, while working as a surf-vacation photographer at Namotu Island Resort in Fiji, Ben Kottke, a former senior photographer at Surfing, was trying to figure out an easier way to sort photos of 100s of different people.

“I realized there must be some tech­­nology that can automatically identify, pair, and sort photos,” explains Kottke of what led to his business’s epiphany.  “I learned about RFID, which can do all these things, from an engineer-friend and then realized we could automate the actual image capture process and incorporate it at places like terrain parks.”

“The idea of using that technology as a social media tool for sponsoring brands was a concept my top advisors, and founders as well, Al Ramadan and Chris Lochhead suggested,” continues Kottke of the birth of his company Snapsportz.  ” Al and Chris are weathered Silicon Valley execs who've been around since the beginning of  the commercial web. Their company, Play Bigger, helps tech startups like Snapsportz.”

Now made up of CEO Kottke, CAO Nate Coffing, System Architect Lukas Radosz, and Account Manager Riley Cooney, Snapsportz is rolling out its concept at events and parks and has worked with major brands like Nike. We caught up with Kottke after a mid-February event in Mammoth to learn more.

Tell us a little about the event this past weekend?

We were tasked by Nike to set up two Snapsportz cameras at two features in Mammoth's main park.  Our goal was to activate Mammoth’s main park riders as well as the Nike Chosen pro/am contestants riding before Nike's Chosen night contest to Nike's Snowboarding Facebook page. Once at the site, they view and share their branded photos. At Nike's discretion we set up at a rail for intermediate riders and at a sizable jump at the bottom for advanced boarders. We also set up a 60" weatherized flatscreen at the bottom of the run in Nike's Chosen/info tent which streamed a live slideshow of the images as they were captured.

We distributed tags to Mammoth riders and Nike-Chosen athletes and informed them about the service and where cameras were located.

You guys have wrapped up your testing phase and are ready to push it forward. What have been some of the biggest lessons of the beta phase working with Nike, etc?

We've actually been testing the market while simultaneously developing and improving our technology, but this last year was our first real beta product in the market.

Biggest general lessons was timing the market while simultaneously developing technology. We started off using the technology to sell photos online. As we saw social media emerging we tweaked our main business model and technology to be a B2B activation, branding, and engagement tool.

The biggest lesson with early adopters like Nike was educating clients about the most effective manner and areas to use our technology. Using our system to shoot top pro athletes at heavily covered media events isn't really our niche. At Snapsportz we enable brands to engage with large numbers of amature enthusiasts to allow them to be their own hero while simultaneously being loyal brand advocates.

How does the technology work?

Simply put Snapsportz’ technology works like this:

1. A participant wears a free sponsor-branded RFID tag. It could be a sticker that goes on a helmet, bike, or moto,  a laminated card that zip ties to a jacket, or already a part of their snow- lift ticket.
2. Participant "hits" a Snapsportz enabled feature, i.e. jump, rail, finish line, or simply something that looks cool.
3. Snapsportz sensors “sense” the RFID tag and trigger creatively positioned cameras to fire a sequence of photos.
4. Images are branded with sponsor’s logo and any message, as well as embedded with any requested metadata
5. RFID tag numbers and photos are paired together and uploaded to a server for immediate viewing and sharing online via a brand's Facebook page, website,or their mobile device.
6. Backend performance metrics and data are available for the sponsor in real time (# of photos shared, user data captured, “likes” enabled, further digital engagement metrics, ie- user submitted photo contests.

At $2,500, this is fairly expensive for small brands - who are you targeting primarily and what sports do you foresee being in going forward? 

That price includes custom Facebook iframe development, onsite Snapsportz photo-personnel, and 800 RFID tags for one day. The price goes down significantly over longer-term deployments, and can even be less than $200 per day. So things can drop considerably, and we'll consider performance based deals to ensure a tentative strategic-client's ROI.

If you acknowledge and value social media metrics:  ie. "likes" generated, amount and level of engagement we can generate four times to even 15 times ROI.

What kind of companies have you been in talks with?

We're useful to companies of any size and resorts who utilize RFID who believe that maximizing engagement is the path to success with social media.  Leveraging user generated content promotes their brand via peer to peer social media sharing over the long term. Recommended areas for our technology are:

1. Events with large-active populations (100 people to tens of thousands) where a company wants to activate large portions of the population and have their brand and message shared organically via a user's personal network.

2. Long term areas of targeted activation.  This would include entire ski resorts, terrain parks within resorts, skate parks, mountain bike parks, action sports camps, & moto tracks.

3. "Difficult to activate" core markets. Action sports "inner core" has always been a difficult market to penetrate.

It seems like it has to be a static park with a fixed route or feature set up?

You are correct, and that's one of the main reasons using our technology for surf doesn't work.  Waves don’t consistently break in the same spot. But anywhere there's a fixed route and static feature it works, and most action sports fit into that category--any sport that has rails, jumps, or a defined user path. This can be everything from skate, snow, BMX, moto, mountain biking, wake-boarding cable parks and zip lines to marathons, road biking, and endurance sports.

How do you envision brands calculating ROI on this?

First, to value Snapsportz, brands have to believe the following:

-Social Media is the biggest marketing opportunity since the birth of the Internet. There is soon going to be one billion people on FB. Every action sports person is involved in social media, and social media is a giant opportunity for brands who are prepared and positioned to gain significant market ground.

-Most companies in action sports are not optimized for or simply don't fully understand social media, especially the aspect that people want to share themselves (images, feedback/thoughts/ideas/jokes, videos, ect) and not just receive content. A perfect example of this is GoPro and how everyone captures and shares images and video of themselves. People want to share. It's a two way street not just a one way media channel. We believe companies that don't fully understand this are running the risk of losing significant business. Within three years there will be brands that monetize social media or brands that have been eliminated for not keeping up with these trends. Look at industry marketing leaders like Nike and Redbull and how much resources they're putting into social media and you should get an idea that there's something there.

-If a brand values social media activation, impressions, and especially engagement we'll demonstrate value. Notable metrics we enable and value  include:

-Activation-conversion: How many people we directly drive to your FB page to view and retrieve photos

-Peer to peer branded photo impressions: How many eyeballs see your brand as it's being organically shared

-Facebook "likes" generated: This can be for a brand or even to increase a target athlete's following

-Leads generated

-Branded Profile Pictures (pretty unique to have your brand as part of a user's profile pic)

-Data captured- contact info, product preferences

-Other Engagement metrics- photo comments, shares, ectWhat do you see as the biggest benefits for brands in partnering with SnapSportz?

If a brand believes Social Media is the biggest opportunity since the birth of the Internet, and if it understands that activation and engagement are the keys to getting loyal customers and monetizing social media, then we're a good product. Photo and video sharing between peers is the most popular thing on the internet, from Facebook, to Instragram, to Youtube. Snapsportz enables a brand to be a part of these initiatives and will lead to increased revenue and market share.

Explain how the social media piece of the business model works?

While the RFID aspect enables the photography, it's our social media applications that are the most important part of our technology and where the value is truly generated for the brand-customer. The RFID tag is just the means to get photos captured and sorted.

After a person has their photos taken, verbiage on the RFID tag tells them to go to a specific URL to view and share their photos for free (for example The user then goes to a page running a Snapsportz app. This page is skinned as per the sponsor's discretion, and the user doesn't know they're on another site. They then enter their RFID tag number, look at their sequence-photos, add the ones they like to a cart, and then simply click "add to facebook" and the photos are immediately and automatically placed into their newsfeed for all to see, make comments about, like, etc. That's the basic process. Depending on the client's goals, value can be further added by making the user "like" the brand before entering the site. Additionally the user may be asked, questions about preferences, or a  products survey can be requested before sharing. Facebook Connect can request access to certain information or a lead generation form may be required.  You can even ask for the user to follow targeted athletes on Facebook and Twitter. Basically at the checkout process instead of asking for money the company can ask for other things of value.