Trying to work with Facebook? Good luck.July 17, 2012: 11:32 AM ET
At a panel on the business of social media, participants were in agreement on one thing: It's too early to tell how to make money from it.
By Megan Barnett
FORTUNE -- Advertisers, publishers, and developers are all desperate to get ahold of their piece of the Facebook pie. So what's it like to work with Facebook when you're trying to develop new campaigns or products for the platform?
"Working with Facebook is an adventure, and it's not always a pleasant one," says Ben Elowitz, CEO of Wetpaint, a site that covers reality television. "When it comes to responding to partners, nobody I talk to there says they'll even try to provide world class service."
Ben Lerer, CEO of Thrillist Media Group, says his company has gotten lucky. "We found one guy at Facebook who we like who really likes us," he says. "We hope he never quits or gets fired."
The two executives were panelists in a discussion about the Business of Social at Fortune's Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen on Tuesday morning. They were joined by Ryan Holmes, CEO of HootSuite, Clara Shih, CEO of Hearsay Social, and Michael Chui of McKinsey.
The challenges of working with Facebook (FB) are minor compared to the challenges of making money through social platforms. Most panelists were in agreement that there is a lot of opportunity ahead in social, but we're still too early in the game to see real success in monetizing it.
"The products Facebook has for advertisers today are nothing like the products they'll have years from now," Elowitz says. "They need to truly sell relationships instead of campaigns."
Brands are still measuring their success on social media platforms per post, instead of taking a more holistic approach to managing a relationship with individual followers over the long term. But we're nowhere close to seeing that approach in the mainstream yet.
While Facebook tries to figure that out for brands, Elowitz says Wetpaint has experienced some success in doing that itself. It has developed a platform that measures each social post in each content area, and it's able to respond to the ones that work best to really capture more of its audience through those platforms. It's all about knowing your audience, Elowitz says.
Still, though, this was a discussion about making money through social. When asked if Wetpaint is profitable, Elowitz responded with a smile, but dodged the question: "We're doing super well."
Super well is great, but profitability is still greater.