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Fake followers, paid engagement, and a continued squeeze on access to consumers by social media platforms.

Who needs that? No one, if Indi.com Inc. has its way.

“A lot of brands think today that social media is the savior for them,” said Indi CEO and co-founder Neel Grover. “On one hand, it’s true everyone’s on social. Unfortunately, the social media platforms have dramatically changed their access to talking to customers on there.”

The Newport Beach firm’s content management system helps companies bypass the continued tamp down on access to consumers and lack of usable information—such as customer emails—for marketers on social media. It does that with software that lets customers directly upload video content and other testimonials to a retailer’s site and, in some cases, get paid for helping drive sales. Companies, in turn, own the content.

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It’s a different way of doing things given most consumers’ and companies’ knee-jerk reactions historically have been to turn to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other channels to voice an opinion about or market a product. Indi executives acknowledge use of their platform ultimately requires a rejiggering of human behavior.

“What it’s been for the last five, 10 years everyone’s just posted content on social and they get their likes and followers on social,” Grover said. “At the end of the day, those are just vanity metrics.”

The learning curve has been one hurdle for the company in selling its product, but it’s by no means been a roadblock as one can see from Indi’s customer list. It works with retailers ranging from those in fashion, such as Bebe and Coach, to food services in the way of Starbucks and Nékter.

Grover’s backed with experience, having more than 15 years of e-commerce expertise as the former CEO of Rakuten North America, Bluefly.com, and Buy.com. While at the latter, he helped reverse an over $100 million a year losing streak to 13 straight quarters of profitability before Rakuten paid $250 million to buy it.

His work at Indi helped him nab one of the Business Journal’s Innovator of the Year Awards on Sept. 25 (see other profiles, pages 1, 4, and 8).

Unregulated Influencer Industry

Few, if anyone, are positing influencer marketing goes away in the future, but it continues to evolve at a rapid clip as companies get smarter about their returns on investment and influencers become savvier on monetizing their own brands.

“I think Instagram has a place and it’s a very important place in the market. It’s just that the incentives need to be aligned,” Grover said. “What happened is it went very, very fast. It’s always been there with athletes and celebrities. The next set of influencers that came around, it’s just unfortunately been unregulated.”

“It’s the Wild, Wild West and you’ll get some influencers that drive some amazing traffic when they’re aligned with your brand. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to buy fake followers and fake engagement now.”

Indi, to capture the other side of the coin, recently spun off a separate entity so that it now has its content management system and related services under Indi Engage, which has raised money from high-net worth individuals, but has no structured capital as of yet.

Meanwhile, there’s Indi (corporate entity Indi Individuals Inc.), which has raised an undisclosed sum, to focus on helping influencers—ranging from celebrities and athletes to stay-at-home parents—looking to leverage their own audiences by helping them build out online stores and sourcing product to sell. The company plans to launch video commerce soon, according to Grover.

Both entities longer term have the potential to be sizable in their own right, the CEO said.

“They both have great opportunities because brands need to regain control of their connections to their customers and really take some of that ownership from social media,” Grover said. “That’s going to be a big shift that’s going to happen. On the individual side, it’s a new world out there and we think we’re at the forefront of that.”

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Contact Kim Lopez