June 29, 2010
Four years ago, around this time of year, Praized Media’s co-founders got together for the first time to discuss the possibility of launching a startup. We were very excited about the blogosphere and the quantity of local content being created in this new space. We thought there was an interesting business to build at the intersection of local search and local conversations happening in blogs. The first products we released (two years ago, almost to this date) were local directory and editorial tools that can be integrated within WordPress and MovableType, two leading blogging platforms. We also launched a Facebook application. All of those tools enabled structuring and aggregating of local conversations around merchant profile pages.
Turns out we were right about conversations but wrong about where and how the bulk of them would take place. We didn’t foresee the rise of the statusphere. In 2006-2007, the place where local “conversations” were happening was definitely blog posts (and associated comments) and consumer reviews in sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. Fast-forward to 2009-2010, the blogosphere still exists but local conversations are now happening on Twitter and on Facebook, mostly in status updates. Check-ins are also part of the conversation and are being used in Foursquare, Gowalla and other location-based social networks. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) is now a mass-market. Facebook has close to 500 million monthly active users. Twitter has rocketed to 190 million monthly users, writing 65 million updates PER DAY!
Pew Internet said in October 2009 that 19% of Internet users now say they use social media services to share updates about themselves, or to see updates about others. That’s a huge number! It dwarfs consumer reviews and check-ins by a large factor. And according to a recently published ComScore report quoted by Brian Solis, “23% of Twitter users follow businesses to find special deals, promotions, or sales. Of that, 14% of Twitter users reported taking to the stream to find and share product reviews and opinions.”
Last year, I also discovered local user reviews are not that exciting from a monetization point of view as they happen at the end of the consumer purchase decision process, at post-purchase. The real money is earlier in the process, when consumers realize they have needs and when they start doing the research. I wrote about this in July 2009. And can you guess when business directories are being used most often? When consumers have needs (“I need to order take-out”) or are going through life events (“I’m getting married!”), early in the consumer purchase decision process.
When we built our real-time local activity stream and real-time local search technology last summer, it allowed me to see the enormous quantity of “local” information being publicly shared on Twitter and Facebook. Millions of consumers are now sharing activities and opinions about local businesses using Twitter and/or Facebook. They are also expressing needs such as “I’m hungry”, “My car just broke down” and “Does anyone have a dentist to recommend?”, even in smaller cities. I coined a new name for this: the “Needium” (the “need” medium). Local businesses would definitely benefit from hearing the voice of the consumer and engaging with them but these activities are happening on many sites and can be hard to discover through the noise. In addition, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are extremely busy. Realizing this, we rolled up our sleeves and came up with this new game-changing product:
Needium.com (http://needium.com) is the social lead generation and reputation management dashboard for SMBs. Needium monitors social media sources and detects business opportunities based on local user needs and life events. It also listens for merchant name mentions to enable reputation management functionalities. Needium aggregates and structures that information in a Web-based dashboard where merchants can log-in to easily join conversations (and more) without having to monitor all social media sites individually. Based on merchant information in our structured database, a series of pre-configured results are automatically created for them, using their location, categorization and some user social actions collected from publicly available social media activity streams.
Take for example, this account for a Holiday Inn hotel in Boston:
The left-hand side column, Opportunities, is where merchants will find the latest business opportunities we have discovered for them. If advertisers feel the opportunity is interesting for their business, they can communicate directly with the consumer using the “reply” button. In that column, they’ll find consumers asking explicitly for their products and services (see screenshot below) or find implicit statements as well. For example, a traveler from a different city saying “I’m going to Boston in 3 weeks” will potentially need a hotel room and might patronize restaurants and museums. In each status, we show the user name, the status update, the time when it was made and the source. We use a combination of verb and noun synonyms, taxonomy and semantics to identify these opportunities.
The middle column, Mentions, is where SMBs will find references to their business name. If they feel they need to reply to the comment (to correct an issue or thank a user for their comment), they can communicate directly with the consumer using the “reply” button. Again, we show the user name, the status update, the time when it was made and the source.
The third column, History, is where you find the various replied done by the merchant. When you click on “reply”, a light box pops-up (see below). Merchants can then type in their message/reply and hit “send”.
Each column comes with its search box, enabling merchants to search for specific opportunities or mentions using particular keywords.
The business model is simple: monthly fixed-fee subscriptions. The product will be available in self-service and in white-label to leverage large sales channels like Yellow Pages, search engine marketing firms, newspaper publishers and other local sales channels. Additional services available are Twitter and Facebook accounts creation and a fully-managed service where we take care of the SMB communications with consumers on Twitter and Facebook (think of it as “community management” in a box).
We believe reputation management is now a commodity, a must-have in social media filtering but that the real big opportunity is in social lead generation. Our Yellow Pages experience and expertise helps us find and surface the real SMBs business opportunities happening in social media. We think the current quantity of leads is just the tip of the iceberg. We are already working on better semantic analysis, social hints as well as a few other techniques to get an even better signal out of the noise. With that improved analysis, with more people signaling their location every day, with usage growth, hundreds of local opportunities per day in most major Yellow Pages categories will be made available. This is the true evolution of word-of-mouth marketing and tremendous value will be created by channeling this “local voice of the Internet”. As we’ve stated before, we believe local conversations on the Web are the great local search disruptor and we will be happy to work with you to empower you to capture these new revenue opportunities. If you’re interested in a test account, please contact me at sprovencher AT praizedmedia.com. You can also follow Needium news on our Needium-specific Twitter account.
February 12, 2010
Over the course of the last two years, I’ve had the chance to meet with hundreds of traditional media company executives. Often, when talking about social media, one of the first “mental” hurdles that needs to be cleared is negative user comments. In merchant reviews, directory publishers are often afraid of negative ones especially as it pertains to advertisers. In news comments, newspaper publishers are challenged by negative, sometimes aggressive readers. Certain types of news will inflame passion, attract “trolls” and become hard to manage. It’s sometimes an ugly world out there with racism, homophobia and misogyny.
But if you thought this only happens in traditional media websites, think again. Some of the “new guys” are facing the same problem. Last week Engadget, one of the top gadget blogs, had to turn off their commenting system to cool off troll attacks. Quoted in VentureBeat, Engadget’s editor Joshua Topolsky said:
“We have a huge readership, but the vast majority of our readers do not comment. But we’ve had an influx of new readers due to our iPad coverage last week, which blew away our previous [traffic] expectations. Unfortunately, we’ve also had an influx of readers who are very trollish. (…) They’re not coming here to talk about technology. They’re coming to incite arguments. They’ll post things like ‘VAIOs suck, Macs rule,’ or ‘Macs are gay.’ They’ll go off-topic and get racist or sexist just to be inflammatory.”
Engadget flipped back the comment switch after a couple of days and made a few changes including an option to ”switch off the comments entirely if you don’t want to deal with them”. They also laid down a series of ground rules for community participation and provided answers to frequently asked questions.
Now, don’t think comments/reviews are going away! If consumers are not doing it on your website, they will find ways to express themselves elsewhere, on their blog, on Twitter or on Facebook. And you’ll need to start aggregating content back to your site (like Google is doing) to improve your user experience. User comments/reviews are very valuable and they serve to build your community, especially if they happen directly on your site.
In any case, I believe a solution will soon be found to this problem and it will come because of strong identity systems and social graphs. I foresee a time when everyone will log-in using a “real identity” provider. Real identity systems make people more accountable. The other angle is the social graph, i.e your network of “friends”. Logging-in with a “real identity” provider will allow you to see comments from your network of contacts in priority and extend to a few degrees of separation. So, not only will people use their true identity to comment and contribute, they will also see the participation of their social graph first. Consumers will always have the choice to see everything and your friends will be able to recommend comments from strangers to you. Chris Sacca at LeWeb thought we would soon get rid of douchebags because of that. The big question here is: will the non-exposure to external viewpoints create groupthink? Solving one problem might create another…
January 28, 2010
One of the first things you learn when you launch your own startup is to actively monitor opportunities in the market and move quickly to leverage them. In my case, it happened three times in the last three years.
The first strategic move happened back in the fall of 2006 when Sylvain Carle, Harry Wakefield and I founded Praized Media to help local media companies leverage the rising force of social media and online word-of-mouth. I also started blogging about what I call “local 2.0,” the intersection of local search and social media. At the time, most people believed that this convergence would not happen. Three years later, it’s one of the hottest sectors.
We made the second key move in fall 2008. Having launched our first social local tools (for WordPress, Movable Type, Facebook and our hub site) a couple of months before, we were approached by a few major media players who signaled to us they would be interested in using the technology we had built within their own online platform. This gave us the confidence to develop white-label enterprise versions of our social local media software, which has been in the market since spring 2009. Building on the popularity of our initial module, we developed many more enterprise modules described here.
The third strategic move is happening now. Last fall (what is it with fall???), we were approached by two US investment banks who aspired to represent us if we ever wanted to find a strategic partner for Praized Media. A few companies also hinted to us that they might be interested in investing in or acquiring Praized Media. Based on that enthusiasm, Sylvain and I (along with our board) discussed the pros and cons of going to the altar with a strategic partner vs. continuing alone.
The market is super-hot for technologies like ours. In the last three months, there has been a flurry of acquisitions and funding events in the “social local” space (we’ve created a document listing them if you’re interested). We could go on the road and raise new VC money to fuel our growth, but anyone that has raised those kinds of funds before knows that this is a brutal process, even when your market is hot. It takes a lot of time and energy, and for small companies, the process forces you to take your eyes off the product/company development roadmap. At the core, Sylvain and I are product/technology guys and that’s what we want to do. In the last two years, we’ve built world-class real-time social local search technologies. We’ve assembled a five-star (pun intended) social local technology development team. We’re notable thought-leaders in our space.
The future of local media will be centered on Aggregation / Discovery / Social / Search and our technology stack enables that. We believe what we’ve built (team and technology) represents the cornerstone of the next-generation local media company (traditional or pure play), and we want to focus on building that vision with a larger organization.
For all those reasons, we have decided to hire [praized subtype="small" pid="858569eeccb433824aca7193236f55ce" type="badge" dynamic="true"], an investment banking firm in Los Angeles that specializes in digital media, to represent us in our search for a strategic partner. We’re obviously supported a 100% in this decision by our board and the whole team is excited by this new move. For our current customers, collaborators and service providers, it is business as usual as this does not impact our day-to-day operations (actually, it frees up more time!). Given current market conditions, we are extremely confident we will find the right strategic partner.
If you’re interested in discussing more the opportunity, you can contact Siemer & Associates at (310) 496-4510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
December 7, 2009
A deluge of important news in the local social space this morning, all very relevant from a local strategy point of view.
- Yesterday afternoon, PaidContent detailed AOL’s, Yahoo’s and MSN’s aggressive plans for local. All three are attracted by potential local advertising revenues. The article says “Microsoft could integrate content from local bloggers”. As for Yahoo!, they recently ”rolled out a new service called “Neighbors,” which lets users ask others in their neighborhood questions”.
- In this interview with Stephan Uhrenbacher, Qype’s founder, he reveals the site now has 17.7m monthly unique visitors. He also says that in Germany, Qype is ” larger than the yellow pages in terms of traffic”. From reading between the lines, Qype is thinking about implementing a game mechanism (or reward system) and a check-in system à la Foursquare, two features I recommended in my “perfect local media company in 2014” presentation.
- Google just shipped QR code stickers to the 190,000 most popular Google local US businesses. A QR code can be scanned/photographed by a camera phone and links to the Google profile page in Google Maps when activated. The Techcrunch article adds “Local businesses can also set up coupon offers through their Google directory page, which would turn the QR code into a mobile coupon”. Mobile + QR code + coupons = monetization strategy for the real-time Web. Another important data point: “There are now over a million local businesses which have claimed their Google local listing”. Does Google need the Yellow Pages sales forces anymore?
- Citysearch partners with Twitter to offer tools to small businesses. Citysearch will display “tweets” on merchant pages, offer the opportunity to merchants to create their Twitter account and offer a reputation management service. A Gigaom article says “Citysearch says it has direct relationships with some 200,000 local merchants”. These things will all be required features of any local search site within a few months.
- Techcrunch reveals this morning that Aardvark, the social Question & Answer service, is considering an $30M+ acquisition offer from Google. The service allows people to ask questions to their friends and to the network using instant messenging and social networks.
What it means: expect these kind of partnerships, acquisitions and features deployment to speed up as industry players try to capture market share of the real-time local/social Web. Expect Facebook to make a lot of noise as well in the next few weeks (the aforementioned Gigaom article asks “who wants to take bets on how many hours till Facebook Local launches?”). They are the 900-pound gorilla. In 12 months, we will already have a good idea who will win and who will lose in that space.
I don’t want to sound like an informercial but my company Praized Media foresaw the rise of social Q&A services like Aardvark and that’s why we introduced our Answers module (currently used by Yellow Pages Group) which enables consumers to ask local questions to their network of friends. Based on market evolution, we’re also developing a white-label reputation management service that will enable social media monitoring and small merchant Twitter sign-ups (like what Citysearch is doing) because we believe it’s going to be needed in every local media company in the future. Our real-time search module also allows any media publisher to display related ”tweets” on merchant profile pages. And we’re also preparing an eCouponing module to monetize all that real-time activity. We’re basically building the whole social media toolkit for local media publishers. End of infomercial.
September 29, 2009
This is a post about the Kelsey Group’s DMS ’09 conference which happened last week in Orlando.
In a presentation titled “Understanding Users and Advertisers – A Deep Dive Into Exclusive TKG Data”, Steve Marshall from BIA/Kelsey provided attendees with some juicy nuggets of information from the 13th wave of their SME Local Commerce Monitor study (and the 6th wave of their user study). This study looks at SMB advertisers and users trends.
- The latest wave tells us that SMBs have an on-going need for new customers, are using more digital/online media and plan a big increase in the use of ‘Web 2.0’ capabilities.
- Penetration of online media exceeds traditional media for the first time
- Major increases planned in usage of video, social sites and corporate blogs to promote their company
- Search engines continue to have the greatest penetration of information sources for finding local goods and services
- 90% of consumers surveyed use search engines for that purpose
- newspapers are up but print Yellow Pages and Internet Yellow Pages are down
- According to the study, only 16% of consumers trust “social networking sites” as information for local shopping. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m convinced that if we were to ask how many people “trust their friends” for information on local shopping, that number would go up drastically. Social networking sites = friends!
- 68% of consumers surveyed said that had at least one profile in a social network site
- 47% think that product/service ratings are important, an increase of 5 percentage point since the last wave
I recently wrote a message on Twitter saying that I was “thinking that newspapers are looking more and more like magazines. And magazines are looking more and more like books.” That thought came out of the following realization:
- Newspapers are trying to stay relevant by doing more in-depth analysis and longer articles (the Focus section of the Globe & Mail is a perfect example). They’re slowly morphing into magazines.
Magazines are still focusing on long articles and analysis but are also doing special topical issues. For example, Philosophie magazine recently published an amazing issue on twentieth-century philosophers. Monocle magazine’s about us section says its “More of a book than a magazine, Monocle’s designed
to be highly portable (it’s lightweight and compact) and collectable (it’s thick and robust)”. They’re slowly morphing into “books”.
- For many people, microblogging is replacing blogging. I had detailed that new phenomenon in a recent blog post.
I also received a couple of responses to my Twitter message. Bruno Boutot said “.. and tweets like blogposts?”. Dylan Fuller added “I
expand blogs R now newspapers or niche ‘zines… thus newspaper to mags to books. what R books becoming? perfect & timeless”. To which I replied that I agreed and that “books are permanent reference markers in time.”
A typical reaction to new competition is to add value to your product, to avoid becoming a commodity and having to fight on price only. I think we’re seeing that reaction on the whole “news” value chain.
- Microblogging is replacing blogging (expressing your thoughts)
- Blogging is becoming newspaper-like (more reporting)
- Newspapers are becoming the new magazines (more analysis)
- Magazines are becoming book-like (more permanent reference material)
- Books are still relevant as reference material
Have you seen the same thing?