Moving On (And Looking For New Opportunities)

Photo: Bernat Casero

After almost six years and a long, thought-out decision process, I’ve decided to leave Needium (i.e. Praized Media Inc.), the company I co-founded in 2006.

What a journey it has been!

  • Creating our original concept and prototype in 2006
  • Signing our first customers in 2007
  • Raising our first venture capital money in 2007
  • Executing our first pivot to enterprise products in 2008 (when the credit crisis struck the world)
  • Constant product innovation between 2006 and 2012
  • Executing our second (and successful!) pivot to Needium in 2010
  • Seeing advertiser and revenue growth in 2011 and 2012!

After beta testing Needium in 2010, we brought in help to structure and scale operations/sales. We now have a dozen resellers (including very large media sales channels) and I feel I can leave in confidence that the company will continue to grow and prosper.

There are many people I’d like to thank for the incredible journey this has been for me:

  • First and foremost, our customers, the people who pay for our products. We built Needium for them. They will be in good hand with the team in place.
  • Our employees (past and present), especially the dev team (most of whom have been with the company since the beginning). Loyal and dedicated.
  • Our investors, who have trusted us since 2007, through hell and high water.
  • And finally, to Sylvain Carle, my co-founder (who is also announcing his resignation) and brother-in-arm. I will miss his daily presence dearly.

My last day will be Friday March 2nd 2012. After that, I will take a few weeks off but, as a next step in my career, I’m looking for international experience. I’d like to work in Europe or in the United States as a senior exec in a media/Internet company (large or small). I bring with me solid experience in product management, business development, Internet strategy, social media and management. You can see my LinkedIn profile here and you can reach me at sprovencher AT gmail.com. If you think I’d be a good addition to your team, don’t hesitate to contact me and we’ll discuss!

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Et maintenant, en français:

Passer à autre chose (et à la recherche de nouveaux défis)

Après presque six ans de travail et une longue réflexion, j’ai décidé de quitter Needium (i.e. Praized Media inc.), la compagnie que j’ai cofondé en 2006.

Quel beau voyage au cours des 6 dernières années!

  • La création de notre concept et prototype original de Praized en 2006
  • La signature de nos premiers clients en 2007
  • La levée d’une première ronde de financement en 2007
  • L’exécution de notre premier pivot vers le modèle “entreprise” en 2008 (lors de la crise mondiale du crédit)
  • Le développement constant de produits innovateurs entre 2006 et 2012
  • L’exécution de notre second pivot (un succès!) vers Needium en 2010
  • La croissance du nombre d’annonceurs et des revenus publicitaires en 2011 et 2012!

Après les tests bêtas de Needium en 2010, nous avons amené du renfort pour nous aider à structurer et accélérer les opérations et les ventes. Nous avons désormais une douzaine de revendeurs (incluant des grands groupes médias) et j’ai le sentiment que je peux quitter avec confiance : la compagnie va continuer à croître et à prospérer après mon départ.

Je désire remercier plusieurs personnes qui ont fait partie de cette incroyable expérience:

  • D’abord, nos clients, les gens qui paient pour nos produits. Nous avons bâti Needium pour eux et ils seront en bonnes mains avec l’équipe en place.
  • Tous nos employés (présents et passés), et en particulier l’équipe technique. La plupart d’entre eux sont avec nous depuis le début, loyaux et dévoués.
  • Nos investisseurs, qui nous ont fait confiance depuis 2007, à travers vents et marées
  • Et finalement, Syvain Carle, mon cofondateur et frère d’armes (qui démissionne aussi). Sa présence quotidienne va me manquer.

Le vendredi 2 mars 2012 sera ma dernière journée. Après cela, je vais prendre quelques semaines de vacances. Pour la prochaine étape dans ma carrière professionnelle, je cherche une expérience à l’international. J’aimerais travailler en Europe ou aux États-Unis comme cadre supérieur dans une compagnie média/Internet (grande ou petite). J’amène avec moi une expérience solide en gestion de produits, développement des affaires, stratégie Internet, médias sociaux et gestion générale. Vous pouvez voir mon profil LinkedIn ici et vous pouvez me contacter à sprovencher arobas gmail.com. N’hésitez pas à m’écrire si vous croyez que je ferais un bon ajout à votre équipe!

Needium: The First 6 Months and Answers to Your Most Burning Questions

This blog has been extremely quiet in the last 6 months and there’s an excellent reason for that. Turns out it’s much more work operating a company that’s successful than one that’s not! Six months ago, Needium, our social media lead generation service officially came out of beta and it became the sole focus of our company. With a full-team in place (currently at 16), we’ve started conquering the local/social space. But before we talk about where we are now, after 6 months, let’s go back a bit in time to explain the insights that lead to the creation of the service.

When I joined Yellow Pages Group (YPG) in 1999 (actually, its ancestor Bell ActiMedia), one of the first things I learned, talking to an experienced sales manager was that, the biggest competitor to Yellow Pages was actually word-of-mouth, that small merchants get most of their referrals through personal recommendations. At the time, it served as a great answer to show there was indeed “competition” in the business directory space but it wasn’t a real threat (yet!).

That thought stuck with me as we saw the arrival of new social media sites like LinkedIn. I was one of the early adopters in late 2003 (user #46,750 in fact) and I started using the site as a rolodex, adding all my contacts in there. When I quickly reached 200 direct contacts (I’m now close to 2000), I discovered that LinkedIn had become extremely useful in my role as head of online business development at YPG. I could reach out to almost anyone working in the Internet industry and it proved very convenient many times.

I realized that there was something bigger in this nascent social media space. If you could assemble a network of contacts readily available at your fingertips, you were really building this huge word-of-mouth network that you could use to ask any questions, find answers, connect with people, get recommendations and interact with brands and businesses.

In the summer of 2006, when I first met with my co-founders Sylvain Carle and Harry Wakefield (who left the company in 2009), we knew something big would be happening at the intersection of local and social. We set out to build technology to capture, aggregate, structure and make sense of local content being generated in social media, hereby creating value for local media companies and/or local advertisers. Over the years, we developed core technology expertise in local questions & answers, real-time local search and real-time local content which would become the backbone of Needium.

Early 2010, I was fascinated by reputation management software but felt these technologies were too reactive for most small businesses. I’ll oversimplify but with reputation management, you wait until someone express an opinion about your brand/business, the technology detects it and you reactively jump in to thank the person or try to solve a problem. This is not how small merchants see the world. Small merchants are proactive; they’re always promoting their business. They’re not sitting on the sidelines waiting for people to comment on them. They want to engage consumers; they distribute leaflets on the streets, they offer samples in grocery stores, they give away their business cards in networking events. Why would small merchants behave differently in social media?

Another key insights that lead to Needium was all those questions publicly being asked in social media (take a look at one of my 2008 post for an early look at that insight). You’ve all seen them: “Can anyone recommend a North East photographer for a wedding on Sat 27th August?” or “Can anyone recommend a cool/modern or cosy/lovey hotel in Berkeley, CA?”.

Thinking about local search and Yellow Pages usage, we started thinking about those explicit needs but also about life events and situations that trigger an implicit need. You’ve seen those as well. “I need to eat .. I’m hungry”, “Well Since My Laptop Got Stolen Guess I’ll Get A Macbook Or iPad .”. Taken all together, this means that, every day, millions of needs are expressed by consumers in social media. These represent a huge amount of potential leads for local businesses. Yet, very few of these needs get acknowledged or answered. What if businesses could quickly identify local leads that are relevant to them? Could they convert those into real customers? And this is where Needium steps in. We’ve created this short video to clearly explain what we do. Watch it before you continue reading this blog post.

Whats is Needium?.

Needium is a customer discovery service that monitors, identifies new local business opportunities in real-time based on expressed explicit and implicit needs found in Twitter. These opportunities are surfaced in a dashboard where Needium community managers select which consumers to engage with and we do that using the merchant’s own social media presence. Needium is invisible in the whole process.

Basically, with Needium,

  1. We create the social media presence of a merchant if they don’t have one (Twitter and occasionally Facebook and Foursquare)
  2. We identify business opportunities in social media for them
  3. We engage in conversations with potential consumers
  4. We transform those conversations into sales.
  5. We listen and reply to existing consumers.

Our retail price for the service is $150 per month, no set-up fees.

Using hundreds of keywords and expressions, our semantic formulas surface relevant tweets based on merchant categories (restaurants, hotels, bars, auto dealers, plumbers, etc.). We currently cover 88 business categories in 73 cities in North America. Altogether, we cover 197,548 Km2 of North American metropolitan areas.

We currently have 300+ advertisers using Needium and are growing at 30% per month in the last few months. We’ll reach a thousand advertisers by the end of the year. Our sales strategy uses a two-pronged approach. First, a small local sales force in Montreal has enabled us to quickly build up revenues but most of all, it has allowed us to refine the sales process iteratively.

That’s key because our core sales and distribution strategy is executed via large-scale local media sales channels. We have a white-label platform and processes and a wholesale price based on volume. Reseller either bundle the service within an existing offer allowing them to increase share of wallet by having a solid proactive social media solution or as a standalone service. Eight sales channels are presently reselling the white-label version of our service. That includes four large North American local media publishers who have started reselling the service in the last 8 weeks and we’re starting to see some explosive sales from a few of them.

We’ve pitched the service to hundreds of potential advertisers, sales channels and venture capitalists. Here are the most frequently recurring questions about our business:

Q: Right now, you’re mostly focused on Twitter. Is there enough activity in Twitter to create a robust and scalable lead generation business?

A: Yes. Twitter recently disclosed that they generate 200 million tweets a day. Out of those, in all the cities we cover, we’re indexing 10 million tweets a day (and growing as we expand into new cities).

Q: How do you know if a tweet is “local”? And are there enough “local” tweets?

A: we use implicit and explicit geo-location. Explicit is obvious enough. It’s the location shared by the Twitter user. Implicit is derived by words used in tweets like city names, neighborhoods, points of interest, merchant names and local events. And if you’re wondering about volume of local tweets, these examples are telling:

  • Los Angeles: 1 million+ tweets
  • London, UK: 1 million+ tweets a day
  • Atlanta:  800,000+ tweets per day
  • Chicago:  700,000 tweets per day
  • Washington, DC: 600,000+ tweets a day
  • Toronto: 500,000+ tweets a day
  • Boston: 400,000+ tweets per day

Q: Are there enough local needs being expressed?

A: Yes in every B2C business categories. For example, we’ve been able to extrapolate that about 10% to 15% of all local tweets are related to food, entertainment and travel needs. Right there, you find a substantial volume to sustain thousands of advertisers in every large metropolitan area in North America and the UK. Other more specialized categories like dentists for example will see a few hundred leads per day. We are also working on integrating other social networks where “needs” are expressed: Facebook, Yelp, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Localmind, etc. to increase that number even more.

Q: Do small merchants understand what Needium does? Do they require a lot of education?

A: They understand quickly because they already know what Facebook is and they’ve heard of Twitter. They’re often Facebook users through a personal account and understand that Twitter is similar. Most of them don’t have a corporate Twitter presence. We show them in real-time the local opportunities they’re missing out and they understand the need to have a proactive presence. Our direct sales team can close the sale in one meeting if the right decision-maker is in the room.

Q: Is Needium generating return on investment for the advertisers?

A: Yes. Needium helps increase consumer awareness, strengthen loyalty, increase social media follower count and drive store visits and sales. As soon as you can show a few great conversations where consumers say they’re going to come visit you or tweet that they visited following a merchant suggestion, advertisers are extremely happy. Most telling, our churn rate is in the single digit percentage, much lower than other popular online products.

Q: Can you prove that you’ve generated an actual sale?

A: Yes and no. We can anecdotally but we don’t purely sell the product on “leads”. We sell the service on a variety of metrics, number of tweets sent, conversations, number of followers being three key ones for most merchants. Advertisers see the value of the conversations we’re generating but they also see the value of having an active Twitter account and new followers joining month after month. We’ll soon be indexing Foursquare and Facebook check-ins to track actual visits following a Needium conversation but we want to get closer to a pay-for-performance model. We want to explore the pay-per-call model and the pay-per-action model. Is there a pay-per-check-in model in the future? A revenue share on transactions? Maybe.

Q: Don’t consumers think what you’re doing is spam?

A: We’ve sent over 40,000 tweets so far and only a few hundreds have generated a negative reaction. This is much lower than I expected originally. This is key for us as we don’t want to create a product that’s seen as spammy or in a negative light. We want to add value to the ecosystem and even if that number is extremely low, we’ve learned from them and know which situations trigger negative reactions.

Q: How different are you from the hundreds of social media monitoring tools out there?

A: We don’t see ourselves competitive to social media monitoring solutions. We’re focused on “consumer need” discovery, which leads to commercial conversations for our advertisers, something that’s highly monetizable. It certainly has more upside in the long term than pure social media monitoring usually priced at $10 to $50 a month. We’ve shown that the service can sell for $150 per month and a performance-based component will probably bring us higher revenues. My experience with local merchants has shown me that only a small percentage (5%?) will be sophisticated enough (or have the time) to operate social media tools themselves. By partnering with large local media publishers, we’re going after that other 95% who will not buy self-serve and will not operate tools themselves.  Finally, through the API we’re developing, we will be able to integrate Needium in any social media monitoring solutions providing instantly the local lead gen portion as a paid service.

Q: Any additional learnings?

A: Yes.

  • SMB advertisers are hungry for social media solutions tailored for them but they need managed service. For the bulk of SMBs, self-serve still doesn’t work.
  • Small merchants can outsource their social media efforts without losing credibility or their voice.
  • At the intersection of local and context (need expressed), consumers welcome conversations with businesses.
  • B2C works much better than B2B because companies and company owners are not yet expressing corporate needs in social media (although nothing prevents them!).
  • Large local media companies sales forces can easily sell Needium

When we set out to pivot Praized Media to Needium last year, we knew we were unto something big. I had created DirectoryPlus at Yellow Pages Group, an online ad product that’s very successful, and I know what a great local ad product feels like. Needium is my next DirectoryPlus. This will be a huge space. Our early success has generated a lot of good buzz. We’ve shown the product works, that advertisers will buy it, that it’s generating ROI, that sales channels can sell it and that it can generate explosive revenue growth. We’re now heading for breakeven and, with the support of our current VC firm, we might not need funding from a new VC. Still, we’ve had meetings in Canada, in Silicon Valley and on the East Coast to see if there’s an opportunity to raise a new round of funding to accelerate our growth. The best compliment we often get is “We’ve never seen this” and “you guys are onto something” (if you’re a VC, you can see our AngelList page here).

In addition, we’re always looking for new sales channels to resell our white-label service. If you’re interested, send us an e-mail at sales@needium.com. This has been an interesting ride and I’ll try  to keep you updated regularly over the next six months.

Needium Pay-Per-Call Trial: Looking for a Few Good Advertisers

I’ve been very silent on this blog in the last few weeks but it’s not because of a lack of topics to discuss. With the success we’re having with Needium since our launch in January, I am simply too swamped and busy helping the team scale the company! I have a blog post coming up soon that will talk about our first six months of operations.

As a recap, Needium (www.needium.com) is a social media customer discovery service. Our service monitors Twitter and retrieves local business opportunities based on user needs and life events. Basically, we’re  identifying and indexing public local tweets that have an implicit or explicit need expressed such as “I’m hungry”, “My car just broke down” and “Does anyone have a good Phoenix restaurant to recommend?”. We then surface that information in a Web-based dashboard where Needium community managers (yes, humans!) log-in to join conversations on behalf of the merchant (using the merchant’s own Twitter account). We converse with Twitter consumers to convince them to come visit us (us being the small merchant). You can see a 1-minute video explaining what we do here: http://needium.com/video

Needium can definitely amplify consumer awareness, strengthen consumer loyalty, increase social media follower count and drive store visits and sales, but we think Needium can also drive phone calls in some business  categories. We would like to test that hypotheses and we’re looking to trial Needium on a pay-per-call basis with a few advertisers.  If you or your advertisers already use the pay-per-call model and you’re interested in trialing Needium, I want to hear from you. E-mail me at seb AT needium.com.

Flickr Picture by plenty.r.

Needium selected for the C100 “48hrs in the Valley” event, Plug and Play Expo

Exciting times for Needium! In addition to extremely good traction since we launched the service in January (I’ll eventually blog about that), we were recently selected for the C100 “48hrs in the Valley” event happening next week in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

In addition to mentoring and a visit to the Facebook HQ, we will have the opportunity to present Needium to selected VCs at their offices and at the Plug and Play Expo.

From the C100 website, “the C100 is comprised of a select group of Canadians based primarily in Silicon Valley, including executives of leading technology companies, experienced startup entrepreneurs and venture capital investors.  C100 members are passionate about leveraging their collective experience, expertise and relationships to help mentor and grow a new generation of successful Canadian-led technology companies.”

Sylvain Carle and I are already in San Francisco and Peter Diedrich, our CEO, will join us next week. If you’d like to meet us, shoot me an e-mail at seb AT needium.com

On Two Montreal Conference Panels Next Week

Next week, I will be on two great panels at two different Montreal conferences. One discussing “social shopping” and the other one talking about “social media for businesses”.

Details:

Ecommerce et expérience de shopping social“, Wednesday April 13 at Intracom Montreal 2011 (organized by ActionTI).

“Virage web social pour une entreprise : une nécessité?”, Thursday April 14,  Rendez-Vous du Web 2011 (organized by Infopresse).

Don’t hesitate to ping me if you want to connect!

Needium is One of the 7 Canadian Start-Ups to watch in 2011

Flickr picture by Gerlos

Very exciting news this morning.  We’ve been selected as  one of the seven Canadian Start-Ups to watch in 2011 by TheNextWeb. The buzz around Needium has been increasing since our participation in the startup competition at LeWeb in December and we’re now engaged in several trials with reseller partners in North America and Europe. By the way, if you’re interested in reselling Needium, our social media local lead generation service, you can contact us at sales AT needium.com

Other startups mentioned (including two others from Montreal):

  1. KiK Interactive Inc
  2. Interaxon
  3. 2XM Interactive
  4. Wajam
  5. Visibli
  6. Tynt

Congrats to all on the list!

Attending the Following Conferences this Fall: JIQ 2010, IYP Searchmeet, Local Social Summit, ILM:10

Busy Fall season as always. Here is the list of conferences / events I’m attending or speaking to in the next two months:

1- Journée de l’informatique du Québec, November 10 in Quebec City, Qc, Canada

I will be in Quebec City to present my social media for SMEs 101 presentation titled “Le Web social, c’est pas obligé d’être compliqué!”. Agenda is here and you can register here.

2- IYP Searchmeet, November 16 and 17 in London, UK.

Organized by Stephanie Lemieux from Yellow Pages Group (Canada), it’s a great opportunity to discuss Yellow Pages-centric challenges related to search, data/content and taxonomy. Those topics are very actionable and are usually not covered in industry events. Colleagues from various directory companies will attend and includes representatives from Yell, Herold, Sensis, European Directories, Truvo, PagesJaunes Groupe (France), Yellow Pages Group (Canada), Mueller Medien, Seat Pagine Gialle, Eniro, and more. I’m keynoting the first day on the topic of “Opportunities with Real-time Local Search and Content. Industry rockstar Greg Sterling will also keynote on the second day. You can see the agenda here. You need to pre-register here before Friday this week. Event will be very affordable, tickets will be less than 100 GBP and include breakfast & lunch.

3- Local Social Summit, November 18 in London, UK.

Organized by Simon Baptist and Dylan Fuller, this will be the second edition of the event. The first one last year was a resounding success. The idea is to devote one day to hear presentations and panels talk about the intersection of local and social, something that’s very close to my professional heart obviously. I’m also keynoting this event with a presentation titled “What, Where and now When? Time and Local Search”. Greg Sterling will also be present along with Perry Evans, CEO of Closely (and a great friend!). Complete agenda can be found here and you can register here for 125 GBP.

Altogether, two very interesting events over three days in London in about one month. It’s a must-attend. Greg Sterling just wrote about these two events on his blog.

4- ILM:10 (Interactive Local Media) conference, December 7 to December 9 in Santa Clara, California, USA.

Organized by BIA/Kelsey, this is a must-attend event for anyone that works and/or is interested in “local” in North America. The speakers list looks extremely promising. You can see the complete agenda here and register here.

Don’t hesitate to ping me if you’d like to meet/chat at any of these events: sprovencher AT needium.com

On a related note, Sylvain Carle (Praized Media’s co-founder and CTO) will be demoing Needium at the BizTechDay conference in San Francisco this Saturday October 23rd. Needium was handpicked as one of the 20 companies allocated a demo slot during the day. You can read more on the Praized Media product blog.

Upcoming Tech Startup Entrepreneurs Mentoring Event (Montreal)

There’s a new grassroot technology event in Montreal called “Tap in Tuesday“. Its goal is to have regular monthly mentoring events for startup entrepreneurs (aspiring and existing).

I’ve been chosen as the first “mentor” and I will be sharing advice and answering all types of questions about the fun life of a funded startup entrepreneur.

If you want to attend, you need to reserve your spot by emailing Gabriel Sundaram at tapintuesday@gmail.com

It’s happening this coming Tuesday August 10th at Café Des Éclusiers, 400 Rue De La Commune Ouest, Montreal at 6PM

More info on Montreal Tech Watch.

Introducing Needium – The Social Media Lead Generation & Reputation Management Dashboard for SMBs

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:

Introducing Needium.com

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.

Hotels in Boston (Needium) - 2

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.

Hotels in Boston (Needium) - 3

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”.

Hotels in Boston (Needium) - 4

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.