In San Francisco Next Week for the Conversational Commerce Conference

I will be in San Francisco most of the week next week for meetings and also attending Opus Research’s Conversational Commerce Conference. The conference is February 2 and 3 in the city.

Conference description: “Marketing and customer service are on a collision course. Social media now shine a bright light on customer service interactions, which increasingly have brand implications. Customer care can also offer valuable insights for marketing and product development. How many companies are adapting and turning this to their advantage? Still too few as old modes of thinking remain entrenched in organizations. Opus Research’s Conversational Commerce Conference (C3) brings together a diverse array of interested groups and stakeholders to discuss the new social media landscape and its joint impact on marketing and customer care. Beyond showing how these organizations must now collaborate, C3 will offer successful case studies and explore the new rules of engagement as companies deploy social media for marketing, sales and customer support.”

I’m speaking on the “A Parallel Universe: Social CRM for SMBs” panel on Thursday with Brendan King, CEO, Vendasta Technologies, Craig Donato, CEO & Founder, Oodle and Perry Evans, Founder and CEO, Closely, Inc. I’ll be sharing some of the insights we’ve generated since we’ve launched Needium, our social media lead generation service.

I do have a bit of free time on Monday and Tuesday for additional meetings.  I am also available to meet during the conference. If you’d like to connect, please send me an e-mail at seb AT needium.com

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After Groupon, What's Next for Google?

Unless you’ve been living on a deserted island in the last 10 days, you’ve heard about the presumed $6 billion Google bid to buy Groupon, the leading daily offers player. Groupon walked away from the opportunity on Friday and will probably do an IPO in the next12-18 months (like Facebook). I gave a couple of media interviews last week on the phenomenon, one in the Montreal Gazette (here and here) and the other one in La Presse (in French), but I didn’t have the chance to blog about the story yet. Let’s fix that.

Why did Google want to buy Groupon and at such a huge valuation? For a couple of reasons.

1) Google wants to make sure they’re not seen as one-trick poney by Wall Street. Because they’re a public company, they need to show huge growth to meet expectations and expand into many ad vehicles. At their last quarterly call, they highlighted the success of their display ads business. Groupon is rumoured to have annual revenues of $2 billion and it certainly would have added interesting top-line revenues and great growth rates. Not sure Google would have liked the lower margins than what they have in search advertising, but it is what it is.

2) Google wanted to buy a local sales force. Groupon is present in more than 300 metropolitan markets and 35 countries and they’ve used their capital to scale the sales team and acquire regional players in Europe and Asia. Google has signaled many times in the past couple of years that they haven’t been satisfied with their large volume local sales channel partners (read Yellow Pages) and they’re probably wondering about having their own local sales force. Over the years, many rumors have surfaced about Google buying Yell and other large directory publishers. With the Groupon acquisition off, directory publishers stock has risen in value. According to The Street, “Three small-cap companies soared on Friday. Dex One Corporation ended nearly 49 percent higher, boosting its market cap to $335 million. It owns Yellow Pages and White pages directories. Meanwhile Supermedia, which pushes Superyellowpages.com and other local ads, soared 20 percent on a huge spike in volume. Its market cap is still just around $105 million. And Local.com, a business search engine and ad network, added 8.3 percent with a $90 million market cap.”

Both Supermedia and Dex One still have huge debts pushing the total cost of an acquisition higher (probably $3 billion +). Interestingly enough, Greg Sterling reported yesterday that Yell was thinking of selling Yellowbook, their US arm. Good timing!

Could a transaction to buy a directory publisher happen? Yes, it’s possible but I wouldn’t say it’s probable. There’s probably an underlying culture clash issue, trying to match Google with a Yellow Pages company. Google will probably be tempted to look at other options before including building their own sales force. After all, if Groupon did it, Google has all the capital it needs to create their own. It might take 12-24 months, but it would probably cost less than $3 to $6B required to make an acquisition. Could they look at ReachLocal? They had 641 salespeople as of Q2 2010 and a much smaller market cap / debt (under $1B). Maybe. One thing is sure. Google will make a strategic move in that field in the coming months.

Google/Aardvark: All About Local?

Google announced last week the acquisition of Aardvark, a social question & answer service. Even though the service had only 90,000+ users (as of last October), they had very good buzz amongst the digerati.

Thinking about a potential integration point, John Battelle said that the goal of Aardvark’s co-founder would be to be ” integrated into the main search interface, such that when you ask Google a question, it would give you the option of “asking a human” through the ‘vark service. Now that would be pretty cool.”

As I mentioned in Greg Sterling’s blog, Google already includes Aardvark in Google Labs and says the most popular queries are:

  • Travel tips
  • Restaurant & bar recommendations
  • Product reviews/opinions
  • Local services and entertainment suggestions

Those questions sounds like Yellow Pages searches to me! As most readers of this blog know (Warning! Sales pitch!), my company Praized Media has created a local Q&A module that can be integrated into any local media publisher’s web site. Yellow Pages Group, with their Yellow Pages Answers deployment, is our largest customer using it. When we talk to directory publishers, we suggest integration within search results pages, exactly like Battelle’s speculation above. Local Answers becomes the back-up social search tool for long-tail queries that local search engines can’t answer today. Pre-acquisition, Aarvark was already answering many local queries and you can expect Google to start leveraging the content and the Q&A technology to improve its user experience.

My Next Events: Kelsey, YPA, EADP

I thought it was a good opportunity today to list the next three events I will be attending.

1) The first one is [praized subtype=”small” pid=”66afa9c1b5e4cd2f613f200ec61d955d” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] ‘s MarketPlaces 2009 conference in Los Angeles. Definitely looking forward hearing Jeff Berman (President, Sales and Marketing at MySpace) talk about verticals and local, Jay Herratti (CEO, Citysearch) discuss the latest Citysearch initiatives (maybe some fresh Facebook Connect data?) and Chris LaSala (Director of Local Markets, Google) talk about any Google Local initiatives. The conference is on March 16, 17 and 18 (yes, in 10 days!) at the [praized subtype=”small” pid=”d919d1d277951c5164c26320a00b783fe1″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”].

2) I will also be attending this year’s [praized subtype=”small” pid=”85bbe9714ba1f95167e8691d35364b0a8c” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] conference. Believe it or not, it will be my first time after almost 10 years in the industry. They invited me to speak on a blogger panel with my friends Mike Boland and Greg Sterling. Can’t wait to hear Carol Johnson (COO, Sensis Yellow and White Pages) talk about “Sustaining Yellow and White Pages Growth” and Malcolm Gladwell talk about “Outliers”. The conference is April 26, 27 and 28 at the [praized subtype=”small” pid=”2824998ee1a44bb195b97335593818ba2c” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”].

3) Finally, a month later, I will be in sunny Barcelona at the EADP conference. I will be talking about “blended search”. Their line-up of speakers is amazing with many CEOs and Head of New Media divisions speaking at the event. The conference is May 28 and 29 at [praized subtype=”small” pid=”fe88067181f3c2b456ee063861fe1985″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] (probably the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever stayed in!).

If you want to sit down and chat at any of these events, send me an e-mail seb AT praizedmedia.com !

Peter Krasilovsky Confirms Presence on Proposed SXSW Panels

Good news! Peter Krasilovsky (Program Director, Marketplaces, at the Kelsey Group) confirmed to me late Friday night that he would join Greg Sterling, Perry Evans and myself if one of the panels we’re supporting gets selected for the next South by SouthWest Interactive Festival in March 2009.

As I mentioned in a blog post last week, you can make a difference by voting for the two proposed panels:

1) Think Globally, Post Locally: The Emerging Power of Local Voice

2) The Local Search Solution: Context or Accuracy?

Register and vote for the two proposed panels (voting closes on August 29)!

You Can Help Make “Local Search” Matter at SXSWi!

Following my blog post lamenting the fact that there wasn’t a lot of panels on local search at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, I got pinged by Vinicius Vacanti (Yipit‘s founder) who offered us spots on his proposed local-search themed panel. Earlier today, Chris Tolles, CEO of Topix, who had submitted a conference proposal also offered to turn his bid into a panel as well.

I’ve also lined-up two of my industry peers, Perry Evans (CEO of Local Matters, co-founder of Jabber Inc. and founding President of Mapquest) and Greg Sterling (one of the top local search expert in the world IMHO), who, schedule permitting, will be present with me on at least one of those panels.

This should be fun! Does it mean it’s a done deal? No, because SXSWi is community-driven event. Submitting a panel is just the beginning as people vote on their favorite ones. You, the Praized blog readers, can make a difference and send a message to SXSWi that Local Search matters! Register and vote for the two proposed panels (voting closes on August 29):

1) Think Globally, Post Locally: The Emerging Power of Local Voice

2) The Local Search Solution: Context or Accuracy?

Other ways you can help:

  • Blog about these panels. Invite your readers to vote for them.
  • Tweet the news on Twitter or spread the word on Facebook! Hit your social graph!

You Can Help Make "Local Search" Matter at SXSWi!

Following my blog post lamenting the fact that there wasn’t a lot of panels on local search at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, I got pinged by Vinicius Vacanti (Yipit‘s founder) who offered us spots on his proposed local-search themed panel. Earlier today, Chris Tolles, CEO of Topix, who had submitted a conference proposal also offered to turn his bid into a panel as well.

I’ve also lined-up two of my industry peers, Perry Evans (CEO of Local Matters, co-founder of Jabber Inc. and founding President of Mapquest) and Greg Sterling (one of the top local search expert in the world IMHO), who, schedule permitting, will be present with me on at least one of those panels.

This should be fun! Does it mean it’s a done deal? No, because SXSWi is community-driven event. Submitting a panel is just the beginning as people vote on their favorite ones. You, the Praized blog readers, can make a difference and send a message to SXSWi that Local Search matters! Register and vote for the two proposed panels (voting closes on August 29):

1) Think Globally, Post Locally: The Emerging Power of Local Voice

2) The Local Search Solution: Context or Accuracy?

Other ways you can help:

  • Blog about these panels. Invite your readers to vote for them.
  • Tweet the news on Twitter or spread the word on Facebook! Hit your social graph!