Twitter and the Local Ecosystem

I recently shared with a potential Needium partner the volume of local tweets we’re indexing daily in major (and some smaller) North American cities.

Atlanta, GA: 709,427
Austin, TX: 116,756
Calgary, AB: 60,603
Cary, NC: 153,315
Charlotte, NC: 171,001
Chicago, IL: 712,399
Cincinnati, OH: 110,975
Columbus, OH: 221,920
Commack, NY: 116,145
Creve Coeur, MO, 43,829
Denver, CO: 172,762
Des Moines, IA: 28,702
Fort Lauderdale, FL : 118,670
Indianapolis, IN: 224,871
Laguna Beach, CA: 58,186
Long Beach, CA: 113,404
Los Angeles, CA: 1,126,143
Miami, FL: 509,411
New York (Metro): 2,746,757
Ontario, CA: 59,705
Phoenix, AZ: 230,260
Redondo, CA: 66,490
San Bernardino, CA: 36,799
San Francisco, CA: 354,707
St. Louis, MO: 255,415
Tampa, FL: 125,341
Toronto, ON: 546,470
Vancouver, BC: 173,340
Washington DC: 551,126
West Palm Beach, FL: 31,665

London, UK (Central): 60,128 (more than 1M tweets per day when you index the greater London metro area)
Paris, France: 346,197

Remember: these are tweets PER DAY per city. As you can see, those numbers are quite impressive and we’re just starting to scratch the surface in terms of implicit geo-location. We’re adding new geo-clues like neighborhood names, points of interest, foursquare check-ins, etc. to help us increase that volume. And we’re slowly getting to a point where our community managers know what’s going in specific cities and neighborhoods.

As I wrote earlier this year, “With more and more people joining the service, Twitter will discover that its real utility is at the local level. Twitter will become the often-wished for democratic and commercial local space we’ve been expecting since the beginning of the Web. Citizens/consumers, merchants, politicians, and news sources/journalists becoming an intrinsic part of the same communication and relational system.” That’s even truer today as more people are joining Twitter (100M montly active users at last count), people use it more (250M tweets a day) and they geo-localize themselves more.

And yesterday, I was happy to see that people are starting to notice. Read what smart VC Dev Khare wrote yesterday:

Dev is probably using crude tools (maybe Twitter Search?) to retrieve the info and he’s starting to see “local” value. Imagine when we’ll be able to surface that information in a much more substantial way!

The same day, Mark Suster (a VC who invested in Twitter) wrote “We Have Only Scratched the Surface of the True Value of Twitter. Here’s What You’re Missing“.  He starts by explaining that there’s more to Twitter than “what am I eating for lunch?”. As my readers know, I wrote a whole presentation on “why you should care what @joepublic had for lunch” but that’s another story…

Mark goes on to talk about Identity, Object Communications, Predictive Data, and Augmented Data. A couple of quotes stood out for me:

“I believe that Twitter is becoming the most interesting and predictive dataset in the world and that every large company (and many small ones) will consume the Twitter stream in order to gain insights, determine actions to take and gain competitive advantage.”

“The future of data interpretations will be augmented. We will look at both the steam and the “meta stream.” We will want to augment with: location, demographics, affiliations, authority by subject area, gender, topical interests and a whole lot more.”

That’s it. That’s what makes Twitter such a powerful communication tool and even though, as the Wall Street Journal writes this morning “Web companies often upend industries but they can labor for years to fully make money on their revolutions”, social networking revenue is growing (eMarketer predicts this morning that “Worldwide social network ad revenues will surpass $8 billion in 2012 and approach $10 billion by 2013”) and will rocket past many online ad categories. As for Twitter, I believe they will find monetization success through local advertising. It’s too good an opportunity to pass.


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 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 ( 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:

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

Flickr Picture by plenty.r.

Twitter: the Next Five Years

Flick picture by Melanie Cook

Last weekend, I was interviewed for an article that was published on Monday in Montreal’s La Presse, one of the major Canadian daily newspapers. In the context of Twitter’s five-year anniversary, Alain McKenna asked me to gaze in my crystal ball and to play the prediction game for Twitter’s next five years. Alain published a few of my suggestions in the article but I thought the complete answer would make an interesting blog post.

So, without further ado, here are my Twitter predictions for the next five years:

The company:

  • With their $360 million in VC money, we can expect the number of employees at Twitter to continue growing quickly especially at the San Francisco headquarter. I also expect the company to open international offices especially in countries where the service is popular. Already, they’ve inaugurated a London office reflecting the high Twitter usage in the United Kingdom.
  • Twitter will continue to reinforce its technical infrastructure and we will probably see the extinction of the infamous “fail whale”.
  • Twitter’s usage will continue to grow in its own North American backyard but, in the next two years, Europe will see tremendous growth. I predict France, Italy and Spain to furiously embrace it. This will follow Facebook’s European usage pattern, with a two-year adoption lag.
  • With more and more people joining the service, Twitter will discover that its real utility is at the local level. Twitter will become the often-wished for democratic and commercial local space we’ve been expecting since the beginning of the Web. Citizens/consumers, merchants, politicians, and news sources/journalists becoming an intrinsic part of the same communication and relational system.
  • The company will definitely have its initial public offering (IPO) in the next five years and if you twist my arm, I’ll predict 2012 or 2013. Twitter’s co-founders have had entrepreneurial successes in the past and want to leave a long-lasting trace instead of doing a quick sell-out. They’ve probably already received offers for an insane amount of money.


  • The major product challenges for Twitter are 1) enabling users to increase their individual reach within the service; 2) increase the quantity of conversations; 3) create mechanisms to discover new relevant accounts to follow; 4) develop robust filters to surface relevant content under two dimensions: topics/interests (for example, who are the ornithology experts on Twitter?) and local (what’s going on in my region, my city, my neighborhood?).
  • I expect Twitter to quickly adopt two winning functionalities from Facebook that are fast becoming standards in social networking: attaching and maybe threading all comments on an individual tweet and the ability to “like” a message. These functions will allow for a better social signal to discover important messages and increase the level of conversation (today, we see a lot of unidirectional message broadcasts).
  • Without neglecting the Web, I expect that mobile will the main way people will access Twitter in the future.

Business model:

  • Within five years, Twitter will have discovered its winning business model. I don’t think it will be one of the models currently in trial (like sponsored tweets). I think we will see the arrival of paid professional accounts for users who have thousands of followers. These paid accounts will provide additional exposure in the network, integrated promotional tools, extensive reporting and a guarantee of superior service. In addition, Twitter will build psychographic profiles for users and identify influencers. Consumers will be courted by big brands and local merchants based on their interests, lifestyle and influence. Twitter will sell privileged access to this information to enable better targeting. For example, movie buffs will receive invitations to see movie premieres. Cola drinkers will receive a case of that newly launched soft drink. Foodies will receive a rebate to try their new local bistro or revisit one they haven’t been to in a while. We could eventually see the arrival of new financial model systematizing word-of-mouth by rewarding consumers who talk positively OR negatively about brands or local merchants.

There you have it. I hope my crystal ball wasn’t too muddy. Here’s to many more exciting years! Happy 5th anniversary Twitter!

The Evolution of Merchant "Presence"

Flickr picture by Andrew Atzert

Fifteen years ago, if a merchant wanted to make sure he’d be found when people were doing shopping research, it was very easy. You simply needed to have a free basic listing in your main business category in the print Yellow Pages of your city.  Advertisers could extend that presence in different cities or business categories by buying additional basic business listings and if you wanted to stand out when consumers were doing comparison shopping, you could make your listing standout by making it bold or buying an informational listing (lines of text) or a display ad (graphics + text).  Some people were trying to game the system by changing their name to AAAAA Joe Plumber and appear higher in the listings but buying a display ad would insure a ranking improvement in your category.  Life was simple and/but choice was limited. Directory publishers were making tons of money with huge profit margins.

Things certainly have changed since then.

Fast forward to the search engine era (2000-2010), search is the main method people use to do comparison shopping now. For small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), having a presence in the search engine era means having a Web site but ranking in search engine results pages is very random. It’s probably the equivalent of a Yellow Pages basic listing.  The discipline of search engine optimization (SEO) was invented to try to improve Web site ranking in organic search results. This is probably the equivalent of print bold listings (white hat SEO) and AAA merchant names (black hat SEO). And if you want to make sure you appear above everyone else, you bid on specific business keywords in, for example, Google AdWords (search engine marketing or SEM). This is the equivalent of the Yellow Pages display in the Google era. The search engine from Mountain View is now making tons of money with huge profit margins.

The complexity of this search ecosystem means most small merchants need to rely on service providers for Web site building, SEO and SEM, three products of very high interest in the Yellow Pages space in the last 2-3 years.

But that’s not all. In the search engine era, local search sites have multiplied as well. Merchants need to make sure that their basic listing information is everywhere, that it’s correct and is the same everywhere. That’s quite a challenge given the dozens (hundreds?) of sites out there. Companies like Universal Business Listing, GetListed and Localeze have risen to the challenge to help SMBs. Search Engine Watch recently said “Your address is the new link”.

But lo and behold, Google’s search query volume seems to be plateauing. Compete says it has dropped 0.6% from December 2009 to December 2010.

Things are changing yet again…

Enter the social media era (2010-2020?), the conversation age. Consumers are now spending more time using Facebook and Twitter than anything else on the Web, even beating e-mail. As I write this, Facebook claims they have more than 500 million active users per month.  25 billion tweets (messages on Twitter) were sent in 2010.The rise of these powerful social networking and communications tools means that merchants need to be present there as well.

So, what does SMB presence means in the social media world? It mostly means building a Facebook page and creating a Twitter account. It’s actually fairly easy to do and many of them have done it already. I can also tell you every local media company and SEO/SEM firm is thinking of offering (or already does) the creation of a social media presence for small merchants who are not there already. We’ll probably see the arrival of technology companies enabling mass-creation of those pages/accounts. This is the “basic listing” of social media.

Next, how can merchants be found in social media? They’re able to buy Facebook ads or Twitter promoted ads (tweets, trends, accounts) and we’re already seeing the arrival of technology providers to enable campaign management (like we saw search engine marketing). This will be the equivalent of Google AdWords for the social media era.

What about organic “search results”? How do smart SMBs get found “organically” in social media? They join the conversation. They broadcast information about their store, they reply to consumer comments and questions, they identify potential customers and invite them to their store. Small merchants are all about relationship-building and the human touch. They just need to port this to social media but they need help. They need to understand the tone that’s required but mostly they don’t necessarily have the time to engage in and monitor social media. They need support and they need to filter the noise.

I think this space is going to be huge. As SMBs easily create their basic presence en-masse on Twitter and Facebook (BIA/Kelsey says close to 50% of SMBs have created a Facebook page and close to 20% on Twitter), they’ll be wondering what to do next. This is the space we’re trying to crack with Needium, helping SMBs figure what happens next organically after the basic social media listing. By identifying business opportunities in social media, by monitoring merchant name mentions and by offering white-label community management services, we’ve shown small merchants that there’s value in social media and exciting business life after the account creation. We hope you’ll be with us along for the ride!

2010's Most Important Events in Local/Social

Like last year, Mike Blumenthal asked me for my thoughts on what were the most important events in “local” in 2010. I obliged and Mike put together a blog post with my answers. In a nutshell, they are:

  1. The launch of Twitter Places
  2. Foursquare’s growth
  3. Facebook launches Places
  4. The launch of the iPad
  5. The rise of Groupon and the explosion of the daily offers space
  6. Groupon rejects Google’s purchase offer

Head up to Mike’s blog to read the rest of my post.

Needium: Latest Media Coverage and What's Next

The whole Needium team has been extremely busy in the last few weeks with a great opportunity to present in the startup competition of the LeWeb conference in Paris and a trip to the BIA/Kelsey conference in Santa Clara. After trialing Needium in Montreal last summer, we’ve also been busy scaling our operations to support multiple new cities (15+ and growing) and business categories (30+ and growing) in North America and Europe.

For readers that need a refresher on what Needium is all about, my company Praized Media has developed this new social lead generation service that extracts/filters implicit and explicit local needs being expressed in social media and narrows them down to those that are related to specific business categories. Things like “can you recommend a good hotel in Chicago?” or “my car just broke down”.  Based on business categories, we sell a fully-managed service to local advertisers where our community managers, using the Needium dashboard, engage with these people via Twitter, on behalf of advertisers (using the advertiser’s own Twitter account) and convert them to potential leads.

You can watch our presentation/pitch at LeWeb on YouTube. All this recent activity has resulted in excellent media coverage, a subset of which you’ll find below.

In English:

In French:

For people interested, you can always read our complete press coverage on the Needium Web site.

So, what’s next for the Needium team for 2011? Having proven that the product works really well and is delivering positive ROI to our Montreal advertisers, we’re now scaling our local sales efforts and have hired a small team of direct media sales consultants in Montreal to “prototype” the Needium sales process and develop supporting material and metrics. Our sales strategy is to expand geographically outside Montreal (North America and Europe right now) by striking reseller agreements with companies that possess a local sales force. Our work in Montreal will give us solid experience to help our channel partners as they introduce Needium to their advertisers.

We’ve started receiving opportunistic channel inquiries and, in parallel, have been approaching companies we think would have a great “sales” fit for Needium.  These channels include lead generation companies, local search engine marketing (SEM) firms, interactive agencies focused on small businesses, radio, television and local newspapers.  We’ve realized that a social/local/real-time product like Needium fits very well within a sales organization that deals with local advertisers, believes in the social media opportunity and deals with ad products that renew often (daily or weekly).  If you’re interested in discussing Needium reselling opportunities, don’t hesitate to e-mail us at

All in all, the last few months of 2010 have been very exciting for us. We think 2011 will be even more exciting as we scale our sales and operations and help prove that you can deliver short-term ROI with social media!

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 ( 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 You can also follow Needium news on our Needium-specific Twitter account.

Twitter is Not Going Away

This week, TechCrunch published international traffic growth trends for Twitter and they are impressive. The source is Pingdom.

Pingdom took a look at Google Trends for Websites traffic data for to see where the service is experiencing the fastest growth in terms of monthly usage. Again, that means its findings are far more fit for deducing overall trends than they are able to accurately detail Twitter’s user numbers, since a lot of people use desktop and mobile clients for tweeting.

Regions/countries that are growing are:

  • Latin America: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela
  • Asia: India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia
  • Europe: Italy, Spain, Russia (Pingdom mentions that most European countries are growing but that these three have experienced extra sharp growth)

Additional pieces of data in the TechCrunch article:

For your information, Twitter COO Dick Costolo at the beginning of this month said they are currently at 190 million users, who are collectively posting some 65 million tweets per day. And last April, Twitter’s lead engineer for its International team, Matt Sanford, said over 60% of registered Twitter accounts were already coming from outside U.S. borders.

What it means: I wanted to specifically write about Twitter’s international growth following this tweet from my friend Perry Evans. He wrote last week, following a European trip where he probably met many European media companies: “Twitter, you have a major uphill battle in Europe. Everyone I met in media circles this week seem exceedingly skeptical of your prospects”. I wrote back to him on Twitter saying: “They were skeptical of Facebook two years ago as well…”. When I spoke at the EADP conference in 2007, many senior Yellow Pages execs in Europe didn’t think Facebook was relevant. History proved them wrong. Ten years ago, I could have written a blog post titled “Google is not going away”. Most senior execs at media companies didn’t think Google would be a direct threat. Twitter has been growing and will (has?) become an important international media company. To dismiss them is to risk being fooled for a third time.

What Justin Bieber Could Teach Us About Social Media

Fascinating article about Justin Bieber, the teen idol, last weekend in the Globe & Mail. His fame, starting with a YouTube video, has been constructed using social media.

He [Scott Braun, Justin’s manager] continues to cultivate Justin’s following on YouTube and on Twitter. “If I see he’s not Twittering, I tell him, ‘Get on your Twitter.’ Because it’s how his fans relate to him. They made him, you know? The moment he disappears from them, they feel like they’ve lost that kid from YouTube that invited them into his living room. (…)

It likely takes him a matter of minutes to copy a message such as this one sent by fan @GillianLovesJBx to his Twitter home page – “@justinbieber Do u respond to a simple I Love You? :)” – and then reply, for all the world to see, “I love u 2…i love all u ladies :).”

But that small amount of effort can produce immeasurable rewards: Fans blessed with a bit of attention will turn around and encourage others to buy his albums, post messages when they request his songs on the radio, and talk about how much they want tickets to his shows.(…)

His image and his Twitter personality make him seem ultra-accessible, but it’s not so easy to get to Justin Bieber in person. Universal Music Canada’s Mr. Lennox says that was part of the label’s strategy.

via How Justin Bieber got so big – The Globe and Mail.

What it means: Bieber has close to 3 million (!) followers on Twitter and he manages to make “you” feel special. He understands that it’s all about conversation and not about broadcast. It’s real. Can you imagine the marketing power that this engagement brings? Now, if you’re used to broadcasting, how do you change to a conversational model? That’s your new challenge.