Directory Publishers: Key Success Factors for User Reviews Deployment

In my dual role as industry blogger and co-founder of a company that provides social media technologies to local media companies (including ratings/reviews), I’m often asked about deployment of user ratings/reviews in the context of a directory publisher.

Here are my current thoughts (in no particular order) about what’s needed to successfully deploy that core user feature:

  1. A separate brand. Up until a few months ago, I would have said that core directory brands were adequate for user ratings and reviews but I’ve come full circle on this. I think you need a separate, “cooler” brand in order to build a community and to drive participation around merchant reviews.
  2. Community management. You need to hire staff to animate the community online and in person in all your major markets. You need to organize real offline events (i.e. get-together and parties) to build up the cohesiveness of your user ecosystem.
  3. Champions. You need to identify your site champions (power users) and nurture them. Give them perks, benefits and empower them.
  4. Rewards system. To influence “positive” user behaviour, make sure you have a virtual rewards system with titles, badges and/or reviewer levels. Make sure that reward system is holistic to take into account user and business interests.
  5. Friend system. You absolutely need a “friend” system to allow users to see what their “friends” are doing in the site. Don’t built it from scratch. Use an existing identity system like Facebook or Twitter.
  6. Engage merchants to join conversation. Directory publishers have great ties with small businesses. They should use that relationship to invite them to come to the review site to engage conversation with users. This starts by allowing businesses to claim their listing(s) and inviting them to leave comment when activities (sales, events, etc.) are happening at their store.
  7. Mobile application. As a lot of activities around merchant reviews happen at the point of sale, you need a mobile application (certainly iPhone and Blackberry) connected to your review site.
  8. Weekly email. You need to send a weekly summary to all your site users to give them a digest of everything that’s happening in their city and/or their favorite categories/merchants. This gives your users a reminder to come back to your site and check out the latest activities.
  9. Crosslink/embed content in your other sites. Even though I recommend creating a new brand for user reviews, you should definitely embed content and links in all your other network sites (for example, in merchant listings and profile pages).
  10. Activity stream + widgets. You need to have an activity stream showing all activities (user reviews, comments, discussions, searches, top, etc.) on your review site and you need widgets to allow 3rd party sites to embed those activities on their own websites.
  11. Promote your new site. “If you build it, they won’t necessarily come”. You need to make sure you’re actively promoting your site through advertising, social media and public relations. That’s in addition to community management and event organization mentioned above.
  12. Local Twitter accounts. Create Twitter accounts for all your major local markets to broadcast local activities to Twitter users interested in following up what’s going on in their city.

Do you agree or disagree with these success factors? Did I forget any critical ones?

Special Deals to Monetize Real-Time World

Excerpt from the Razorfish FEED study on MediaPost:

Of those who follow a brand on Twitter, for example, 44% said access to exclusive deals is the main reason. And on Facebook and MySpace, 37% cited special deals as the main reason they have “friended” a brand. The report points to companies such as Starbucks, which has amassed nearly 5 million fans and soared to the top of Facebook brand pages by offering coupons for free pastries and ice cream.

Whole Foods, meanwhile, leads brands on Twitter with more than 1.5 million followers by promoting weekly specials and shopping tips

Additional stats:

  • 40% have friended a brand on Facebook or Twitter
  • 73% have posted a product or brand review on sites such as Amazon, Yelp, Facebook or Twitter

via MediaPost Publications Razorfish Study: Special Offers Drive Engagement In Social Media 11/09/2009.

What it means: I’ve been saying for a few months now that special offers/coupons/time-sensitive deals will be the way to monetize this new real-time world. This survey seems to confirm it. This represents a new opportunity for Yellow Pages publishers and a good extension of current monetization models for newspaper publishers and coupon company (the most natural).

Twitter's Future According to Loic Le Meur

Loic Le Meur takes a stab at predicting Twitter’s future and lists 30 predictions on his blog. Here are some related to local media:

  • “It will reach masses of people”. Reaching masses of people means “mass media” but with a strong local tangent.
  • “Status updates will be open across social software. All social software will have status updates”. I make the same claim in the “perfect local media company” presentation I’m doing at the Local Social Summit tomorrow.
  • “We will laugh thinking we were updating them all manually. Location will be one of the most widespread status update”. From a local point of view, expect mobile devices to ping Twitter with our permission.
  • “Live reviews of any place and product will deeply influence it though”. Ah! Couldn’t agree more. This is the biggest opportunity and threat for traditional local media.
  • “Promos by brands and retailers will have big success for last minute deals”. This will be the core monetization model of real-time conversations and search for local media. Newspapers & coupon companies are already well positioned for this kind of product. Directory publishers not so much.
  • “Talking to shops and restaurants via Twitter will become standard and will get opt in coupons as we enter a shop, based on location”. This is the natural evolution for small businesses. First they will listen, then they will engage and offer promos.
  • “Hyperlocal news sites with Twitter geotagging feature”. Obviously, Twitter will be a powerful broadcast mechanism for local news.
  • “Google will have its own Twitter and won’t acquire Twitter”. This means traditional media publishers will have to contend with two (three if you count Facebook) major worldwide competitors (or coopetitors depending how you see the world).

Le Meur is also the organizer of the LeWeb conference happening in Paris in December. I will be attending the conference as an invited blogger.

Twitter's Future According to Loic Le Meur

Loic Le Meur takes a stab at predicting Twitter’s future and lists 30 predictions on his blog. Here are some related to local media:

  • “It will reach masses of people”. Reaching masses of people means “mass media” but with a strong local tangent.
  • “Status updates will be open across social software. All social software will have status updates”. I make the same claim in the “perfect local media company” presentation I’m doing at the Local Social Summit tomorrow.
  • “We will laugh thinking we were updating them all manually. Location will be one of the most widespread status update”. From a local point of view, expect mobile devices to ping Twitter with our permission.
  • “Live reviews of any place and product will deeply influence it though”. Ah! Couldn’t agree more. This is the biggest opportunity and threat for traditional local media.
  • “Promos by brands and retailers will have big success for last minute deals”. This will be the core monetization model of real-time conversations and search for local media. Newspapers & coupon companies are already well positioned for this kind of product. Directory publishers not so much.
  • “Talking to shops and restaurants via Twitter will become standard and will get opt in coupons as we enter a shop, based on location”. This is the natural evolution for small businesses. First they will listen, then they will engage and offer promos.
  • “Hyperlocal news sites with Twitter geotagging feature”. Obviously, Twitter will be a powerful broadcast mechanism for local news.
  • “Google will have its own Twitter and won’t acquire Twitter”. This means traditional media publishers will have to contend with two (three if you count Facebook) major worldwide competitors (or coopetitors depending how you see the world).

Le Meur is also the organizer of the LeWeb conference happening in Paris in December. I will be attending the conference as an invited blogger.

Local Advertisers Planning a Big Increase in Social Media Usage

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.

Advertiser highlights:

  • 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

Advertisers Planning a Big Increase in Social Media Usage - Kelsey Group Local Commerce Monitor 2009

User highlights:

  • 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

Global Yellow Pages: Entering the "Presence, Performance, Permanence" Era

This is a post about the Kelsey Group’s DMS ’09 conference which happened last week in Orlando.

In a presentation titled “Global Yellow Pages: A Prescription for Future Success”, Charles Laughlin and Neal Polachek from BIA/Kelsey (the new name of The Kelsey Group) exposed important trends and offered a new way to look at the future for directory publishers.

Current trends:

  • Over time, print Yellow Pages usage (as an advertising vehicle) is down for SMBs
  • Advertiser volume (i.e. the total number of advertisers with a relationship to a directory publisher) is decreasing
  • Average average revenue per advertiser (ARPA) is up (i.e. squeezing more money out of current advertisers) but EBITDA margins are down
  • Share of revenue coming from online products is up (10% of total directory publishers revenue in North America, 25% in Europe)

Future trends:

  • Publishers will sell leads instead of products (i.e. need to move away from print/online nomenclature)
  • The business model will evolve (blends traditional and performance-based advertising + fee-based services)
  • There will certainly be a change in the publishers’ cost structure (when revenues go down, margins go down also)
  • We will see a changing sales force (training, recruitment, smaller channels, outsourcing)
  • We will see a changing core print product (more local, more vertical, smaller, less categories)

Neal then exposed what I think is a revolutionary new way of seeing the world and coined a new era for the Yellow Pages business: ” Presence, Performance, Permanence”

Kelsey BIA Presence Performance Permanence

“Presence” is defined as “Be found”. It’s usually fee-based. It includes product like signage, listings, print, banners, search/SEO, digital outdoor, door hangers, radio, cable TV and mobile TV. I think we could also include things like website building, Facebook & Twitter profile management, etc.

“Performance” is all about driving leads. It’s performance-base and includes clicks, calls, forms submitted, store visits, inquiries, etc. It could also include coupons exchanged.

“Permanence” is to help the advertiser retain customers. This works on a fee for service business model and includes ratings, reviews, online reputation management, online booking, customer reminders, customer updates, retention strategies, telephone training, etc.

The list of business opportunities Neal presented was certainly not exhaustive but I like how this model helps organize product initiatives under large umbrellas. I also like the fact that social media is now part of the overall Yellow Pages strategy via things like ratings, reviews and reputation management. The whole industry seems to be waking up to the disruptive power (opportunity and threat!) of social media I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg there.

Close to 50% of Qype's Traffic Comes from Germany

Just stumbled upon this interview with Andrew Hunter, [praized subtype=”small” pid=”e05a4250d652484974e47fda5bd84b6b” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”]’s VP of Marketing (listed as UK country manager on Linkedin). The interview with Hunter starts at 3:35.

The VP says Qype is similar to [praized subtype=”small” pid=”fbc5d89826a49a78e7c8f39d86f90980f2″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] but that their main difference is that it’s multilingual. He says they have communities in 9 European countries plus Brazil. When asked what Qype has in common with Yelp, he says that both are strong believers in community (their main growth driver). They also have a city-by-city approach stating that cities like London, Edinburgh,  Manchester and university towns like Oxford and Cambridge love Qype immediately. He adds that their business model is similar (I discussed Qype’s and Yelp’s business model previously). Hunter says the number one benefit of Qype for users is the quality and volume of reviews.

He ends the interview by telling us Hamburg and Berlin are the largest communities on Qype, mentioning that the site has 5 million unique visitors from Germany out of 11 million total (according to their CEO, they had 9 million users in May). This is not surprising given the company was founded in Hamburg. The UK and France are the second biggest countries with 2 million unique visitors each.