The Right Place At The Right Time: My Panel at the Local Social Summit

I will be moderating a panel on day one of the next Local Social Summit happening in London on November 9 and 10 (it’s a two-day event this year). The panel is titled The Right Place At The Right Time: How The Real-Time Web Influences The “local” World.

Its description: The rise of the real-time Web is well documented.Propelled by both the social networking revolution and mobile device ubiquitousness, we’re seeing the birth of new user services and business opportunities. In this panel,  we will explore the time element in the local/social Web and will try to discover what kind of content works well in real-time, what are the benefits for consumers and what kind of business models can be deployed to leverage the
“time” dimension.

My panelists:

People that have been reading this blog and following my Twitter feed know that I’ve been interested in the real-time (sometimes called the Alive Web)and the temporal Web for a few years now.

On day two, I’m also on a panel titled Can Social Media Be Outsourced? headed by Jonathan Ewert from Codero. I’m looking forward to that discussion as well!

It should be an excellent conference with speakers from Yelp, Foursquare, European Directories, Decarta, Mueller-Medien, the BBC, in addition to Greg Sterling, Dennis Yu and Perry Evans.

The organizers have provided me with a 20% discount to my readers but I hear there are less than 20 tickets left. So, hurry up if you want to join us. I will be in London the whole week. If you want to meet, ping me at seb AT needium.com.

Jeremy Stoppelman (Yelp's CEO): "Mobile is the Future of our Business"

Excellent keynote to start the first day of the BIA/Kelsey conference. Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp’s CEO, shared with us a lot of interesting data points regarding their business.

  • How they define what they do: “connecting people with great local businesses”
  • 14 million local reviews as of today
  • Top review categories: 26% restaurants, 24% shopping, 9% beauty and fitness.
  • Expanding geographical coverage: France, Germany, Austria this year, more coming soon.
  • Yelp currently has 39M unique visitors vs. 26M last year (per their Google Analytics).
  • Monetization model: video ads, paid (ranking) ads, daily offers (what Stoppelman called the “transaction business”)

The CEO then discussed the main traffic drivers for Yelp mentioning search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing and he also listed Facebook as a great source of Web traffic. He talked about how search engine optimization (SEO) in the local space (read Google…), is becoming problematic. He doesn’t think Yelp (and other local media sites) will be able to rely on Google for traffic down the road but the good news is that the industry is heading towards “mobile”. People don’t search on mobile, they use applications. At Yelp, mobile is a startup within a startup and it’s been very successful. 30% of their total traffic comes from mobile now and a business is called every 5 seconds.

He also shared his strategies for driving distribution on mobile:

  • Leveraging your web assets
  • Store promotion
  • Partnerships
  • Battle for on deck

When prodded at the end of the session, he mentioned that “Mobile is the future of our business”.

What it means: Looking at Yelp, it looks like they are becoming a more mature business (with all the good and the bad that comes with being “mature”). Google’s moves in local is definitely a threat but their move into mobile is creating huge opportunities for them. Monetization is probably still problematic (it’s very difficult to monetize merchant reviews) but “daily offers” might be a great way for them to speed up revenue generation. I think they are a good example of the strategic importance of mobile in local/social.

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.

Facebook Launches Like Button for the Web: Why It Might Not Be For Your Site

This morning at the F8 conference, Facebook announced the launch of a distributed or deportalized “Like” functionality. Techcrunch explains how it works:

The Like button works exactly like it does on Facebook (and other sites like FriendFeed): it allows users to show their approval of any piece of content on these sites with one click. You can also include a little note saying why you like the item. (…) These likes are then transported back to Facebook and integrated into users’ profiles. Notably, if you like a movie on IMDb, it will be pushed into your favorite movies area on your Facebook profile.

I’ve tried it on IMDB, the movie database site, where I “liked” the Peter Sellers’ movie The Party. If you’re my friend on Facebook, you will see on the right-hand side of the page the fact that I “like” the movie and my Facebook avatar. You can click on the Like button to signal you like the movie.

Facebook Like IMDB

The action is then broadcast to the Facebook newsfeed, where your friends can click back and see the information on the IMDB site. Please note that you can’t “like” or “comment” on that activity inside Facebook, only on IMDB.

Activity Stream Facebook Like

The new “Like” button is part of a new suite of social functions available for third party Websites. That suite called Open Graph includes the Facebook login (formerly Facebook connect), social plugins and a toolbar.

What it means: Wow. What a sexy concept. It’s easy to implement, it’s easy for consumers to use and it promotes your site within Facebook. Sounds like it’s a no-brainer. Everyone should implement it, no?

Let’s think about it for a second before moving too fast.

The future of the Web will be all about “structured data” and “social”. It will be about analyzing human interactions and surfacing relevant content in a sea of information/noise. If you want to build value in the future, you need to make sure you’re able to extract the social interaction data and analyze trends. That’s what Facebook is doing. They’ve managed to build a great identity system and are now building a a graph of people’s interest using external content and traffic. Facebook is building the ultimate social utility.

Will you be able to capture trends and surface relevant content if you “outsource” some of your basic social functions to Facebook? I’m not sure. You need to be able to tie social actions to your core structured data. I still believe it’s critical to use the Facebook identity system (log-in and social graph) but be careful of other social plugins. You might be giving away the future of your business to the social network giant. And by the way, you can probably create your own “Like” button that broadcasts to Facebook using the Facebook login…

In the local space, Yelp has just implemented the whole social kit from Facebook but note how they’re using the “like” button: “A use-case that we’re all excited about: perhaps you see a 3-star business and you’re unsure of whether you want to try it. But you see that several of your friends have “liked” it so you give it a shot and it’s really a 4-star business in your book. So now you can write a review telling people how great it is! “. They’re using the Facebook Like button as a backup system to their own rating system. They’re not surrendering their main social functions to Facebook. They understand their core business and are leveraging Facebook’s identity system and social graph. That’s smart. Make sure you’re as smart as Yelp when you start implementing these new tools.

Update: ReadWriteWeb has some concerns has well and write “At first blush, it’s hard from a user’s perspective to find anything to criticize Facebook for in today’s announcements. Those criticisms will no doubt start to form once people wrap their heads around all the particulars. On principal, though, there’s going to be so much more Facebook around the internet that it feels like a real cause for concern. Centralization is a dangerous thing and Facebook is a young company that’s proven willing to break its contract with users in the past”

Traditional Local Media and Community Building

One of the challenges in social media is building a robust community with many human activities and interactions. Something that’s alive and thriving. If you build it, they will NOT come. A lot of efforts are needed to get to the social tipping point. I’m always inspired by the story of Yelp.com. They had to regroup around their home base of San Francisco after a so-so first year of operations. They built momentum from there and were able to re-start successfully. From a recent Inc. article:

Without the cash for a national rollout, Stoppelman decided to focus on making Yelp famous locally. With the help of a buzz-marketing guru he hired on a whim, Stoppelman decided to select a few dozen people — the most active reviewers on the site — and throw them an open-bar party. As a joke, he called the group the Yelp Elite Squad.

To build a community, you need humans, you need personality. This is not only about hardware and software. In my many conversations with traditional local media companies (and those include directory publishers, newspapers, radio and television companies), I’ve discovered that not all local media are born equal when discussing social media. Some already have community in their DNA. Newspaper publishers for example have always been local opinion leaders, stirring conversations, trying to change things, and engaging their readers to contribute and provide feedback. Their journalists and editors are in effect community managers. Radio stations are used to doing contests (“the 12th caller will win a pair of tickets to so and so’s show”), urging listeners to call in to discuss various topics in talk radio, obtaining traffic information from drivers or getting friends to send messages to each other via the DJ. In smaller cities, radio hosts are superstars with their own nicknames and are invited to openings and movie premieres. Radio hosts are also powerful community managers.

I think that local TV stations used to be very strong local opinion leaders but as local programming disappears and is replaced by national content, it becomes more difficult to engage viewers locally. Still, local news anchors continue to have a great aura in a community. Through major television events (think Superbowl, Oscars, Olympics, etc.), national TV networks are creating social events of a bigger nature than any other media. TV industry pundits are saying social media is actually helping with ratings but all the activity is happening in the back channel, on Facebook and Twitter. It should happen on the network’s website or on the television set itself to create real value for those media companies. Directory publishers are in my mind the furthest from having social media in their DNA. A traditional directory look-up is very mechanical, utility-driven, even when it’s attached to an emotional life event. Users of directories do not engage with other users (yet) or with the publishers. We could probably make a case that there’s some sort of social/community relationship with advertisers but it would tenuous at best.

But with all these assets, social media still feels awkward or forced in traditional local media companies and it means the game isn’t won (or lost depending how you see the world). In the newspaper industry for example, journalists often badmouth bloggers and publishers struggle with user comments fearing trolls and lawsuits. The relationship is very unidirectional, I’m caricaturing but it often sounds like”we write, you read”. Success will come when newspaper groups understand the bidirectional nature of the relationship. In the radio industry, the atomization of their core content model (i.e. you can listen to any songs anytime you want online) threw them a curve ball but they can hook up their offline broadcasts with the Web to create a very loyal listener environment. In the TV industry, local content creation (online and possibly offline) should be embraced again and social engagement tools should be made available at the point of viewer contact (think online but also with TV set manufacturers, set top box, etc.). In the directory industry, the almost 100% focus on advertisers up until a few years ago has made the shift very difficult, but giving complete power to consumers will enable them to regain their reputation as the most trusted source for merchant recommendations.

Media companies, because of their “social assets” and strong offline components, should have a leg up versus their online media competitors but they often don’t realize social media and community building are part of who they are. I’m not sure newspapers and radios are fully realizing they already have strong assets to win in local/social. This is also the opportunity for local television to regain what it might have lost and for directory publishers to learn to swim the social media waters. They all need to take the plunge, sooner than later.

Dennis Crowley (Foursquare): Check-ins Will Be "Commodity by the End of the Year."

Silicon Alley Insider revealed this morning that Facebook is working on a “check-in” functionality similar to the one you can find in Foursquare or Brightkite (and now Yelp). When they reached Dennis Crowley, Foursquare cofounder, he said:

For his part, Foursquare cofounder Dennis Crowley told us he fully expects Facebook and others to launch “check-in” functionality, making it “commodity by the end of the year.”

via Facebook Is Working On A Foursquare-Killer.

What it means: if you’ve been following my recommendations closely, you know that “check-in” is one of the features of the perfect local media company of 2014. It’s already becoming a “commodity”, a must for any local media company mobile products. Check-ins also represent interesting data that should be added to merchant profile Web pages (like Yelp is doing).

TellMeWhere: Europe's Foursquare?

This morning, I had the chance to sit down with Gilles Barbier, CEO and co-founder of TellMeWhere (Dismoiou in French), a Paris-based European social Yellow Pages service. As with any ratings/reviews service, people can find places (see Le Louvre profile page for example), read the basic information, see the map and pictures, rate/comment on the place, see what others have said and discover related places. So far, although well executed, it’s not very different feature-wise than a lot of ratings/reviews sites like Yelp or Qype.

Mobile as a differentiator

Where it gets really interesting is with their iPhone application (they also have an Android one). The beautifully designed (both from a user interface and user experience) app is where the rubber really hit the road for the young startup founded three years ago. Launched in July, the mobile version has been downloaded more than 400,000 times (on a total of 2 million iPhones in France).

TellMeWhere iPhone Application Home

Features include:

  • Location-based business search
  • Ability to rate/comment places and broadcast your comment on Twitter/Facebook
  • See feedback from other users and your friends
  • See recommendations based on your tastes
  • Great integration of Facebook Connect with instant account creation based on your Facebook information
  • Push of your activities to your friends’ phone and possibility for your friends to answer you back via SMS
  • Integration with Google Maps
  • Integration with the iPhone camera allowing users to take a picture and upload it right away to the place profile page

TellMeWhere iPhone Application recommendations

The release of their iPhone application has created a lot of user traction. Barbier asked me to pick a small town in France just to prove the breadth of usage. I chose Venasque, a small 1000-inhabitant village in Provence where I stayed last spring. I think there are only a dozen businesses in the village. TellMeWhere had two votes in their system. They even had a few activities in smaller towns in Canada. And now they’re on the verge of releasing version 2.0 of their mobile application of the iPhone and it will include check-in functionality (like Foursquare) and an activity stream of everything your friends are doing to enable real-time discovery. You can see a video of the new application here.

TellMeWhere iPhone Application Place Profile

Barbier shared with me that they’ve now realized their mobile applications (built in-house) have become strategic for the small 7-employee company. The combination of mobile + local + social (utilizing an existing identity system like Facebook Connect) is a winning formula.

Mobile will be disruptive

And this is where, in the future of local search, mobile wins (as opposed to the Web). I finally see the light and now realizes that mobile will probably be the great disruptor it was always supposed to be. Why? Because, as Barbier said, mobile usage is real. It’s grounded in real life, with your day-to-day local usage and your social graph. That’s how you build usage. In web-based local search, it’s all about search engine optimization (SEO) these days as it’s very expensive to build new brands. It’s traffic coming from Google and other search engines from users with little loyalty. And with the Mountain View goliath hosting more and more content on their own site, I suspect that strategy will soon go off its rails.

Real-time business model

As for TellMeWhere’s business model, they’re monetizing using “special offers”. Merchants can claim their listing and submit deals/coupons/special offers (the best way to monetize real-time local as I’ve often said). It’s a pay-per-action model (or as Barbier coined it “pay-per-visit) where merchants only pay when the user displays the coupon on their phone on location. With geo-location, it’s easy to verify if the user was really on premise or not when he displayed the coupon. Barbier told me he can charge 4 euros to restaurants each time someone uses a coupon. Sounds like a good model.

I think TellMeWhere has everything to become Europe’s Foursquare. The application is beautifully executed and is easy to use. Current usage seems to show a very positive trend. They have traction in France and other francophone countries and want to go after the rest of Europe and the English-speaking world. You should definitely check out their iPhone application if you want to see a great social/local mobile app.

Update: Gilles Barbier tells me version 2.0 of his application has been approved by Apple and is now available for download.