Archive for the ‘Social search/community’ Category

SMB ‘Social Media Presence’ Now at 24%

March 2, 2010

Facebook recently said that it had 1.5 million active SMB profiles/pages on the site. That’s at least 10% of the addressable SMB market.

In the survey I conducted last year with MerchantCircle we found, among early adopter SMBs, a high degree of social media penetration (at levels above 40%).

EMarketer reports the results of a joint Network Solutions-University of Maryland SMB survey, which asserts that social media usage among SMBs has grown from 12% last year to 24% this year. The base here is very tiny (n=89) and thus the survey results should be received with caution. (The total survey base is 500.) However, directionally, the results are consistent with our data and other data in the market:

Among the 24% who responded that they use some form of social media, here’s the breakdown:

  • A company page on a social networking site (75 percent)
  • Posting status updates or articles of interest on social media sites (69 percent)
  • Building a network through a site like LinkedIn (57 percent)
  • Monitoring feedback about the business (54 percent)
  • Maintaining a blog (39 percent)
  • Tweeting about areas of expertise (26 percent)
  • Using Twitter as a service channel (16 percent)

Also in the report, the breakdown of marketing methods used by these respondents:

  • Print advertising: 37% (yp, newspaper)
  • Email marketing: 24%
  • Social media marketing: 19%
  • Telephone sales: 18%
  • Direct mail: 17%
  • Broadcast advertising: 14% (TV and radio)

The “social media marketing” figure (19%) in the list immediately above seems to contradict the headline that 24% of SMBs are using social media. The apparent difference is that 24% refers to “social media presence” vs. “social media marketing” — a more active category.

4Square to Get Big Boost from Bravo TV

February 25, 2010

TechCruch points to the new Bravo Promotion (associated with the show Top Chef) for Foursquare that will begin airing on TV. This is huge for Foursquare and will boost its brand recognition and (probably) usage. 

The TV spot positions Foursquare as a kind of social cityguide (which is how it will broaden its appeal). 

Clients of Internet2Go can read my analysis of how Foursquare and related apps may be helping to change the “culture” and expectations surrounding local-mobile search and LBS: How ‘Geo-Social Gaming’ Is Changing Local Mobile Search.

Yipit, Group Buying and SMBs

February 24, 2010

I recently wrote a short post about Groupon and the growing phenomenon of group buying online. Among the several companies I mentioned in the post was Yipit. I lumped the company in with several others as purveyors of local deals to consumers. Shortly thereafter I was contacted by the co-founders of Yipit (who wanted to clarify the nature of their service) and I had a fascinating conversation with them about the entire segment.

Rather than a direct competitor to these group buying sites the company aims to position itself as the “kayak of group buying.”

What that effectively means is that Yipit aggregates deals from many providers (there are a growing number; see list at bottom). The consumer-user selects the desired offer and clicks through to transact on the underlying third party site, in the same way that Kayak refers leads to airlines or hotels. Similarly Yipit takes a referral or affiliate fee for the lead — provided there’s a transaction that occurs.

The way that Yipit improves upon any one of these sites (e.g., Groupon) is that it brings together much more inventory (offers) than any one of these sites individually. Because of this, it allows users to select areas of interest and not receive offers that aren’t relevant. That has always been my experience with Groupon itself; the concept is great but there are lots of deals I’m not interested in:

The concept of group buying has been around since Mercata and the late 1990s. However in “act 1″ of the Internet it never took off. Now it has momentum on the heels of the general growth of online coupons and social networks more broadly. Consumers love deals and these sites only charge businesses — mostly SMBs — if enough people show up and a sale is made, collectively speaking:

The offers are always time-sensitive and require a commitment/purchase up front by the user. And the structure of the offer creates competition to ensure that the minimum required volume is met.

Each of the sites that Yipit “indexes” are effectively telephone sales channels, which negotiate these deals with local merchants. Yipit then delivers, or helps deliver, traffic to those individual sites.

I was told by Yipit that where there were once just two or three of group buying sites, now there are dozens of them. The barriers to entry are very low: a wordpress blog, a telephone sales and some email software.

Another fascinating thing to consider is that the risk to the merchant is almost zero; SMBs only pay when the group deal is secured. Thus it becomes potentially easier to sell something like this (especially by a “no name” company that the SMB hasn’t heard of) than more conventional “advertising.”

There’s no “ad budget” that gets tapped; the commission is a slice of sales. Consequently there may be more money for these types of programs than for “advertising.” The notion that “SEM funds itself” is one of the myths of paid search, which is especially a myth in the case of small business. However that is in fact true in this case.

If these group buying sites develop enough momentum there’s a kind of parallel universe of SMB promotions that might arise, where the value proposition is more direct and transparent to the merchant and the risk much less than buying clicks or even calls in some sense. While this is clearly not a model and channel that’s going to work for plumbers or lawyers, it probably works for a much broader group of local businesses than one might think.

Here are the sites (or most of the sites) that Yipit draws upon to serve up geographically relevant deals and offers:

Do you think “grouponing” is a fad or a phenomenon that is here to stay in some sense?

Winery Uses Twitter to Push 4Square Mayor Race

February 20, 2010

Andrew Shotland tweeted about California winery Wente Vineyards using Twitter to encourage people to become the “mayor” of its tasting room on FourSquare:

But where’s the incentive? Free case of wine? That’s the missing piece here.

Social Network Users Older than You Think

February 16, 2010

Royal Pingdom offers a nice breakdown of the ages of the users of the various social networks. Here’s the “average” list:

  • Average social network user is 37.
  • Average LinkedIn user is 44.
  • Average Twitter user is 39.
  • Average Facebook user is 38.
  • Average MySpace user is 31.
  • Average Bebo user is 28.

The largest age category across the social networking spectrum is 35-44. The data are from Google’s AdPlanner, which is based on estimates.

Grouponing: Daily Deals Heat Up

February 16, 2010

Groupon is all the rage. While its model is simply a reinvention and updating of Mercata (which shut down in 2001) the timing was right, as coupons gained massive traction and consumers sought to save money during the recession.

There are now many companies in the same segment or trying a similar model (partial list):

  • Living Social
  • Yipit
  • Groopswoop
  • SocialBuy
  • TownHog

8Coupons, which has been around for some time, has also added a city specific daily deals feature, built around their “top 8 deals” idea:

However 8Coupons is not a Groupon imitator. It started as a mobile couponer and has switched to a more PC centric model. (See: and .)

Previously email newsletter Daily Candy was sold to Comcast for $125 million. Groupon is already valued at $250 million. Facebook could win in this segment if it chose to do group buying, daily deals or social shopping more broadly.

However inventory is key for success here; no single provider or channel has all the content so deals (or other ways of obtaining content [UGC]) are a must in the space.

Compete: FB Driving More Traffic than Google

February 15, 2010

Coming off my post about Yellowbook’s remark about Facebook being a larger traffic driver than Google there’s this item:

According to Web measurement firm Compete Inc., Facebook has passed search-engine giant Google to become the top source for traffic to major portals like Yahoo and MSN, and is among the leaders for other types of sites . . . 

Using a snapshot of Web traffic from December, Compete’s director of online media and search, Jessica Ong, found that 15 percent of traffic to major Web portals like Yahoo, MSN and AOL came from Facebook and MySpace. The lion’s share of that traffic, 13 percent came from Facebook

What the article doesn’t discuss is how the “quality” and purchase intent of that traffic may be quite different on a search engine vs social media. But the volume is undeniable.

Google Blows It with Buzz Rollout

February 13, 2010

In Google’s ongoing march to transform itself into a social media platform (and hold off Facebook) the company launched GMail-based Buzz last week. And to “jump start” the social network Google has cast the net too broadly, automatically assigning followers based on “most frequent” email contacts.

There are a range of privacy issues that Google has created and, in the words of the WSJ, is now “scrambling” to address. The launch was initially a “success,” as measured by visibility, media attention and of course “buzz.” However it quickly turned into a PR disaster as the privacy issues became apparent:

According to the GMail Blog Google has been trying to address those concerns:

We’ve had plenty of feature requests, and some direct feedback. In particular there’s been concern from some people who thought their contacts were being made public without their knowledge (in particular the lists of people they follow, and the people following them). In addition, others felt they had too little control over who could follow them and were upset that they lacked the ability to block people who didn’t yet have public profiles from following them.

Like Gmail’s chat service, Buzz helps you create a social network by automatically setting you up to follow the people you email and chat with most. You can change, delete or add any contacts you want to follow.

So here is some more information about how Buzz works, and some immediate improvements we are making today based on your feedback.

While the number of immediate users and activity is very impressive and shows Google’s “raw scale” — “over 9 million posts and comments. Plus … over 200 posts per minute from mobile phones around the world” — the rollout miscalculated the fact that most people don’t want to turn their email contacts into their social network and most people don’t want those contacts “public” or otherwise automatically exposed to others.

Again, Google is seeking to quickly address these issues.

On a personal note, I’m unlikely to use Buzz in any sustained way because it’s just redundant (vs. Facebook and Twitter). I want email to be email and unfortunately this whole experience has “tainted” GMail. I do think that Buzz has interesting utility in mobile however, which some mistake as new. (Socialight, Flook and others offer similar capabilities.)

The lack of clarity about what was happening and how to control it, how to change privacy settings and so on — the “involuntary” nature of the Buzz rollout — was and is the central problem. This resulted from Google’s desire to create immediate scale and usage.

The key thing that people want is choice; they want to consciously decide whom to connect with or follow and who follows them. They want that process to be more transparent as with other networks: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.

Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center said it well in the WSJ piece:

“Google has generally been pretty savvy” about privacy considerations while rolling out new products, he said. “And still, they blundered big time.”

___

(Google should de-couple Buzz from GMail or create that option.)

Let’s Talk about Goog-Vark

February 12, 2010

I quickly wrote up the announced acquisition of social search engine/answer engine Aardvark by Google over at Internet2Go. Fifty million will buy a lot of cheese-puffs I don’t mind telling you.

Much more intriguing is how Google will put the service to work (my speculation):

  • Human/Aardvark answers in SERPs
  • Didn’t find what you were looking for? “Ask a human” in SERPs (less likely)
  • Geotagged/geo-coded Aardvark answers/recommendations in Maps, Buzz, Latitude and/or on Place Pages
  • Others?

Here’s the most wacky scenario: Aardvark or the technology inside (like Live Person) might be eventually used to offer a quasi-professional, distributed call-center-like resource like for customer support.

The acquisition is both offensive but also potentially defensive in a couple of ways. Aardvark itself was likely never going to topple or steal real volume from Google. But the concept of a P2P service that offers an alternative to Google is threatening (think Facebook). Aardvark gives Google that capability now.

How do you think Aardvark will be used?

Can’t Really Avoid the Buzz

February 10, 2010

Every comment made comes to me in the form of an email notification and every time I go into email I see the Buzz icon. It’s very difficult to “avoid.”

This “in your face” dimension will generate a lot of activity quickly. Will it sustain over time? In thinking about it on the PC vs. mobile I think what we have are essentially two products built with the same infrastructure:

  • Google Wave Lite on the PC
  • Latitude/LBS/Yelp/FourSquare potentially on mobile

The use cases for the two are going to be very different. And the mobile reviews feature (content creation/collection) for upload into Place Pages is yet another scenario.

Google: What the Buzz?

February 10, 2010

I was at the Borrell Local conference over the past couple days and didn’t have time yesterday to watch the Google Buzz webcast or play with it more than superficially.

It’s a Twitter and Facebook alternative; it’s Google Wave lite; it’s an enterprise tool; it’s an alternative to Google Latitude; it’s a Google Reader replacement; it’s a FourSquare competitor . . . and so on.

It seems that in its latest effort to become more social Google has mashed up features of existing services (Wave, Latitude) with features borrowed directly from Twitter and Facebook. Google’s ability to integrate features across services and platforms is impressive and on display here. However it may be a recipe with too many ingredients.

The logic of using GMail as the basis for this makes complete sense; indeed Yahoo! has offered similar capabilities for a year. However, my “first impressions” lead me to say this:

  • I’m unlikely to use it on the PC (or I’ll just push Twitter feeds into it)
  • Mobile may be where it’s most useful and gains the most adoption (making Latitude irrelevant)

The location aspect is very interesting and potentially useful but I think the desktop aspect is almost entirely redundant.

As someone remarked to me last night it also appears to be a way to integrate elements of Wave into GMail, which may be smart for Google as it tries to gain broader usage of that product.

For those who’ve played with it or used it a little, what do you think?

Yellowbook: Facebook Now Top Traffic Source

February 9, 2010

I had left the room by this point but I was told last night (hearsay) that during the Yellowbook keynote, at the Borrell show yesterday morning, that the following statement was made: Facebook is now the site’s top traffic referrer, passing Google.

This surprised me and I will seek to confirm it directly with Yellowbook. But if correct it’s striking on several levels. It argues that Facebook could become a major traffic source for local publishers (I believe this was via FB Connect).

I don’t know what the quality of leads coming from Facebook would be in this context — although I’m being told by publishers and others using Facebook Ads that the quality and efficacy is good — but the statement above suggests that publishers must more aggressively look to social media for traffic and leads for their advertisers.

Tapping the Growing Local-Social Opportunity

January 29, 2010

Everyone in one way or another is thinking about how to “work” social media: advertisers, publishers and consumers (to a degree). Along those lines, I wrote a high-level “why you need to be involved in social media” article for the Yodle blog recently:

The numbers are compelling. US teens spend roughly 25% of all their online time on social networks according to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. And among social networks, as most people know, Facebook is dominant. The site has 350 million users worldwide and more than 130 million in the US. 

One day in the very near future Facebook is likely to supplant Yahoo one of the top two Internet destinations, the other being Google. US Internet users spend just over six hours a month on the site. And roughly half of all Facebook users visit the site daily or multiple times a day. 

There are also more than 70 million Facebook users who regularly access the site on a mobile device as well. 

Twitter has also seen tremendous growth and adoption over the past year. While it’s far behind Facebook in terms of overall numbers there are almost 20 million Twitter users in the US and about 50 million globally (per Nielsen and comScore). Every day there are nearly 28 million “tweets” around the world. 

Read more . . . 

Twitter Local Trends Formally Launches

January 27, 2010

I wrote about it earlier and some quick thoughts about how it might evolve, but this evening Twitter formally announced Twitter local trends:

As Twitter evolves, and more people share what’s happening in their own world, we want to provide another way for people to discover topics that may be relevant to them. Last week we began to slowly roll out a new feature called Local Trends to expose what people are talking about on the state and city level, and today we’ve fully launched so everyone can use it.

This can evolve into a helpful discovery tool for Twitter users; and there’s some real, potential SEO value here too.

The Return of Click to Call?

January 25, 2010

Click to Call as been around online forever, yet it has been little used. Historically yellow pages publishers (e.g., Superpages) that offered it saw limited use vs. more conventional phone calling to local businesses.

At one time Google offered it as a feature to contact local businesses on Google Maps. But that was discontinued in 2007. Similarly the pre-Bing Windows Live Local also had “call for free” (C2C), which was later discontinued. Why? Basically because these services were not used except by a small number of people. We may, however, be entering a new period where Click2Call “returns” and becomes more widely adopted and actively used, as part of a larger movement toward VoIP services.

Two developments point toward but don’t guarantee this . . .

First there’s a new Facebook app from a company called 8×8 Connect, which places a “call me” button on your Facebook profile and doesn’t show a user’s phone number:

This launches a module (image can be replaced with profile photo) to enable people to call any number supplied by the user:

Next, Google’s browser Chome has added a Skype-like “extension” that enables click to call  through the browser:

  • Adds a button to the toolbar, which displays the number of unread messages in your Google Voice inbox.
  • Gives you quick access to your most recent messages with transcripts.
  • Lets you initiate calls and send free text messages by just typing any number or contact name.
  • Makes phone numbers on websites callable via Google Voice by just clicking on them.

Of course Skype has similar functionality, and is/was being used by European Directories as part of a local/Maps SEO strategy.

As a momentary digression, imagine how Facebook might implement its own version of this: free calls domestically and low-cost, Skype-like calls outside the US. And imagine how this might facilitate “leads” to local businesses via Facebook. Although it might be hard to charge on a per-call/per-lead basis given the availability of the 8×8 Connect free service (or others that might crop up). Still this C2C capability potentially makes Facebook even more useful to local businesses as a marketing platform. The line between C2C and PPCall is a thin one, of course.

We’ll see if these new services and/or others like them “take” this time around. My guess is that the market is now better conditioned to understand, accept and use these types of services.

Kaiser Report on Kids Scary for Print Media

January 21, 2010

The Kaiser Family Foundation has released its annual report on kids and their media use. There was a lengthy article in the NY Times about it yesterday. The report and related presentation are free and they paint a scary picture for most traditional media, except for TV (although TV is down) and, surprisingly, radio.

Not surprisingly, Internet (especially social networking) and mobile are key areas of focus of these kids. And 84% of them have Internet access at home, many in their bedrooms. The press release summarizes the high-level findings. Here are a few noteworthy charts from the report:

While TV dominates media usage, there is considerable media multi-tasking during TV use (read: people only partly paying attention). Print media are just — to put it bluntly — screwed unless as these kids mature they spend more time with print. Don’t bet on it. Finally 25% of computer time is spent with social networks.

There are lots of implications for publishers and marketers, although there’s no discussion of advertising in these slides or in the larger report. Where are marketers going to be able to most effectively market to young people in the US? On social networks, in games, on mobile phones (SMS) and radio to some degree. Magazines may offer some effective marketing opportunities in selected cases. However, online “share of voice” is going to be tough; there’s lots of clutter and noise. Thus mobile may turn out to be the most effective tool for reaching youth accordingly.

TV is going to offer mixed results; it’s the largest audience (though it continues to fragment) but people aren’t paying attention to ads for the most part.

___

Related: Owners of digital readers actually read more books:

Among active readers who own an e-reader, about 48% reported reading more books as a consequence of having such products, as compared to those who do not own an e-reader where only 15% reported reading more books (44% vs. 23%, respectively for magazines); 36% percent of the books read by people with e-readers represent incremental consumption—meaning more than one-third of the books read on e-readers would not have been read in print

Google Adding ‘Events’ to Place Pages

January 14, 2010

Mike Blumenthal sent me a link to his blog that reflects Google’s apparent effort to add time sensitive “events” (here broadly construed to include sales) to a local business’ Place Page:

Picture 180

The page above is the example Mike uses; I looked for others but couldn’t find them. Mike focuses on the lack of visibility of coupons on Place Pages as a potential deterrent for local businesses to use them to announce offers or deals in this way. Yes, that’s certainly an issue.

I would add to that the challenge of getting these SMBs to serve up this content. Google does need to increase the visibility and prominence of these deals or discounts but it also should make them easy to create.

To that end it might think about incorporating Twitter in one or more of several ways, as Citysearch has done. Better yet Google should think about buying or creating the capability to update once (from Google LBC) and push them out to Facebook and Twitter.

___

Google just posted about this:

Holding a special event today? Want to post a coupon for 5-7pm tonight? Have a new product in stock? You can now get the word out by posting to your Place Page directly from your Local Business Center dashboard. Once you’ve logged in and are on your business’ dashboard, post an update and it will go live on your Place Page in just a few minutes.

Here’s my more recent and more complete post at SEL about this.

No Surprise: Reviews Influence Consumer Buying

December 18, 2009

Why do consulting or analyst firms announce results of consumer surveys that show “reviews influence consumer shopping” as though this is either a) a revelation or b) new information. Deloitte is the latest to point out this near-self evident piece of information:

Over half of all U.S. consumers and 69 percent of Millennials believe that online customer reviews and ratings influence their buying decisions more than any other type of online advertising, and 51 percent have purchased products based on an online recommendation. In fact, 24 percent of U.S. consumers would like to have an online service that recommends a product based on other consumers’ preferences.

According to the survey, one-quarter of U.S. consumers are socializing online almost every day and nearly 60 percent currently maintain a social networking site, up from 48 percent last year. The connections maintained over social networks provide powerful sources for trusted recommendations.

Reviews are like word of mouth. Consumers see it as unbiased, whereas advertising is viewed with suspicion.

In fairness to Deloitte, they were comparing the influence of different “mediums” in a kind of hierarchy.

Here’s a great deal more on ad types/media and consumer trust from a massive Nielsen survey:

WhitePages Bringing Social Media into Results

December 17, 2009

WhitePages.com announced that it would be integrating publicly available social media profiles into people search results:

[T]oday WhitePages (www.whitepages.com) announced that it will incorporate public social media profiles from Facebook and Twitter into its people search service.  Now, in addition to traditional contact information like phone numbers and addresses, a people search on WhitePages will also provide consumers with direct links to select matching Facebook and Twitter user pages . . .

Today’s announcement is a preview of how social networking data will eventually be incorporated throughout the entire WhitePages site.  By the middle of next year, WhitePages expects to significantly expand the number of social listings, and add social networking account information to existing work and residential listings where relevant.  Consumers can also add links to their social media profiles on their own by taking advantage of WhitePages’ recently launched editing capability.

Here’s my Twitter profile on WhitePages:

Arguably WhitePages.com has been in this realm forever but is moving aggressively to make itself more relevant to the Facebook era. Success is not guaranteed by any means. The company will need comprehensive data but also to create an improved user experience vs. what exists today. Among others, 123People will try and give WhitePages.com a run for its money.

Has G’s Success Sewn the Seeds of Its Overthrow?

December 14, 2009

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about what I’ve inelegantly called the rise of “crap content.” I like better RWW’s “content farms” and TechCrunch’s “fast food content” to describe the new “content factories” (i.e., Demand Media and AOL). The following is from an AOL editor’s email via Business Insider:

The email, from an editor at AOL site RentedSpaces.com, encourages writers to produce 300-500 word stories fast in a style that’s “colorful, concise, [and] opinionated.” But he doesn’t want them to go too far.

“We’re not Gawker, so be friendly and authoritative.”

He tells them stories don’t have to be based on original reporting. He writes, “All we want to know for a pitch is: what’s the story, who broke it (AP, NYT, BW, Bloomberg,etc.), and how you will advance the story if you are following someone else’s reporting,” reads the email.

When writers file their copy, they’re expected to “Include 140 characters for a Tweet or Facebook update.”

AOL wants its editors to write in a way that will help Google will find their stories — that they’re “search engine optimized.” For example, the RentedSpaces editor tells his staffers to “make sure the first few words and first graf contain the critical keywords.”

Now VC Fred Wilson has written a post riffing of these ideas. It’s very consistent with some thoughts I’ve recently been having. He talks about how social networks may become increasingly relied upon as search results potentially turn into what I would contend is the online equivalent of cable TV: a wasteland of content.

We now can’t imagine the digital world without Google at its (epi)center, but a time will surely come when Google isn’t. Is that day 5, 10, 20 or 30 years from now?

I don’t know the timing, but I do know that Google’s importance and centrality to the online ecosystem and the corresponding greater and greater focus on SEO has spawned the following model and emphasis:

  • Low paid freelancers (or unpaid UGC bloggers) write short stories off press releases or original reporting somewhere else (often borderline plagarism)
  • Those “content” pages are optimized for search results primarily to drive page views (for display ad CPMs). The ad is the reason for the content, which is necessary to permit indexing
  • Quality is banished in favor of speed and quantity

Much of the “quality” content from traditional media — granted there is much crap coming from traditional media too — that was indexed in search results is giving way to the crap because the business models that supported quality content creation (writers, editors) are being undermined by the Internet.

In the future quality exists, and indeed becomes more important, but it becomes potentially harder to find. In this not-so-hypothetical future search remains important. But because of increasing noise in search results (or the return of noise), trust and potentially greater efficiency, people turn to word of mouth on social sites with increasing frequency.

It’s a highly plausible theory.


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