Category Archives: Social Media

Merchants Helping Neighboring Merchants: Ex Constant Contacter Launches Alignable

One idea we’ve kicked around for a while is that merchants can generate business tips and customer referrals for neighboring merchants in a strip mall, or down the street. Why shouldn’t the cooking store people refer customers to the gourmet grocery? Or the hardware store people refer customers to plant nursery? At least, they can share tips about landlords, taxes, advertising and supplies.

At this point, several companies have tried it. It has been a leading premise behind the launch of local sites such as MerchantCircle and ShopCity.

The popularization of social media has led former Constant Contact executive Eric Groves to try it once again with Alignable, his new startup. Groves contends that there is vast local knowledge in pockets throughout communities. But many SMBs miss out on marketing opportunities because of the isolated state they operate in. “They never connect with people who are just 10 feet away from their dry wall,” he says.

Alignable makes it easier for merchants to share information; post calendar information; and other information. For SMBs, it is a growth engine, says Groves. What’s in it for him? Because there is generally so little overlap between the customer bases of neighboring merchants, the combined resources of hundreds and thousands of merchants represent a new way to reach a large quorum that could easily rival the reach of a local newspaper or broadcasters.

Informal surveys conducted by Alignable show that overlap rates between customer lists are generally less than two percent. A large community such as Austin, for instance, already has 700 businesses on Alignable. If the majority of Austin merchants were to signup, it would represent a combined reach of 1.5 million, Groves estimates.

Other fast-out-of-the-gate markets for Alignable include Denver, Phoenix and Oakland. In fact, the service is now available in 3000 communities representing every state, as well as Canada.

Looking forward, Groves sees opportunity not only to hook up neighboring merchants and their customers, but vertical players across the county. Health and Wellness has been an early winner, with MindBody Online serving as a strong partner for Alignable, says Groves.

Alignable is a member of the 2014 Future Stars, and will be part of Future Stars Alley at Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans. You can register here.

Home Advisor’s Chris Terrill: Poised for Growth, New Services

Almost two years ago, IAC was in a tough situation. It had a leading services referral business in ServiceMagic, whose main rival was Angie’s List, the paid subscription service. But the service wasn’t growing; had relatively low brand awareness; and seemed to be in danger of getting bypassed by a new crop of social media driven services.

In an episode of creative destruction, IAC, along with new CEO Chris Terrill, made the decision to rename the company to “Home Advisor”; and narrow its focus to home services. Terrill later refocused the company’s primary business model from pay per lead to monthly subscriptions that would include a variety of value added social media and directory services (pay per lead options remain available).

Today, the Home Advisor brand may not be as well known as ServiceMagic at its peak. It also remains under the radar in the business world. That is partly explained by the company not being VC backed or publicly traded as a separate company outside of IAC, says Terrill. “We don’t get written about as much.”

But Terrill says that the company remains one of the largest home service networks, with 80,000 service pros, two million reviews and 30 million home owner requests. It is also growing and profitable, and highly focused on “strategic sales.”

And it is focusing more on the awareness issue, conducting an ambitious TV campaign to reach more home owners. It will be spending even more on TV in coming months, with budgets that are in the “tens of millions” of dollars.

The picture looks bright going forward for Home Advisor and the entire home services space, says Terrill. Over the next couple of years, Terrill says Home Advisor will have a singular focus on growing its U.S. business.

“A lot of small entrants are coming into the space,” such as Pro.com, the service launched by former Amazon leaders (not to mention Amazon’s own entrance into the space.) “We see the local home space heating up,” he says. But Home Advisor remains a leader in the space – competing against players such as Angie’s List, Yelp and Home Depot’s Red Beacon — and continues to add building blocks, Terrill says.

Today, for instance, the company announced the purchase of Mhelpdesk, a 30-person Fairfax, VA-based company that helps service pros manage their businesses, and allows home owners to directly book services – especially over mobile phones. The service has over 10,000 service pros.

Terrill says that Mhelpdesk is a leader in a “rapidly growing space” that will prove increasingly important to the company. “It could not have worked 2,3,4 years ago,” he says, before the popularization of cloud-based mobile devices for SMB service providers. “It’s an important piece of the puzzle.”

Watch Out AAA: Urgent.ly Goes Uber, Takes on Roadside Assistance

Urgently 4_3

“Uber-ification” has been extended to many local segments, including hotels, restaurant reservations and promotions. How about roadside assistance?

Asserting that AAA and other roadside assistance services have outdated economic models and technology, local media and commerce vet Chris Spanos (AOL, Repair.com and Seniorchecked.com ) is leading a team launching Urgent.ly. The Washington D.C.- area company, which provides flat-rate repair truck assistance rather than charging annual insurance-like fees (i.e. $99), has done hundreds of service calls and is set to go nationwide. It completed its seed round of funding in March 2014, and is in the process of closing a larger, pre-series A round.

Like Uber, Urgent.ly has a free iOS App that contains a motorist profile and credit card information. Customers can easily tap their phones for a repair truck, and a live map lets them see where the trucks are at all times in the process. An additional feature is “FamilyView,” which allows drivers to link their app to a driving-age child, spouse or parent.

Spanos says 53 million customers are currently paying $70 to $130 for annual access to AAA, but most under-use use the services. The more serious issue with AAA is that customers often have to wait too long for a tow — some don’t get served within AAA’s 90 minute window. The problem? AAA only pays tow truck companies $20-25 and they have real mileage restrictions. The low payments mean that tow truck drivers will always give preference to cash calls from non AAA members. Urgent.ly’s on demand pricing takes care of that, says Spanos.

He also notes that people use AAA for a variety of services, of course, such as discounts to Amtrak, hotels, stores, and entertainment venues. “We may put in promotional discounts for auto-related services” at some point, Spanos notes. The key, however, is better transparency. “Transparency is the future of roadside,” he says.

Urgently Consumer Web App

CBS Local Buys Eventful (Updated)

Event listing sites were once seen as a leading hub for local media, and a great generator of user generated content and social media. It isn’t clear that they’ve fully caught on in these ways, but they remain strong promotional assets; sell lots of event tickets; and they also bring in related advertising.

CBS Local — which supports CBS Local Radio and TV stations — obviously sees their value. Today, it announced it is acquiring Eventful, one of the leading listings sites – and one that has evolved over the years to become a major social media player for local entertainment, and for entertainment services and lifestyle brands targeting local users (i.e. TV shows, movies, music, games, liquor and even politicians.) CBS Local has been an Eventful customer for some time.

Recently, for instance, Eventful created a competition among cities to host a preview of the new “Sleepy Hollow” episode. The campaign got 30,000 participants, 18 million social impressions, one million trailer views and 35 million digital media impressions. Thirty-one percent of the participants shared their voting on Facebook and Twitter.

Such efforts illustrate Eventful’s ambition to become “a behavioral targeting engine involving e-mail marketing and other personalized outbound promotions.” The company has been sending out over 100 million emails a month.

“The local targeting capability of the Internet and direct e-mail marketing services like Eventful helps agencies appreciate the benefits of local focus,” CEO Jordan Glazier told BIA/Kelsey a couple of years ago. “They are increasingly including local as a requirement within their buys.” Under the new regime, Glazier becomes SVP of Digital Strategies.

Will CBS Local focus on Eventful’s newer entertainment promotion areas or its listings activities? CBS Local President Ezra Kucharz told us that it is definitely planning to continue both of these efforts. They will complement CBS’ strong audio streaming and video streaming. But he indicated that Eventful’s core business of listings probably remains front and center. In particular, CBS continues to focus on personalizing its user experiences.

The price wasn’t announced. Eventful has raised over $19.6 million, and is said to have been profitable in recent quarters.

Eventful CEO Jordan Glazier and founder Brian Dear

The 2014 LMA Innovation Mission: What Tech Leaders Can Teach Traditional Media

When a traditional media executive visits Google, Facebook and other tech leaders, there is always a lot of oohing and ahhing and a bit of envy.

You can’t help but notice the great perks, such as free dry cleaning and gourmet food. Add to that their relative transparency; open seating that bust out the cubicles; first name relationships with the executive team; grand vision statements that go beyond profit; the distribution of company equity; and their trust in employees.

But these tech perks have been around now for years (and copied.) What are the real revelations that traditional media company executives can gain from a tour of tech leaders, circa 2014? That’s the question posed by The Local Media Association’s Fifth “Innovation Mission,” a six day, multi-city adventure that included on site briefings at tech and media leaders such as Google, eBay, LinkedIn, The New York Times, Buzzfeed, CBS Local, Gatehouse Media, Automattic, RussMedia and others

BIA/Kelsey spoke on last year’s tour, and we have been eager to see the report from this year’s edition. Here’s the summary: The new wave is all about sharing media; the widespread use of mobile has given rise to omnichannel publishing; and the next wave of internal communications and news gathering is quickly moving from email to messaging.

The tour’s focus on shareable media especially caught our attention. BuzzFeed – which gets 23 million of its 57 million daily views from shared posts –goes so far as to say that share data has become “the most important metric.” The report says this about Buzzfeed: “As ideas surface, they ask themselves: ‘would you share this with your friends?’ For Buzzfeed, share data is seen as a stronger indicator of audience engagement than HuffPo-like “click bait” that fools you into checking out an article, but doesn’t ultimately engage you.

What drives sharing? For BuzzFeed, the biggest driver of shared media has been YouTube; but Pinterest is #2 – much more impactful than live media such as Twitter. Facebook is also a big driver, although its impact is not immediate: it takes several days to build.

Is Buzzfeed’s relentless focus on shared media an apples-to-apples “best practice” for traditional media companies? Probably not. After all, it says its real focus is grabbing people who are “bored in line, bored at work and bored at home.” (One of its biggest traffic drivers is Miley Cyrus.) Still, as mobile’s share of media usage gains, and “boredom breaks” pre-dominate, there are definite lessons in studying its model.

The LMA Innovation Mission Report can be purchased here.

UBL, MomentFeed Partner to Leverage ‘National Local’

In the mobile era, listings are increasingly useless without context. Businesses need to be found via LAT/Long; and they need to shape their business identity using all the tools at their disposal. In recent years, it has gotten even more complex with the addition of social media, content marketing and other channels.

No one has emphasized these realities more than UBL CEO Doyal Bryant. Hence UBL’s newly announced global partnership with MomentFeed, a provider of a digital marketing platform that connects brands and consumers at the local level for top brands ranging from 7-Eleven and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf to JCPenney and The Home Depot.

Together, UBL and MomentFeed are seeking to establish a new mobile social anchor for business search and discovery. Besides the Enterprise customers both companies are working together on, they will be working with UBL’s SMB channels to integrate social media with its presence and profile management.

BIA/Kelsey talked this week with UBL CEO Doyal Bryant and MomentFeed CEO Robert Blatt to get their perspective on why this partnership will be compelling.

“When we began (several years ago), it was all about the website,” said Bryant, who noted he has already sent “thousands” of customers to MomentFeed. “You built a profile and focused on being found and having it all sync correctly. But it’s changed due to what is happening with social media and fragmentation.” The change has become “core to the business,” he said.

MomentFeed’s Blatt seconded the thought. It is amazing how much we have moved from the search paradigm of 18-24 months ago,” noted Blatt. “Now search has moved to mobile devices. It has moved off the browser onto the App.”

“Your top priority is suddenly claiming your Google Plus page, and making sure the Facebook Local Page is running, and that there is a place page for each location on your website,” said Blatt. “And that there is accurate and engaging content and interaction for all three places between suppliers and retailers at both the national and local level. That’s the future of digital shop and marketing.”

Blatt feels that MomentFeed’s partnership with UBL allows businesses to get the best of both worlds. They can help businesses “do the job” on Facebook, Google, Foursquare, Instagram, Twitter, Yelp (and soon, Bing), as well as the multitude of listing networks that are often vertical market specific, such as restaurants and travel.

Looking forward, the focus will be on the engagement piece. MomentFeed has taken a lead in turning Instagram into media, for instance. “We let businesses do it, curate it, and then send a follow-up letter,” he said.

Tracking business results via analytics will also be key. It all leads to a linkage between marketing activity and business results, said Blatt. The company will correlate the marketing activity around a location with the revenue and foot traffic at that location.

IAB Leadership Meeting: Facebook, NY Times Defend Native Advertising

Native advertising — the insertion of contextually relevant advertising amidst other content — is viewed with suspicion by much of the ad community, which sees it as unscaleable, and perhaps the opposite of its drive towards programmatic (automated) sales.

During the Summary Panel today at the IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting in Palm Desert, one hypothesis by moderator Terry Kawaja, CEO, LUMA Partners, playing devil’s advocate, was that “agencies cannot create the volume and quality of native content necessary to populate every native ad.”

New York Times Executive VP of Advertising Meredith Levien, rising to the bait, strongly disagreed. “Good native advertising puts the onus on the reader to decide whether to engage or not,” she said, noting that The Times, Buzzfeed, Forbes (her former employer) and others have set up native ad areas that are clearly differentiated from other content, and highly successful. “It’s not like we have (columnist) Thomas Friedman writing for Pepsi,” she said.

Facebook VP of Ad Products, Monetization and Atlas Brian Boland, a keynoter at BIA/Kelsey’s ILM show in December, vigorously defended native advertising – not surprisingly, since Facebook is banking heavily on it. Native advertising, when combined with personalization, provides unprecedented value, he said. “People are going to a place where they want to discover what is important to them. It creates an opportunity for people to be excited about what they see.”

Boland noted that Facebook has recently been criticized for pushing the envelope with native advertising by having video ads. But critics should have done their homework, like Facebook has, Boland said. He noted that it did reams of testing and research, and the feedback has shown that the video ads are totally engaging viewers.

Going forward, Facebook is developing a set of formats to enable people and advertisers to express themselves via native advertising on every platform – especially mobile. Boland acknowledged, however, that such formats are better suited towards larger media concerns. A handful of publishers will similarly see how things evolve, he said. But it remains “a challenge for midsized publishers.”