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Oct 5 2006
UGC: To Be or Not to Be
While trying to think and type as F-16s roar past my window (it's fleet week here in San Francisco), I'm beginning to notice an uptick in the conversation surrounding user-generated content in local search. Also known as "social search" (as opposed to the UGC that involves uploaded videos of dancing little people on YouTube), it was a pervasive theme at DDC this year. Here iMedia Connection's Kevin Ryan (a frequent Kelsey conference panelist) weighs in with some interesting thoughts, and eMarketer has this study on the upward trends in UGC in the U.K.

Like it or not, UGC is here to stay, and it will soon become a standard feature of local search, online shopping and even IYPs. The latter's need to implement a social layer to business listings in order to remain competitive with some local search sites was echoed at DDC. One argument in favor of local UGC forums is that they not only represent a relatively inexpensive (when compared with professional reviews) sources of content, but also possess a certain appeal in the inherent trust perceived among users of peer-written reviews and community interaction.

The downside, however, is the chicken-and-egg factor. It is hard to attract advertisers and users without a critical mass of content already in place, and it�s also difficult to build a library of content without the users who will contribute content in a significant way. There is also a balancing act between serving the user with genuine content that isn't compromised by premium placement nor overly commercialized experiences (to build traffic) and serving advertisers in ways that directly appeal to them.

Along these lines, a major challenge is having paid advertisers be subject to the whims of anyone that feels like writing a review. Negative reviews can clearly be at odds with retaining such advertisers for IYPs, especially with advertisers that have significant investments elsewhere in the print book.

�I would not want to be the sales manager that has to tell a sales rep that we�ve just lost his $30,000 account because of a negative consumer review,� said Gordon Henry, chief marketing officer of Yellow Book, during a Next Generation Leadership Panel at DDC.

On the other side of the coin there is lots of room for false positives. My colleague Steve Marshall (who moderated an IYP panel at DDC where this issue came up), recently pointed out this review he found on a social search site (names have been removed to protect the guilty, as he said):

Excellent San Diego plumbers
[NAME REMOVED] has excellent San Diego plumbers. Their service was exceptional and their plumbing technicians were very accommodating and friendly. Need a plumber on an evening or weekend? No problem � it's the same low price! Need a plumbing estimate? They will gladly give you a low, up-front price that covers your specific plumbing job! Problems with your plumbing system can be scary, stressful, expensive, and even dangerous, but most plumbing problems can be avoided with the right team on your side. [NAME REMOVED] is on your side. Their plumber's are required to complete many courses and assist many months of rigorous training before they are allowed to "solo" on any plumbing & water heater repair or installation. They are truly an elite plumbing group of whom we are very proud to have work for us. Call them today � or simply fill out their 30 second online plumbing service request form and a San Diego plumber will be at your door in minutes!

The marketing-speak and overuse of adjectives and punctuation lend to the transparency of this �user review� and make it so that most consumers will see through it. However, sometimes it will be more subtle. This fraud can have a significant effect, AdMission Corp.�s president and chief executive officer, Sarah Pate, pointed out during the leadership panel, when there is a small sample group of reviews in a given listing.

�If you have 20 reviews, negative or illegitimate reviews will get flushed out by others and you will overall get a true sense of the business,� she said. �But this isn�t always the case.�

Indeed, a spotty volume of reviews can cause the corpus of content across an IYP or social search site to be inconsistent � going back to the chicken-and-egg dilemma. This happens often because some vertical categories are more conducive to reviews (restaurants, bars, etc.) than others (plumbers, lawyers, etc.). UGC is especially difficult to integrate with IYPs given the breadth of headings and the fact that service businesses represent a traditional sweet spot for Yellow Pages.

Chris Scotton, president and CEO of Innovectra, stressed during the IYP panel that IYPs have to strive to overcome these challenges and build in this functionality, because deeper content is necessary to improve search engine optimization and compete with portals and local search sites that will continue to build this content and capability.

Sites that have done the best job of dealing with all these challenges and creating strong social search sites include Judy�s Book, Yelp and Insider Pages. These should be examined by IYPs that wish to add a social layer to their sites. Social search, its challenges and opportunities should likewise be well planted on the radar screen of any business in the local search game.
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Mike Boland at  18:58 | permalink | comments [4] | trackbacks [11]

Oct 5 2006
NAA Combines Print/Web Usage for Newspapers
Print and Internet advertising aren�t perfect substitutes for each other. The way that ads are priced, it takes at least 10 Internet users to make up for a single print user. So it doesn�t make too much sense to suggest that a print user is equal to an Internet user, right? Unless, of course, it helps to cover up a decline in the print business.

That�s exactly what the Newspaper Association of America is up to with its newly released Fall 2006 Newspaper Audience Database, a free report that combines Scarborough print numbers with Nielsen/Netratings Internet numbers. (The Yellow Pages Association has made a similar case for its members.)

A prologue to the data suggests that �newspaper Websites increase the reach of the print product by an average of 12 percent across the Top 100 newspapers,� and that �with the Web sites, newspapers reach 16 percent more 18-24 year olds, and 19 percent more 25-34 year olds.�

Looking at the report, it is kind of stunning to see the heft of the combined Web/print numbers for the Top 100 papers. USA Today, for instance, leads the way with almost 7 million readers; The New York Times has 4.75 million readers; and the L.A. Times has almost 2.2 million readers. Oh, for the days of growth again!

The big numbers don�t really matter much. But there is, in fact, some relevance to putting the numbers together because it weights newspapers� relative importance; something that isn't always considered. We no longer have to assume that two papers with equal print circulation are the same as each other, when one has a weak Web site and one has a strong one. This will become increasingly critical over the next year or so. And then ... less so.
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Peter Krasilovsky at  18:51 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

Oct 5 2006
Store Locators Becoming Key Marketing Tools
Store locators, the only �local� part of many national retail sites, are an increasingly important part of both national and local retail sites, according to "Expectations of The Cross Channel Customer,� a new study released by authoritative retail analyst Lauren Freedman of The E-Tailing Group.

Freedman found that more and more locators include store information beyond maps and directions, including standard things such as phone numbers and store hours, but also including services that directly impact the bottom line. Sales events, for instance, are increasingly featured, as well as the ability to save and personalize specific store information a la Agendize.

�Retailers, realizing the importance of store locaters as a destination, are building them more robustly with 50 percent of merchants including specialized departments, categories or services,� notes Freedman. This figure is up from the 40 percent found in the firm�s last survey in 3Q 2005. The report also found an increased amount of merchandising from within the locater. Fifty-six percent use it to highlight promotions within their locaters, versus 27 percent in 3Q 2005.

Freedman advises retailers to �take advantage of this heavily trafficked location to promote storewide sales, in-store events and seasonal activities.� In addition to locator info, the 26-page report provides proprietary survey data and analysis on a host of Internet retail extensions, including frequent buyer programs, coupons, gift cards, online product locators, inventory programs and in-store pickups.
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Peter Krasilovsky at  18:49 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

Oct 5 2006
College Markets: The New Local Frontier
As the previous post pointed out, college towns can represent strong markets for hyper-local community sites because of the activism (conducive to user generated content), buying power (sometimes), and high turnover of apartments, furniture, books, merchandise etc.

My former colleague Greg Sterling pointed out on his blog today that a similar concept will make college atmospheres ripe for local commercial monetization through social media such as wikis. Social networking (a branch of, but not to be confused with the more broad, social media) has already proven to resonate among college students with the popular Facebook.

How these sites develop and are monetized is an equally important question that also hounds social networks, online classifieds, and community sites in general. It could be a greater challenge in a college atmosphere where a general anti-commercial sentiment exists more than in the "real world" (without generalizing too much).

It will be interesting to see if this trend continues, and what business models will be developed to take local search, classifieds and user generated content to college campuses in a standardized and meaningful way.

UPDATE: I'm reminded that Peter Krasilovsky points to more issues in the collision of local media and college environments in this past post.
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Mike Boland at  13:44 | permalink | comments [2] | trackbacks [11]

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