Last week I was on a panel at the Local Search Summit with Sarah Smith of Facebook. I asked her about their platform strategy for small business and she responded that besides advertising they weren’t really focused on SMB Apps. The FB Platform has been a big magnet for developers writing consumer apps, and while there are definitely some business-oriented apps out there, it’s pretty slim pickings.
Anyone who is selling marketing services to large #s of SMBs has some sort of “dashboard” strategy – they want their dashboard to become the central place where the SMB manages all aspects of their web marketing, and potentially all online aspects of their business. It’s an enticing idea, particularly if you can get developers to create apps for the dashboard to expand its functionality beyond what a single company could offer.
Salesforce.com appears to be the leading candidate for this type of play as they already have a pretty big customer base and a large number of apps being developed. But I think there are other players out there who could rival them.
I have always thought this was MerchantCircle‘s endgame. They have amassed a large number of merchant relationships over the past few years – they claim over 800,000 businesses have claimed their profiles and they just announced a deal with Web.com to add another 100,000 business relationships to their service. MerchantCircle has made a nice business out of selling cheap subscription services (e.g. add a blog to your profile page) to a lot of merchants. They are one of the few IYPs out there that seems to be primarily focused on creating a SMB community. Their forums are not enormous yet but they do get some activity. If they can come up with a lot of little reasons why a business should come back to their site I think they could start attracting developers to build apps for their system. Their recent deal with Demand Media to sell SMBs content for their websites is kind of a precursor to such a system.
What about the Yellow Pages co’s? I have had any number of conversations with reps from big yellow pages companies on what the strategic options are for them. On the consumer side I have always thought that the yellow pages api strategy could help them enormously by getting their data and advertisers all over the Web as a complement to the burden of having to build and maintain a brand. But their strongest asset has always been their relationship with the advertiser. The challenge is no one publisher has a lock on enough advertisers to make their system attractive enough to app developers, and most of these publishers have their hands full managing their current web efforts, so execution on this kind of thing would be tough.
That’s why I think we are going to see some entrepreneurial types come out with a syndicated version of the SMB platform that publishers can plug into their existing systems. I have spoken with a number of start-ups that are tinkering around the edges of this idea. If one of them can get traction with such a system it has big potential.
Of course there’s always the argument that SMBs will never bother as it’s all too complicated, but like all things in Local there’s a big prize awaiting the person who figures this one out.
9 Response Comments
I think you are trying to start up a competition! It would be good to offer a prize like a speaking spot at LSS next year or a Tate Family Complete Auto Care Package for the team that pulls it off.
I’m glad you brought up the point that for most smb’s it might be to complicated and too time consuming. For cost purposes…it almost makes since for smb’s to turn over their online marketing to companies just because the time it takes to learn and get into it.
I think that will change in lets say 10 years when the younger generation raised on social media are business owners but until then I imagine it would be hard for a small business online community to fully flourish.
Whats Your Thoughts?
You are definitely thinking the way MerchantCircle is on this issue.
I heard the Facebook road show last week at the AXIMA event in Phoenix. They have plenty of growth with the b-c market for now and admit not having an emphasis on small business.
I believe that within a year a significant number of small businesses will figure out the basics of local SEO, particularly as tools become easier to use. Just as building a CSS website becomes doable for the non-programmer, a simple dashboard will soon emerge for the small business owner. And most likely the cost will fit in the business owner’s budget.
Regarding complexity, that too is a function of the labor force skills. I have my middle school kids helping on projects that I wouldn’t have tackled myself a few year ago. What may seem complex to the baby boomer business owner will be easily delegated.
You’ve nailed this on the head–I think. For our part, we are developing a dashboard-driven suite of online marketing applications for the SMB market now, because that’s what our SMB customers are asking us for. We’re a technology company, and since our customers are asking more and more for help with their online marketing, we’re developing a solution–and we’re not alone.
Needless to say, I think you’re right about where this is heading. But I don’t think it’s the FaceBooks or Yellow Pages of the world that are going to get this off the ground. I think it’s a collective group of SMB’s offering internet marketing automation as a service to other SMB’s — once in-place, I think they’ll start plugging into content and user networks with the tools, rather than rely on the content networks to supply the tools. Well, at least that’s what we’re betting on.
Localbase is the answer to your question. Localbase is a development stage start-up that is building a platform that will provide every SMB and nonprofit with a Web 2.0 Site (website, content mgt, employee/task mgt, CRM, coupon builder, shopping cart, and mobile apps… and member mgt dashboards and donate apps for orgs), and then place each client within it’s ad network that includes social traffic (Facebook, Twitter, etc), local media (contextual and behavioral advertising placement on local newspaper and biz journals), search engines (SEO and SEM), mobile media (local search apps are powered by Localbase), search local toolbars (for IE, Firefox, and Safari). Then end result is an opt-out social network with the nodes being individuals, businesses, and organizations, with 1000s of points of entry. As a platform, Localbase powers social and local search integration on IYPs, newspaper sites, and vertical sites.
Interesting Toby. Sounds a bit like Praized?
Exactly – WHERE are the MerchantCircle APIs? Lets really get this train rolling!
I am happy with MerchantCircle. They have really improved the site. They are merchant-friendly, with so many tools to help us with search engine results. Most of us have a free MC site, but the optional paid packages are beneficial.
Facebook is finally noticing small businesses, but there’s only so much time in a day to devote to social marketing. MC is more developed, so I’ll concentrate on that. Google seems to notice us much better from there.
Facebook is really great. It can be used to promote any kind of business and I do the same to promote some of my plugins and I earn reasonable.