We just got back from Street Fight Summit (#sfsnyc on twitter), an annual event organized by Street Fight, a trade organization that presents research, news, and information on hyperlocal online publishing, journalism, ecommerce, and technology. The conference itself was a two day affair, from January 15 to the 16th in New York.
Four Things We Learnt from Street Fight Summit:
a) Search continues to remain important. And especially, smarter and a more contextual search that combines who, what, and where to present a more personalized set of results to the user. In that context, geographic and mapping data should be merged with search to present a social set of results. As panelist Aaron Rudenstine of CityMaps remarked, “Maps should be more social, I should be able to subscribe to places and have conversations on maps”. Hyperlocal publications that take advantage of context and search will gain engaged users, and more opportunities for ecommerce and revenue. According to Rudenstine, a local company city map would take advantage of technology, community, and social media to be able to browse and search, be dynamic, live, and in real time, be personalized, and lastly, be social.
Similarly, Tim Reis, head of mobile and social solutions at Google demoed “Google Now“, a personal assistant app that presents the user with the right information at the right time based on data you have already provided Google via your email, calendar, address book, present location via GPS, and so on. For instance, based on your calendar and GPS, Google Now could present you with transit information to your next appointment, telling you which route would be best, and alerting you to traffic conditions. He described Google Now as just one way in which hyperlocal organizations could interact with their own users, by taking advantage of their knowledge of a user's search intentions and presenting an organized social experience based around those intentions.
b) Mobile is coming into its own in terms of ad revenue and capabilities, but, there's still a lot of untapped potential. In a discussion that featured Pandora, Foursquare, and Verve, panelists explored how to use location data to more effectively monetize mobile. As penetration of smartphones and tablets increases, the volume of mobile ad impressions is expected to increase significantly, and some challenges that accompany those increases include issues centered on data accuracy, accuracy of targeting, and native versus display in mobile advertising. Display ads tend to underperform on mobile, so there is a need for an alternative to display advertising that makes better use of the advantages of mobile, on-the-go devices. Nonetheless, native mobile advertising is often difficult for smaller publishers due to lack of scale; in that scenario, display continues to be the easiest source of low-hanging mobile fruit. Given that many mobile devices are “always on” and present at all times, hyperlocal targeting (based on proximity, latitude/longitude, or zip code), as well as other forms of targeting is an increasingly important data point that needs to be integrated better into local advertising and used more effectively by publishers and marketers alike.
Not only is location used to contextualize ads based on proximity, but as Tom MacIsaac of Verve Mobile noted, it creates a new data set for advertisers to learn more about you and your habits. Whether it’s frequent visits to Starbucks to know you’re a coffee drinker or long hours spent in schools to know you’re an educator, it can all be used to more finely tune your ad experience. He also noted that we should start thinking about mobile as a behavior rather than a technology. Activity on mobile devices is merely an extension
of a person’s digital self, and that inevitably advertisers will move toward buying impressions against specific users without regard to platform, instead of allocating specific budgets to display, mobile, video, audio etc. as they do now.
A separate panel featuring The Weather Channel demoed an ad that was specifically targeted to conference attendees, and was naturally integrated into its weather app results without disrupting the fundamental nature of the app itself. Data accuracy in targeting also remains a challenge. Pandora cited that the most popular zipcode was 00000, while The Weather Channel mentioned that its zipcode data was typically accurate, due to the nature of a weather app. You have to give users a useful reason to entrust you with their data, and make it easy for them to provide it.
c) Compelling content remains an important ingredient in online journalism. In a panel about digital publishing models, three big names in the hyperlocal news world brought their experiences of what does and doesn’t work to the table. Leela de Kretser of DNAInfo, a hyperlocal news startup focusing on New York City and Chicago, both oversaturated markets, noted that traditional keys to success remain the same: your journalists should be top notch and your stories should be compelling. But you also have to take advantage of uniquely digital opportunities like engaging your audience on social media and contextualizing ads based on location and user activity.
Zoh ar Yardeni of The Daily Voice noted his organization focuses more on rural and suburban communities, which poses a different challenge. While the audience is relatively small compared to major market publishers, the engagement level in some communities is upwards of 45%, a reach many advertisers see value in. Josh Fenton of GoLocal24 discussed their focus on smaller markets which they enter and make profitable one at a time. Unlike Patch.com which entered dozens of small markets simultaneously, GoLocal24 does not expand its reach until its most recent addition is in the green. Through partnerships with traditional media companies they have been able to gain notoriety and expand coverage while sponsored content and brand integration helped them reach profitability.
Despite many different approaches, all the panelists agreed on one thing, sharing stories and establishing a following on Facebook and other socical media sources is key to traffic growth.
d) Daily Deals alone should not be the only or main source of hyperlocal revenue. Daily deals have hit a revenue plateau and there is a need to diversify revenue streams. According to panelist Ian Heidt of Qualcomm Labs, “people check their phones 150 times a day on average – once every 6.5 minutes.” Given the ubiquity and intimacy of these mobile devices, mobile commerce needs to present content and marketing in a smart, thoughtful, and engaging way so as to capture interest and digital revenue from users. Panelists from Gilt City, Groupon, and MobScout were bullish about the future of daily deals, but did caution that consumers do have many choices when looking for online daily deals.
While the daily deal business continues to be the core of the offerings by these companies, panelists also cited the need to expand into other areas of service, from expanding mobile and e-commerce offerings, to spending time also building out products and services for SMBs in their core business, so as to promote loyalty and retainment. Basically, the daily deal space is increasingly saturated, consumers have a great deal of choice, and companies need to offer a clear differentiator in order for both merchants and consumers alike to use their products and services consistently.