ILM West: A Deep Look at ‘Super Social’ Verticals

Moderator Peter Krasilovsky led a session Monday afternoon on how several leading vertical sites are successfully leveraging social media. As sites that are focused on a specific business, profession or user need, verticals will typically contain a directory, specialized editorial content, expert Q&A, advertising, etc. Panelists were:

-Mark Britton, CEO and President, Avvo
-Pete Flint, CEO, Trulia.com
-Matt Maloney, Cofounder and CEO, GrubHub
-Carey Ransom, CEO, Real Practice

Collectively, these four have raised the princely sum of about $140 million in private funding.

The first panelist was Pete Flint, CEO, Trulia.com. Trulia, of course, is a major real estate vertical. (Trulia added rentals to its real estate listings about 18 months ago.) It claims the largest user-generated community in the real estate industry.

Trulia has attempted to push the envelope on leveraging social services. It runs a large real estate Q&A on its site, covering the real estate transaction process, information and commentary on neighborhoods, etc.). Flint said the crash in the housing market has actually helped the business, because it has made brokers more interested in consumer preferences and consumer-generated commentary.

Next was Matt Maloney, cofounder and CEO, GrubHub. GrubHub is where the consumer goes for dine out, either take-out or delivery. So GrubHub quite a bit different from other restaurant/food sites that focus on reservations.

GrubHub handles almost 15,000 restaurants nationally. Restaurants pay GrubHub a commission in the vicinity of 15 percent of each order. About 40 percent of its traffic is from mobile users. Maloney pointed out that the pay-for-performance model worked with its restaurant clients, whereas paid advertising did not.

The third panelist was Mark Britton, CEO and president of Avvo, the legal and professional services directory website. Avvo became the largest consumer-oriented legal website in just three years, and Britton attributes a lot of that success to the ways it has harnessed social media. (Britton pointed out that Avvo is now four times the size of Martindale-Hubbell online.)

Avvo’s Q&A forum handles 50,000 questions and answers monthly. Although its business model includes a subscription-based pro model, advertising is a big (primary?) source of its revenues. Britten said Avvo wanted to use a CPC revenue model, but its lawyer clients said it had a strong preference for a fixed-cost pricing model.

Carey Ransom, CEO of Real Practice, talked about how his company aggregates responses and leads from a variety of ad campaigns, to Real Practice’s centralized platform. The platform supports centralized lead management, real-time lead notifications and cross-campaign performance comparisons. Real Practice started by serving only lawyers, but has since expanded to other professions. They key to its success is its ability to tailor its mechanisms (such as the lead processing pipeline) to specific professions and verticals, unlike more generic lead gen sites.

To complete the arc of this session, Ransom mentioned that Real Practice is also integrated in with Avvo profiles, in a classic example of symbiosis between players who could otherwise be, arguably, competitors.

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