Grasshopper Group Rolls Out Spreadable, A New Way to Create Buzz at the Brand Level

It’s common advice in the tech startup world that entrepreneurs should focus on developing solutions to problems that they’d like to see fixed, rather than look to innovating in more obscure areas. Needham, MA-based Grasshopper Group definitely follows this ethic.

The startup has a suite of technology answers to basic entrepreneurial business problems, such as choosing and installing phone systems, deciding on recurring payment methods, and now, how to do online marketing. Earlier this month, I was given a demo of the beta version of its newest product release, the Web marketing and analytics tool Spreadable.

“We developed what we think works for other people,” says Jonathan Kay, Grasshopper Group’s “ambassador of buzz” (the company’s title for marketing guy). He says there are plenty of tools out there for forwarding individual articles and posts to friends on the Web, but that spreading entire brands or non-editorial pages via your social network isn’t as seamless.

It’s a worthy point. As you can see from this page, all Xconomy stories have “share” sections where readers can pass the content along via e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook, but there’s plenty of real estate on our site that’s missing the sharing tool—like our national homepage, regional homepage, jobs sites, About page, and so on—because they aren’t themselves individual stories. Similarly, other sites without editorial content, like retailers, lack a sharing tool at the brand level, Kay says. “There are no tools out there that allow you to spread your brand; this saves a step,” he says.

Spreadable’s aim is to enable viewers to tell their friends about a website, brand, or product they like without ever leaving the page to open up, say, Twitter, to tweet a recommendation to their friends. The service comes both as a standalone referral page, and as a line of code that companies can use to embed a Spreadable sharing button and interface directly on their sites. The button automatically updates when companies make changes to its messages or appearance on their user dashboards, so marketers will be able to test different strategies for their Spreadable interfaces, Kay says.

Readers just click on the button, and out pops a menu with options for sharing the site with friends via e-mail and a number of social networking sites. (For an idea of how this works, check out the “refer an entrepreneur” button at the top of Grasshopper’s own page.)

Kay says the button could enable users to really spread buzz about a page or product they like, because they won’t get distracted with or deterred by having to open up a separate site and paste in a link. Users don’t even have to type in a message about whatever they’re looking to tell friends about. That’s because companies can customize their messaging through their own Spreadable dashboards, tailoring messages for different social media and even integrating discount codes if they want. For example is someone wants to share details about Grasshopper’s phone system via Twitter, the company has created a short tweet that says: “Entrepreneur? Check out the virtual phone system and save $25! – via @grasshopper,” The e-mail message that refers Grasshopper via Spreadable, by contrast, is longer and contains more details on pricing and product features.

The messaging feature in Spreadable gives companies more control over how their product is being talked about online, says Kay. It’s an area that businesses have been trying to get a handle on since social networking sites like Twitter have become massive forums for product and brand discussions, without the involvement of companies themselves.

Spreadable also provides analytics for its referral product, so businesses can easily see which social media outlets and messages are the most effective. Currently, Spreadable enables businesses to see which social networks referral traffic is coming from. Soon, the product will enable customers to drill down deeper to see which of these referrals are converting most effectively into business transactions, the geographies they are coming from, which pages within the site are getting the most referrals, and even the name and e-mail address of the person doing the referring. These heightened analytics will enable companies to better focus their marketing efforts on the geographies and pages generating the most buzz, Kay says. The information could also encourage companies to establish stronger relationships with their customers who are doing the most effective referring.

Grasshopper Group has a waiting list for the Spreadable beta product, which is free for now. The company is planning to soon start charging somewhere between $35 and $50 per month, though all of its products start with a free 30-day trial. “Based on how much people make on a customer, it should pay for itself,” Kay says.

Grasshopper Group’s first product was the Grasshopper virtual phone system, which enables small businesses to set up enterprise-level phone greetings and extensions, and forward incoming calls to existing phone lines. Its second release, Chargify, is a recurring billing system that better enables companies to automate charging customers for subscription-based services. It came about when the startup saw the manpower that was required to develop a recurring billing method and figured other entrepreneurs were having the same problem, Kay says.

Spreadable comes from much the same inspiration, says Kay. He says the company started developing the sharing tool for its own use about a year ago, to better spread the word about its products—and was so pleased with the results that it decided to create it for external customers.

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