Flowtown Turns E-Mail Lists into Customer Networks; Acquires Who Should I Follow? to Boost Twitter Marketing

It’s obvious, these days, that anyone who wants to sell things or build an audience on the Web should be tapping into social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, where interesting messages can spread virally and drive lots of free traffic back to a blog, site, or landing page. But knowing this and being able to do something about it are two different things. For small and medium-sized businesses with limited resources, there are at least four big stumbling blocks: 1) It’s time-consuming to build a strong network of fans and followers. 2) It’s hard to know which fans to single out for special attention. 3) It’s hard to come up with “retweet-worthy” content to share with these fans. 4) It’s hard to prove that any of this social media marketing activity generates a real return.

Flowtown, a two-year-old startup based in the Mission district of San Francisco, has come up with solutions for the first two problems, and co-founder Ethan Bloch told me in a conversation yesterday that it’s working hard on the fourth. As for the third, well, you’re still largely on your own.

A year ago last week, Flowtown launched a Web-based social marketing platform that automates several key steps in the process of connecting with potential audiences or customers on the social Web (more on how the technology works in a moment). This August, it announced that it had raised $750,000 in seed funding from a premier list of Silicon Valley angel investors, including Lotus founder Mitch Kapor, Mint.com investor Mark Goines, 500Startups founder Dave McClure, Baseline Ventures partner Steve Anderson, and Red Swoosh founder Travis Kalanick. And today, Flowtown shared a bit more news: the startup has acquired the technology behind Who Should I Follow?, a service that combs through the people in a Twitter user’s existing network and uses pattern-matching algorithms to suggest new people to follow.

Ethan Bloch

Ethan Bloch

Developed by Mike Champion, a vice president of engineering at Twitter app store Oneforty, and Gary Elliott, a software developer at UBS Investment Bank, the Who Should I Follow? service will be adapted to help Flowtown users identify potential customers among Twitter’s 175 million users. The terms of the deal, as the saying goes, were not disclosed. But Bloch said in an announcement that Who Should I Follow? is “the perfect complement” to Flowtown’s existing tools. The two cornerstones of marketing, he said, are “building stronger, more personal relationships with the customers you have”—which is what Flowtown does today—and “finding high-quality prospective leads,” which is where software for targeting specific Twitter users could come in handy.

The five-employee startup is one of dozens competing in the hot area of social media monitoring and marketing, from established players like Mzinga, Constant Contact, Radian6, and Visible Technologies to tiny startups like ViralHeat. But it’s made a name for itself—and racked up 25,000 businesses as users—by tackling a very specific problem: how to convert a simple list of customer e-mail addresses into a network of social media contacts spanning networks like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Flickr.

Say you’re Hank, the retired Marine who runs Devil Dog Brew, a mail-order coffee roaster (and an actual Flowtown customer). You upload your customer list to Flowtown, and … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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