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11/12/2010
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Michele Warren
Michele Warren
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Sprout Grows With Location-Based Tools

Justyn Howard knows a little something about small business. That's because he heads up a small company himself: Sprout Social, a Chicago-based operation with about 17 employees. So he understands that SMBs can't afford not to be part of the social media conversation, and that they need simple, intuitive ways to leverage all that social networking has to offer.

Justyn Howard knows a little something about small business. That's because he heads up a small company himself: Sprout Social, a Chicago-based operation with about 17 employees. So he understands that SMBs can't afford not to be part of the social media conversation, and that they need simple, intuitive ways to leverage all that social networking has to offer.That's why Sprout Social spent almost a year developing its product. To heck with cutting corners and getting something to market as quickly as possible. "Building something powerful is easy," says Howard, Sprout CEO. "And so is building something that's easy to use. But building something that's both powerful and easy to use? That's really hard."

He adds that most social media management tools are geared at enterprises--that is, they're expensive, and they come with a steep learning curve. Big companies can pay the price, literally, and they have the wherewithal to allocate product setup and management to high-paid techies. Not so for the local mom-and pop pizzeria or pub. Those types of businesses comprise about 30% of Sprout Social's client base. Another 30% are independent service providers such as real estate agents and lawyers flying solo. The rest? A hodgepodge that includes bloggers and, yes, a few enterprises here and there.

Just a couple of months after unveiling its product, Sprout Social has added what Howard deems a key ingredient: location-based capabilities. Want to reward a loyal customer who's just paid her 10th visit to your coffee shop this month? Send her a personalized message offering her a free vanilla latte (her favorite) the next time she comes in. The new feature uses real-time data generated by Foursquare and Gowalla to alert subscribers when customers visit their stores.

"We're constantly adding stuff to our product," Howard says. "But this is a more significant update now that location-based tools are becoming so popular." For $49 a month, subscribers get the location-based services, plus all the other features of Sprout Social's product that users of the basic, or Professional, package enjoy for $9 a month. Both come with a 30-day free trial.

With Professional, users can organize all their social networks in one place and optimize their social outreach. Once a user signs up and links one or more of their social media accounts, Sprout Social does the rest, monitoring what people are saying about the business on the Web, whether on Facebook, in blogs, or anywhere else.

Howard touts another feature of the product as well--its ability to go out and find customers for the businesses that subscribe. "We've been amassing data forever, so we have 30 or 40 million profiles in our database by now," he says. "If you tell us who your ideal client is, we'll go out and find matches for you. Say you're a shoe store, and you're looking for marathon runners within 5 miles of your location. We can track those people down for you. It's up to you how to engage those folks, but we'll find them. Let's face it. Growing your audience is just as important as connecting with it."

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