Oneforty Moves Beyond Twitter App Store Into Big, Bad World of Social Business
You might think that someone with 75,000 Twitter followers would be just plain annoying. But Laura Fitton (@pistachio) has some very useful things to share—on Twitter and elsewhere.
What she’s saying today is that oneforty, the Cambridge, MA-based tech startup she founded in 2009, has expanded beyond its original focus on building a Twitter app store, and into the broader realm of “social business.” In other words, the company has evolved its model from a consumer-facing app store to a buyer’s guide for businesses looking for social tools.
“Social business” software refers to social media tools being used by companies to reach customers, manage sales relationships, build online communities, and also help their employees communicate internally. The market appears to be growing fast but is hard to quantify; the social advertising component alone is several billion dollars a year, Fitton says. Some well-known companies and services in the sector include Jive Software, Lithium Technologies, Offerpop, and Nimble; tech giants like IBM, Microsoft, Dell, and Cisco are also investing in social business products.
“We’re more than tools now, and we’re more than Twitter,” Fitton says.
I’m not here to write advertising copy, so I’ll leave it to oneforty (and other media outlets) to spell out all of its revamped offerings—which include more than 700 how-to guides and case studies for social business, a directory of social business professionals, and personalized “benchmark reports” that tell customers how well their social tools are working for them and how they stack up against competitors.
Suffice to say, the company is now focused on its core business users in a strong effort to make money. Oneforty is still pretty small—seven full-time employees and four part-timers. But its blog traffic has doubled in each of the last two months, Fitton says, and its new business user signups have grown by a factor of five since October. She declined to comment on the company’s revenues.
Fitton draws a parallel between what’s happening now in social media and the way e-mail originally entered the business marketplace. At first companies worried about whether employees would waste time on e-mail or broadcast company secrets (still legitimate concerns, I would say). “Now e-mail touches every conceivable business function, from the night watchman to the CEO. The same thing is happening in social,” Fitton says.
And oneforty is positioning itself as the guide sitting between social-media experts, tools, and brands—a position that it hopes will prove to be lucrative. “We’ve got all the [social] tools and all the data on which ones are good for whom,” she says.
But it’s still very, very early in the social business game. “People [including C-level executives] have so many questions about how to begin,” Fitton says. “We get so far down the path of innovating, but the vast majority of companies still need the 101 [basic course]. ‘What do I do with it? What are best practices?’”
Fitton points out some fundamental lessons for businesses. For one thing, it’s more important to have a targeted, relevant, and responsive following than simply a large number of followers, she says. And perhaps the biggest message: “The long-term strength of social is to connect customers with each other, not just to you,” she says. “Letting customers build a community through you as a brand is much stickier and more memorable.”
With the rumors this week about Twitter having been in low-level acquisition talks with Facebook and Google, I had to ask Fitton what she thinks about the company’s future. Twitter is “hell bent on remaining independent,” she says. “Google was crazy not to get in there right away and buy them,” she adds, in part because information on consumer sentiment from Twitter is “really different” and “genuine,” compared to other sources.
In any case, it looks like oneforty is diversifying its products and planning for the long term. “We have to build a culture and literacy around social business,” Fitton says. “It will take a long time and a lot of resources.”