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

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the service tells you which customers are Devil Dog fans on Facebook or Devil Dog followers on Twitter, and which ought to be ordered (oops, invited) to join. “With one click, you have an e-mail invitation that you can send out to take the conversation social,” says Bloch. “Nobody makes a better fan or follower than a past customer, so you start out building your social presence with people who already know you. That is step one.”

Step two is more time-consuming, but can really pay off, Bloch says. “We will show you the influencers within your customer base,” he says—the people who have the most fans or followers themselves, and who take pride in being trendsetters. That allows businesses users to be more efficient about the time they devote to one-on-one outreach, by picking out only the biggest and most influential fans for some special love. (If Ashton Kutcher got a free pound of Devil Dog coffee and then tweeted about it, Hank might be set for life.)

Those are the basics of Flowtown, though there are also ways to tie the service in with other Web-based tools such as MailChimp, a popular e-mail marketing service, or WuFoo, an online form builder. If you use WuFoo web forms to collect e-mail addresses, for example, then every time a site visitor submits an address, it can be automatically imported into Flowtown—which can, in turn, automatically send out Facebook and Twitter invitations and trigger an alert if the visitor is an influencer.

Flowtown charges according to the number of e-mail addresses imported and e-mail invitations sent out. Many of its 25,000 users are using a free version of the service, which limits imported e-mails to 50 contacts; above that level, users can pay a nickel per import or subscribe for $17, $37, or $197 per month, depending on how many invitations they plan to send out, plus 4 to 5 cents per import. (Bloch acknowledges that this pricing structure can come off as “confusing” and says it will likely be simplified soon.)

Where does Flowtown flow from? Bloch, a 25-year-old Baltimore native, co-founded the company after the recession put a premature end to his career in the financial industry. In August 2008, after a few years as a financial accountant at Lockheed Martin, Bloch joined Cake Financial, a San Francisco-based social site where investors could compare stock portfolios. But just three months later, in the midst of the economic collapse, Cake laid him off, along with almost everyone else at the company (which was later bought by E-Trade and shut down).

Fortunately, Bloch had a sideline: since early in his Lockheed days he’d been producing a weekly video show called WSYK, for What Should You Know. In spirited three-minute video podcasts posted to YouTube or Vimeo and published via RSS and iTunes, he would summarize the week’s important current events, based on his reading of multiple newspapers and magazines. “We did stuff on the credit crisis, the Dalai Lama, the Federal Reserve, honey bees, spy pigeons—anything I felt was interesting,” Bloch says.

Each week, Bloch would also devote considerable time to promoting the show—not just tweeting about new episodes, but identifying its most loyal viewers and striking up online relationships with them via Facebook, the now-defunct Pownce, and other channels. Bloch’s social media efforts propelled the show to a peak of 12,000 downloads per week and eventually got it picked up by the San Francisco-based online video network Revision3.

The day he got laid off, Bloch called Dan Martell, a social-media acquaintance who had moved to San Francisco that fall after selling his IT consultancy, Spheric Technologies. “He said, ‘Don’t go looking for another job, it’s time to start a company,'” Bloch recalls. “We both … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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