Yellow Pages plans social media, e-business push

Online revenue planned to grow from 6% today to 20-30% in three years time, says digital media director

With a newly formed digital team, Yellow Pages is pushing to deliver e-commerce, user-generated content and social media in its online properties. The company is also rebranding to simply “Yellow” in the process.

Of around $300 million in revenue, only 6% comes from online, but online is still the fastest growing part of the company, says Blair Glubb, digital media director of Yellow. Of close to 600 staff, about 100 are dedicated to online — that is 15-20% of the staff and marks that the online space is “a huge focus for the business”, says Glubb.

Yellow plans to grow online revenue from 6% today to 20-30% in three years time, he says. For that purpose, Glubb formed a digital team with 14 staff four months ago.

Yellow has traditionally been dominated by print but to keep delivering the best return on investment for advertisers “we need to accelerate what we are doing in the digital space”, says Glubb.

The company wants to do more than just provide simple business details.

“We want to move from the traditional ‘find’ and ‘compare’ to ‘connect, book and buy’,” he says.

In the future, booking, buying and e-commerce capabilities will be built into the Yellow online experience, he says.

However, the company does not see itself as a future competitor to online auction site Trade Me, says Yellow spokeswoman Lenska Papich. Even if Yellow had a commerce aspect to its site, it would be focused on business to consumer, rather than consumer to consumer, she says.

Content and usability are important focus areas — information must be easily accessed and navigated, Glubb says.

User-generated content, in the shape of ratings and reviews, is also something the team is looking at as a part of Yellow online. The plan is to extend this into social media, such as sharing and discussions. Yellow will also open the doors to advertiser-generated content, in particular video content, which it is working on right now, he says.

Glubb expects the local online advertising market to be worth around $600 million by 2012, and the company is aiming for 15% of that market, he says. Yellow wants to grab 20–30% of the online search and directories market, he says.

Glubb says Yellow’s key assets are content, brand and its 300 sales people across the country. This makes it attractive for partners, such as Google, to work with the company, he says.

Other areas the company is exploring are mapping, navigation and the mobile space.

“We are looking to launch a Google Maps-like experience, but we also want to work with partners [in this space],” he says.

Mapping is not a core capability for the company, therefore it is working with partners such as Google and Yahoo, he says. Plans also include collaboration with in-car satellite navigation companies, where information from Yellow can populate devices, he says.

Yellow has launched a mobile experience with both Telecom and Vodafone, allowing users to access listings, maps and directions, but the company intends to push more aggressively into the mobile space, says Glubb. It is partnering with Copenhagen-based Mobile People in building the Yellow mobile experience, he says.

Yellow has a reasonably large IT team, including internal developers, but it also partners with Local Matters, in Denver, Colorado, in the destination search space, says Glubb.

The shift from being a print-based business to going digital has brought some cultural challenges, says Glubb. The company now has quite a few “digital people” in-house who come from small, fast-moving online businesses. They bring innovation by challenging old ways and processes, he says.

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