C. Eoin Townsend is CEO of MainStreetSocial, an online monetization platform for local governments, residents and advertisers.
What problem is MainStreetSocial solving?
CET: Right now, 90% of local governments are suffering serious budget shortfalls while spending 20 billion dollars a year on technology outsourcing in an attempt to increase communication and connect with their residents. At the same time, brands and small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) spend over 13 billion a year looking for ways to connect with local communities to increase the relevance and effectiveness of their online advertising. MainStreetSocial solves both these challenges by connecting local governments, residents and advertisers for the benefit of all parties.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea was born out of a desire to try to help our own community, when budget shortfalls forced our local government to lay off police officers. We knew there had to be a better way to raise revenue without raising taxes. From our experiences working for DoubleClick, Yahoo and Right Media, we knew online advertising was an obvious solution, as we were aware of the huge demand by brands to target effectively at a local level. We also understood the potential power of aggregating relevant publishers to form a local-level network. The combination of helping local government generate revenue and giving large brands and SMB’s access to local residents was the perfect solution.
How is the data that is harvested from and the users of local government websites uniquely valuable?
Local governments, communities and non-profits provide a unique brand safe environment for advertisers, and the opportunity to target truly relevant advertising. Local community sites provide a very detailed view of their target segments. These segments can cover a variety of consumer market categories, including travel, eating out, shopping, auto purchases and demographic characteristics such as education, income and housing all based on their location. MainStreetSocial allows advertisers to target “action scenarios” where they can reach users as they interact with the site. This creates a tool for advertisers by accessing consumers that have a direct interest in their products and services. For example, Home Improvement advertisers could target individuals researching the building permit process.
How will advertisers be able to retarget users of the local government websites?
· MainStreetSocial offers multiple retargeting options to advertisers with site level granularity. We drop a cookie on the browser of a user who visits a local government site. Our publisher site and section hierarchy allows us to then allocate the user to a particular segment and these segments can be packaged to sell to an advertiser. For example, a common practice for a new homebuyer is to visit the community websites in a suburban geographic area they would like to live in. A new home buyer could be inferred, based on their visit to one or more community sites in a 5 mile radius and this would be an attractive prospect for a realtor. Through our platform, we offer the ability for the agency to target users with any combination of one or more cookies. This creates a robust segmentation offering that can be customized, depending on the advertiser’s campaign goals.
What is Main Street Social's target market? Are there any competitors in the space?
Our target market is comprised of local US governments, community associations and marketers with online display and search advertising budgets.
In total, there are 38,967 general-purpose local governments, including 3,034 county governments, and 35,933 general-purpose governments (including 19,429 municipal governments and 16,504 town or township governments). This represents a $33 billion dollar market opportunity.
Although there are a number of companies throughout the government 2.0 movement that provide pieces of the ‘connecting communities’ puzzle, none offer a truly integrated solution that helps the local governments connect to its local citizens and generate unrealized revenue opportunities.
Can you talk about the current rollout and when you plan to broaden it?
Our current plan is to build out a regional publishing network in the east (NY, NJ, PA, OH, CT) with the eventual expansion to the west coast (CA, NV, WA) since both areas have very similar challenges. We have focused initially on a target group of small to medium size communities. We have already partnered with a major national brand advertiser and have successfully scaled local sales to allow small local businesses to engage in online advertising.
MainStreetSocial will be introducing a self-service display platform to help small to medium business create, target and track online adverting on our publishing network; and a free publishing tool for small communities of less than 5000 residents, helping them build powerful online solutions for their residents and create a more transparent and connected community.
How does the revenue opportunity breakout with your publisher platform? Please discuss how you share revenue with clients.
A set-up fee and a monthly technology fee support the publishing platform while a revenue share model supports the network. Currently most local governments have a web presence that is visited on average by 11% of the residents. We help by providing them the platform to help increase engagement to over 25%. Our goal is to help local governments realize a profit in the first year of implementation by adding the ability to increase resident engagement on the site and introduce online monetization.
Can you envision a local government ad network? Is there any pushback at this stage to adding display ad banners to local government websites?
Absolutely, we see our publishing platform enabling the creation of a local government ad network that provides premium advertisers an ideal brand safe and targeted audience. Local governments see the advantage of taking the proven private sector model and using it to raise revenue, rather than taxes. As a result, we have seen very little pushback on adding display advertisement to their site. We have also built in quality and privacy checks that ensure the advertisers are safe and relevant to the community. We are committed to supporting local business and have a dedicated unit for local advertisers which local governments see as a great way to promote their local businesses and help them succeed.