Remember Groupon? So do we.
And though for some, Groupon seems to have gone from a $6 billion idea to something more like a punch line, the fact remains that certain features of the idea of Groupon remain very potent. The idea of a time-sensitive promotion, the idea of strength in numbers in buying, and the idea that buying itself can be social–these are all ideas that have trickled into OpiaTalk, a service that debuted with its first client, Skype, last month.
OpiaTalk bills itself as a “hyperconversion widget,” which is jargon for the basic idea that it’s a tool that helps encourage people to buy a product online. Here’s how Skype uses it, for instance. Let’s say you’re looking to buy a prepaid Skype gift card, and you wind up on Skype’s page promoting that product. At certain times of day, Skype may use an OpiaTalk widget that crops up on the side of the window. That widget informs you that if you click on that widget, and a certain number of other people click on that widget, too, you (and they) will be given a 15-minute window to buy a that gift card at 20% off.
“It’s exclusive, it’s urgent, and it’s participatory,” says OpiaTalk founder Tom Popomaronis. “Basically, it’s FOMO. It’s the fear of missing out.”
While Internet buzzwords do not in themselves constitute a business strategy (life insurance salespeople probably shouldn’t adopt “Basically, it’s YOLO” as a sales pitch), Popomaronis actually has data to back his assertion that his “hyperconversion widget” indeed hyperconverts–in other words, that it makes buyers out of visitors to your e-commerce site who would have otherwise merely been window shoppers. A little under 3% of visitors to the Skype page are clicking on the widget, says Popomaronis. Once they click, a subset of 40% go on to make a purchase. The numbers might seem small overall, but Popomaronis asserts they’re significant in the world of e-commerce. Skype apparently agrees; Popomaronis says the VoIP giant has elected to extend its trial of the widget.
Though the widget offers users the chance to share the promotion with friends via social networks, it currently limits you to contacting just three Facebook pals at a time, to avoid the wanton social-network spamming that irked many as Groupon rose to prominence. “We want this to be a relevant social engagement tool,” says Popomaronis, so that instead of carpet-bombing your social networks, you’re thinking, “Oh, I think Paul, Janet, and Steve would love this.” Part of OpiaTalk’s play (and that of retailers who use it) is data capture: you need to either offer up your email or connect via Facebook in order to activate an OpiaTalk widget.
The story of how OpiaTalk landed a major client like Skype out of the gate is an interesting one, and involves another social network: LinkedIn. In fact, says Popomaronis, at all stages of OpiaTalk’s development, strategic use of LinkedIn played a crucial role.
“I spent $730 on InMails,” confesses Popomaronis, referring to the name LinkedIn uses for its in-network emails, which cost $10 apiece. Popomaronis reached out to anyone else in the e-commerce space who he thought might be of help. He’d approach them, typically, asking for advice. He says he wrote to “high-level people I would otherwise never have access to” and politely ask them the simple question: “Hey, what do you think of this?” He sent out over 250 InMails (but only paid for 73, since unopened InMails don’t result in a charge), and received a response rate of around 20%. “I looked at it as an investment,” he says.
And it’s one that already paid off: his first connection to the man at Skype who wound up giving the greenlight on the OpiaTalk pilot was first reached through LinkedIn. Popomaronis also filled some of his top advisory board positions through job postings on the site. “I’m ready to send LinkedIn a thank-you letter,” says Popomaronis. “They’re one of our heroes at this point.” He further intends to market the product primarily through LinkedIn, since as a business-to-business product, OpiaTalk’s most likely clients are best found on the professional social network.
OpiaTalk has made a science out of customer acquisition, but its current roster of clients of course remains a short list with one big name. So whether OpiaTalk is bound for Groupon-like glory, Groupon-like catastrophe (or something in-between) remains, of course, to be seen.