Montreal start-up searches Twitter posts for local business opportunities

When you ask a question into the vast empty space that is Twitter, do you expect an answer in return? Probably not, but Needium, a new start-up from Montreal entrepreneur Sylvain Carle, just might change that.

Carle noticed that consumers use Twitter to find all kinds of things; restaurants, salons, clubs, you name it. So, Carle created Needium, which searches out queries on behalf of client businesses, and then engages the searchers with recommendations and promotions for those clients.

Carle presented Needium to Le Web, and was interviewed for the Friday edition of The Montreal Gazette.

Tell me about your latest business venture.

Needium is a way for businesses to connect to potential customers via Twitter. If you ask a general question on Twitter, it’s like you’re asking the universe. We listen to those questions and reply on behalf of our clients. So if you ask on Twitter like: “I’d like to find a good restaurant with an extensive wine list,” you’ll get an answer from us, in the name of one of our clients, and we’ll engage in a conversation.

This sounds like it could be spammy.

We have actually been most surprised by the reaction. Nearly everyone we’ve been responding to has been really happy to get replies. I expected maybe six out of 10 would be okay with it, and another four would be pissed that we would reply. But I guess if you take the time to write a request, it’s because you really want it to be answered. I also think that because our clients, who are answering, are small businesses and local merchants, people are more forgiving than if it were Starbucks or McDonald’s replying to anything with the word food in it and offering a coupon. That would be annoying. We look at people’s tweets and try to understand what kind of person they are: Would they like a fine oyster restaurant on St. Laurent Blvd., or are they more the type of people who would enjoy poutine downtown? That’s where the human element comes in. We use human judgment to decide how we should reply and what we should say, and we try to keep it conversational, so it doesn’t seem like an ad.

Writer Jason Magder asks the most important question for this piece: will this just be a bunch of spam garbage that Twitter users will hate? I see people post questions into the social networking void all the time with their status updates and they clearly have no intention of getting a response; it’s just how the medium is.

Of course, others do expect a response from their questions. But users of social networking are getting savvier about privacy and who is paying attention to their posts. Will they truly welcome having their Twitter queries data mined for some pub to make a sale?

Honestly, unless the client business is sending me some outrageously good coupon when they eavesdrop on my social network activity, they can take a hike. If they want to send me a bunch of ads that I’m going to hate, they can reach me by running them in print, on TV, on the radio, in my mail, through my email, on websites, on the bus, on the road, on packaging, on the backs of receipts, in video games, in movies or anywhere else, really; leave Twitter out of this.

What do you think, Techvibes readers? How would you respond to an ad responding to your Twitter queries? Would you advertise your business on Needium? Let’s hear from you in the comments section!