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Anticipating Hearsay Labs, the Stealth Social Media Marketing Startup

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Hearsay Labs CEO Clara Shih may be a brand-new entrepreneur with her first startup still in stealth mode, but she’s elevated herself to the main stage after writing last year’s influential book on how businesses can use social networks, “The Facebook Era.” After she delivered a keynote speech today at the Web 2.0 Expo, I sat down with Shih to get an inkling of what she’s doing with Hearsay, which bills itself as a provider of social media marketing automation and fan management tools.

Shih became interested in how to use Facebook for business when the company launched its platform back in 2007. Through her day job at Salesforce (s CRM) she introduced an unsanctioned side product called Faceforce (later renamed Faceconnector), the first business application for Facebook. Shih then got the contract to write her book, but although she received corporate go-ahead to work on such projects internally, she eventually decided she could best tackle the intersection of social networking and businesses by starting her own company.

So Shih teamed up with Stanford classmate and Microsoft (s msft) program manager Steve Garrity to start Hearsay last June. They have since raised a Series A round (on which she would not elaborate) and moved into their own office in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood (the company had been working out of Dogpatch Labs nearby). A full launch is planned for this fall but the service is already live and has customers, according to Shih.

Shih said Hearsay has been closely aligned with Facebook from the start. Her internal contacts warned her away from her first idea, she said, which was around coupons and hypertargeting, because it was in Facebook’s road map, and a later idea, because it was too niche.

What it comes down to, said Shih, is that all businesses are seeking three things from social networking: fans, measurement and security.

As for more detail, Hearsay says on its own Facebook Page that it offers “custom lead referral forms.” On its jobs listing page, the company states:

“Hearsay Labs is building software to help small and medium-sized businesses market and sell to their customers on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, etc. Although we are early-stage, we have working code, paying customers, world-class investors, big dreams, and a bestselling book.

Hearsay is targeting small and medium businesses such as realtors, Shih said, rather than brands. In lieu of a generic web page, it will help them capture customer relationships for long-term engagement. It’s a promising concept, for sure, and I look forward to seeing the actual product. But it’s going to be a tough space to compete in, judging by the number of social CRM providers, brand monitors, social media dashboards, engagement analytics, custom app builders and other similar companies we get pitched on every day. Which might explain the whole stealth mode thing.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

The Dos and Don’ts of Social Media Marketing

Photo by James Duncan Davidson for the Web 2.0 Expo used with permission.

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